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The handpan is a musical instrument that doesn't come from large-scale production. Crafting a handpan takes time and requires not just "manufacturers" but true artisans.

Making a handpan is an art, and giving it its resonance, providing it with its scale, ensuring its harmony in melodious chords demands the greatest dexterity.

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How is this instrument with such an angelic sound born? What are the secrets of making a hand drum ? Let's dive into the workshops of handpan makers, whose works are available for purchase at Zena-Drum.

Also read: What is the origin of the Handpan ?


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1. Making a handpan by sculpting a sheet of steel

The first step in crafting a handpan lies in choosing the steel sheet. There are two different types of steel:

  • Nitrided steel (DC04)
  • Stainless steel

Handpans are very often made with nitrided steel, so we will start by discussing this type before moving on to the others.

a. Nitrided steel

Nitrided steel is a steel treated by thermochemical processes. As the name of this technique suggests, nitriding involves heating the steel and injecting nitrogen into it.

This nitrogen injection has two main functions:

  • It strengthens the handpan.
  • It protects it from rust.

However, using this type of steel has some drawbacks. The first is that nitriding does not prevent rust from appearing but slows it down. Therefore, it is essential to take special care of your instrument.

The second drawback is that nitriding changes the sound length of the instrument. Nitrided handpans, which make up the vast majority of instruments today, produce a sound with a shorter sustain.

The sound of nitrided hangdrum is also different. It becomes more clay-like and is often described as "ceramic" by musicians.

On the other hand, nitriding allows for a louder sound, which greatly facilitates playing outdoors. It also helps maintain the instrument's tuning for years.

b. Stainless steel

Stainless steel is sometimes used by manufacturers because it does not rust. Therefore, it does not require the maintenance that a nitrided steel handpan does.

Crafting a steel handpan from stainless steel also ensures greater freedom in the choice of playing locations. It can be played anywhere, whether by the seaside or in humid regions.

The sound quality is also different. The note duration is longer, and its melody is deeper. However, the sound is much softer, making it more suitable as an indoor instrument.

However, stainless steel handpans have a significant flaw: their non-resistance to heat. Played under the summer sun or left in the heat, your handpan will go out of tune.

It will either return to its original tuning once cooled or require retuning by the manufacturer.

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2. Hammering the structure to form the dome

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Creating a handpan, this enchanting musical instrument, is an art that demands precision and expertise. Here is an overview of the meticulous process involved:

  • Forming the Dome

A steel sheet is meticulously bolted onto a support. Through expert hammering, it is transformed into a dome, symbolizing the heart of the handpan. This process is completed only when the shape is perfectly rounded and smooth.

  • Marking and Initial Tuning

The precise location of the notes is marked inside the dome. The artisan then proceeds with the initial tuning, sculpting delicate curves that will bring the handpan's sound to life.

  • Heat Treatment

To strengthen its structure, the dome is heated to 400°C for about two hours, a crucial step to ensure the durability of the handpan.

  • Forming the Base

A second steel sheet is prepared and hammered until it forms the base of the instrument. It is finally joined to the top part, completing the physical structure of the handpan.

This process, combining tradition and innovation, reflects the complexity and beauty of handpan music, making each instrument unique. From original handpans to modern creations tuned to 432 hertz for relaxation or 440 hertz for composition, each step is crucial to achieving sonic excellence.

Here is a video overview of how a handpan facilitates meditation and relaxation:

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3. Thermochemical treatment by nitriding

The nitriding process is a crucial step in the manufacturing of the handpan, ensuring the instrument's exceptional longevity and sound quality.

Here are the key points of this treatment:

- Processing Temperature: The steel is exposed to a temperature of around 500°C, optimizing the effectiveness of the nitriding.

- Nitrogen Projection: Nitrogen is carefully projected onto the surface of the instrument, thus strengthening the metal in depth and increasing its resistance to corrosion.

- Advantages of Nitriding:

  • Increased Resistance: The handpan becomes significantly more resilient to rust, essential for musical instruments exposed to various conditions.
  • Improved Stability: This technique ensures the handpan can remain in tune over the long term, an asset for musicians seeking unwavering reliability in their instrument.

Nitriding thus transforms the handpan, not only by preserving it from the elements but also by perfecting its sound and durability, making each handpan a true masterpiece of musical craftsmanship.

4. Final handpan tuning

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Tuning a steel hang drum requires great precision in handling the hammers. Each note is achieved through varying depths of form. Precision is therefore crucial in obtaining an accurate and precise sound.

Any frequency can be achieved, but generally, handpans have a frequency of 440Hz, in line with classical Western instruments. This allows steel pan percussionists to perform in concerts with other instruments.

The importance of precision in tuning the hang drum lies in the need to avoid creating interference. This means avoiding overlapping zones between two notes, which would result in false notes, similar to rubbing two strings simultaneously on a violin.

For this reason, most handpans have no more than ten notes to avoid these interferences and thus maintain high musical quality.

5. Summary of the key stages in the manufacture of the Handpan

Step Description
Steel selection Choice of nitrided steel for strength and sound quality.
Dome hammering The dome is formed by precise hammering on a support.
Marking and initial tuning Marking note locations and initial tuning to form sound curves.
Heat treatment Heating the dome to 400°C to reinforce the steel structure.
Shaping the base A second sheet of steel is hammered on to create the base, then assembled with the dome.
Final tuning Careful readjustment of notes for perfect tuning.
Finishes Application of finishes, such as oiling or painting, to protect and embellish the instrument.


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In conclusion

Crafting a steel hang drum is a delicate art that blends technical precision with musical passion. Each step, from initial hammering to final tuning, showcases exceptional craftsmanship, transforming a steel sheet into an instrument with celestial sounds. This fusion of materials and artisan skill creates not just a musical instrument, but also a source of relaxation and inspiration, perfect for yoga sessions and enhancing overall well-being for musicians and listeners worldwide.

Ready to compose your own symphony ?

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1. How long does it take to build a handpan ?

Building a handpan typically takes several weeks. The process involves crafting the steel, nitriding for durability, and precise tuning. This meticulous work ensures each instrument offers the exceptional sound quality and durability that musicians and enthusiasts seek.

2. What's inside a handpan ?

Inside a handpan, you'll find air and precisely crafted steel domes. The unique shaping and tuning create the relaxation and meditative sounds associated with this instrument. Each note is sculpted to resonate harmoniously, offering a rich and soothing musical experience.

3. What material is best for handpan ?

The best materials for a handpan are nitrided steel and stainless steel. Nitrided steel offers increased durability and resistance to rust, while stainless steel provides longer sustain and a deeper tone, making it ideal for yoga and relaxation purposes.

4. How does a handpan make sound ?

A handpan makes sound through the vibration of its steel surface when struck. Each carefully tuned area produces a distinct note, creating harmonious and celestial tones. This unique sound is perfect for relaxation and enhances the meditative qualities of yoga sessions.

5. Can a handpan be used for yoga and meditation ?

Absolutely, a handpan is ideal for yoga and meditation. Its soothing and harmonious tones provide a perfect backdrop for relaxation and mindfulness practices. Many practitioners find the celestial sounds of the handpan enhance their overall well-being and deepen their meditative experiences.