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

Practical section

Making and Tuning a Steel Pan

Panmakers' working methods are usually learned during a long time as apprentice of a respected master. The methods may later be changed and formed by the tuner's own personal preferences. In crafting, the same result can often be accomplished in several ways and things can be done in different orders. The intended result may be the only common denominator of the different working methods.

It is hard to describe handicraft work in writing. To describe the crafting and tuning work, I have chosen to report the various steps of one method to make functioning steel pans. I have tried to emphasize what I believe is the desired result of each step, rather than the exact working process. It is up to the reader to judge if he wants to work in this way or use some other method to get the required result. A skilled panmaker often omits some of the steps described here, because the precision of his work usually makes them redundant.

Each chapter in the practical section is structured according to the following first, a brief description of what is to be done, second, why it is done and third, how it is done. For the sake of clarity I have been forced to dissect the work of the panmaker into discrete pieces. The many small steps described here are often interlinked with each other in a continuous flow of work that can be very hard to penetrate. When you do the actual work you will often find it hard to separate the steps from each other.

The main stages in the making and tuning process, together with a rough estimate of the used time for a professional panmaker, are:

  • Choosing the drum
  • Sinking
2 hours
  • Marking of notes
30 min.
  • Backing
1 hour
  • Grooving
1 hour
  • Levelling
1 hour
  • Cutting
30 min.
  • Tempering
30 min.
  • Coarse tuning
2-4 hours
  • Making holes for hanging
30 min.
  • Fine tuning
  • Finishing
  • Blending

The making of a steel pan set is usually about two days of work for a tuning team: The first day the sinker does the sinking, backing, grooving, levelling and the tempering. The second day the tuner does the tuning. The blending - the last fine tuning - is done after the chroming and has to be repeated later when the pan gets out of tune.

The description of the crafting process involves many terms that are special to steel pan making and also many measures. Before continuing, it may be appropriate to take a look at appendix E for a definition of the terms used for the various parts of the steel pan. In the beginning of appendix A there is an explanation of the measures and a conversion table between inches and millimetres.