Introduction: How to Build a Hank Drum

Picture of How to Build a Hank Drum

This tutorial covers how to construct a hank drum, an instrument invented by Dennis Havlena that imitates the extremely expensive and difficult to obtain Hang Drum. This instrument can be built for $27 if one has all the necessary tools. A bargain considering one of these propane tank drums recently sold on ebay for over $10,000. The original instructions for this project can be found on Dennis Havlena's site at

This tutorial can be watched or read depending on your preference:

Step 1: Preparing for Construction

Picture of Preparing for Construction

The construction process is quite simple and only requires a few supplies.

You'll need an empty propane tank. Try and find a new one that has never been filled to avoid horrific injury. I found my at Wal-Mart in the camping section for $27.

A drill or dremel, a saber, jig, or similar electric saw, hack-saw blade, wrench, file, and electric tuner. If you do not have a tuner, you can use one of several tuner programs that install onto your computer and use a microphone. Try checking for one of these programs.

Step 2: Removing the Valve

Picture of Removing the Valve

First, remove the valve on the top of the propane tank. This mechanism is liquid-welded on and very difficult to remove. The best method is to use a wrench and then an extender such as a pipe to provide additional leverage.

Step 3: Remove Welded Ring

Picture of Remove Welded Ring

Next, remove the welded metal ring attached to the tank bottom. Try to avoid damaging the tank as this is where your notes will be cut. Chiseling or manually stressing the joints should allow you to "de-ring" the tank very quickly. File down any remaining nubs.

Step 4: Preparing for the Cut

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Print off and apply the tongue template to the top (what used to the bottom) of your tank. Mark where the tongues will be. If you will be changing the tuning of the drum as I did, go ahead and mark the tongues and adjust accordingly later. The template can be found at

To prepare for the cut, drill small connecting holes or dremel out a slit long enough and wide enough to insert your saw blade. Proceed to cut along the guide you traced earlier stopping about 1/4" from the end. Do this for every tongue.

Step 5: Removing Magnetic Filings

Picture of Removing Magnetic Filings

You have probably noticed the buildup of magnetic filings in the drum. Once all slits have been cut, try running a high pressure stream of water, as from a garden hose, through the tank to clean out the shards so they do not cause a rattle.

Step 6: Tuning

Picture of Tuning

Now for tuning. Be very careful not to tune too far as it is a pain to raise the pitch of a note. To tune start by taping down all the notes not being tuned to eliminate overtones and harmonics. Then, starting with the lowest note, proceed to slowly hack-saw (using only the blade) the tongue longer constantly tapping and measuring with the tuner to see when the note is in tune. Do this for all the tongues and do not get impatient. If you do mess up and cut too far, you must slowly trim down the top of the tongue to make it lighter and thus raise the pitch. Pleas note though that this is an extremely lengthy process.

Step 7: Playing the Instrument and Summary

Picture of Playing the Instrument and Summary

When playing the instrument, it is recommended that you wrap a bungee cord around the tank to help eliminate some ring and provide a better tone. Also, do not play the drum on a hard surface as it loses a large amount of it's sound. The drum will play better held in your lap on standing on carpet or grass.

I built mallets for my drum and I believe they provide a better tone. The mallets are simply two Spiderman superballs stuck on the ends of dowels. If you play with your hands, lightly tap the tongue about 2/3's of the way up to get the best tone.

My instrument was constructed for the state of Georgia's Science Olympiad where it won first place. It was used as the bass instrument and was therefore tuned much lower than what is optimal. I recommend you use the pentatonic scale Dennis Havlena uses for his.

All credit for this project goes to Dennis Hevlena, the inventor and original documenter. His site and instructions can be found at:


Bongmeister22 (author)2009-01-04

Awesome drum-we made 1 for a band (we also use jwilson27s altoids tin guitars and a bass. It works good. Also, could you use different size tanks for different sounds? We made ours with one whole octave in the key of low C

kventsias (author)Bongmeister222014-05-22

I think the innitial depth of the drum determines the octave? thoughts?

jegolf (author)kventsias2014-07-08

Nah, the size of the tab determines the hertz of the note. Longer, wider tabs will be lower. Shorter, thinner tabs will be higher.
You just tune them to the octave you want. The size of the drum itself will change overtones of the tank, and will create different rings depending on how long the sound has to bounce around inside.

Source: I've made over 50 of these. Great fun.

MariusS33 (author)jegolf2016-11-06

Hi :] have you experimented with tongue shapes? Fore example narrowing to the point vs widening to the point. I assume wider tip will give it more sound, because there is more vibration?

