Home Tech - Drum Building Finishing a Drum Shell
Finishing a Drum Shell

Finishing the Shell:

Once the bearing edges are cut you can either drill the shell for lugs or apply the finish to it. I prefer to finish the shell first since the lug holes tend to cause problems as the varnish etc. can dribble through to the inside of the shell when you are finishing it. If you are applying a wrap it is often better to drill the lug holes first and then apply the wrap over the holes and cut the lug holes in the wrap with an X-acto knife or razor blade using the indentation of the holes as a guide.

Finishing the shell is both the hardest part and the thing that will largely determine the appeal of the finished drumset.

You may wish to consider a professional finish at this point. Options are furniture re-finishing places, luthiers (guitar builders), auto body shops (for paint finishes), or go with a plastic wrap which doesn't require finishing skills. It might also be mentioned that exotic wood veneers can also be applied as a wrap, but those will need to be finished as any wood. Exotic veneers can be expensive, but make absolutely KILLER looking drums... especially when hand finished by a luthier.

Also there are some really amazing autopaints as well. Metal flakes and amazing colors... check out a local hot rod cruise-in for drumset ideas! If you try to finish the shell yourself, you will have to assess your woodworking skill level. For beginners, a hand-rubbed tung oil finish is very easy to do and always comes out looking nice. Many instruments use this kind of finish which is popular right now. The down-side is that if you like deep gloss, this is a dull kind of look. Most music stores have examples of tung oiled guitars and basses that will give you an idea of the look.

Generally speaking, it's easier to get a satin or semi-gloss finish to look nice than a super gloss one which usually requires buffing. As a compromise, I finished my set with semi-gloss Min wax polyurethane varnish. I chose polyurethane for durability and resistance to spilled drinks etc. It worked out really well.

Before you varnish you may wish to stain the wood. I've had no trouble with this operation. I just wipe the stain onto the wood with a rag and then rub down the shell with a clean rag. Let the stain dry overnight and if you want it darker apply more coats. A word to the wise here. The smoother you sand the shell BEFORE you apply varnish and stain the fewer coats it will take and the easier it will be to make it look good.

My method is simply to apply coats with pieces of cloth cut from old flannel bed sheets. Just fold up a pad and wipe the varnish on using as even strokes as possible. Use fine sandpaper or steel wool between coats after it dries and keep putting coats on until the drum starts to look right. In my case it took about 5 to 8 coats. You can use fewer coats if you apply the varnish thicker but it is much trickier then as drips and runs are a problem. This can't be a total course in wood finishing, so if you have questions or problems try to find someone who does woodworking for a hobby or profession for advice. There are  many people around who seem rather skilled at this who I'm sure will be glad to help you past the difficult parts if you ask them.

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