Sapele Stave Snare Drum




Introduction: Sapele Stave Snare Drum

This past eight months has been a trying time for musicians and musical opportunities in 'normal' social situations. With gigs at a minimum, I decided it would be fun and a challenge to build myself a guitar, a chambered body Telecaster guitar with a 4 way switch for tone versatility, to be exact. I did that, and it turned out to be maybe my favorite guitar in the 'quiver' currently. But, that's for another Instructable.

After the guitar turned out so well, I started perusing the parameters of the internet to see what other wood oriented builds folks were doing. I came across the 'stave built snare' on a Youtube search, and, since my oldest son is a drummer, I figured this would be a good one to tackle. And I could incorporate some time with my 31 yr old son who leads a very busy work life, and might appreciate some time trying his hand at something new.

We started this project in mid - October in hopes to be done by Christmas, as this drum would be my gift to him. We finished before Thanksgiving (my OCD and 'git er dun' mentality took over) taking advantage of some unusually warm and sunny November weather in Minnesota. Here is our process, along with many photos to add to the build thread. I hope you enjoy our journey as you follow along, and give this a try in the future. It won't be my last stave built snare, I know that for sure!


-7 linear ft of 7/8" thick, 6" wide Sapele dimensional lumber. Sapele is in the Mahogany family.

-2 seven inch and 2 four inch hose clamps to combine to make 2 stave clamping bands

-2 2 x 4' 3/4" plywood panels

-Assorted lengths of 1 x 3 and 1 x 6 pine lumber

-1 4' length of 5/8" large threaded rod

-2 1' lengths of 5/8" large threaded rod

-6 washers and nuts to fit the 5/8" rods

-box of 1 5/8" wood screws

-Titebond wood glue

-table saw


-drill press and hand held drill

-assorted other tools

-snare drum heads and hardware parts

Step 1: Cutting and Shaping the Wood Staves

We selected Sapele from our local Rockler dealer because of it's sonic qualities, relative hardness, and cost. The first step was to cut the stave material to the proper width. Since we were using 16 staves on our 14" snare drum, we cut them to 2.75 " wide. Diameter(14) x 3.14 divided by 16 . To get the correct angle on the edges of each stave to add up to a full 360 degrees of a full circle, we divided 360 by 16 staves which came to 22.5 degrees; but each stave has 2 sides, so you divide that number by 2 and end up with a 11.25 degree angle on each stave vertical edge.

We did the bevel on the long pieces first after they were cut to width, and then cut the individual staves to our calculated 7" deep snare drum we wanted to build. Most snare drums are 5.5" , 6", or 8" but we were looking for something unique.

Step 2: Stacking the Staves, Binding and Gluing

The next step was to stack the staves in the round shape of the drum, and bind them together using the hose clamp straps. This is a 'dry fit' stage, to make sure the edges are lined up well. We did reconfigure this a couple of times, certain staves fit better next to others, until we got the fit we wanted.

After they are bound and tightened up, we wrapped two strips of blue painter's tape around the shell in between the two clamps. Wrap the tape as tightly as possible, as this will be our retention system for keeping the staves in place for the gluing.

Next we removed the clamping straps, and then cut the tape where two of the stave edges met. This released the round shape, and we then laid it out on a table surface, outside facing down, so the beveled edges of the staves were opened and facing up. Then we applied a fairly generous amount of glue to each gap between the staves.

After all the joints were full of glue, we folded the staves back up into the shell shape, and bound it with the clamping straps once again, tightening to max pressure. After removing the painters tape, we used water and rags to wipe away the glue squeeze out and clean up the shell surface inside and out.

We left the clamping straps on for 3 days to insure that the glue would be completely dry. The process was done in our garage, which while we worked was near 60 degrees F but overnight was more like the 40's.

