We’ve all got hobbies. They’re essential aspects of our lives which keep us mentally engaged and enthusiastic.
Some folks like tinkering around in their garages and building things. Some folks like playing music with their pals. Micah Doering fits into the Venn diagram overlap of those two sectors, and it has led him to become Spokane’s drum-making master.
Appropriately growing up in Rathdrum, Idaho, Doering grew up doing carpentry projects with his dad at home while also fostering a love of music, beginning drumming in school ensembles starting in sixth grade. At one point, Doering wanted a new snare drum, and rather than pick one up at a music shop, he and the old man built one wine-barrel-style out of 20 pieces of glued-together wood. That was the first drum that Doering built, but it wouldn’t be his last.
While he plied his trade as an electrician, about seven years ago Doering started making drums in his Post Falls garage as a side hustle. Cask Drum Craft was born.
What sets Doering’s drums apart is his throwback process. He’s not a kid gluing together drums anymore, he’s using a highly specialized process to bend the wood into the needed circular pieces with the power of steam.
“What we’re doing here is building a steam drum shell. There are only around five companies left in the nation that still do it like this,” says Doering. “Originally, all drum shells were built like this back in the 1900s. It’s just a more stable way of building a drum, they sound better. The problem is it’s very time consuming, so it kinda got replaced by plywood drums. That’s what 99 percent of all drums are nowadays. So we’re kind of resurrecting it. There’s still a big demand for it, we’ve found.”
On a sonic level, steam-bent drums are far easier to tune to specific notes and have a broader tuning range. Clear notes ring out of them, often with true low-end sounds. A steam-bent tom drum can sometimes sound as low as a plywood bass drum, making them ideal for that stadium rock thump. Steam-bent drums are also much more durable than plywood. As Doering jokes, “Your guitar player could stand on the bass drum and not fall through it.”
Three and a half years ago, Doering took the plunge into making Cask his full-time job. He crossed the Idaho border and set up shop in the Old Trolley Barn in East Central Spokane. The space offers plenty of room for specialized machinery needed to efficiently make the drums, as well as store them during the many steps of the steam-bending process.
Said process begins by Doering procuring big slabs of wood from local sawmills. Getting it fresh makes it easier to steam, but each wood species is different. Oak, maple, cherry, walnut and ash are Cask’s bread-and-butter wood varieties, but expensive custom orders can use rarer, super brittle African hardwoods. The costs with these woods not only jump because of the comparative scarcity, but because of how unforgiving and difficult they can be to steam-bend without cracking. While black walnut has essentially a 100 percent steam-bending success rate, maple drops to about 75 percent, before nosediving for exotics like bubinga and purpleheart to a scant 25 percent steam-bending success rate. (Looking up at the shop’s ceiling you, one can see the rejects in the “hanging graveyard.” Every four or five months, Doering just takes a stack of unusable drums and throws them in the garbage or burns them to clear out space in the rafters.)
Once in the shop, Doering cuts the wood into strips and soaks them in tanks of a water and fabric softener solution to improve their bendability. The steam-bending is then done by hand using a specified machine to assist, and is actually the fastest step in the process, only taking about five minutes. The newly circular wood rings are clamped and left to dry for three to four weeks as part of the curing process to make sure they don’t crack. Along with other hand-done detail work like sanding, diameter adjustments and milling are then done to transform the products from rings of wood to actual drum shells.
Not only do Cask Drum Craft’s products blow the run-of-the-mill products out of the water in terms of tone, they can also be gorgeous works of art. Be it intricate striped designs or lovely natural finishes, some of the high-end products look almost too good to play… almost.
“I found [business] really took off during the pandemic,” says Doering. “People, they had the residual income, they wanted to buy something new, they wanted to play drums more.”
The absolute quickest a custom Cask drum can be turned around is six to 10 weeks, but some drum sets have taken well over a year. Most of Cask’s custom work isn’t commissioned by locals — his new carbon snare drums for example have been bought by players in China, Japan and the Netherlands. There isn’t a wild market for the people who want to spend $600 for an bubinga snare drum shell (before it’s even fitted with hardware and becomes playable), but Doering emphasizes that he’s not only making $6,000 drum sets for obscenely wealthy drummers.
“We’re not just high end, we can build a drum for anybody at any price,” he says. “A lot of our stuff is higher-tiered pricing. But you know, if there’s a local drummer who’s looking for a snare drum for three or four hundred bucks, we can do that too. We focus on the high end, but we’ve got a drum for everybody.”
After initially resisting, Doering has also dipped into the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) market; in other words, making steam-bent drum shells for the big-name drum companies. It’s now 95 percent of the shop’s work (the upstairs of the shop is strewn with dozens of clamped OEM shells curing). If you buy a new steam-bent drum from a major drum maker, there’s a decent chance you’re unknowingly playing one of Doering’s drums (the large companies don’t like to disclose their use of OEM products — though Luft, which makes high-end tambourines for orchestras and such, is happy to say they get OEM products made by Cask).
The company’s output is around 40 OEM drum shells per month. Additionally, Doering makes about 20 to 25 custom snare drums and three or four drum sets over the course of a given year.
Cask faces many of the same problems any small business does these days: material costs, trouble finding good help, etc. Doering has hired three employees to help build the drums since the Spokane move, and for them, the process of making musical instruments still offers a sense of wonder.
“I’m a drummer, too, but I did not know anything before I came in,” says Joe Anyon, who has been working at Cask for a year. “Like, I had no idea the difference between the steam-bent and normal drums. The learning process for me is pretty much my favorite thing. And just being a part of something that is like, you know, a lost art.”
In addition to his band Somatic Tribe (which can be found playing house parties and venues like Cruisers Bar & Grill in Post Falls), Cask Drum Craft has become Doering’s creative outlet. It’s rewarding because it’s creativity that then fuels even more musical imagination once the drums are out the door.
“I couldn’t be happier,” says Doering. “I’m glad I quit my job to do this.”
And the beat goes on… and the beat goes on… ♦
Find more about Cask Drum Craft at caskdrumcraft.com and steambentdrum.com.
Article Source: Inlander