Lugs and tension rods

Image of tension rods and lug inserts

I’ve spent a quite a few hours watching videos on restoring drums. A lot of the videos are a bit silly. Guys putting hardware in the dishwasher, soaking in every imaginable chemical for days. And not using the right tools or even knowing how to use tools. For me, it doesn’t really matter how dirty or rusty the lugs or tension rods are as long as the tension rods screw in smoothly. In this article I will show you the way I clean the threads on tension rods and lugs.

The way I’ve been cleaning is faster and actually removes grease and dirt from the tension rods and lugs. Rarely have I seen anyone actually clean the threads. Which to me would be the most important part of the whole thing.

To be fair, I get it, keeping your drums looking shiny and new is nice! But, having a tension rod that screws in smoothly is nicer and as a free bonus makes tuning easier and in some cases, even a lot easier.

The tools

To clean threads I use a tap and die set. For those of you that dont know, a tap and die are tools used to make threads on and in metal. A tap and die is also an excellent, if not the best, tool to clean threads.

tap and die - tools for making threads
Threading tools tap and die (tap right – die left) 12-24 UNC

The “standard” tension rod size 7/32″ and the threads are 12-24 UNC. The tap on the right in the image is used for the lug insert. The die (left) is used for the tension rod. Some European drum brands might use metric instead of imperial measurements, which means the 12-24UNC threads wont match. Should you force a 12-24 tap down a M5 or M6 size lug, you will ruin the lug insert. Also, at least one American made drum uses UNF threads (F stands for fine, C is for coarse). Make sure you know what you got before going any further.

You can buy a tap and die set at a hardware store or online. The part of the world that uses imperial units will have no problems finding a set. Europeans on the other hand, good luck..

If you cant find or don’t want to buy more stuff (the way I’m feeling right now), you can use a wire brush or a circular drill wire brush attachment for the tension rods. For the lug inserts you can create a makeshift tap by making a cut straight across the thread on an spare tension rod. A rotary tool is good for this type of thing, if you don’t have one a hacksaw will also work.

makeshift thread cleaning tap
A cut across the threads, deeper than the threads for a makeshift tap

Thread cleaning

Let’s start with the tension rods. The tension rod will screw into the die in the same way you’d screw a nut unto a bolt. The rod should go in smoothly. Do not try to force the rod into the die. If you’re having problems, firstly make sure you’re using the right size die and secondly make sure the rod is going straight into the die.

Tension rod screwed into a die
Tension rod and die, screws on just like a nut.

Screw the die all the way to the end of the threads and back again. I usually do a couple of passes end to end.

Next is the lug insert. Just as with the tension rod, carefully screw the tap into the insert. There shouldn’t be any resistance. If there is resistance make sure the tap is going in straight and that you’re using the right size tap.

Threading tool
Tap and lug insert, same as the die and rod

Again here I do two passes, all the way to the bottom and out again.

Now, go through the rest of tension rods and lugs. It’s a nice half hour job, and now you’re kind of a workshop hero.

Greasing the lugs

This is optional. I’ve read some drummers never put any grease in the lugs, others I’ve seen apply tremendous amounts. Grease on the tension rods make them go into the lug smoother. I’ve used vaseline and it works, but smells kinda bad. White lithium grease on the other hand is just as good, if not better and doesn’t really have an odor at all.

To apply the white grease I use a toothpick and put a small amount on the tip and put into the lug insert. Those big blobs of grease you see them smearing over the tension rods on YouTube, will do you no good other than getting your fingers covered in grease which will then get all over your drum shells. A small amount is enough.

And that’s pretty much it

Will you notice any difference when tuning after this process? It will largely depend on the condition of your tension rods and lugs. I’ve had a couple of drums where the tension rods got stuck after a few turns of finger tightening, but would go in just fine with a tuning key. Cleaned the lug inserts with a tap and surprisingly got actual metal shavings out the lugs. So on those drums, yes there was a very noticeable difference. The lugs on drums that aren’t brand new will usually have some goo in the lugs and this is the fastest way to get rid of it.

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