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I wasn't able to find reliable plans on the web for building an actual working thunder drum.  Most plans featured drums that ended up not working or were not truly a thunder drum anyway.  Follow these simple steps for an ultra easy to build thunder drum that will rival the expensive ones!   Total cost is under $15 for a large sized drum.   Please be sure and read ALL STEPS FIRST before beginning your build. 

Step 1: Obtain Materials

You will need a large, Quaker or similar 1 minute quick oatmeal container.  Make sure it has a cardboard bottom and NOT metallic!  Dimensions of this oatmeal container are approximately 5" across and 9.5" length. 

You then need a spring.  The type of spring is crucial to obtaining the proper sound.  I recommend this one from McMaster-Carr:
9665K54.  The spring specs are 0.187" OD, 0.020 wire diameter, 20" length and type 302 stainless.  Cheaper springs may work, but have not been tried in this diameter.

You will need a vice, needle nose pliers, and a 15 foot tape measure.  Lastly, you will need a pen with a decent point.     

Step 2: Preparation and Assembly

Hold one end of the complete spring in a vise, then hold the other end with needle nose pliers and stretch it to a length of 122". Hold the stretch for a full minute, then release the tension, and cut the spring in half.  The length of the half spring should be about 16.5".  

Carefully peel the Quaker label from the oatmeal container.  This should be fairly easy.  All of the containers I've encountered feature the label wrapped around the cylinder with a single, vertical strip of glue holding the label around the form.  Therefore, all of the label should easily remove except maybe a little more effort using careful peeling around the area of the glue strip. 

This next procedure is optional.  This is the time to paint (or polyurethane coat) the oatmeal container if you wish.  I recommend brush painting because none of the bottom part of the container should be painted, either inside or out (painting the bottom might negatively affect resonance).  It's ok to paint the rest of the cylinder, however.  Allow to dry before proceeding further.     


Using the pen tip, carefully poke a small hole in the center of the bottom of the oatmeal container.  Carefully insert one end of the now cut spring (approx. 16.5" length) and begin to wind carefully as the spring takes hold onto the oatmeal container bottom.  If you have difficulty, temporarily lift the end of the spring using a toothpick or similar until you are able to thread it into the hold and start winding.  Although initial experiments involved using needle nose pliers to permanently bend one end of the spring to allow better threading into the container bottom, I no longer recommend this.  The spring should be kept in as original shape as possible, other than the stretching modification.  Turn clockwise until 3-4 turns of the spring are present on the bottom's other side.   

Optional:  I didn't do this with mine, but if this unit is going to see heavy use you might want to glue the spring to the cardboard bottom.  Use some drops of superglue and let dry.    
 



Step 3: Ready for Use!

If you glued the spring to the bottom, please wait until dry, but otherwise the thunder drum is ready for use!  Start shaking gently and then with more force as the spring vibrates and causes thunder sounds!  I find best results by holding my arm stationary and then fluttering my hand sort of in a see-saw fashion, faster and slower in this rhythm. 

Enjoy your thunder drum!

Step 4: Final Notes

This thunder drum, as built, will fairly closely mimic the sounds produced by the $30-50 5-6" diameter drums found online and elsewhere.  You have the option to experiment with different cylinders and springs, but spring cost can add up quickly.  Most hardware store springs won't offer the proper resonance for the cylinder, unfortunately, but you may get lucky. 

       

Step 5: One Other Option....

For an even louder, thunderous sound, you can try replacing the spring with a slightly larger one like the one here:

http://www.mcmaster.com/#9662K41

No stretching of this spring is necessary.  However, be prepared to experiment further in order to get the sound just right plus I highly recommend gluing this spring in place once the tonal qualities are determined properly. 
<p>Thanks! I'd told my daughter about these things a couple weeks ago and have tried a number of variants based on other's instructions I found around the web and none of the results were particularly satisfying in their sound quality. Following (mostly) your guide here, I now have several with which I am VERY pleased with and for sure, my daughter will LOVE these when she gets to play with them tonight!</p>
<p>This really does work! I made two of these yesterday for our Science Carnival, a large one with the oatmeal box and a smaller one with a raisin box. They sound great! Thanks so much for the excellent instructions!</p>
Hi Biggsy: <br> <br>Proper resonance of the tube/ spring combination is fairly critical. Through a lot of experimentation, I found this oatmeal sized container had about the best characteristics for this sized spring. Thickness of the cylinder, especially where the spring is attached, and type of membrane can affect resonance and sound greatly. Too thin of a membrane, and you hear the clicking of the spring along with the thunder. Too thick, and you have to shake too hard to get any decent resonance.
Hmm i wonder if this would work with a packing tube if i made a tight fitting card top...

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