The Timekeeper

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Introduction: The Timekeeper

As a drummer, my job is keeping time. As a maker, my job is making interesting things - and I especially like making clocks! So when it occurred to me that a great clock face could be made from a drum head, I thought of making the 12 points on the clock face align with the 12 lugs around a drum head. So I started getting some parts together and eventually built the clock you see here.

This could be done in many different ways - this is my take on it and I hope it inspires some of you to try out your own ideas. You may have a complete 12-lug drum that can be cut down to a shallow enough depth to hang on a wall, or you may be building this from separate components. Either way, I'll share with you the steps, materials and tools you'll need for a successful build, including a few special tricks that I learned from my build.

Step 1: Supplies and Tools

You'll need a clock mechanism of course, plus these drum components:

  • A drum shell. The depth isn't that important as you'll need to cut it down for hanging on a wall, but it will probably have to be a 14" or 15" diameter shell to find a matching 12-lug hoop. If you're a drummer you may have one around, or may want to buy a brand new one, but I found an old used one on eBay fairly easily. It wasn't in the greatest shape (as you can see) but the shell itself is not very visible once it's hanging on a wall. The best kind of shell to get would have 12 lug holes, and the next best would have 6, so that you just need to add 6 more evenly in between. An 8 or 10-lug drum will need to be re-drilled for 12 lugs and then you would need to fill in some of the existing holes.
  • A metal rim or "hoop" with 12 lug holes. This will likely be the most expensive component - most drums have 6, 8, or 10 lugs, and 12-lug hoops are typically only found on marching snare drums, which are typically 14" in diameter and pretty heavy-duty. Again, you could buy a brand new one, but I found one on eBay from a marching snare for a reasonable price.
  • 12 lugs with all the appropriate hardware. This is the fun part because there are so many styles out there. Make sure your lugs include all the bolts and washers that will attach the lugs to the shell, and also the tension rods that will attach the rim to the lugs. The bolt threads can differ between styles and brands, so it's safest to buy them with the lugs. You might have noticed in my pictures that only half of the lugs have tension rods - my eBay seller didn't provide a complete set. Also note that some lugs will come with gaskets that can be placed between the lug and the shell.
  • A drum head that fits the shell and rim. There are many different styles to choose from including clear, white, black, various pinstripes and dots, etc. Just get the right diameter for your shell and hoop and pick a look that works for you. I used a Remo Emperor coated head that had taken a few hits already.
  • A pair of drum sticks for the clock hands, if you want to do what I did with my clock.
  • Picture frame wire or other mechanism for hanging the finished clock on a wall.

Aside from eBay or Craigslist, try a local drum shop or music store. They may have some inexpensive used or even broken parts that would look good enough and work suitably for this application.

A few specific tools you'll need:

  • A basic wood saw can be used to cut down your drum shell to the depth you want.
  • A drill and various drill bits will be needed to mount the clock mechanism, and if you want to make your own clock hands. It will also be needed if the spacing of the holes for the lugs you choose don't match the holes in the shell, or if they're a different size. My shell had 6 lugs, but I needed different spacing so I had to drill out all 12 sets of holes.
  • A disc or other power sander if you want to make hour and minute hands out of drumsticks.
  • A tapered reamer is a really helpful tool for making a good press fit between the holes in the clock hands and the clock mechanism. A rat-tail file might also do the trick.
  • A drum key will make it really easy to tighten up the tension rods around the head. It's square and although you might be able to find a nut driver to fit, a drum key will work perfectly.

Step 2: Prepare the Shell

  1. Measuring and marking. First you'll need to determine the minimum distance that the clock face can be from the wall. Place the drum head on one side of the shell, and lay the hoop over the drum head. Then run one of the tension rods through a hole in the rim, and thread it into one of the lugs. Now place a locating mark on the shell where the mounting holes will need to be for the lug. Use a tape measure to place marks all the way around the shell for the rest of the mounting holes. In my case, I already had 6 set of mounting holes, so I used a tape measure to help mark the new holes halfway between the existing ones. Finally, a made a mark all the way around the shell where I wanted to cut it off, leaving just a little depth below the lugs.
  2. Cutting down the shell. This is an optional step depending on the depth of your shell and your own preference. I used a hacksaw to cut along the line I marked since my shell was extremely thin.
  3. Drilling the mounting holes. Finally, drill out the mounting holes using a drill bit one size larger than the mounting columns on the lugs. Those will go through the shell and receive the bolts from the other side.

