17. New tools and crafting methods
Wooden wedges for the raising of outer notes
The tuner Denzil Fernandez has introduced special wooden wedges to be used for the raising of outer notes during softening and tuning. The paddle-like wedges are specially shaped for the various pans.
Usually, two different wedges are used for each pan - one broader and one narrower. The narrower one is used to raise the part of the outer note that is closest to the rim. The broader one is designed to raise the note in the middle, see fig. 17.1.
Fig. 17.1 Using wedges to raise outer notes.
The benefit of using wedges instead of a bent iron or just hitting it with a hammer is that the shape of the wedges establishes the curvature of the dent. Properly shaped wedges will thus make the tuning easier. These wooden wedges are being used in the pre-tuning work at MIC (Metal Industries Corp. - see next chapter).
The wedges are used in the following way: Put the wedge at the bottom of the side angle, leaning against the skirt. Then hit it at the top with a hammer while moving it along the note to raise the note to the desired shape.
Templates for outer notes
Denzil Fernandez uses quasi-circular templates when he marks the outer notes. The benefit of using templates for the outer notes is that the radial length of the notes and their inner curves are fixed by the template. This means that no arbitrary bending of a ruler is needed to shape the inner border of the notes.
Fig. 17.2 Shape of a suggested template for an outer note.
The shape of a template for an outer note is suggested in fig. 17.2. The straight part is meant to lean against the rim. For the tenor maker, a set of templates for tenor outer notes can be found in appendix A.
Moulds to shape the note surface
A tool that I have never seen used, but that I believe would be of benefit for the tuning is the abutments, used to re-shape dented cars. While hammering from above, the abutment is held tightly against the opposite side and makes the surface shape after it, see fig. 17.3.
Fig. 17.3 Using an abutment to shape a note.
The use of an abutment would presumably reduce the amount of small unevenesses in the note surface and make it easier to tune the overtones of the note. At least, the note would react more consistently to the tuning manoeuvres when it is more evenly shaped.
A future test has to reveal if working with abutments is an improvement. For a beginner it might be beneficial, but if the backing and the levelling are well done, the shape may be smooth enough without any mould-shaping. The best stage to use an abutment would presumably be in the latter part of the softening, just before the actual tuning starts.
Industrial developments - a pan factory
In Trinidad & Tobago, an awareness of the cultural and economic potential of the unique steel pan instrument started to awake during the 1970's. In the late 70's, a research committee was founded; the 1979-85 research committee on pan. An outcome of the work of the committee was the decision to start a steel pan factory on Trinidad. One of the objectives for industrialisation was the increased need for cheap, standardised instruments for the education on steel pan playing is schools. Another prospect was to start exporting instruments on a larger scale.
The benefits of an industrialised production were considered to be: Reduced price, increased production and improved quality. Mechanised sinking and tempering would give a product with a higher and more uniform quality for the tuners to work on.
A first attempt to start a pan-factory has been made by CARIRI - The Caribbean Industrial Research Institute, in cooperation with MIC - Metal Industries Corporation Ltd. The mechanisation of the pan-making only involves the sinking and the tempering so far, see below.
Spin form sinking
By using a lathe with a mould mounted on it, the bottom of a drum can be shaped by pressing it into the mould while the lathe is rotating. This is done in the following way: A raw plate that is to be the bottom of a drum is mounted on the mould at the lathe. While the bottom is rotating, a support is pushed against its surface and moved sideways along the bottom, see fig. 17.4.
Fig. 17.4 Spin form sinking.
When the bottom has been shaped to that of the mould, it is removed and mounted to the side of the drum. The sunk plates are mounted to the side in pairs so that the drum will have two bottoms, i.e., both ends are sunk. Spin form sinking can be utilised for pans ranging from tenor down to cello. (The lower pans are not sunk before the shaping of the notes.)
MIC are selling these machine-sunk drums to tuners and claims that the even, machine-sunk surface will make it easier to control the harmonics of the notes. Some tuners claim that the machine-sunk bottoms do not have the right shape and that they are too thick in the middle. The spin forming also makes small circular scratches in the metal, which some tuners consider to be fatal for the later grooving and backing.
Electrical oven for tempering
In the industrial pan-making at MIC, an electrical oven is used for the tempering. This gives better control of the amount of heat transferred to the drum than the ordinary heating method. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get any specifications on temperature and heating time yet.
Press form sinking
At the University of the West Indies some research has been done on the steel pan. Researchers at the Department for Industrial Engineering have experimented with the possibility of forming the surface of the pan by pressing it into a mould. The difference from spin-form sinking is that here, the bottom is pressed to its final shape in one, single process.
The research on press-forming has not led to any explicit results yet. Experiments with moulds for single note shaping in the same way have also been done. In 1990, all university research on the pan had stopped, due to the present lack of funding.