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Refinishing (re-covering) a drumkit

(c) 2001 Stephen Mulholland email

Here's a step-by-step of how I refinished my kit.  The kit is a Pearl Session series, 22" X 16"  bass drum, 10" X 10", 12" X 10", and 14" X 12" toms, finished in Sequoia Red Lacquer.    It's a  lovely finish, but I just fancied a change. The toms are mounted on stands, using Pearl's ISS  mounting system.  Or PISS, if you like.:)

  The finish arrived less than a week after I ordered it from Sam Barnard in Phoenix, Arizona (   I'm in Northern Ireland, so the delivery time was very good.  BUT- for anyone in the UK thinking of ordering from Sam - you'll have to pay import duty, VAT and a Parcel Force handling charge, which adds a little to your costs.  The finish I ordered was Crazy Yellow, and it sure is yellow!  Sam also sent detailed instructions on how to do the recovering, how to remove old finishes and glue and how to remove eyelets, plus other good, useful information.  I didn't have to worry about removing an old finish, as I was simply putting the new wrap over the lacquer finish currently on the drums.   This was the main reason I ordered from Sam - using his hi-bond tape fixing method, I can keep the current finish intact and undamaged, in case I decide to go back to it after a while.

Here's a list of the tools I used :

  • Electric drill
  • Small hammer
  • Electric screwdriver
  • Small screwdriver
  • Two sharp thin nails
  • Workmate workbench
  • Socket for removing airhole
  • Towels for padding
  • Window cleaner and soft cotton cloth for polishing the wrap once it was fitted

So, to the job.  I decided to do the 10" X 10" first.  The first thing I did, naturally, was removed the heads and rims.  Then with my trusty cordless screwdriver I removed all the lugs.  A word of advice - have a container handy to drop all the screws, washers, lugs, tension rods and whatever else into.  It's so easy to lose a screw or washer on a garage floor.

Next, I removed the badge and sound vent (or air hole).  On the Pearl Session series, these are on opposite sides of the drum. Some companies combine the badge and sound vent.  The sound vent was ridiculously easy to remove, thanks to a tip I was given by Joby Foley in  (this tip applies to Pearl Session series drums, and, I believe, to the Masters series as well.  Other manufacturers use different airholes):

"The airhole is two pieces.  A female that goes in from the inside of the drum and the male that has  a smaller shank that secures from the outside through the larger shank.  Simply tap it out from the inside of the drum by placing an appropriate size socket on the inside shanks exposed rim and tap using a hammer.  It is super easy to get them out.  Putting them back in easy also.   You need to pad a table. Press the two together as best you can by hand and then lay the drum airhole down on the padded table.  Use a larger socket to cover the larger diameter inside shank and then tap them together".  Thanks, Joby.

Removing the badge was a little more awkward, surprisingly.   It looks simple enough - four little screws, one at each corner of the badge.   I unscrewed them, expecting the badge to just fall off. No such luck.  It's glued on as well.  Be very careful at this point, if you want to preserve your badge, and current finish, in pristine condition.  Prise up one corner or edge of the badge, and now use a large dollop of commonsense.  Don't try to rip the badge off.   Grab a hairdryer, and direct a jet of warm air at the edge of the badge that you've loosened slightly.  The hot air will soften the glue.  It takes a little while, so be patient, prise up a little more of the badge, more hot air, prise up a little bit took me about 15 minutes to get the badge off without damaging it. There was a residue of glue left on the drum.  More hot air and gentle finger friction (rubbing the glue spots with my fingers) soon got rid of it.  Nail varnish remover, too, will shift it, but just be careful with it in case it also marks the lacquer.  It didn't mark mine.

But how would I find those same holes for the badge screws when the new wrap was on?  Well, first, using a 1/16" bit, I drilled the badge screw holes right through the shell.  The reason for this will be obvious later.

So there we are - one buck-nekkid drum shell.  Well, not quite.

I'd taped some protective padding to the tom at the point where it might accidentally make contact with the snare during a gig.  I didn't want to scratch the lacquer finish.  I'd used good ol' gaffa tape to fix the padding to the drum.  The padding certainly prevented the tom being scratched by the snare, but the gaffa tape, when removed, left a sticky residue.  Guess what shifts that?  Not soap, not water, not heat, but...vegetable oil.  Really.  Take a piece of soft cloth, pour a little vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil) on to the cloth, and rub it over the gaffa tape glue residue. Honestly, it takes it off.  It wasn't effective on the glue that had been used to stick the badge on, but on the gaffa tape glue, it worked perfectly.  NOW we have one buck-nekkid drum shell.

The next thing I did was clean up and polish all the lugs, rims, hoops and ISS mount. To be honest, I was probably trying to put off attempting to fit the new finish, in case I made a mess of it.  The time had come, however, to have a go at it.