Step 3: Attach the Lugs

  1. If your lugs came with gaskets, place one on one of the lugs first. Place the lug onto the shell with the mounting columns going into the holes you drilled.
  2. Now place a washer on one of the bolts (some bolts come with integrated washers) and pass it through the shell into the lug and finger tighten it. Place the other one through the same way, then tighten them both with a screwdriver.
  3. Repeat all the way around for all 12 lugs.

Step 4: Attach the Drum Head and Rim

  1. Place the drum head onto the shell. If there's a logo on the drum head, you'll probably want to align it with the lug that will be at the 12 o'clock position.
  2. Place the rim over the head, aligning the holes in the rim with the lugs below.
  3. Drop a tension rod through each hole in the rim and thread it into a lug.
  4. Finger tighten each tension rod until the drum head is flat (with no wrinkles across it).
  5. Using the drum key, tighten each tension rod another full turn to keep the drum head tight. Since we're not tuning this like a real drum, it doesn't really matter what order you tighten them in, just make sure when you're finished that the head is still flat. If there are wrinkles, tighten the tension rods closest to the wrinkles to flatten them out. You may hear some light pops or snaps as you're tightening - that's normal when seating a drum head, especially a brand new one.

Step 5: Attach the Clock Mechanism

  1. Mark the center of your drum head. Stretch a tape measure across a pair of tension rods, for example from the 12 o'clock to the 6 o'clock, making a light pencil line along the tape, near the center. Repeat this using the 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock pair. Where the lines cross will be the center.
  2. First drill a pilot hole through the center using a small drill bit. Then drill a larger hole as required for the clock mechanism. Your clock kit should include some instructions or a template providing the size of the hole needed.
  3. Push the clock mechanism through the back of the drum head, including a washer on that side if provided, and then fasten it at the front with a washer and nut.
  4. Line up the top of the clock mechanism with your 12 o'clock lug, then hand tighten the nut on the front, making sure the clock doesn't move out of position.

Step 6: Create and Attach the Hands

Making the hands is not as tricky as it might look, and it adds a nice effect.

  1. You'll need to sand down part of each wooden-tip drumstick on both sides, leaving just a flat cross-section of each stick. I measured the length I wanted for each hand, then used a disc sander to flatten them down.
  2. Cut off the part of the stick you'll be using for each hand, then round off the cut end as desired. Again I used a disc sander for this.
  3. Mark and drill a hole for the hour hand to match your clock mechanism. Start with a drill bit a little smaller than the hole in the hour hand that came with the clock, then use the tapered reamer to widen it a small amount at a time until you can get a nice tight press-fit onto the clock mechanism.
  4. Repeat the same for the minute hand until it fits tightly on the clock mechanism.
  5. Finally, add the second hand if your clock kit came with one.
  6. Look carefully along the edge of the clock to make sure all the hands are parallel and do not interfere with each other. Adjust as needed while using the time-setting wheel or knob on your clock to spin the hands all the way around, making sure all three can move freely.

Step 7: Attach the Hanging Wire

You may find a different way of mounting your drum shell to the wall - this is what worked best for me.

  1. Cut a length of picture wire (I used some insulated hookup wire) about four inches longer than the distance from your 10 o'clock lug to your 2 o'clock lug.
  2. Fold over each end and twist about ten times, leaving a loop large enough to put a lug bolt through.
  3. Remove the 10 o'clock lug bolt furthest from the drum head, slip one of the loops over it, and then re-install it with the washer(s) on top of the wire.
  4. Repeat on the 2 o'clock lug, leaving a little bit of "play" in the wire for hanging the clock.

Step 8: Set the Time and Hang It Up!

The last thing to do is to set the correct time, and hang your clock up on a picture-hanging hook or anchor-and-screw on your wall. Just for fun, I added a piece of "moon gel" to make it a little more authentic.

I'd love to see an "I Made It!" from you if you decide to give this a try!

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