Tongue Drum Project

I just completed the latest project from the Bushwood shop. It’s a Tongue Drum, or Slit Drum. I made it from plans found in Wood Magazine. It’s a plan designed by a woodworker/musician named Steve Roberts, who makes some pretty cool instruments. My son enjoys it a lot, and I made an identical one for my friend Woody. They are made from Anigre1, Sapele2, and Makore3, which are imported hardwoods. The mallets are just hardwood dowels topped with a simple medium-hard rubber ball (like a super bouncy ball).

Update 12-20-06: I just recently embarked on building two more drums. Theses are made from African Padauk 4 and Black Walnut5, and one is a commission for a friend of mine. I built them exactly the same as above, but added a couple more coats of Formby’s Gloss Tung Oil for extra protection and shine. They have a better pitch and tone than the others, but both sound equally nice.


  1. Botanical Name: Aningeria | Family: Sapotaceae | Specific Gravity: .54 | General Description: Anegre is a light tone wood that normally come mostly defect free. It has a creamy white color with tight growth rings. It also has good density. | Origin: Africa []
  2. Botanical Name: Entandrophragma cylindricum | Specific Gravity: .62 | Description: The heartwood is pink when freshly cut, but it matures to a red-brown or purple-brown color, with an interlocked and wavy grain pattern | Origin: Africa []
  3. Botanical Name: Mimusops heckelii | Specific Gravity: .59 | Description: The heartwood color varies from pink or light reddish-brown to a rich red brown, sometimes with a grayish tinge. The grain is usually straight, but may be interlocked. Wood with interlocked grain displays an attractive mottled figure, with occasional dark streaks. | Origin: Africa []
  4. Botanical Name: Pterocarpus soyauxii | Description: When freshly cut the wood is bright orange red, becomes reddish brown. Moderately hard and heavy. Medium texture, but with large pores. Saws and planes easily to a very smooth surface. []
  5. Botanical Name: Juglans nigra | Description: Usually steamed to match sapwood and heartwood. Fine but open grain. Moderately coarse texture. Excellent to work including turning and carving. []

7 thoughts on “Tongue Drum Project

  1. I just recently tried making this, (please note I’m a novice woodworker) and I had some trouble with the three long tongues resonating. the far right one, viewing from the unslitted area as the bottom, doesn’t seem to resonat at all. Did yours have the same problem.

    I’ve tried passing same sandpaper through the slits at the top of the far right tongue, now that the box has been fully enclosed and glued, and it seems to hit the top face board there. I don’t think it should do that.

    Now the far left on seems to be binding on its left slit, for I think the board got pushed in when I glued on the left side. So my thought is to just run a jigsaw down that slit again, and open it up a bit.

    Should I try that on the other long tongues as well?


  2. Matt, the tricky part is the jigsawing, which if the jig saw cuts tend to veer right of left below the surface of the drum head, you can get this effect. Part of what happens is the tongue hits the other tongue or side of head where the jig saw cut was angled. Sand really well, use a japanese flush cut saw, or redo the cuts with a slightly thicker jig saw blade like you suggested. That’s the only way I’ve found to fix it.

    And when you strike it, try not to hit too hard. You don’t want it to deflect too much anyway, as it will stress the wood, and it could break.

    My thoughts for the next few I may do is to use a scroll saw. You have more control and the cuts will be straighter on the flat surface. The jig saw is definitely not easy.

    You can view more pics here of the current drum I’m working on, which is made from walnut and african padauk.

  3. How is the sound of your tongue drums? Do they sound as good as Steve Roberts’ drums? If so, are you making the drums as a hobby or will you be selling them? How much? Thanks.

  4. Audrienne-

    Not hearing Steve Roberts drums directly, I couldn’t be sure how they compare. They all sound unique, and it’s a very cool sound. I doubt they are tuned as closely as Steve’s are. I’m just a hobbyist woodworker making them as a fun project for my children (and a friend who requested one). I won’t be selling them. I do really enjoy them, and they were not too hard to build.

  5. your drums look very nice! just wondering if you used finishing nails as well as glue or just glue. also what are the dimensions of your drums and steve roberts?

    • I used just glue to assemble them. Titebond III is a tough glue and should hold well in this sort of application. My tongue drums are from a Wood Magazine plan based on Steve Robert’s designs. I can’t recall the exact dimensions.

  6. I will take a picture of the one my husband made…about 40 years ago..from Maple…I’ll send it down to you…he cut hearts into the short sides…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *