Pan Construction

The Drum

A standard 45 gallon (imperial) oil drum (or 55 gallon U.S).  A clean smooth drum will be easier to work with.
57cm (23 inches) in diameter.
The thickness of the metal should be 18 gauge (1.2mm).


A sparsley populated area, due to the noise produced when sinking.
A 14lb sledge hammer.

This is the first part of the pan making. The drum should be placed on a flat surface. The 14lb hammer is used to sink one end of the drum. This process stretches the metal to a desired depth. Some tuners will sink both ends of the drum if front line pans are being made. The drum should be sunk evenly in preparation for burning and tuning.


Steel punch.
Templates of the notes.
Pencil or Marker.

Lines are drawn at specific angles from the centre of the drum to the rim. The templates of the notes are then placed into position and traced around. The notes are then grooved with a steel punch. The purpose of grooving is to isolate the notes from each other and thus providing areas for tuning. The position of the notes is very important as one helps the other when tuning.


A chisel, hacksaw, or
Oxy-acetylene torch, or
Sheet metal cutting instruments.
Pencil or Marker.

Each pan is cut to size depending on the instrument being made. By size, we mean the depth of the drum. Only the bass pans do not require cutting, as they use the full drum. The length of the pan has a direct effect on the resonance of the notes. 


A sparsely populated area, due to the thick black smoke produced when burning the drum.
An old tyre or block of wood.
A drill.

Two holes are drilled into the rim opposite each other to suspend the drum. Each note is hammered up into a shallow dome. The drum is then placed down on a hot fire for approximately 10 minutes to soften the metal. The metal surface should be dull when the drum is heated enough. At this point the drum is tempered.

If the drum is not sunk evenly, when burning the heat will not be evenly distributed, making the pan difficult to tune.


After sinking and burning, the metal of the pan is now soft. Tempering renders the pan hard again.

Tempering is done either by letting the drum cool by itself or by pouring cold water or oil on to it. The more the pan is tempered, the harder it will be to tune and stay in tune.
Once the drum has cooled down, it is cleaned before tuning. 



Small hammers.

The ideal place is on a stand. Each note is tuned in turn with a small hammer. The process is repeated as the first notes tuned alter in pitch slightly. As the process carries on the difference gets more negligible. This can take between days and weeks.

The tuning process is composed of three main steps:
1. Coarse tuning - the metal of each note is softened and the notes are tuned to pitch.
2. Fine tuning - adjustments of pitch and timbre whilst the drum is suspended on a stand.
3. Blending - final tuning after the drum has been painted or chrome plated.

The End Product

The oil drum has now been transformed into a steelpan. The pan is now either painted or chrome plated to give it a presentable finish.

The ideal finish is chrome plated as it holds the tone better and looks more professional.

Other finishes are spray paint or powder coating. Of the two, powder coating is preferred as it does not mark or chip as readily as spray paint.