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A few words about my propane (LP) tank HANK-DRUM
(“hank drum” — Hang + Tank)
I invented this instrument because of a love for the sound, music
and idea of the hang drum created by two dedicated artists at PANArt
company in Bern, Switzerland.
In lieu of not being able to procure such a hang drum from Switzerland,
I’m having a WHOLE lot of improvisational fun playing away on this simple
tank drum. As humble as the idea is, it plays very much like the real thing
& has a somewhat similar and quite pleasing sound. It is very responsive,
requiring only a light, one-fingered tap to start it singing nicely.
LATER NOTE: Many people have built hank drums from my plans here but of those I’ve
heard played (youtube and otherwise), over half of them are quite out-of-tune!!
I am at a loss as to why this is!! If you can tune a guitar, you can properly
tune this Drum. Please do not get impatient and settle for bad tuning —
for one thing, I am proud of my hank drum invention and it gives it a bad name
for people to be hearing (sometimes) way off tuning on the things! Take the
extra time to tune it right — it truly is NOT hard.
Another LATER NOTE: Nice to see a lot of home-made hank drums popping up on YouTube.
I do notice that quite a few folks are not hitting the tongues “properly”.
It makes a LOT (repeat LOT) of difference in the tone/sound/volume WHERE on the tongues
you hit. Try to hit the higher notes about a third of the way up from the base of the
tongues instead of at the end – EXPERIMENT. Lower notes aren’t as fussy. Also, a far
better tone is obtained if you hit quickly – not allowing your finger to rest on the
tongue even for an instant — tap it as if you were testing a stove burner to see if
it is hot. Also, I still see people not using the highly recommended bungee cords to
mellow out the tone. These may seem like small points, but they’re not.
PS: The tiny, tinny speakers in most laptops do a very poor job of
representing the real sound of this instrument. Desk-tops do a far better job.
PLEASE NOTE: A real, Swiss-made hang drum is VERY difficult to obtain
these days. A ray of hope is on the horizon however– Pantheon Steel,
a maker of beautiful steel drums (aka “steel pans”) is researching and
experimenting — with the intention of producing hang drums (under
a different name) for sale. Please contact them at pantheonsteel.com
and encourage them! They’re looking for signs of interest at this time.
There is NO doubt that you can build this hank drum if:
a- You know how to use an electric drill
b- You know how to use a pipe wrench
c- You know how to use a saber-saw (only a few mins practice needed if you don’t)
d- You know how to use a pair of Vise-Grips
e- You know how to use a file
f- You can tune a guitar
g- You can get a friend to help you with a-f above
As you can see,basic stuff!
– IMPORTANT: USE ONLY NEW — NEVER-BEEN-FILLED — 20 pound propane tanks.
Input keywords such as – propane tank explosion – into YouTube to see
the reason why!! These new tanks cost $27 or so at Home Depot stores
(I’ve been told that they’re as low as $19 in big city discount outlets).
Even if you hear and feel no liquid in a used tank, there may still be
gas inside – which can be very explosive. Then too, valves have been known
to jam and the newer type LP valves can more easily fool one into believing
that a tank is empty. Heed this caution: use a NEW tank.
– Remove the valve mechanism using a monkey wrench. An “extender” is usually
needed to get the screw-threads to start turning (it’s glued-in/sealed
at the factory and take some determined convincing to unscrew). One fairly
sure-fire trick is to very tightly clamp a 2′ long hefty (1″ D.or so) length
of water-pipe vertically in a vise, then holding the tank on it’s side, slip
the handle-holes over the pipe. Now with the tank resting on the vise, use
the monkey-wrench/extender. This method works largely becasue it keeps the
tank stable — keeps it from rolling around. Be careful. An internal
float and valve mechanism is attached to the threaded top part & the
whole mess comes out as an attached unit – this can be discarded.
– The metal ring that is welded to the tank’s bottom also has to be removed.
It comes off quite easily with a sharp chisel. LATER NOTE (9/2/07): A far
easier and quicker way to remove this ring is to clamp Vise-Grip pliers
onto the ring, 1/4 inch from the ring/tank weld then worry it back & forth
a few times til it breaks free. Repeat with the other 3 welds. I just
de-ringed a tank this way in less than a minute. The welds usually break off
flush with the tank, but if not simply file off any leftover bumps. This
ring can be cut, re-formed and bolted onto the tank’s carrying-handle ring
(creating a complete circle) — this makes an excellent base that keeps the
tank from tipping over when set bottom-side up for playing.
– I use a regular off-the-shelf saber-saw to cut the tongues. The saw-blade
has to be ground-down so the back-side is half as wide, in order to follow
the curves of the tongues. WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES — the less-wide blade can
break all the easier with possibly disasterous results to eyes. I use
hearing protection too — look like a Martian! I prefer cheaper saber saws.
They’re lighter, easier to use and usually do NOT have this silly “no-screw”
spring-loaded blade “quick” attachment (which I find works very poorly). I
just bought a nice Black and Decker for $20. Also, small, cheap grinding
wheels, that are used with a regular electric drill, work nicely to grind
down the saw-blade. Home Depot and Walmart sell these wheels inexpensively.
– I always cut the tongue lengths a good 1/4 inch shorter than I think will
produce the desired note. After saber-sawing, the tongues are fine-tuned
using a bare hack-saw blade with the end wrapped in duct tape to keep from
cutting my hand. GO VERY SLOWLY — it’s FAR easier to flatten a note than
to sharpen it (to sharpen it, you have to run the saber-saw blade along the
perimeter of the tongue, seeking to nibble away a fraction of metal & reduce
the mass of the tongue – & thus raise the pitch — this process goes very
slowly in comparison with how lightning-fast the tongues can be flattened).