Step 3: Making the 'rounding' Jigs

Probably the most tricky part of this project was making the jigs that would be used for rounding the outside and the inside of the stave shell. I watched numerous Youtube vids on this process, and combined a few different ideas to create mine. The actual measurements I won't share, because it was more or less a 'calculate as you go' type of affair, but if you examine the photos closely you will be able to get the general idea. For scale purposes, remember that both jigs were mounted on a 2 x 4' piece of 3/4" plywood. I would use at least this thick of base to keep them as flat and sturdy as possible.

We first cut two round clamping panels out of 1/2" plywood to clamp on the top and bottom of the shell. A 5/8" hole was drilled in the dead center of the panels, and two parallel holes drilled opposite each other on either side of the center hole. The shorter 12" rods were threaded through, washers and nuts applied, and the shell centered between the panels as close as possible. Then the shell was placed between the risers of the jig, and the 4' rod passed through one riser, a nut then washer applied, then the shell, then threaded through the other riser of the jig.

The router was mounted with 3 bolts from underneath the platform and set to just take off about 2 mm of wood at a time per pass as we gradually turned the shell and passed over the inverted bit. This is a step that requires equal pressure at all times, patience (we made MANY passes) and optimism. The first few passes were very tenuous and it didn't take shape and look smooth till the last 2 - 3 rounds.

The inside rounding jig was then constructed, and a similar process of rounding took effect. Again, the jig is a compilation of ideas, and seemed to work well. One thing I learned is, TIGHTEN the router bit as tight as you can, and re-do after you are about half way through the rounding on both outside and inside. A loose bit causes gouges and deeper grooves in some places. Which can cause frustration and pessimism. If you know what I mean.

We took the shell to our local custom drum shop builder / owner to show him what we were up to. I had previously encountered him when I had an old '60s snare that had been dropped and broken through the mahogany shell and damaged the strainer, so we already had made our introductions. He was impressed at our project, and understood some of the issues I had routing out the inside and cutting too deep along the first 1/2" or so on the rim of the shell. Upon his recommendation, we let him grab the shell, put it on his table saw, and trim both top and bottom about 3/4" to remove the badly routed portions. We now had a 5.25" deep stave snare. Which was fine by us! This also helped to get the edges level, as he had a large heavy duty table on his saw that was nearly dead flat. It was a valuable trip in many ways.

Step 4: Finished (?) Width and Staining / Finishing the Shell

After producing a few pounds, literally, of sawdust, we ended up with an approximate shell thickness of 11 mm. Our initial goal was 12 mm, so I felt really good getting that close with our relative Flintstone style jigs and methods! You can see in photo #2 how much material was removed to achieve that thickness.

The next step was the finishing of the shell. I had some Min-Wax Gunstock stain on hand, and some Zinssers Amber Shellac. Photo #3 is the Gunstock stain on a scrap piece, and #4 is the Amber Shellac. We ended up using the stain first, and then adding the shellac for a top coat. It produced a lustrous shine and yet let the grain come through from the Sapele wood. We were on the home stretch....or so we thought.

I had measured the shell diameter at the end of the rounding, and it was dead on at 14". I figured, 14" shell for a 14" snare drum, right? Nada. Nope. Unh unh. Wrong. I grabbed the box of Aquarian heads and tried to place the batter head on the shell. No go. The shell was too big.

We had dragged the shell in to our local custom drum shop, where they make their own drums, kits, and sell drum products, and the owner / builder had seen our shell the week prior, before we got it stained and finished. But we hadn't talked about the exact dimension. When we returned to the shop on the second week, he was admiring our work and our shell, and had offered to advise us with the next step; cutting the bearing edges.

As I handed him the drum I mentioned that we had one problem; the shell was too big. As he held it, he basically said," I hate to break it to you, but you're screwed." (in so many words) Not to be deterred, and being the over-achiever that I am, I took it home and proceeded to take off the additional 1/8" off the outside of the shell, re-did the finish (decided to just use the Gunstock stain, and then a wood preservative after) and began assembling the drum.

Step 5: Final Rounding, Reinforcement Hoops, Bearing Edges, and Drilling Holes

I took the shell home, put it on the outside rounding jig, and got it down to the proper dimension. Set the drum head and rim FITS! Then I stained it with the Gunstock and applied the wood preservative oil. Because we were now down to around a 6 mm thick shell, I decided to add re-rings for reinforcement of the shell at the edges. The snare heads are under quite a bit of pressure and I wanted a stable, yet still light and resonant shell.

