Acoustic Drum Refinishing

Kick Drum (Before)Kick Drum (After)


Refinishing is a great way to spruce up an aging kit or enhance the appearance of some newer economy kits. Unlike most of our projects, the refinishing article is not a step by step instruction set, but rather a guide to evaluating the fitness of your kit for refinishing and providing some tips for doing so. The principles and guidelines suggested here should be used only as a starting point. Feel free to experiment with what your learn here...

Acoustic Drum Refinishing:

Many covered kits are great candidates for natural wood or stained refinishing, provided they meet some criteria:

  1. The outer ply of the drum shell must be made of natural wood...
  2. The adhesive from the original covering must allow damage free removal...
  3. The drum shell must not have been previously finished or sealed...

Rhythm Traveler Snare

You can begin to establish the fitness of many drums without removing the heads. If you can see a natural wood grain on the inside of your drums, you may also have an outer ply that is natural wood. On the other hand, if the shell's interior is painted or appears to be made of 'press-board' you will likely have the same surface for an outer ply.

Inside of Drum Shell

By removing the head you will be able to examine the outer ply of the shell (from the exposed bearing edge) to establish it's composition. You can also use a pin or small knife to determine the density of the wood. A softer wood will absorb more stain, but a harder wood will be less likely to be damaged as the covering is removed. Try also at this point to locate the outer ply's seam. Make sure it is in an acceptable position for this drum once refinished. Manufacturers don't always take seam placement into consideration when drilling drums for covered finishes.

Outside of Bearing Edge

If you are comfortable with the evidence presented it is time to determine the strength and quantity of adhesive holding your covering on. While many drum companies only apply adhesive to the joint, some are more liberal, creating greater chance for damage as the covering is removed. While most use a strip of thin adhesive tape, some use a liquid which seeps into the wood, preventing a stain from being able to penetrate it regardless of your success with removal. You should carefully weigh the risks of damage against your desire for a better looking kit.

Drum Covering JointStrainer Removal

You will need to remove your lugs and other hardware in order to remove your covering. Items like strainers and tom mounts will only need to be dismantled enough to be removed from the shell. You may wish to start with the set of lugs covering the seam in order to determine the difficulty of covering removal. A kick drum seam is a good place to start, since most of these aren't visible from a playing position, should your removal efforts be aborted. A knife allows you to slide under the seam without damaging the covering. Do this slowly in order to analyze the strength of the adhesive without damaging the covering or shell. You will also want to attempt lifting the covering away from the shell in multiple spots to determine the number of adhesive locations used. In some cases, a low-powered heat gun can help release certain types of adhesive. Be sure to avoid overheating the covering as doing so will warp it, should you decide not to proceed.

Adhesive AnalysisHeated Removal

The best time to remove any metal vent grommets is with the covering still on. The covering shields the wood from damage while you remove the grommets. In some cases the drum's badging is held on by the grommet. If you wish to preserve this badging you are best to approach the grommet from inside the shell. The grommets themselves will probably not be reusable. Most hardware stores carry something similar that can be put in place later. Some drum manufacturers use grommets that are easier to remove and therefore may be re-used.

Vent GrommetGrommet Removal

Once you have released the joint, the rest of the drum covering may peel right off. Many manufacturers apply adhesive only to the leading and trailing (overlap) edges of the covering. Be sure that all removal is done slowly to prevent as little damage to the wood as possible. If all is successful, you should emerge victorious with a fully intact, natural wood shell.

Natural Wood Shell

At this point, you will need to examine the wood for any damage and determine where it will appear once your drums are assembled in position. Many seams and flaws are minor and can be filled with any number of wood repair products.

Shell Seam

The type of finish you want is up to you. It is best to spend some time reading labels at a store that carries wood refinishing products. We've had excellent results with the Verathane line of water-based stains and topcoats. It is important to note that some manufacturers will use different woods for the outer plies of different sized drums, assuming they will always remain covered. Woods for outer plies include maple, birch and mahogany among others. Each of these woods will accept stain differently and may require some stain mixing to match the different drums in your kit. Following the manufacturers directions for finishing is crucial to obtaining good results.

Refinishing Products

Some tips:

  1. Don't mix water and oil based products. Use the same brand and series of finish for both stain and top-coat.
  2. Proper surface prep is essential. Hand sand your shells with the proper grade of paper and remove all dust before staining. Sand between top-coats as directed by your finish manufacturer.
  3. Shell SandingShell Staining

    Finished Snare

    Finished Shell Pack

    Our illustrated kit (Pearl's Rhythm Traveler) was refinished with water-based Varathane products. The stain is a Golden Oak with a Semi-Gloss top-coat. You may notice a slight difference in color between our kick drum and toms. The difference in woods can reveal itself in the staining process. The 4 top-coats are spray versions of their Diamond Finish.

    Mahogany Kick Drum

    We have also had excellent results with using a brush version for the first couple of coats and finishing the final coats with a spray. This is the case with our tuning kit, a late 80's Ludwig Rocker series. Satin to low-gloss finishes will look more natural and show less surface defects than higher gloss finishes.

    Satin Clearcoat Only

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