The Crafting of a Steel Drum (Pan)

SHABANG! Steel Drum Band

The Crafting of a Steel Drum (Pan)

“Pan tuner have de key to glory in his hand” - Pan Passion

Traditionally, steel drum pans are made from 55-gallon oil barrels, the bottoms of which are hammered and stretched into a concave bowl or dish shape. This is called "sinking the pan".
The depth to which the steel drum is sunk depends on the instrument being crafted. Basses are relatively shallow whilst the tenor steel drum pan is deeply dished giving a shrill sound.


The next stage is the placement of the notes. A template is used to mark each note on the sunken head of the steel drum. Each note outline is then "grooved" using a steel punch and a hammer. Grooving the notes make the notes more visible and also serves to separate the vibrations of each note.

After grooving, the steel drum must be tempered to strengthen the metal. The barrel’s side, or "skirt", is cut to a designated length, and the bowl is placed over an open fire for a specified length of time.

After burning, the steel drum pan is allowed to cool off. This "tempering" process makes the metal a lot stronger and the barrelhead is now ready for tuning. Using hammers of various sizes, the panmaker "pongs" each note from beneath, making them stand out like convex lumps. This creates the necessary tension for each note to vibrate at the correct pitch.

The panmaker sounds a tuning device, like a tuning fork, keyboard or a stroboscope, and carefully hammers at each note from the top, shaping it and smoothing the note area. Each note on the drumhead is tuned individually and in relation to the other notes.

Finally, the finished steel drum pan is either painted in bright colors, or dipped in chrome to make them shine like silver.