– The scale I used is D minor Pentatonic: (I fell in love with this scale after
hearing a fellow in Pennsylvania’s beautiful youtube uploads in this scale).
(low to high) Low note (“ding”) is D. Circle-notes are (running up the scale
& alternating right-left-right-left etc) A, C, D, F, G, A, C . You can make this
drum in any key/scale you’d like. Just use my template dimensions as a starting
point. For example, if you’d like to include an E note, refer to my F note and
just (carefully & slowly) lengthen each leg of the tongue until the E note is
– The fact that the Low D note is NOT in the center, but instead is located
between the two highest notes, does not seem to be much of a liability. It IS
however, the closest note to the center. I’d LIKE to have put it in the center,
but after doing so on an experimental tank, it confounded the other notes
considerably — thus this “off-center” placement. I’m sure hang players would
have little trouble playing this slightly off-center Low D “ding”.
– The saber-sawing process magnetizes the filings to a point where they’re
quite pesky! While sawing and tuning, I find that taking an old towel and
forcefully whapping each tongue dislodges these filings nicely. Once all cut
and tuned, I insert a garden hose under high pressure into the tank and let
it run for about ten minutes while rotating and swishing around the tank.
This gets rid of the metal filings.
– Tuning the beast:
I rough-tune each tongue by ear to just a bit higher-pitch than desired,
then use a simple electronic tuner to fine tune each tongue to pitch.
Here are a few tricks I have found to be quite useful in the process.
I start with the low A tongue, silencing all the other tongues by
sticking a pea-sized glob of “Mortite” brand window-caulking “rope”
(actually very clay-like), available at any hardware store, across the
top of the roundy end of each tongue. Thus silenced, the overtones
and harmonics of these notes don’t confound the electronic tuner.
For reasons I don’t understand, (stringed and wind music generation I DO
understand — but the best I can do with this musical-steel stuff is to
take my best guess, then launch into a barrage of adjustments & experimentation
until I find something that works to my liking. There are lots and lots of
variables with musical-steel methinks!!) the two highest notes tune (& sound)
noticeably better with NO Mortite silencing the other notes. For fine-tuning,
lengthening of the tongues, I only use a hacksaw blade itself. An observation:
Please take the time and care to tune this thing properly. Quite a few folks
have built one of these hank drums & several have sent me sound samples while
others have uploaded to YouTube. While many of these sound quite nice, in far
too many cases, it’s obvious that their tongues are not tuned properly — one
or more note(s) being out of pitch! It’s not that hard at all to get it right —
CLOSELY follow my tuning instructions (do not “wing it”), go slow and you won’t
– A bungee-cord or two (or even three) wrapped around the tank just down from
the tongues really does do wonders in helping control any excessive tank ring as
well as undesirable overtones. I can’t imagine playing one of these instruments
with no bungees. LATER NOTE (8/23/07): Just discovered that black rubber bungees
work FAR better than round, multi-color, cloth-covered ones — must be due to more
contact area. Here again, videos sent me and on YouTube show people playing these
drums without bungees — far too ringy & brash a sound!
– Later note: I just had occasion to play this drum with the thing’s base resting
on concrete & was amazed to hear just how much the sound suffered – lower notes
were muffled. I’d only played it on carpet, grass or in my lap previously.
Must be that the sound conducts into the concrete & acts similarily to a mute
on a fiddle. This problem was completely solved by taking a short length of
discarded garden-hose, splitting it lengthwise & working it onto the base,
securing it a few times with colored duct-tape. Also has the advantage of not
scratching any surface that the drum rests on.
An alternate method of expanding the above digitalized template to proper
size is to use the old “grid-square” method. I have applied grid squares
to the template — each square on the template represents a quarter of an
inch — even though it obviously does not measure 1/4″ on the computerized
template. Carefully tape together several sheets of 1/4″ graph paper taking care
that where sheets overlaps, all lines line-up. Look carefully at a square on a
tongue — count where the corresponding square should be on the blank graph
paper & carefully draw in the tongue line. It’s not that critical so long as
when it comes time to actually cut the metal, you leave each leg of
the tongue amply long (at least a quarter inch) for fine-tuning. Crafters –
quilters, rug-weavers all use this simple “grid-square” method to expand small
magazine designs to whatever size they wish.
This instrument is not especially light — an off-the shelf tank weighs 17 pounds
(a pound or two less with the bottom ring and valve mechanism removed) but it does
have a comfortable built-in carrying handle. In my case, the weight has not been an
issue. I cart it around to all sorts of places quite easily.
LATER NOTE: While I’ve never been at all interested in any commercial venture with my
instruments, I nonetheless have obtained a number of new propane tanks recently with
the intention of offering some of my Hank creations for sale. I find the time necessary
to turn these tanks into hanks in very very short supply. What I can say is that if/when
some become available, the first thing I will do is to announce that fact on this
webpage and perhaps on my YouTube postings. Thanks for all those encouraging me in this
If more “would-be-hang-drum-players-who-can’t-obtain-a-PanArt-instrument” saw how
easy this thing is to make, how good it sounds in person & how much GREAT fun it is
to play, I think that they’d be more around. But please TUNE the contraption properly!!
CLICK HERE to see Jim Doble’s neat-looking thick-metal, BIG-tank playground drums! Beautiful! Gotta try something that big with a Hank!! Dennis Havlena – W8MI firstname.lastname@example.org Mackinac Straits, northern Michigan Originally posted July 3, 2007