Monday, March 2, 2015

Cleaning an Old Drum

This is likely to draw a storm of comments, agreeing and disagreeing, about the best way to clean an old drum.  But here goes:

A reader emailed saying that he'd been asked to restore this Civil War era drum for a local historical association.  The drum carries a label "H. Deming" of Ohio.

"I just returned from Cooperman up in Bellows Falls, VT.  I spent the PM of the 22nd working with Jim Ellis, and we made major progress toward an appropriate restoration.

"The drum came to me with two sets of rope hooks(of 3 mixed designs, including a carry hook); snare strainer with wire snares, one skin head mounted to one flesh hoop (punctured & badly warped), the other flesh hoop (broken & distorted, but no skin), heart-shaped leather ears (each stamped twice with a circular star design), and two different styles of threaded metal tensioners.

"The drum now has two new flesh hoops and Pakistani goat skins (the extant pcs. will be archived), and I am now about to add some minor finishing touches.  We restored it as a rope-tension drum despite its rather short stature (to utilize the leather ears); both sets of metal tensioners--perhaps one or both used in later modifications of the drum--will also be archived.

"There is a brass grommet that fits the vent hole, though I think bone might have been more often used for this purpose."

Here are a few photos:

I wrote: "There is a restorer's wood cleaning product called "What I Use".  I've used it on old, dried out wood drums with much success."  See

He replied: "Thanks, hadn't heard of this product.  But, I never use any oil-based cleaning product on anything of value; the oil component always darkens with oxidation over time.  It is very difficult (actually, nearly impossible) to safely remove or rejuvenate in the future.  For general cleaning, I most often use an alkaline soap named Vulpex, in only a 1-2% conc. solution.  It is miscible in both water and mineral spirits, and rinses cleanly.

Then, all I do is apply a paste wax (or, if the finish is real bad, a mineral spirits soluble varnish such as Gamar Picture Varnish (see link, below)."


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