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How Are Pans Made?

By making lots and lots of noise, that’s how!

A Steel Drum instrument begins life as a 55-gallon oil drum.

Sinking - The flat end (bottom) of the drum is pounded into a pan shape by many individual hammer blows in a process known as sinking”. The depth of the sink is dependent on the instrument being created. The higher the tone, the deeper the sink. The hammering also causes the metal to both stretch and harden.

The Cut Off - This is where the skirt length of the pan is determined. The higher the range of the individual Pans voices, the shorter the skirt must be.

Smoothing - Another round of hammer work must be done in the smoothing process. This is similar to the process of reshaping a dented car fender and then smoothing the metal using hammers and backing tools. This process also further hardens the metal.

Etching - The unique shape of each note is then etched into the metal using a drift punch and a hammer. This also creates a dead zone between the notes.

Firing - The pan is then heated red hot for a few minutes before being allowed to cool. This process anneals the metal and lets the stretched, bent and otherwise severely molested metal molecules realign themselves and relax.

Note Shaping - Each note space, inside the etching, is then shaped into a dome by further hammer work.

Preliminary Tuning - This is where the builder finds out if this particular Pan will become a sweet sounding musical instrument or a very unique looking backyard barbeque or goat feeder! Through lots of tapping and often, more enthusiastic hammering, each note is brought into tune.

Clean Up - Now the beaten, burned, semi-tuned instrument must be made presentable. The surfaces are washed, buffed and polished until they are as smooth as possible. The Pan is then either primed and painted or sent out for the processes associated with chroming.

Final Tune Up - This, you would think, is a quick process. Not exactly. Each time a note is stretched a little, the notes around and across from it change a little too. The tuner goes around and around and around to assure things are perfect.

That’s it! Anyone with several years to burn, a bag full of body and fender tools, a thorough knowledge of music and a set of ear muffs, can learn to build their own! Obviously, this treatise is for the uninitiated reader and is intended as a very shallow overview of a process that has taken nearly 80 years to evolve.