1970’s, Premier “2000” Snare Drum (#3). Rebuild from parts – Rescuing and re-finishing a badly corroded shell

The shell for my third Premier 2000 re-build was the first I acquired – but also the one in the worst state. The serial number on the original badge, (which was still attached), dates this shell to the early-to-mid 1970’s. It’s had quite a life, and has presumably spent a good deal of it’s life in a damp shed. Whilst some of the early chrome on aluminium 2000’s are notorious for some pitting and flaking to the chrome plating – this example takes things to the extremes. That said – it certainly has character – but with two other examples in better condition, already working their way along my workbench – I think this one warrants some extreme action.

1970’s Premier 2000 shell, in poor condition

I’ve already removed the serial badge for safekeeping, and the first thing I do is give the shell a quick clean, to see what I’m really dealing with. The sharp chrome flakes make handling this shell quite a delicate undertaking, and I really need to stabilise the shell to prevent further corrosion, and consolidate what’s left of the original finish. There are, additionally, a few areas of corrosion on the bearing edges. One small plaque on the batter side – but two longer lines of little pits, around the snare side.

1970’s Premier 2000 shell, in poor condition – Stabilising the finish

My first approach is to abrade the surface, and to try and get rid of some of the powdery oxidation, and sharp flake edges. A red, (coarse), Mirka Mirlon pad with a little WD-40 as a cleaner and lubricant, helps to break away the loose material, and begins to reveal what’s “solid” beneath it all. The nylon matrix of the Mirlon pad isn’t overly abrasive, but it’s still sharp enough to create swirl marks on the chrome, and these probably won’t polish out. I actually quite like the effect, but without the “fire” of the polished chrome – the surface looks quite “industrial” and weathered. I’ve already got one shiny, chrome “2000” snare, and have another, where I’ve covered a slightly less damaged shell with a vinyl wrap. For this third example – I may as well try to refinish the shell in another, different way – and see how that further affects the sound produced. With luck – I’ll be able to A/B the three drums, and demonstrate something of how the actual finish of the shell contributes to their individual sonic characters, (if of course, it plays any role at all).

Chrome-plated, aluminium drum shell – Preparing the surface for painting

Once cleaned and de-greased, the corroded areas of the drum should take paint quite well. However – the chromed areas will be another matter entirely. Chrome doesn’t tend to take paint well – highly polished chrome even less so. The first thing I need to do, is to try and somehow “key” the surface, and also smooth out some of the rash of heavily corroded pits. “Sanding” the surface with a nylon abrasive pad has already “opened” the chrome surface slightly – but it won’t hurt to rub the surface over again, with a coarser, wet and dry abrasive sheet. Once the chrome has been scratched all over – I want to try and use an etching medium to open up the scratches, and provide a bit more of a key generally. Hopefully – the etch will also act on the edges of the corrded areas, and help me to begin to “smooth out” the surface a little. The eventual state of the metal surface will ultimately dictate what sort of treatment I can give it, to get the best looking result. First however – I need to clean the shell inside and out, and degrease the surface properly. I wash it off using hot water and plenty of liquid detergent, and then wipe the dried surface over with a degreasing agent.

I decide to use a Ferric Chloride, (or “PCEtch” solution), to try and get “under” the chrome, and to eat back some of the corrosion. I can’t effectively dip the whole shell in one – so I opt to stand the shell on edge, in a tray of the etching solution, and do a bit at a time. A few layers of kitchen towel in the bottom of the tray help to stop the corrosive solution from “sloshing about”, and by timing the immersion at five minutes, and then rotating the shell a fixed amount, and then repeating – I can even out the effect around the whole of the shell.

(Note: the only suitable tray I had to hand, was an old metal biscuit tin lid. The observant amongst you will already know where this is going. It didn’t actually occur to me initially – but, of course, the etch eats away at the folded corners of the tin lid – and before you know it, there are little leaks of Ferric Chloride everywhere. Good job I’m in the workshop, and I’m able to carefully mop up as I go. Use a plastic tray, and whatever you do – don’t try this on your dining room table!)

Chrome-plated, aluminium drum shell – Surface after etching

Each section of the shell gets a timed, five minute immersion. After that – the Ferric Chloride has dulled the chrome in a few areas – but other areas are still hard and shiny. The areas of heavy corrosion, however, now appear to be more cohesive, as I’d hoped. After carefully cleaning all of the remaing solution off the shell, (rubber gloves, eye protection, good ventilation and a face mask are all highly recommended), the shell gets another good wash in hot, soapy water. And after that – another rub over with 120 grit, wet and dry paper – just to maximise the “key” on the remaining areas of shiny chrome, and to “even-up”, “feather-in”, and otherwise merge the areas of maximum corrosion. Special attention is given to the damaged areas on the bearing edges. The next step will be to try and restore a consistent edge all around – so that both of the drum heads can sit evenly.

