Walnut Snare Drum Shell

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 founds lots of info online on how to build and calculate 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 amplifier 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 hop to 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.

Walnut, elm, and cork coaster set

This was a nice little project to use up some scraps in the shop. We needed a nicer coaster set than to stained, worn out set we've had for years. I designed this on the fly, imagining the chamfered bottom edges and the grooved elm holder/stand as I went. I do love the look of walnut, and elm has a lot of nice character to it. To cut the cork, i put an x-acto knife into a compass, which gave me nice, smooth circles. I went with a lacquer finish on these, and thicker than I like for furniture, as they will be getting wet and and be in contact with alcohol. I did do a final coat of paste wax applied with steel wool to do the final smoothing. Hopefully, they'll hold up over time. Structurally, the only concern is that the walnut might cup. A more stable approach would have been to laminate three pieces, (maybe with elm in the middle for style), while alternating the grain direction. Basically, a plywood. If these coasters do fail, I'll do that next time.

I made a head

In addition to being a woodworker, I'm a musician, and have been all my life. I play in bands (a couple of them with my wife, a drummer), and am a guitar player, bass player, singer. I have been the proud owner of a pretty nice and epic guitar amplifier setup, the classic Mesa Boogie Mark IV. The Mark IV is one of Mesa's "classic" amps, that is out of production. Mine is in a configuration of an amplifier head that sits atop a separate speaker cabinet (actually, two separate speaker cabinets), as opposed to a "combo" where the amplifier electronics and the speaker are all in one enclosure.

As a longtime fan of Mesa's classic amps, I'd long ago acquired a couple of their glossy sales catalogs, and in there they showed some fancy "custom" options for their amps. Instead of the standard plywood-wrapped-in-vinyl construction (like mine), you could order yours with all sorts of coverings, or hardwood, and grill patterns, etc. One configuration that looked awesome was a bubinga (or some other tropical hardwood) hardwood version with a cane grill. At the time, the standard config was great, and it served me well for the many years of using the amp.

But I'm now a woodworker, and I had the urge, and capability, to convert my beloved amp into a fancy amp.

I started this little "side" project during the Christmas lull, thinking I'd get it done in a few days. While the majority of it went pretty rapidly, ordering the hardware, waiting for that to arrive, then fiddling with installing it took longer. And the cane grille took weeks to arrive. But finally, here it is...


I started out with this gorgeous slab of walnut I picked up from my favorite urban lumber source, Horigan Urban Forest Products. It was an impulse purchase; I didn't really "need" it at the time, but I got it, and thought about uses for it later. It was an 8/4 slab, allowing me to do some nice grain wrap around after resawing it. 

My 14" bandsaw with the 6" riser block (giving me 12" resaw capacity), and a 1/2" Woodslicer blade made a great, smooth, straight cut. Never underestimate the lowly, basic 14" bandsaw: tuned up with a sharp blade, it can do great things.

The construction was basically a four sided box, with a plywood support piece in the middle, cut outs for some hardware in the bottom, and then fittings for the mounting posts, a handle, and feet. Finally, the is the front cosmetic grille. I knew that I wanted full through dovetails for the joinery. As I got underway, I realized that this piece will be a great portable piece of my woodworking that I can show to (bore) my band/music buddies at gigs. Bonus!

The only issue I ran into during the joinery was that the bottom piece was starting to run into the lighter sapwood on the front & back edge. It would have looked odd from the from to the leading edge of the bottom piece milky white. So, I ripped that piece in half, glued it together with a sapwood running a few inches from the back, resulting in the front edge that matched the color of the other other pieces. Problem solved!

I enjoyed hand cutting the dovetails, and I was relieved when they fit very well. I smoothed the joints, cut the front top edge angle, and was ready for the internal cut out and support. With the original head as a guide, I just mimicked the pieces and cut out as needed.

After test fitting the hardware and electronics, I emptied it out, and applied my finish. I sanded up to 220, and started with a coat of oil (ok, technically an oil & varnish mix, Danish oil, natural). When that had dried, I brushed multiple coats of thinned blonde shellac, sanding lightly in between coats, until I build up a nice finish. I finished that off with some dark paste wax, applied will 0000 steel wool.

I then applied the hardware, starting with the leather corners. These are for both protection and decoration, and they were attached with 3/4" wide head brass tacks. I was worried they would look too "lumpy" but I quickly got the hang of shaping the pieces, and stretching them tightly as I tacked them in.

The four mounting screw holes in the top were interesting to get together as well. Per the original design, the electronics of the head are suspended from the top by four long threaded machine screws that fit into the chassis. On the original head, there were two long "plates" with two holes each to act as "washers" and distribute the weight of the guts across the top. I thought that looked a little too crude for this implementation, so i instead found some brass finger pull/cup things, and some black rubber plumbing washers. I recessed the pulls into the top, set the washer inside, and lowered the machine screw through it, providing a bit of the "shock mount" for the chassis. This is good for the health of the power tubes: it reduces the vibration from the speaker cabinet and prolongers their life. So it looks good and works better. Nice.

Only 1/2 of the handle hardware arrived, so I put on what I could, and a few weeks later, the rest arrived with the cane grille material. Finally, its done, and I think it looks better that what I could have ordered from Mesa back in the day, if i had the money.

This was my first trial into the world of amp/cabinet modification, and as it went well, I'll be building the matching speaker cabinet in a few months. THAT's going to look great at a gig.

Here is a gallery of the build...