I found 14" embroidery hoops at my local fabric store, and used the inner ring of two hoops as my re-rings. Cut them to fit, glued and clamped in place and moved on to the bearing edge cutting. The traditional bearing edge on a snare drum is cut to 45 degrees. Upon the recommendation of our drum shop guru, I cut the 45 on the inside of the shell 'deeper' and a shallower 45 degree cut on the outside of the shell. This placed the new 'edge' out on the Sapele wood, where the tone could migrate through the grain of the wood from the heads. Another note on the grain being placed up and down versus horizontally, is to allow the sound waves to travel freely in the direction of the vibration from the head through the wood cells of the shell.

I used a 45 degree bit in the base of the 'outside rounding' jig and it served the double purpose well. Then I measured the outside circumference of the shell with a sewing tape measure (flexible plastic tape) and marked out the points for the 10 lugs and their single mounting holes. I rounded a two by four chunk to fit the inside curve of the shell to alleviate any tear out or splitting. Holding the chunk up against the inside while I used a hand power drill from the outside worked well. I then countersunk the hole a bit for the nipple on the lug so it would sit more flush.

Step 6: Mounting the Lugs and Hardware, Strainer, Butt Plate, and Trial Run

I mounted up the lugs and hoops with the heads in place, got the tension set and the heads tuned to pitch, and sat back and admired the look. I am pleased with how this turned out, and it was certainly my most challenging project so far. Many new concepts and ideas and skills were implemented to make this happen. It was a growing experience for sure!

We stopped in to the drum shop for the third week in a row, to show off our results. The owner / builder was impressed. So much so that he had to throw it on a stand and take a few hits on the kit with our snare. The Sapele wood came to life as he moved through some progressions. And it looked great matched up with his own custom built, walnut shelled kit he had made.

Only one step left; head to the studio and let my son put it through it's paces....

Step 7: The Stamp of Approval!

We paired the snare with my son's Odery drum kit. It is a 5 piece kit, and kicks out a lot of sound. After a few turns on the new snare, it got his stamp of approval. It has a mid-low range of tone, which cuts through and has a lot of crack and pop. He only had a few minutes to give it a try, but more extensive playing will be happening this weekend. The last photo is a short video clip of the snare in action.

In summary, this was a very fun project. I always enjoy making things that have purpose, and have both form and function tied in to the design. This drum met that design to the fullest extent.

Thanks for viewing this Instructable, and I look forward to your comments and questions. Be well, stay safe.

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    2 years ago

    the shell came out great. now that you made it and are aware of all the pitfalls, try another one, you'll really be surprised at how great it will turn out and you'll be able to make it to your original 7" deep size and make it thicker by removing more of the out side, the inside isn't as important in its rounding... i know a few drum builders who wouldn't take much off the inside leaving it still squared off (if that's the correct and then rounding the out side, these thick shelled drums were loud and had a great tone! Nice job though!!


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks! I have actually built a second snare, Curly Maple wood, 14 x 7, with a 10mm thick shell. Has a big tone, and is a good compliment to my son's 5 piece kit.


    2 years ago on Step 7

    The Sapele looks classy and nice job on the low tech jigs.
    Did you add snare beds? If not, that would reduce the ring/buzz of the snares.
    You could also resolve the lug splay by adding spacers under the lugs. I've done this with laser cut discs, slices of dowel stock, and even cut leather discs. With the tension rods running parallel to the shell, you'll get more even tuning and won't strip out the treads over time.


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks, Bales! Yes, I did add snare beds, forgot to mention that aspect in the build. Your idea to correct the tension rod splay is a good one. When I had to go back and take more material from the outside of the shell, I actually got a final diameter that was a little under 13 7/8. My mounting bolts are long enough so I would def have room to add some spacers under the lugs.
    I appreciate the feedback! OJ