Hot Pans - Stockholm Steelband
© Ulf Kronman, The Pan Page. Publisher: Musikmuseet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Tools for pan making

List of tools

This is a short list of the panmaking tools in the order you will need them:









Fig. B.1 Main part of the tools needed for panmaking.

Sinking sledge-hammer

The sinking sledge-hammer is a small 2.5-3 kg. sledge-hammer with the handle cut-off at approximately 22 cm. The handle is cut off to enable you to reach down in the sink with the head perpendicular to the concave surface. The end of the handle is cut at an angle to make it longer, so you can work with both hands, see figure B.2. The head must be well rounded off, preferably with a convex shape that matches the concave surface of the sunk pan.


Fig. B.2 Sinking hammer seen from side and front, 50% of actual size.


A common tool for the sinking work is a shot-put (or a cannon ball) of smooth, solid iron. The weight should be about 5 kg and the diameter approx. 11 cm, see fig. B.3. As in the case with the hammer, it is very important that the surface is smooth. A raw surface of cast iron will make marks in the metal that may cause cracks later.


Fig. B.3 Shot-put.

Backing hammer

The backing hammer is almost the same rounded-off sledge-hammer as the sinking hammer, but the handle here is shortened down to 16 cm, to make it possible reach down and work on the notes in the sunk pan. The weight should be 2-2.5 kg and the head has to be well rounded off and very smooth.


Fig. B.4 Backing hammer seen from side and front, 50% of actual size.


The punch used for grooving should be approximately 10 cm long and have a head diameter of 4-7 mm. The best way to make an appropriate punch is to take an ordinary nail-punch and cut it down to the right length. The head diameter is usually smaller for the higher pans and larger for basses and other low pans. Some tuners also use different punches for different notes in the same pan - for example 4 mm for inner notes and 5.5 mm for outer notes.

It is important that the punch is short enough so you can rest your hand on the surface while using it and still have good control over the upper end. The head should have a rather sharp edge to make distinct marks in the metal.


Fig. B.5 Punch seen from side and front, actual size.

Grooving hammer

The grooving hammer is an ordinary hammer, weight about 0.5 kg, with a cut handle. The length of the handle is preferably 18-19 cm. It is very important that the head is tightly fastened to the handle, so choose a hammer of good quality. If the head jolts it will be difficult to control the strokes.


Fig. B.6 Grooving hammer seen from side and head front. 50% of actual size.

Smoothing hammer

If you do any separate smoothing, a suitable smoothing hammer is a small club with soft plastic heads. The handle should be cut of at the same length as the backing hammer, i.e., approx. 17 cm. This hammer is also usable for the tuning of medium-sized notes. The weight should be approx. 0.3 kg.


Fig. B.7 Smoothing/ tuning hammer seen from side and head front. 50% of actual size.

Tuning hammers

The hammers covering the needs for the tuning of the whole range of steel pans should preferably be a set of three; a small steel hammer for the smallest notes in tenors and double tenors, the plastic smoothing club, described as smoothing hammer above, for the medium sized notes, and a large, 1.5 kg hammer for the large notes of guitars and basses. The small steel hammer may actually be the same hammer as the one you do the grooving with, but the head should be smoothed if it is used for tuning.


Fig. B.8 Tuning hammer for small notes.


Fig. B.9 Tuning hammer for large notes.


Fig. B.10 A collection of hammers used by tuner Lawrence Mayers. Left to right: Small tuning/smoothing hammer, large tuning hammer, punch together with grooving hammer (also used for tuning of the smallest notes), backing hammer and shot-put. Photograph by Linus Torell.

Bending iron

When you tune the outer notes of tenors, double tenors and double seconds it can be difficult to hit on the inside of the pan with the tuning hammer, because of the great slope of the sink. To raise the outer notes a bending iron can be used instead of the hammer.

The bending iron looks similar to an ordinary crowbar. It is important that the iron has the right shape and is well rounded off at the top to avoid marks in the side of the pan. Sometimes the blade of a cutlass is used to protect the skirt while bending with the iron. The length of the iron should be about 35 cm.


Fig. B.11 Shape of the curved part of the bending iron. Actual size.

Wedges to raise notes

Instead of an iron, wooden wedges can be used to raise outer notes. This is done by resting the wedge against the skirt and then hammering on the top of it to force the surface to re-shape.


Fig. B.12 Wooden wedges used to raise notes.

Tuning stick

The tuning stick is usually an ordinary stick used for the pan to be tuned. But sometimes it can be beneficial to use a stick that is a bit harder and heavier than the ordinary one. A harder stick will generate more harmonics and make it easier to tune. The extra weight makes it possible to check the pitch stability of the notes and even to do minor adjustments of the pitch with hard strokes. This means that the stick has to be heavier than any stick used while playing and the test or tuning stroke has to be harder than any playing stroke, otherwise the pan will later go out of tune while playing.

For the lower pans you will need a soft, ordinary stick so as not to get confused by the large amount of harmonics produced by a hard stick.

Tuning device

When you get to the later part of the tuning, an electronic tuning device is needed determine the exact pitch of the note. There are several good tuning devices on the market, but when you chose one, you should make sure that it has a tonal working range that is large enough to cover the whole steel pan ensemble. The notes in the bass range will cause most problems.

Devices for tuning of pianos will be sufficient as the piano covers a tonal range that is bigger than the steel pan ensemble. Devices designed for the tuning of guitars are usually no good, because the range is too small and it usually has pre-sets for the pitches of the guitar strings.

Tuner Rudy Smith uses a KORG DT-1 tuning device, and I use a KORG DT-2 (1991). This small tuning device covers the whole steel pan range and it is good at calculating the pitches, but it is rather expensive.