First, I needed to figure out exactly where I wanted the seam to be.  I figured having it in line with lugs would both strengthen the seam and hide it to a degree.  So, I did a couple of "dry runs", wrapping the cover round the shell, making sure it was lined up OK, and then made a tiny mark with a pencil on the bearing edge where I wanted to have the seam.  I got my wife to help a little, but I could probably have managed recovering this small tom on my own.  She held the wrap in position while I peeled the covering from the hi-bond tape.  I should explain - the wrap came supplied with hi-bond tape fitted along one edge.  Press the sticky edge down and that's it! One recovered drum. There's an overlap of about 2", and I managed to get the seam perfectly in line with the lugs, as I'd wanted to.  I checked to make sure the heads would go on OK, which they did.   The next step was to leave the drum overnight.

Next day, I checked along the wrap seam for any lifting, but it was solid as a rock.  So, time to drill the holes through the finish for the lugs, badge and airhole.  I used a very sharp nail, pressed from the inside of the drum out through the holes in the shell, to make a little raised mark on the new wrap, then I pressed the nail on to the little raised mark from the outside of the drum to leave a little indentation in the new wrap.  This would give the drill bit a head start, and prevent it slipping across the new wrap gouging big lumps out of it.  Using the smallest drill bit I had (1/16"), I drilled a hole through the wrap at each indentation.  Now I knew where all the holes in the shell were situated.  Using progressively bigger drill bits, I made the little holes in the new wrap bigger until they were the same size as the holes for the lugs in the shell.   I used the same method to make the airhole in the new finish.

A quick "DON'T PANIC!" here - once I had the holes for the lugs all drilled, I tried one of the screws which hold the lugs on to make sure it was long enough to go through the now-thicker shell/wrap.  Of course, it didn't protrude through the shell, so I immediately thought I'd need to buy new slightly longer screws to fit the lugs to the shell.  What I'd forgotten was that the part of the lugs that the screws are screwed into actually recess into the shell, so once I put the lug in place on the shell, the screws fitted fine.

Next, I refitted the airhole, using the method described previously.

Remember earlier, I drilled right through the shell using a tiny drill bit at the badge screw holes? This was to allow me to find the same holes once the new wrap was fitted.  Using the same tiny drill bit, by hand, from the INSIDE of the shell through the holes I'd drilled, I made four little marks on the wrap.  Now I could see where the badge screw holes were. Then from the outside of the shell, I made four little indentations in the wrap where the holes for the badge screws were.  Last step - screw the badge back on.  Everything went perfectly until...DISASTER!!!   Well, not really, but it could have been.  As I was screwing the last badge screw in, the screwdriver slipped out of the screw and made a tiny scratch on the new wrap.  When I say tiny, I mean tiny - it's completely invisible unless viewed from a certain angle under strong light.  I dread to think what might have happened on a more flimsy wrap, or if I'd been a little less careful.  So take great care - I'll be sure to have a towel or something protecting the wrap on the next drum when I'm screwing the badge back on.

Lastly, I refitted the heads, rims and mount.  Finished, and it looks superb, if I may say so.

The other two toms were refinished in exactly the same way.

The bass drum was a little different.  The wrap comes in two parts - one small part and one larger sheet.  The smaller piece has to be fitted first, to the bottom of the bass drum shell.  This was the only time that I had to tape any of the covering on to the drum itself.  On the three toms, the wrap is overlapped and taped to itself.  Again, I just took my time, made a little mark on the bearing edge of the bass drum where I wanted the edge to be, making sure that it the wrap was perfectly centred on the shell, and stuck one side down, then turned the drum round, pulled the wrap tight and stuck the other side down.  Now I had to fit the larger piece.  I craved the indulgence of my wife again and had her help me get the wrap into position,  then I stuck it into place.  Perfect.

Now it was just a question of boring holes through the wrap and fitting the spurs, lugs, airhole and badge.  This was really easy, as I could work from the inside of the drum.  It took a little while, but I was being extremely careful.  I got everything screwed back into place.  One thing to note - don't screw the fittings on really tightly, as it can cause the wrap to bubble.  Screw them just tight enough to be...well...tight enough.

The only thing left to do now was to fit the hoops and heads.    I'd ordered new hoops, but, typically, they hadn't arrived in time to be fitted before tonight's gig, so I'll be using a Crazy Yellow kit, with Red Sequoia Lacquer bass drum hoops!  The hoops should arrive on Monday, and that's the kit completely finished.

All in all it took a couple of days, and none of it was hard work.  I've taken a few pics, and I'll post them as soon as the film's developed.

Stephen Mulholland