Re-finished, aluminium drum shell – Filling a damaged bearing edge

To fix the edges, I’m using a metal reinforced epoxy putty. It’s a two-part epoxy – you just slice off a small amount, and then knead the putty together until the darker, central core is completely mixed-in with the lighter, outer layer. Once the putty is a consistent colour – it begins to harden almost immediately, so you only need to work a small area at a time. The putty is pressed into the areas of corrosion on the rims, and allowed to harden slightly. You’re supposed to be able to smooth it with a damp cloth – but I prefer to use a sharp blade when the putty is half-cured. The “good” metal edge is useful to follow with a blade, and I gradually pare away some of the built-up excess. It’s important to always leave the fills standing a little bit “proud”, however – and once the putty has dried properly, these can be sanded smooth and flat, with ordinary grit paper. It takes a few goes to fix some of the finer areas of damage – but the end result doesn’t look too bad, and when I run my finger over, I can now only barely feel the areas which were previously affected. The repairs will hopefully provide the consistent edges I need, and be strong enough to hold up under the stretched mylar of the drum heads.

Re-finished, aluminium drum shell – Filling a damaged bearing edge

On the lower, snare-side edge – the damaged areas are more extensive, and they run out onto the sides of the drum shell too – so it’s necessary to do a bit of extra filling here, and to try and rub back, and shape the end result convincingly. This may well have an effect on the eventual sound of the drum – but it’s tricky to get everthing as perfectly smooth and even as the surrounding areas, where some of the original chrome remains. At least these areas around the lower rim, will be mostly hidden when the hoops are on. I concentrate on making the repairs as sturdy as possible, and leaving as smooth and regular a bearing edge, as I can manage.

Re-finished, aluminium drum shell – “Mist coating” with primer, to assess the smoothness of the finish

With all of the different conditions and colours of the various fills, etches, metals now on view – it can be hard to see just how smooth and regular the surface actually is. You can tell a lot by running your fingers over it – but it’s hard to tell exactly what a painted finish will look like at this stage – let alone whether there’s enough of a key to hold it to the surface. One technique I’ve used when painting guitar bodies – is to use a kind of “mist coat” – a fine coat of paint, which can be rubbed back to reveal high and low areas on a flat substrate. I’m going to try the same thing here – but will be using a “Special Metals Primer” by Hammerite. I’m not a huge fan of Hammerite products by any means – but for small-scale DIY stuff – there really aren’t too many options when it comes to special paint finishes for metal. At the moment – the irregular finish makes me think I’ll need to use a paint with a textured or “hammered” finish, to partially disguise the still-visible flaws in the substrate. I may as well begin the priming process, and at the same time, begin to apply my “mist coat”, and scope out the lay of the land.

Hammerite Special Metals Primer

The surface of the shell is painted with the special primer – using a brush – and is then left to dry. Once properly dry – the shell is rubbed over by hand – using 240 grit, wet and dry paper. It’s much easier now, to see how well I’ve managed to fill the damage on the edges, and just how deep the open areas of corrosion are. In reality – I’m left with a few bits on the edges which will need re-visiting, but surprisingly – the pitted areas on the outside are already quite well feathered-in with the surrounding. The primer has quite a high build – so this undoubtedly helps.

I use some more epoxy filler, on the few areas of damage left on the rims where I’ve not managed to repair things properly. The repairs are smoothed back as before, and then I give the whole outside of the shell another coat of special primer – again thinly applied with a brush. Let it dry, and then rub back again with 240 grit.

Hammerite Special Metals Primer on chrome – adhesion problems?

When rubbing back the primer this time – it’s obvious that there are still a few adhesion problems, and these mostly seem to coincide with areas where the chrome plating stood up to the etch better. It is just possible that some of the problems are down to moisture or finger grease left behind from handling – so after I try and scratch up the surface a bit more with some coarse wet and dry, wherever the primer seems to be patchy – I wash the whole surface over with some Isopropyl Alcohol, to properly degrease it. The shell is given time for the Isoprop to evaporate away and the remaining primer to dry thoroughly – before another thin coat of primer is applied.

Hammerite Special Metals Primer on chrome – handling the work whilst spraying

This time, the primer seems to stick everywhere – and even after a light rub down to flatten and key the primer coat, the surface of the shell remains, (just about), properly covered with a thin layer of primer. The few spots which still show through, are sprayed over with a fine mist of primer from an air-brush. When dry – this leaves no visible texture brush marks, and there’s no need to rub the surface back again.

