The tongue drum plans were born out of a need to create an inexpensive, simple craft for a group of about a hundred children ages kindergarten through fifth grade. During my research into tongue drums, I learned that most really nice sounding drums are made using exotic hardwoods. They also take a fair amount of woodworking skill to assemble them and were really outside of the ability of most school age children.
After much experimentation with different sizes, materials, and configurations, I landed on what you see here. It uses inexpensive materials, goes together very simply, and is a ton of fun to play with.
Most tongue drum designs I found online use solid wood and flush joint construction. They look and sound great, but would be difficult to assemble as a craft. To simplify the construction and make it easier for kids to put together, I chose to oversize the top and bottom. This way, if there's a little bit of misalignment it isn't too noticeable.
The tongues themselves are a little bit different than most designs I saw. I wanted simple tongues that I could quickly cut on my CNC router (remember, I needed a hundred of them). Typically the tongues are cut using a scroll saw or a band saw so the slits between them are much more narrow. Many builders also cut the tongues into intricate curves and shapes. I opted for straight cuts to keep it simple (although the CNC could have cut just about any shape imaginable).
I had read that tongue drums need some sort of foot to isolate their sound from whatever they're resting on. Cabinet door bumpers proved to be too hard, but foam rubber weatherstrip worked perfectly.
Of course you need something to hit the tongues with. Hardwood dowels and rubber bouncy balls seem to be standard. Imagine the fun we had making a hundred pairs of mallets - that's two hundred bouncy balls!
Since the tongue drum plans are for a very simplified version of a true musical instrument, the question comes up, "What does it sound like?". Although the notes don't correspond to anything specific, they sound pleasing when played together. I put together a short video that demonstrates how it sounds. Part of the problem is that I'm NOT a musician. Nonetheless, it's a lot of fun to bang on and not really loud enough to drive most parents crazy.
As I mentioned, the tongue drum plans were developed to be a simple craft for about a hundred kids. After experimenting with various inexpensive lumber options, including pine and cedar dimensional lumber, I settled on a combination of 1/4" and 1/2" Baltic birch plywood. It's free of voids, flat, reasonably priced, and takes finishes well.
The 1/4" has a reasonably pleasant ring tone and worked well for the top and bottom of the drum. For the sides and ends, the 1/2" provided a solid feel and a nice wide gluing surface.
For mallet sticks, 1/4" hardwood dowel works perfectly. The balls are 1" rubber bouncy balls with a hole drilled about half-way through to attach the mallet stick.
One of the pieces I found most difficult to find was a material suitable for the feet. It turns out that 3/8" x 3/4" foam rubber weatherstrip isolates the tongue drum from any surface it's resting on while you play it. Otherwise you get a lot of loud banging resonance (on a dining room table, for instance). I cut the weatherstrip in disks for aesthetic appeal, but it works just as well cut into a small square or rectangle.
Assembly of the tongue drum is very straightforward. Simply glue the ends to the sides, then glue the top and bottom on. That's it!
There ARE a couple of things I learned that will help your drum sound as good as possible. One thing is the type of glue. I had hoped that hot melt glue would work since it is quick and lends itself well to group craft projects. The only problem is that it cures too fast (even the slow set type) to get a complete bond. If you don't get the joints COMPLETELY glued, especially the top, you get buzzing sounds when you play the drum.
Regular wood glue works great, as long as you don't try to finish the drum before assembly. I learned that the hard way when I broke the glue joints on a beautifully stained and finished drum. The joints cracked the first time I played it.
My favorite glue for speed, strong bond, and its ability to make repairs is the Fastcap 2P-10 (cyanoacrylate). It dries super fast and strong, and you can drizzle the thin style into glue joints that haven't bonded completely to remove unwanted buzzing sounds.
One final note about using the tongue drum plans for a kid's craft. We let the kids color and decorate their drums with felt-tipped markers. It's amazing what they'll come up with and gave the drums a uniquely personal finished look.
I hope you'll choose to build a tongue drum. Once you build a simple one, you'll probably be hooked and want to build a larger, more exotic instrument. Until you're ready for that, you can view the tongue drum plans by either clicking the image to the left, or by clicking here. If you would
rather download a copy to your computer, right click then "save-as".
Either way, you'll need the Adobe reader to view the file.
Would you like to build a simple tongue drum, but don't have the time or tools to cut the parts yourself? I now have kits available for purchase. They're cut from quality materials in my own workshop and are a great way to jumpstart your project. If a kit would help fulfill your project needs, please visit my Etsy shop.