Slit Drum Build #1: The Test or Prototype Drum

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Blog entry by OttoH posted 10-23-2010 11:51 PM 20854 reads 2 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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After seeing Steve at Woodworking For Mere Mortals, throw together a Slit Drum I have decided to build one as a Christmas present. I have built a prototype / test drum and can now proceed with designing the final drum and building it. Since this is a learning process, I have decided to blog the building of the drum to document what I have learned about it.

I did a lot of research on the internet on how to build a slit drum and found that there are three preferred ratios for tongues 3:4, 2:3, 4:5. After playing a bit with the layout for the top of the drum I decided that the 4:5 ratio would give me the best look for 6 tongues.

I needed a good hardwood for the top so I first tried some wood that was used as wainscoting in a church about 75 years ago. It is hard, but it was too hard and I could not find a blade that would cut it for my scroll saw. I decided to use some hardwood from pallets, planed it down to 1/2 inch thickness cleaned it up and the board worked great for the top.

Since this was going to be a test drum I decided not to put a sound hole in right away so I could hear the difference without and with. I made the sides with the same pallet wood, cut and planed to 3/8 of an inch thick. Since the sides were so thin and I needed to support the sides and cut four 1” square posts that were 1/4” shorter than the sound box to join the corners together. The bottom of the box is also made from the pallet wood, I ripped it on the table saw to 1/8” thickness so it would reverberate and provide a good sound.

I glued everything up, let it set for a couple of days and then began playing with it. The sound was good but not near loud enough when played with a mallet, so I quickly drew and drilled out the sound hole, and gave it a once over with a rasp. While doing so the side split on the left of the sound hole. The drum sounded okay, and I began testing it to see what happens if you hit the tongue in different areas, I found that if I hit it in the middle I would get the best sound so I marked them with a brown felt tipped pen. I also found that in order to get the best sound the drum needs to be held or set up off of the surface, so the nest one will have legs to raise it up but not get in the way so it could be held as well.

It is now computer time and designing the new sound hole and legs, I will be working on this as I work on the other Christmas gifts so it may be a bit between posts. I shall chronicle the entire build of the next one in future blogs.

-- I am responsible for how I respond to everything in my life - - Deadwood SD

4 comments so far

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3172 days

#1 posted 10-24-2010 01:13 AM

I look forward to watching over your shoulder on this one. I tried making a tongue drum a while back. It ended up sounding more like it would be a “thud” drum and I never finished it. Maybe you will inspire me to work with it some more.

View matt garcia's profile

matt garcia

1892 posts in 3635 days

#2 posted 10-24-2010 01:38 AM

Nice! How does she sound?

-- Matt Garcia Wannabe Period Furniture Maker, Houston TX

View oleo's profile


5 posts in 2124 days

#3 posted 06-26-2012 03:17 AM

Thanks for the post. I’ve been making guitars for a living the last 12 years, but quit so I could move back to south east where family is. Anyway, with my free time I’m making a tongue drum for the first tme. I am having trouble finding out how to tune it, and calculating the lengths.

In guitars the tone wood shapes the sound to a degree. Walnut is sweet and dark, but not so strong. Rosewoods are very sophisticated and rich, and bad for recording. Maple is very fundamental. Mahogany makes a medium rich dry sounding guitar. If I make a few of these I’ll know what woods sound best to me. Lighter rosewoods for the top would probably be nice, as well as padauk, grenadilla, and maybe even zebrawood. A mahogany box may work well. The sound board shouldn’t be maple. But maple may be good for the box since it will carry more of the fundamental and drain off overtones. The sound hole adds boominess, a smaller hole makes a boomier sound and a larger hole raises the pich slightly, I believe. How big are they maiking these holes anyway? Any comments about your experiences?

This first one I’m using some brazillian cherry for top and box, and some thin luan plywood for the bottom. It will have 8 tongues in the pentatonic scale, Hopefully in the key of G. How thick should the top be? Right now it’s 3/4” I have to dovetail the sides tomorrow and cut out the tongues. Box is 20”x8”. This is exciting! What’s the right way to tune this?? I may have to tune overtones too! ?

-- Never pass up a good opportunity to shut up - ?

View DGongre's profile


7 posts in 1865 days

#4 posted 03-20-2013 02:43 PM

I have started trying to build slit drums. How do you tune them? In my research I have found that Paduka wood has a good tone

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