Tongue Drum

  • Advertise with us
Project by bobasaurus posted 1779 days ago 8862 views 11 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is a tongue drum that I made while taking a basic woodworking class in college. It’s made with a padauk soundboard, hard maple for the box, walnut splines, and a baltic birch plywood bottom. The side joinery is mitered (with splines), though I left a square section extending up on the longer sides to hold the sound board firmly during and after tuning. The bottom is held in with rabbets. I put considerable effort into tuning this drum, but it resulted in failure. I carefully planned surface area ratios of the tongues ahead of time to hopefully be on a pentatonic scale, then I carved/chiseled out the tongues while measuring pitch with a microphone and spectrum analyzer program. I managed to get about half of them on a scale when the soundboard was off the box, but then the overtones were too much to tune the rest. By the time I glued the thing together, the pitches had completely changed (lesson learned: tune with the soundboard on the box). I had lots of fun making this instrument, and I’ll likely make more in the future. Woodworking class was like a little vacation during my intense 19 credit hour final semester. Now I’m slowly building up a stock of small tools to continue making great projects in the future.

Bigger versions of these pictures:

-- Allen, Colorado

8 comments so far

View tomakazi's profile


644 posts in 1878 days

#1 posted 1779 days ago

Nice work, I’ve seen these tuned but I don’t know how they did it. I am a drummer and we never cared too much about being in tune, as long as it sounds good.

-- I didn't go to college, I was too busy learning stuff - Ted Nugent

View stefang's profile (online now)


12515 posts in 1929 days

#2 posted 1779 days ago

Very interesting. I’ve never seen one of these before. It looks like you did a beautiful job on the construction. Unfortunate about the tuning, but that’s how we learn. Thanks for posting.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View huff's profile


2779 posts in 1880 days

#3 posted 1778 days ago

Nice job on the drum. I didn’t realize you could tune on the them…... I thought you just cut the design out in the top and that was it. Very cool.

-- John @

View Matt Vredenburg's profile

Matt Vredenburg

127 posts in 2009 days

#4 posted 1778 days ago

Bob. Nice job. This is going to be a bit sentimental for me because I am in my forties now and have been working with wood for since my first experience in shop class as a 6th grader. My first project, back then, was making a tone box (slightly different then yours – straight slots vs. curved). Mine was made out of mahogany and I my mother to this day remembers driving around town looking for mahogany (she realized they didn’t carry it at the local lumber store). Everytime I visit my mothers home, she still has my tone box on display and my daughter, nephews and nieces all play it and seems to enjoy the it a lot.

I know you think what you made is a tone box, but from my experience you’ve made a heirloom that you can look back at and will remind you of the start of a wonderful hobby/career called Woodworking.

-- Matt, Arizona

View a1Jim's profile


111999 posts in 2172 days

#5 posted 1778 days ago

Looks great the Tongue drums I’ve seen have great tone .

-- Custom furniture

View iSawitFirst's profile


33 posts in 2408 days

#6 posted 1777 days ago

Great looking even if it isn’t tuned.

Do the inlaid dots have any effect on the tone?

When tuning, does it make a difference whether or not the tuning cuts are jagged or smooth?

-- If you're over 100 years old there's an 80% chance you're a woman.

View bobasaurus's profile


1174 posts in 1779 days

#7 posted 1777 days ago

The inlay is just for decoration. It doesn’t affect the tuning (at least, I don’t think it does). As for the chisel marks, I hadn’t thought about it. Maybe smoother cuts would have a cleaner sound, but I had already sunk a good 10 hours into chisel-tuning at the point where I gave up… maybe next time if I’m feeling really ambitious.

-- Allen, Colorado

View NormG's profile


3977 posts in 1599 days

#8 posted 1346 days ago

Looks great, I have made 3 of these through the years (1 from Wood magazine & 2 from somewhere else). Kids love them tuned or not.

-- Norman

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics :: gardening showcase