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There is no substitute for using a new barrel to make a pan. Steeldrums were designed for, and are used for, transporting chemicals. Unless you're 100% sure about what it was used for, do not make a pan from a used barrel. Apart from exposing yourself briefly to these chemicals while you make the pan, you may end up exposing the player to these chemicals for a prolongued period.

There is at least one instance of a pan maker in Trinidad being killed by the fumes emitted by a drum he was burning.


Another good reason to use a new barrel is that apart from the chemical concerns, you can be sure about the thickness of the steel in a new barrel since when you buy it those certs/specs should be available from the supplier. It's important to use a barrel with an 18 gauge head. 18 gauge is nominally 0.044", which is technically 1.1mm. This is often referred to as 1.2mm (just like a 2-by-4 is legally allowed to be 1.50-by-3.5 - gotta love big business; they'd legislate the value of Pi to be 3 if it would increase their profits).

If you have to make a pan from a used barrel, and you're 100% confident that the barrel did not have any nasty chemicals in it then read on. Barrels often have a marking on them of the form "UN1A1/X1.5/250 05 1.2 1.0 1.2" or "UN1A1/Y1.2/300 08 18 20 18" or something like that. The exact printing and labeling varies a bit from manufacturer to manufacturer, but these numbers are often present in some form or another. For the purposes of making a steel pan, the important numbers are the "1.2 1.0 1.2" or "18 20 18". These numbers usually refer to the thickness of the material that barrel was made from, and are often the head-side-head measurements - 1.2mm top, 1.0mm side, 1.2mm bottom.

The "05" or "08" or some other two-digit number usually refer to the last two digits of the year in which the barrel was made. This can be useful in identifying how old a pan is too, since most barrels get manufactured, used once, and then turned into pans. It's unlikely that if you see a "94" marking on a pan that pan was made any later than 1995. Conversely, if someone is trying to sell you a pan that they claim was made in 1961, but the barrel has the marking 85 on it, its unlikely that it's an original pan from 1961.

Years ago, barrels were made out of thicker steel. In the modern world of companies trying to cut costs and increase profit margins, its common for barrels to be made out of thinner materials. Consequently, it's common to find barrels that are marked 0.9-0.8-0.9 or something like that. Avoid using these barrels As tempting as it may be to make a pan from one, I've never seen a pan that sounded good that had these markings. The material is just too thin. Even if you can get it down to the correct depth for the pan without tearing, it will be paper thin and sound just awful. The standard 1.2mm/18g steel is actually only just thick enough for a pan anyway.



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