Tongue Drum

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Project by bobasaurus posted 09-07-2009 08:35 AM 12062 views 10 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


682 posts in 2376 days

#1 posted 09-07-2009 10:03 AM

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


14979 posts in 2427 days

#2 posted 09-07-2009 11:11 AM

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


2826 posts in 2378 days

#3 posted 09-07-2009 02:39 PM

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

147 posts in 2507 days

#4 posted 09-07-2009 05:12 PM

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


113840 posts in 2670 days

#5 posted 09-07-2009 05:16 PM

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

-- Custom furniture

View iSawitFirst's profile


33 posts in 2906 days

#6 posted 09-09-2009 12:43 AM

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


2036 posts in 2277 days

#7 posted 09-09-2009 05:32 AM

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


5097 posts in 2096 days

#8 posted 11-14-2010 04:04 AM

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

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