Introduction: Droning Machine

Picture of Droning Machine
This device is a tribute to one of the coolest movies of recent memory, Eli Eli Lema Sabachthani. In the movie, the protagonists improvised a lot of cool instruments with the goal of making a pure and beautiful noise. One of the most striking things they made was a droning machine built out of an old fan, an umbrella and some drainage tubing. You can see this device in action 56 seconds into the movie trailer.

After dreaming about making one for a long time, I finally went ahead and did it. It was a lot of fun to make, and it worked pretty much as advertised. The biggest problem I encountered is that I was over driving the fan motor and I probably could have chosen a more powerful one that could have handled more tubing (more weight). I will solve this problem for revision two.

Anyhow, without further ado, here is how to make your own.

Step 1: Go Get Stuff

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You will need:

A box fan
An umbrella
Ribbed tubing
A 1' foot metal tube with a diameter slightly bigger than your motor shaft
A rod clamp slightly bigger than your metal tube
Zip ties
Assorted tools

Step 2: Take Apart the Fan

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Remove the front cover from the fan.

Forcibly pull the fan blade mount from the motor shaft.

Step 3: Measure

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Measure the diameter of the shaft and get an extruded 1 foot metal tube with an inner diameter of that value.

Also get a rod clamp with a set screw that can fit around the tube.

Step 4: Clamp

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Tightly clamp the metal tube to the motor shaft with your rod clamp.

Step 5: Strip the Umbrella

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Remove the cloth from the umbrella.

This may require breaking, bending and/or sawing off a clamp at the top of the umbrella that is holding the cloth in place.

Step 6: Saw Off the Handle

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Saw off the handle of the umbrella in such a way that you will be able to remove the base off the shaft when done.

Step 7: Remove the Spring

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Carefully free the spring from the umbrella. Be careful as the spring is springy and this may cause the spring and/or the pointy bits of the umbrella frame to launch towards or away from you.

Step 8: Simplify

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Break off the sharp pointy bits sticking off the edge of the frame (the part that extend past the folding joint).

Step 9: Free It

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Entirely remove the folding part of the frame from the main umbrella shaft

Step 10: Remove the Extra Hangy Bits

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Carefully break away any extra pieces that may dangle, make noise or otherwise be a hindrance when the frame is mounted on a rapidly spinning motor shaft.

Step 11: Fasten the Umbrella

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It is time to fasten the umbrella frame onto the extended drive shaft.

Simple lower the bottom part onto the shaft and don't worry about securing it for now (it will be held in place later by zip ties).

Bring the top part of the frame near the top part of the shaft and drill completely through both the top bracket and the shaft. Insert a metal pin through this hole and bend it to lock the top in place. If the top is loose, you can insert a rubber O-ring to solve this problem.

For my pin, I sawed in half one of those "dangly bits" from the last step, inserted it through the hole and bent it upwards. This worked great.

Step 12: Cut Tubes

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Cut your tube into 8" to 18" sections.

Step 13: Zip Tie

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Zip tie them onto the motor shaft and frame so that they make a nice 90 degree arc.

While zip tying them, you should also determine that approximate height you want the bottom part of the umbrella frame to sit at and zip tie this in place as well.

Step 14: Plug and Play

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Plug it in and let it drone.

I found that you shouldn't run it for more than a few minutes as you are typically over-working the motor and it starts to get worryingly hot.

I have not had the chance to properly record this yet, but I would imagine the ideal place to have a mic would be in close, below the spinning mechanism, pointing upwards at 45 degrees.


afridave (author)2016-06-10

what a pointless and very weird project.....I love it.....making nonsense for nonsense sake...and learning something(not sure what( along the way..

TomV4 (author)2015-11-18

The referenced link leads to a movie named "Eri Eri rema sabakutani", not "Eli Eli Lema Sabachthani"!

"Eli Eli lema sabachthani?" or "Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?" are actually the Aramaic words of Jesus Christ as he was dying on the cross. He was, in turn, quoting Psalm 22:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" or "My God, my God, for what have you forsaken me?"

sdfgeoff (author)2011-12-02

No ways, a UFO sound......

sprocketscientist (author)2011-02-16

I love the spacey sound this makes. I have an idea to make a small one but not sure how well it would work. I want something I can just put into the chuck of a cordless drill. Any thoughts on that?

dragonfly_blue (author)2010-10-18

Ah yes, the Droning Engine revisited. I wonder how long it will take to transcribe the test run this time? A friend of mine is nearly deaf and is always disappoint about the lack of transcripts.

gabrieljosh (author)2009-07-30

You can also use a white noise machine in the office to mask out distracting noises and increase concentration.

macrumpton (author)2009-07-09

I think it would work without the umbrella (aside from the cool look). You could just attach a long tube by the center to the motor shaft so the two ends are like the blades of a propeller. You might have to cut a hole in the center of the tube if it depends on air flowing from the center to the ends. You could tape a dowel to the tube to stiffen it if it is too floppy. I suppose you could also do a similar thing with a bullroarer, which also makes a great sound.

finfan7 (author)2009-07-09

It would be interesting to put different lengths of pipe and add weights to keep it balanced to see if you could get it to make a chord. Or take it and an alien mask/gloves to a amusingly gullible friends window.

randofo (author)finfan72009-07-09

To play a few different notes at once is the eventual plan. I think I need a bigger motor. Someone suggested that I balance it with lead tape that they sell at sporting goods stores, which seemed like a good idea.

