Heritage Crafts

Steel pan making

The making of steel pans, a percussive instrument originating from Trinidad and Tobago (see also percussion instrument making).
Currently viable
Craft category
Historic area of significance
Mostly London
Area practiced currently
Origin in the UK


The steel pan, also known as pan, is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago and was invented in the late 1930s. The steel pan developed from the Carnival, which slaves in Trinidad could not take part in so they formed their own, parallel celebration called Canboulay. The first instruments developed in the evolution of steel pan were Tamboo-Bamboos, tunable sticks made of bamboo wood. These were hit onto the ground and with other sticks in order to produce sound. Tamboo-Bamboo bands also included percussion of various metal and glass objects such as spoons and bottles. This then lead onto the invention of the first steel pans. The Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (known as TASPO) attended the Festival of Britain in 1951 and was the first steel band to perform in the UK.


To make a steel pan a 55-gallon oil barrel is stretched into a concave bowl or dish shape. Depending on the type of pan being made, the barrel’s side (or ‘skirt’) is cut to the proper length. The panmaker uses hammers of various sizes and ‘pongs’ the traced notes making them stand out like bubbles. Each note is then tuned by using a variety of hammers until it reaches a perfect pitch.



Issues affecting the viability

  • Most of the training for tuning and making steel pans take place in the USA or Trinidad.
  • Steel pan making does not currently enjoy qualifications from a recognised body such as ABRSM, Trinity or OCR.

Support organisations

Training organisations


Craftspeople currently known


Other information

The latest invention is the E Pan and electronic steel pan that operates like a keyboard.



National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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