How to make/tune a "tongue drum"


I want to make a tongue drum for my son. I'm going to use bird's eye maple and Padauk. What I need to know is how they tune the tongue's? I am NOT a musician, so I need to understand in woodworking terms (feet and inches), not "by ear". Also if anybody has tips on good ways to make the top or sound hole that would be good. Thanks.
-Jim
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Friend of mine has one of these and his kids seemed to like it, so I'm about to make a couple as gifts for other people with small kids. I was also influenced by finding an old FWW article on them in their reprint book "Things to Make". The article is by Ray Nitta, but they don't quote an issue reference. Maybe someone out there has an early '80s index ?

Size is 18" long, 7 1/4" wide and 5 1/2" deep. Top slab is 3/4" redwood, slides are 3/4" ponderosa pine and the base is 1/8" ply. Wood choice is important for good resonance and he recommends something stiff and resonant for the top, either hard or softwood.
Joinery is dovetails on the corners, mainly for decorative reasons, and simple laps for top and bottom. Tight well-fitting glue joints are important for sound quality. There's a sound port cut in the centre of one side, "about the size of a silver dollar", whatever one of those is.
Obviously the top "fingers" are the crucial part. he recommends two rows of four 3/8" holes each, set in 2 1/2" from the ends and spaced at 1 1/4" intervals. Then join the holes with sawcuts to make the three fingers. Individual fingers are formed by cutting each strip in two, at the following spacings:      8"     5"      4"     9"      7"     6" Fingers are round-ended, cut with a coping saw or suchlike.
Drumsticks are dime-store rubber superballs on 12" sticks of 3/8" dowel.
With your drumstick, beat each finger until you find the purest tone (an inch or two from the free end). Mark this point, then inlay a contrasting dowel spot.
To finish it, just do the usual woodorker stuff to it. He rounds off his long top edges with a spokeshave.
You also need stands or feet, to raise the resonator skin off the floor. His are 1/2" foam tops on top o a wooden block. Making it for kids, I'd put these right at the ends and attach them to avoid loss - maybe a foam spacer, then a loosely screwed-on foot ?
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Andy,
Thank you very much for the lengthy write up. Just a point that I found so far. In searching around for images in google I found a LOT of box's using Padauk. Seems like the wood of choice. So I might use that for the top and bird's eye for the rest. I understand you tune it by shaving off the bottom of the tongues at the fixed or loose end, making them a bit thinner is thickness, but I guess it's not real important.
-Jim
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wrote:

Sound hole. Acoustic instruments of all sorts have them, from the round hole in a guitar to "f" holes in bowed string instruments.
For jtpr - sounding boards are almost exclusively made of coniferous woods for a reason. Hardwoods mute.
American beech makes a nice top. Good ring to it.
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Thank you. Are you saying that Padauk is a bad choice? I don't know if it is coniferous.
-Jim
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You'll need to register at the Delta machinery site, but once done you will find a plan for this very thing... And to think until I read your post I'd never heard of one! As I was browsing the site I peeked at the plans list and sure enough they have one! Tom

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