Whether you call them petal drums or tank drums, kids everywhere love banging away on these great noise makers. And to be honest, I enjoy playing on them as well. The problem is that buying even an inexpensive one can set you back several hundred dollars. Most home built petal drums use propane tanks, which can be expensive and difficult to cut. Making them out of exhausted helium balloon kits purchased for childrens' parties is an easy and inexpensive option. Here's how to do it:
Many variety and party supply stores sell helium balloon kits for $20 to $40. If you've gotten one of these kits and wonder what to do with the tank once it's empty, try making a petal drum out of it. First, remove the fill valve and open the stop cock all the way and let the tank completely empty outside. Next, draw several petal shapes on the bottom using a felt marker. Smaller petals make high notes, larger ones lower notes.
Use a Dremel tool with a cut-off wheel to pierce the tank wall along one of the lines defining a petal.
Next, use a saber saw to cut out the rest of the petal. This throws off a lot of hot, sharp shards so always wear the appropriate protective gear. After all the petals are cut, go over the surface with sandpaper to remove any protruding sharp edges from the petals. Repeat for all the rest of the petals and you're done!
Once a petal is cut, it can be tuned to a higher note by cutting the end off the petal so that it's shorter and vibrates faster. Equally, it can be made to resonate lower by cutting the petal longer. Free pitch tuners are available for computers and smart phones, but I found tuning the petals didn't really matter to my grandchildren. All they seemed to care about was having a reasonable number of high a low notes so they could invent rhythms.
I was surprised at how much fun they have with this simple toy. If you ever find yourself wondering if the recycle people will accept an old helium tank, turn it into a petal drum instead and save youself a lot of angst and provide your children with some fun at the same time.
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