And maybe any idea how to create my own tongue layouts, how to calculate approximate sizes of the tongues for desired notes?

robertaross (author)2016-10-22

Hi, Hermes,

My drum is great but one note just doesn't "ring" right... kind
of dead, though in tune. Do you have any ideas to get that note to
"ring" like the rest? I'm afraid if I file or cut anything I'll change the pitch, which is right on now, but dull sounding.

Many thanks!

Frederik Poulsen (author)2016-09-03

Hey Guys

I live in Denmark where the standard propane tanks are either smaller or larger, and have a slightly different shape. Do you have any tips on how to adjust the shape and size of the steel-tongues to different sizes and shapes of propane tanks?

The best regards

Hi Frederik, the pitch of each note (in hertz), f = sqrt(stiffness/mass). The stiffness comes mainly from the thickness of each tongue (stiffness = t^3 and is therefore more critical than the mass), so if your drum has thicker wall section the pitch will go up and you will need longer and less wide tongues, to get the same pitch. You can make it artificially less stiff by filing it down and the tongue connection point (which is where it moves, so is the most critical place to influence the stiffness). Hope this helps. N

gumby_kevbo (author)2016-03-04

For those lacking a good ear or a dedicated tuner, decent instrument tuner Apps are available for iOS and possibly others (I don't have an Android device).

I really liked the one called spin tuner, but it doesn't seem to show in the App store any more.

MrShineHimDiamond (author)2010-01-01

Thank you Dennis! I made my first drum according to his template. My neighbor's grandson like playing it so much that I gave it the paint job you see pictured and had her give it to him for his birthday. (And it's a tribute, not a model.)
I've made a second one with a different pentatonic tuning. Both are from recycled tanks.
Anyone have tips on removing the methyl mercaptan smell? I soaked mine in a bleach/water solution which did the trick, but causes instant rust all over. Makes me worry what it's doing to the inside of the tank.

Hello, when you take the valve out, before you cut, you can fill the tank with water and dawn soap, or something equivilant. let it sit for couple hours and deodorize ;) I have a question for you.. I am having trouble figuring out the sequence in which to cut the notes. Do you cut and tune one at a time? I am not familiar with musical notation, but have been playing piano by ear for many years and can hear where i need to be. Any suggestions? thank you :)

jegolf (author)kventsias2014-07-08

When I make them I cut out pilot holes, then I cut all of my arcs.
Once all of the arcs are cut, then I start tuning them from lowest to highest.

Sometimes I'll just get them close to being perfect, then go back around again to fine tune them. For example, I would tune my low and high A's to 448Hz and 229Hz the first go around, then fine tune them down to 442Hz and 222Hz after everything else is tuned.

I always leave them a little sharp because paint will flatten the note. Time also flattens the note. Every drum will fall flat after some time, so tuning them sharp makes them sound crisper for longer.

Hope this helps!

deweybird (author)jegolf2016-01-30

I tune my guitar with 440 Hz set for the tuner for every note. Why can't this work for my drum. My tuner does't go lower than 410.

You might try fresh lemon,lime,or even grapefruit juice.Use as much as you can and use a brush where you can after it has sat on a while.

Hey do you happen to have a copy of the tongue template before the website for it went 404 on me? Thought I'll ask someone who posted a long time ago. Thank you, and sorry for the late posting :D


SteveO6 (author)2015-12-21

Can anyone can suggest a way that I can be certain a standard propane tank isn't pressurized? I've got one that I'm 99% sure is empty. I can open the twist valve, and no sound or hiss, but i believe there's a 'safety' valve that only allows a release when it's attached to a hose/stove/whatever - which I don't have. Can I take it into a home depot and just attach a hose and then try opening the valve? Is there a special tip on certain hoses that engages the safety valve? I found a screw on the side of the head that I'm told is the 'bleeder valve' and I've removed that completely - no hiss at all - wouldn't that be a pretty solid guarantee? If I remove the head slowly (outdoors) would that let me know, or would it just fire off like a rocket the minute I break the seal?

woody558 (author)2010-04-03

Where do you get an empty propane tank?

Thaikarl (author)woody5582015-11-22

i went to our buddy craigslist. found a guy who brought me tanks somebody gave him, sold them to me for 10$ each. but i'm still looking for freebies. you might post a "wanted" ad on craigslist, and check your local "free-cycle" boards. if there is gas in them, Bar B Que like crazy :-)

bigredlevy (author)woody5582010-04-27

LPG tanks have a short lifespan because the gas causes the metal to become brittle. you can find them at any garbage dump or recycling yard. they are usually very cheap, because you can no longer use them for gas.

the steel is really tough. i'll bet you'd go through quite a few blades cutting this.

jegolf (author)bigredlevy2014-07-08

Depends on the blades, and how patient you are.
I use anywhere between 1 bimetal jig saw blade, to 4 in any given drum.

kventsias (author)bigredlevy2014-05-22

C&C Plasma ;)

spylock (author)woody5582012-04-07

You can get old propane tanks at campgrounds that fill them up,alot of times they will have old tanks of all sizes that cant be reconditioned.If you play your cards right they may even give you a couple,but be nice and always offer to pay them something,ones atitude always plays a big part in all dealings.

