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How to Make a Stave Drum Shell

Updated February 21, 2017

The quality of wood used in musical instrument construction directly affects the tone and projection of the instrument. This is just as true for drums as it is for fine violins. Laminating thin strips of wood around a form and gluing them together is an inexpensive way to make drum shells, but unfortunately the large amount of glue necessary to keep the laminate together dampens the wood's natural resonant characteristics. Stave drum shells use less glue, and are therefore more acoustically active than plywood shells. Making them requires some special equipment as well as advanced woodworking skills.

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  1. Determine the length and number of staves you wish to use to make the drum shell. The length of the stave will affect the tone of the finished drum. You need to know the number of staves before you can calculate the bevel angle for the sides of the staves.

  2. Calculate the bevel angle. For a 14-inch drum with 16 staves, divide 360 (the number of degrees in a circle) by 16 (the number of staves). In this case, the angle is 22.5. Divide this number by two, as each side of the stave must be bevelled. Your desired bevel for each stave side is 11.25 degrees.

  3. Determine the width of each stave by multiplying the desired finished dimension by pi (3.1415) and dividing the answer by the number of staves. In this case, 14 x 3.1415 = 43.981; this divided by 16 = 2.748 or 2-3/4 inches. Always round up to allow for errors while smoothing the outer shell of the drum.

  4. Set the rip fence on a table saw to the desired width of your staves. Rip your stave material to the correct width.

  5. Cut the individual staves to length on your table saw.

  6. Adjust the blade on a table saw to the correct bevel angle. Make one pass on each side of your staves. When you are finished, the staves should form a rough circle when aligned edge to edge.

  7. Dry-fit the staves together before gluing to check the accuracy of your bevel cut. If the cuts are accurate, glue the edges of your staves and assemble the drum.

  8. Place two strap clamps around the outside top and bottom of the drum frame to hold the staves in position until the glue is cured. Allow the glue to dry for at least 24 hours before smoothing the drum on your lathe.

  9. Center the drum on a lathe's faceplate. Use one, 1-1/4-inch woodscrew for each stave to attach the drumhead end of the frame to the faceplate.

  10. Attach the faceplate to the lathe and smooth the outer and inner surfaces of the drum frame with a skew chisel.

  11. Sand the outside of your drum shell to smooth the finish and remove any chisel marks.

  12. Tip

    When calculating the finished dimension of the drum, take the size of the drumhead hardware into account. Finishes will also affect the tone and resonance of your drum. Oil, polyurethane or varnishes are commonly used. Personal preference should be the determining factor when choosing a finish.


    Use proper safety procedures while working with power tools. Always wear hearing and eye protection while working with power tools.

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Things You'll Need

  • ¾-inch thick hardwood for staves
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Table saw
  • Jointer
  • Wood glue
  • 2 -- strap clamps
  • 1-1/4 -- inch wood screws
  • Lathe with faceplate
  • Skew chisel
  • Sandpaper

About the Author

Finn McCuhil is a freelance writer based in Northern Michigan. He worked as a reporter and columnist in South Florida before becoming fascinated with computers. After studying programming at University of South Florida, he spent more than 20 years heading up IT departments at three tier-one automotive suppliers. He now builds wooden boats in the north woods.

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