Walnut Snare Drum Shell

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Project by Douglas posted 01-24-2015 07:55 PM 1039 views 2 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My wife is a drummer, and her snare had a thin, brass shell. While she liked the attack, it was “ring-y”, and she wanted a more solid sound. I thought I would try my hand at a stave snare, and found lots of info online on how to build and calculate cutting the pieces.

You woodworkers will notice a sort of “mistake” in the build photos. I approached this like a piece of furniture, so of course, I used a nice board, and wanted to cut the staves so that the grain was continuous around the shell. So the “mistake” (after I’d already cut the parts) was that the glue joints were all end grain to end grain. The “correct” way would have been to cut them so that the grain was oriented vertically, making for long grain to long grain joints. I decided to stick with what I’d cut, as it just looked too good. I figured that if the joints fell apart during the fairly vigorous smoothing out process, so be it.

The most laborious part of this build was smoothing over the faceted faces of the staves. No Virginia, I don’t have a lathe, and that meant rounding them over had to happen by other means. For the outside, I was able to use a hand plane for the high corners (which would have been easier if the grain was running vertically), and then a belt sander. My belt sander is 4”, and the shell is about 5 3/4” deep, so I had to keep shuffling the shell left to right, while turning it like a wheel. For the inside, which wasn’t as important, I set the shell on a bench hook, then used a big round plane to take off most of the waste, then I used an oscillating spindle sander to smooth the rest. The oscillating spindle sander only went 4” too, so I had to keep flipping the shell over, back and forth. Then it was finished up with hand sanding.

I left the inside a little thick (just under 1/2”), and we put it into her snare rims and gave it a try for sound. The thought was that if it was a little too low or dead sounding, I’d thin the walls a bit more, approaching the typical snare shell thickness of 3/8”. But the sound was good, and no more ringing. The snare system she has is the Pearl Floating Snare system, which essentially just sandwiches the shell between the rims: no need to drill any holes to fit lugs. That makes switching out shells super easy. But, we kept it in the snare for a few months, and played several shows with it, and many practices. Either I got it perfect the first time out, or she just grew to like it, she felt there was no need to change the thickness.

So, it was back to the shop for finishing, and that was just several layers of padded-on blonde shellac, with a coat of paste wax buffed on with steel wool. With that all nice and pretty, its a good match for the guitar head enclosure I made a few months back. Throughout the whole process of smoothing, planing, sanding, going into the snare, back out again, and finishing, the “mistake” of the long grain to long grain glue joints wasn’t a problem. It is very, very solid. And of course, once sandwiched in the snare rims, is pretty well supported all over anyway.

I liked this project, and will do other shells from different woods, and we’ll try them out and see how they effect the sound. I’ll also try both types of grain direction, to see if that effects how easy or hard it is to round over the stave facets. I am also going to be getting a the in the shop, and with the right chuck/holder, should be able to do the smoothing there, which should be much faster.

I blogged about this over on my site, basically the same text, but a few more build and final photos. Thanks for looking.

-- Douglas in Chicago -

7 comments so far

View Dutchy's profile


1976 posts in 1592 days

#1 posted 01-24-2015 09:39 PM

Nice to see such a beautiful walnut stave snare. Well done. Also great hardware.

-- My englisch is bad but how is your dutch?

View DIYaholic's profile


19140 posts in 2098 days

#2 posted 01-25-2015 01:00 AM

I acquired a snare drum and want to do this very same thing.
Except, I’m not sure I want to keep it a functional drum….
especially since I, nor anyone I know, is a drummer!!!

I have the donor drum, but have not actually done any exploratory surgery….
The 1/2” ~ 3/8” wall thickness measurement was what I was curious about.
That and if it were even at all possible.
Thanks for detailing this build so well & providing me the motivation!!!

Oh yeah….
Looks awesome!!!
Maybe a video of your better half playing it????

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View Douglas's profile


412 posts in 1983 days

#3 posted 01-25-2015 02:34 AM

Hey Randy, the thickness is actually pretty easy to deal with in this system, because where the rim sits on the snare, there’s a bevel at about 40 degrees, sloping into the drum. At the top of the bevel it’s about 1/4” rounded. So as long as you have that, changing the main thickness doesn’t really matter.

I’ll see about a video, but in the meantime, you should start taking drum lessons and put your snare to use!

-- Douglas in Chicago -

View jtm's profile


217 posts in 1060 days

#4 posted 01-25-2015 07:17 PM

I have a Pearl free floater too.

I was planning on making a walnut shell for it just like you did. (and it’s waaaay easier to make – no holes, snare beds, and only one bearing edge).

I’m sure it is far less bright and “ringy” than the brass shell, but is it still musical? Or just all crack with no body?

The reason I ask is that maple, birch, and oak are the more commonly used woods for drums due to their hardness. Walnut and cherry, not so much.

View jtm's profile


217 posts in 1060 days

#5 posted 01-25-2015 07:24 PM

Also, was the wixey accurate enough so that there were no gaps at all in the staves?

The bevel angle has to be absolutely perfect. You could use tape to glue them up in 10- stave halves and then sand the whole thing flat, but I don’t trust the glue joints with only tape in a snare drum that is going to be “abused” by a drummer fairly regularly.

View Douglas's profile


412 posts in 1983 days

#6 posted 01-25-2015 08:17 PM

hit jtm – as for the sound, it had a nice, low thump, and with the “crack: of the snares. We both like it. But, to each his or her own taste. Drummers talking about drum tones is worse than woodworkers arguing of finishing styles. It will be fun to see how other woods sound as I make more of them.

Also, I did use tape when glueing (followed by band clamps around a form), but did the whole thing all at once. I was surprised at the dry fit as to how well the staves fit. I guess I got lucky. There was just a hair of gap, and I took a light swipe with a block plane, after which they were dead on.

As for the abuse, my wife is pretty intense drummer, and the shell has survived about 4 to 5 shows or far, with 10s of practices as well: so far so good. I’ll let you know if it fails. But as it survived the rounding over/smoothing process, I think its good to last.

-- Douglas in Chicago -

View jtm's profile


217 posts in 1060 days

#7 posted 01-25-2015 08:58 PM

Thanks for the reply.

This is the way I was referring to:

In theory, it’s a fantastic idea for stave construction. However, I’m not sure I’d trust it for a drum shell.

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