Mark Rehorst (author)2009-07-04

I like stuff like this! I bet this is a real howler- please post a recording so we can hear it!

TechNerd1012 (author)2009-07-01

i used to have a toy similar to this. it collapsed, but when it was extended you would twirl it around, and it would make a noise similar to this one

thepelton (author)TechNerd10122009-07-02

It was called a "Bloogle" as I recall.

AndyGadget (author)2009-06-30

So much work gone in to make such a pointless machine - I love it!
(The comment above is NOT a criticism - you should see what I've got planned ;¬)

thepelton (author)AndyGadget2009-07-01

Pointless machines are fun! Why does everything have to have a purpose?

AndyGadget (author)thepelton2009-07-01

The comment was not meant to be sarcastic! I love pointless machines - I've made many in my time. The more effort put in and the more it does to acheive absolutely no useful purpose , the better it is! If everything had to be efficient and frivolity was banned the world would be a very, very boring place. It's the individualists, eccentrics and downright loonies who make life worth living.

Transquesta (author)AndyGadget2009-07-02

NOW yer catchin' on! :-)

thepelton (author)Transquesta2009-07-02

I concur. Maybe I conpurebreed. Haha!

Transquesta (author)thepelton2009-07-02

Precisely! Anyone who has to ask 'why' is not a true maker (IMHO, of course). Sometimes, because a thing CAN be done, it MUST be done. :-D

thepelton (author)2009-07-01

One other thing. I was thinking of adding something like this to my bicycle. Maybe I wouldn't be ignored by other traffic as much.

TechNerd1012 (author)thepelton2009-07-01

on the sides of the wheels? if so, then id be kinda scared if i saw you riding down the road haha jk

thepelton (author)TechNerd10122009-07-02

I might try putting a tube like that into the spokes of the wheels so it would hopefully sing while I went down the street.

brandonssk (author)2009-07-02

Hmm, what if you just attach the tubes to the fan blades themselves? Or are you going for an artistic look as well?

lieuwe (author)2009-07-02

i made one that bolts onto a drill, but it makes an anoying high sound and is unbalanced enough to make the earth leave it's orbit :-)
i think the length off the tube makes the pith higher/lower, longer tube=lower pitch

Ideaphore (author)2009-07-01

Search Google for corrugahorn for more info on musical corrugated pipes.

canida (author)2009-07-01

Weirdly enough, in person it sounds not unlike a theramin.

TechNerd1012 (author)2009-07-01

hm, the last picture looks REALLY safe lol

Transquesta (author)2009-07-01

I'd rather buy a white noise generating apparatus of some kind myself, but I can't deny this project is still WAY cool. The most impressive aspect of it is the balance of the mechanism while in operation! Considering the, ahem, 'construction material,' that's an awesome demonstration of engineering talent. You're right, though: I'd upsize the motor to around a quarter-horse--something like an old condenser fan motor from a junker HVAC system. How the higher torque/RPM's would affect the sound is anyone's guess.

Transquesta (author)Transquesta2009-07-01

. . .Oh, and one other thing if it hasn't been mentioned. The motors on box fans are designed to get their cooling from in-rushing air--meaning that operating it flat against the floor like that is a safety/fire hazard. I'd put some cinder blocks or something on each corner for proper ventilation if you're gonna use this thing 'routinely.'

thepelton (author)Transquesta2009-07-01

Had a similar problem with an old disk drive. I put it on an open wood support frame so air could come in underneath, and it stopped overheating.

goatgirly (author)2009-07-01

What is the purpose?

goatgirly (author)goatgirly2009-07-01

Now i get it.(I turned on the sound)That is one cool noise it makes.

thepelton (author)goatgirly2009-07-01

Didn't you ever hear a bloogle before? I remember them from about fifteen years ago. Just about a yard (meter) of corrugated tubing that would make about four notes (like a valveless trumpet) depending on how fast you twirled it. I could play "Taps" on it.

InfamousKirch (author)2009-07-01

You should probably stereo-mic it , like place one on the floor to the left & another on a stand above it to the right, pan each mic to hard-left & hard-right to get the Doppler effect... They used to sell tube specifically design for this sound @ toy-stores, but vacuum hose works too, I think it just has to be corrugated...

firehazrd (author)2009-07-01

I'm making one! Very nice project.

Jake Morton (author)2009-06-30

wow that is coollll

SirBrittanicvs (author)2009-06-30

I absolutely love ambient/white/droning noise machines/music. I'd like to try this myself. :)

amplex (author)2009-06-30

great idea, cool sound, looks awesome!! too bad it takes up so much space, nice modulating drone out of it though =] sounds like one of the voices in my weird sound generator (that Ray Wilson from MFOS designed) but if you used 2 or more mics panned hard left/right you could probably capture the spaciousness that we are missing out on with only 1 mic. nice job, very unique instrument!!!!!

Bongmaster (author)2009-06-30

reminds me :) i wanted to build something like the one they used in Riven :)

fwjs28 (author)2009-06-30


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Bio: My name is Randy and I am a Community Manager in these here parts. In a previously life I had founded and run the Instructables ... More »
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