I’m going to use two kinds of Hammerite paint to coat the drum shell. If money was no object – I might have had the shell completely stripped and re-chromed. The only other real alternative would be to powdercoat the surface – but there aren’t too many specialists around here, and the job is probably too small anyway, to get into anything too involved. In the end, Hammerite seems to be the only real cost-effective alternative for something like this – but the choice of colours is “limited” at best. Anything silver will look horribly cheap, and a poor imitation, compared with the original chrome coat it supplants. The white Hammerite offers is just too “brilliant white”… I’ll settle on their smooth black to paint the bearing edges, and a “hammered” effect black to coat the main central expanse of the exterior – which will be most visible. The slightly textured finish should help blend together all of the remaining surface “inconsistencies” still visible. Depending on the look of the eventual finish – I may then consider a polyurethane clear coat to seal the finish, and to give a final, hard finishing coat to take the knocks, and which I can polish up. Enamel-type paints like Hammerite always seem to leave a sort of “plasticky” finish. Whilst it’s undoubtedly hard-wearing – I don’t think it has an attractive “feel”, and a smooth, highly-polished poly lacquer might be more appropriate for use on a drum shell.

I’ll be using rattle-can Hammerite for convenience – but the shell is a tricky shape to spray. For the first edge, I can simply stand the shell in the spray booth, and work my way around the top edge. However, for the other rim, and evntually the rest of the surface – I really need to be able to manipulate the shape easily. I manage to fashion a simple suspension handle out of wire, which hooks under the rim of the shell. This allows me to move and rotate the work under the spray, and once the paint has been applied, I can use it to hang the piece in the spray booth, whilst the paint goes off. To prevent too much overspray from contaminating the inside of the shell, I slip a strip of waste paper around the inside – again, held in place under the rims.

Painting a metal drum shell with Hammerite Black paint – 1st edge (smooth)

A smooth, black Hammerite paint is applied to each of the rims in turn. The manufacturers recommend four coats, applied at 15 minute intervals, and I try to keep each coat as light as possible. I want the final finish around the edges to be just enough to seal and smooth the surface. I don’t want too much paint buid up on the actual rims themselves and, in fact, I’ll probably rub back the very edges, so that the drum heads will eventually seat on a regular, solid surface. I don’t want any sort of “plastic skin” between the metal of the shell, and the mylar of the drum head.

Painting a metal drum shell with Hammerite Black paint – 2nd edge (smooth)

The spray cone is quite wide – so most of the shell ends up with a light coating whilst I’m aiming at the rims. Once both sides have the alotted four coats – the piece is hung in the spray booth for 24 hours, to allow the coating to dry, and properly cure.

Painting a metal drum shell with Hammerite Black paint – Preparing the main central “band”

As it happens – the shell gets 72 hours to dry, over the weekend. Once the smooth Hammerite is absolutely hard, I mask off the rims – all the way over the edges, and extending down about 1cm onto the main, outside surface. I use a wide, low-tack masking tape, and make sure it’s well attached all around – although I leave a couple of loose “tabs” here and there, so I’ll be able to easily grip and remove the tape again, whilst the paint on the outside is still slightlywet. The exposed central band is then lightly keyed and regularised with a coarse Mirka Mirlon pad, and all of the loose dust and debris carefully cleaned away with a tack cloth.

Painting a metal drum shell with textured, Hammerite Black paint – Main central band

The textured Hammerite is then applied – again with four, lightish sprayed coats, at 15 minute intervals. The “hammered” effect takes a little while to emerge, and it looks much more subtle than I’d expected. I begin to wonder whether or not to experiment with a kind of contrasting colour “sparkle” effect over the top – but think better of it. The black colour coverage is consistent, and the whole painted area looks fairly even – with just a few surface irregularities left visible here and there – I’ll see what happens when the paint dries thoroughly, and how a clear coat looks over the top. The Hammerite looks to have done a good job of “unifying” the appearance of the outside of the shell. A clear coat may well just “iron out” the surface completely, and provide the basis for a much more consistent “mirror” shine. It’s worth a shot anyway.

Painting a metal drum shell with textured, Hammerite Black paint – Curing

Once the final coat of paint has become “tack dry”, (which is supposed to be in a couple of hours, according to the instructions on the can – but it seems to take much longer than that) – I carefully remove the masking tape from around the shell rims, and then return the work to the booth, where it hangs for 24 hours to properly dry. However – since this looks like an oil-based coat – it’s likely that the paint will take much longer than that to properly cure. I don’t want the paint to be “outgassing” when I overlay any kind of clear coat – so I need the solvents in the paint coat to completely evaporate before continuing, and whatever chemical reactions are occuring in the paint to cease. With nitro lacquer – I know that can take a couple of months – so without any other indication of how Hammerite behaves – I’ll store the shell away for two months, and then see how a clear coat sits, over the top. that’ll give me plenty of time to track down the few spare parts I still need to source, in order to finish this third, “2000” snare build.

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