Some high-gloss finishing information from FVF Drums

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Hello folks -

Forum member Cutting Crew, in a pm, asked me for the finishing info I received from Francis Smith at FVF Drums - - and he thought the info might be of use to some others here. I've e-mailed Francis at FVF to make sure publishing it here is ok with him, and he's given it the green light, so :

*********Start of Francis' e-mail************

Ok Finishing, you want that gloss finish that everyone desires after,
well I will give you some idea of how to do it if I can.

Right the first step in this process is the preparation of the drums
surface. Dependant on the material being used, maple, birch, padauk,
cherry etc the grain pattern on the woods will differ and some will have
wider gaps in the grain than others. Now to the naked eye these are very
difficult to see however we need to get this surface totally uniform to
stand any chance of getting a really good finish. Ok I am going to go
through the basic procedure for doing a stain as this is what you are
planning on doing.

Firstly get your shell and mask it off, you want to mask the inside of
the shell to protect it from splashes of any of the products you are
using (another alternative is to oil the inside of the shell first this
will stop the wood taking any colour or anything spilt on it however
this can affect the overall sound of the shell). Next take the shell and
you want to sand it down, really lightly but paying close attention to
the surface to make sure you are clearing any machine marks that might
have been left by the manufacturers as when you stain these, they stand
out like a sore thumb and look awful. I would recommend using about
240grit paper at this stage as it is preparation. Now if you are
planning on doing a water based dye I would recommend at this stage
wetting the drum lightly all over and allowing to dry, this will make
any hairline pieces of the grain raise up a bit which once dried out you
can then sand off to get a perfectly uniform surface. Once you have got
rid of these tiny pieces of wood you want to start to fill any surface
pits you can see, I tend to take a rag and some good quality wood filler
(not polyfilla) this is the stuff that can be stained once dry, the idea
here is to put some onto the rag and really force it into the grain push
quite hard and this will force the filler into the tiny grain holes.
Remember to go across the grain when doing this as going with it will
just pull the filler back out, wipe off any excess and let it dry, you
should not really have much on the surface at all as it should have all
gone into the gaps in the wood. Use a tack cloth to remove any dust or
rubbish (do this between very process you do) Once dry again give a light
sand with 320 grit paper just to make sure there are no high spots. You
should have a fairly even surface to work on now. So apply your stain
evenly over the surface of the wood making sure you apply a consistent
amount to the drum otherwise you may find it dries patchy. ( one thing
to note with dyes is please test them out on a scrap of equivalent wood
before you go ahead and this will allow you to determine how many coats
you will need to get the desired colour). Let your dye dry for at least
a day to be safe so all the solvent (water in this case) has removed
itself from the wood. I then lightly sand the shell just to make sure
again it is totally uniform all over with 400 grit, make sure you use a
sanding block also as if you use your fingers you will press into the
surface of the shell and cause dents after a while where you are sanding
on the pressure of your fingers or on the other hand your fingers will
just follow the contours of the wood rather than actually doing any
work. Next tack cloth the work piece to remove any dust or rubbish again
and you are ready to apply your clear coat. A word of warning here try
and find compatible finishes for example do not put an oil based/alcohol
stain under a water based clear coat as the oil can react with the clear
coat and cause hazing and sometime adhesion problems. If you are using
water based dye I would recommend using water based clear coat. Have a
look on the rustins site they have some good products on there, <> . OK so making sure you
have no dust on the drum what so ever, begin applying the lacquer, now
if you are doing it by hand please use a foam brush if you can as they
will apply it allot more evenly than a brush without leaving lines which
you will have to sand out later. A key point here is thinner coats are
better than thick ones, so 3-4 coats very thin are much better than 1
thick coat which stands a much larger chance of running and causing
problems later.
So apply 3-4 coats of the lacquer then leave for a day. Now you want to
wet sand the shell with 600 grit paper, use some water with a drop of
washing up liquid to help the paper move freely on the surface. Now here
we do not want to un do the work we have just done so be very gentle and
sand lightly, it will take a while but the results will be worth it just
keep remembering that. We are not expecting perfection on this first
coat so give it a rough sand knocking off high spots, you will probably
find you have an area of shiny spots get this so they are sparse on the
surface and then tack cloth the shell again. Now apply another 3-4 coats
and leave over night. Again do the same as yesterday and each time you
should be getting less shiny spots. Do this one more time and leave to
dry over night. Now get some 800 grit paper and do the same as you did
before, we are starting to produce smaller and smaller scratches in the
surface which leads to polishing, once complete this time you should
have no small pockets or shiny areas, the whole surface should be dulled
matt look, don't worry the polish brings this up. Now apply very
carefully another 3-4 coats this time once dry you are going to sand
with 1200 grit paper very lightly again wet ( when sanding on the
lacquer coats always wet the paper). Now once you have done this the
shell should be very smooth indeed, now apply one or 2 more coats very
evenly over the surface of the drum and leave to dry for a few days so
the surface hardens properly. Once it has been dried out get some 2000
grit paper and sand the surface with lots of water on the paper as you
are now polishing the shell out. Once that section is complete, again
leave to dry for a day because if the lacquer is not completely cured
you will just ruin all your work by dulling the finish when you do the
next stage. Ok now you are onto polishing compound. What you have here
is a polish liquid with a very fine abrasive in it, this cuts into the
finish leaving you with hopefully by now a shiny looking drum. Ok once
this is complete you might want to go for some finer compound which can
be known as swirl remover this should get your finish really shiny and
hopefully that deep gloss you have been looking for. If you want to
apply a wax polish to the finished product wait a few weeks for the
lacquer to completely set as otherwise you may prevent all the solvent
escaping by applying wax over the top.

This technique takes some mastering and you will see by the end of it
why drum companies charge so much for the finishes they produce,
especially us smaller ones though I am trying to keep prices down ;)

I Hope that's been of some help to you any more questions please do not
hesitate to ask and I will more than happily answer your questions.

Kind regards

Francis Smith

FVF Custom Drums <>

**********End of Francis' e-mail*******

He's a most helpful bloke, BTW, and I hope this is useful to someone else out there. I hope I'm not breaking any forum rules by posting his company URL in the message.

Stephen Mulholland


Staff member
7 Aug 2003
Reaction score

No problem with the post I'm sure that it'll be of interest.



PS Incidentially, where abouts are you in NI?


Established Member
22 Oct 2003
Reaction score
Up the proverbial creek

Thanks for posting that. Always useful to have a run down of what the pros do. :D Are you able to do piccies? 'Cos I'd love to see the results of all the work you're going to be putting in. :shock:

Cheers, Alf


Noely":2p4wfv7y said:

No problem with the post I'm sure that it'll be of interest.



PS Incidentially, where abouts are you in NI?

Crumlin, not far from Antrim.



Alf":1gaj4yog said:

Are you able to do piccies? 'Cos I'd love to see the results of all the work you're going to be putting in. :shock:

Cheers, Alf

Yup - the shell's due to be here this week, and I'll be detailing the whole project, start to finish, on a couple of the drum builders' forums, plus pics, so there's no problem posting the same here.