ZenBer (author)woody5582011-01-21

You could do worse than one of these Hank ready propane tanks.

The_Geek (author)woody5582010-06-08

You can get them brand new off of amazon for about 35 bucks.

woody558 (author)The_Geek2010-06-08

Yeah, but then they'll be filled with propane.

The_Geek (author)woody5582010-06-08

I'm pretty sure that they are empty as USPS and UPS will not ship a full bottle of propane.

Billiam 71 made it! (author)2015-11-21

Made a tank drum for my girlfriend. She saw one at a hippie festival and loved the one the vender had. Just he was asking $350 for it. So without saying a word. When we got. I started looking up tank drums. I saw some very creative and some rougher looking ones. I practiced on a refrigerant tank with a jig saw. Used plasma on the propane. Mine was a rusted out tank next to a dumpster... not anymore :-D

thePoultryPeople made it! (author)2015-11-17

Thanks for providing some information that was of benefit! Made this over the course of a day, i just need to tune it now and maybe tweak it a bit, maybe next time put the hole on the bottom?

ClaireW2 (author)2015-04-30

Do you think using a smaller tank would effect the tuning and the sound of the hank even if i kept the tongues the same size? The template tunes to D minor which is my favourite tuning for these drums, so im not really interested in an alternative sound.

Of course!

hughes.decourson (author)2014-11-19

hello! i am about to try to build my first hand pan. I have a few small propane tanks (2 or 3 kg, from China and Indonesia), and I plan to go to a special factory which has laser cutting machines , draw the tongues carefully, and have them cut by laser . Then for fine tuning, what to do? a very small machine? And if I get too low, do I diminish the wide of the tongue?

alleex (author)2012-06-06

Hello! I`m in truble with tuning I know nothing about notes :( Could you help my pls? I`ve downloaded cromatia tuner but I don`t know what number note must be and what "flat" note is I also don`t know. Would be great if you could give me exact letter and number for each tongue.

Thank you very much!

jegolf (author)alleex2014-07-08

First of all, I highly recommend that you go to to learn up on how notes work. It will make the whole process make a lot more sense, and you'll have a greater idea of how all of this works. =)

Then just do a google search for "hertz of notes" and various web sites will pop up that will help you know what 'number' corresponds with what letter.

The numbers are the "hertz" of each of the notes. A Hert is the unit of frequency of the sound wave. So A 440Hz is a sound wave that hits your ear 440 times per second.

JMWins (author)2012-06-09
he is no longer at CMU, I guess

georion (author)2012-04-13

$10,000 way Jose

Lt. Duct Tape (author)2011-10-03

Anyone else think the Hank Drum got it's name from King Of The Hill?

rcarr6 (author)Lt. Duct Tape2011-11-14


conrad141 (author)Lt. Duct Tape2011-11-04

The instrument it is based off of is called a hang drum. Hang+tank+Hank.

soulmisfit (author)2011-06-06

Thanks for this Instructable! Super excited to give this a try. The sound has a nice mix of Gamelan like attack and decay.

rlmarket (author)2008-06-01

Kudos for an excellent Instructable, and to Michigan's Dennis Havlena. My hank drum was in tune at first but now each note is slightly flat after a week of playing (I can't hear it, but my electronic tuner says so.) Any ideas if this is from "work hardening" which makes metals stiffer from hammering? Do slight temperature differences affect the tuning noticeably? Also, any alternative templates or suggestions for tuning? Thanks!

Hermes (author)rlmarket2008-06-02

Temperature can affect tuning a lot. Don't worry if your instrument gets slightly out of tune, some may be because of the stress and some just transient temperature changes. As long as it remains in tune with itself, then there is not too much to worry about. ~Hermes

giovagenova (author)Hermes2011-03-08

Id love to build my own hank drum but here in Italy tanks are too small or too tall:

What can i do??

spark master (author)rlmarket2010-09-24

well, y'all won't wanna do this, but err,heat it up cherry red hold it there for a few seconds,(a magnet will not be attracted at the moment it is right). Then plunge it evenly into water tank, (metal garbage pail), cold water is best. Now we all know you need to completely protect your body from the erruption of steam that is gong to occur. Yo could use oil or even (i kid you not) urine. Then if you want it tempered like knife steel you reheat it to straw colored, (put it in a 450 oven and hold it for 30 miuntes, then open door and turn off oven)

1) you want to do this before paintingafter cutting, 2) you can demagnitise the magnet but not if you keep it from touching. As the thing gets close to that level it will begin to nt be attracted to the steel. I was told this method by a black smith inthe foundry at Colonial Wiliamsburg, and by a local smithie here on LI.

3) professionally made hangs have a hole in them, either top or bottom quite large actually so you could use a metal hole saw to make a hole then beat it with a shot put, (as is done when making steel pans). That hole allows you to coat the inside of the drum. I am getting a few used tanks on monday to do one.

I already made a simple ships bell from 1 pound prope can. I removed both valves and then ust tapped it with a finger. Sounds just like a ships brass bell. By cuttng it down (get a few of them) you can make a scale. If youcan find the right fitting youcan use the screw n threaded nipple as a mounting point, since it rings wonderfully even when holding it by that nipple. ttfn for now. Oh yes I fergit,I bought the dvd that Dennis Havlena offers, worth every pennyof the mere 10 0r soschadoles he asks for. The links shown here are no good anymore, but the tmplates are available. And he has one for side cutting the drumand a fat squat 1 pound bottle version.


rptalk2me (author)spark master2010-09-25

Thanks for the information on hardening steel. We'll be looking for your vids Spark Master!

spark master (author)rptalk2me2010-09-25

Not me thanks, note the name, too many scars that don't go away, and the blood...then there are the melted screwdrivers from Tom Edison's Hell...

if you go to steel pans site < > you can see how to do this. Hang(k) drums are varients of steel drums or tubular bells, but kinda close to a gong (to me, scientifically who knows). I think they sound better, but steel drums are neat as well. And If someone ever chucked one out on the street by me (I have seen 2 full drum kits tossed by me) I would snag it instantly.

Perhaps that which makes them akin to so many other things also makes them unique so they are what they are.

Also, according to the pages when you burn the thing and quench it, you will strip away all paint and rust, but you must buff it out immediately and paint it. You could still make final adjustments on the thing, but after hardening it is harder.

last, if you want the bottom to remain untempered(hardened), get fireclay or hydrated lime (warning WARNING WARNING WARNING use masks and gloves it is
DO NOT GET ON SKIN AARRGGHH), or use fire clay, ya still need to use mask and goggles, but less of a caustic issue.

Put a 1/4 inch thick layer of cement on the part you need to keep unhardened, allow to dry and proceed.

The coating will keep the steel from getting as hot as the rest and it should say a bit on the soft side. Additionally when you drench it stop at the clay line or just before it. This what gives SAmurai swords their bounce. The sword is hardened after sharpening on the edge all the way back to about a 1/4 of the spine then it is clay coated (but not in a perfect line) then it is fired and queunched.

Nasty Nasty Warning, ............................................................................................................since you are heating up steel and plunging it into ice water, you get a superheated steam for a second or two , very dsangerous you need to do it in a safe manner,


adding the clay or cement layer will add the possibility that the cement or clay can shatter and fly off at you like a gun shot.

Tis would be like going to a festival where they make Zeppoli in a big deep fryer and your kid goofing off chuckes a big fat ice cube into the oil (from behind you of course)

don't burn off anything important


fluidman (author)2011-01-31

Hey I am actually building a Hank Drum for my Bass Science Olympiad instrument and I was wondering what you tuned your drum to?

Btw great instructable!!

rptalk2me (author)2008-06-03

Left out in direct sun in Texas gets my hanks out of tune but they come right back to concert pitch when left a few minutes in the shade. Several hot an cold cycles might help to stabilize the tuning.
A new hank should be tuned 25 cent sharp (or more if you want to paint it as this will lower the pitch of the tongues) and played for a month or so. Every week or so tune the instrument with itself to keep it playable but always leave it a bit sharp. This will let the stresses work themselves out and you will gradually approach concert pitch. I think most kinds of finish coatings take on or give up moisture as the relative humidity changes. This changes the pitch of the tongues. There may also be some rusting underneath the tongues that contributes to out of tuneness.

Check out the "how to make a hank" pics on my MySpace:

Check out my YouTube for some poor quality (sorry) hank vids. There's lots of hang and hank vids on my playlists and favorites too:

spark master (author)rptalk2me2010-09-24

looks neato, it says the drumhad a chemical treatment, What was the treatment?

rptalk2me (author)spark master2010-09-25

It's made by Metal Finishes Supply Inc.

spark master (author)rptalk2me2010-09-25

but what was the finish you used?

About This Instructable



Bio: I am a filmmaker, student, and tinkerer. I love designig and building devices instead of purchasing them. Instructables is a great way to do that ... More »
More by Hermes:How to make a Professional Short Film for $80 (Part II - Production)How to make a Professional Short Film for $80 (Part I - Pre-Production).How to Build a Hank Drum
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