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I Forge Iron

Building A Bellows

John Martin

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I built a "great bellows" using 2 sheets of plywood so it was wider and longer than the above one. I used heavily impregnated canvas for the "leathers"---the tarpaulin stuff used to make wind wings for oil drilling rigs in OK and got it as scrap from a company that did make those for pretty much nothing.

I had no trouble with a fairly large diameter valve as I used light sheet aluminum and a very easy hinge. I covered the seal zone with felt---which quiets them down too!

For the nozzle an old late 50's early 60's conical table leg can be used and cut down till you get the size of orifice you wish.

I used this bellows for about 20 years and preferred it to my good hand crank blower which I preferred in turn to an electric blower.

I much preferred the double lunged bellows to the chinese box bellows I have used as there was a considerable time one could do other stuff while the top chamber was emptying with the bellows and with the box bellows air flow stopped as soon as you stopped pumping it.

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Shown below are photos that I took about an hour ago. I am using the same opening size and valve parts that I used for my wheeled Traveling Forge. The openings are 7" square as called for in the mid-1800s U.S. Army specifications for the Traveling Forge. For these openings I am using the following parts as shown in the picture on the right:
- Two 9" by 10" plywood blocks, 3/4" thick
- a 10" wide by 2ft long piece of baler belting from the local farm store
- Craft felt (either self sticking or use glue)
- an inexpensive dog leash
- craft sticks
- a couple of screws.
- latex gloves

As shown on the left.
1) attach the felt to one side of the belting
2) cut the belting to 1ft lengths
3) put on gloves
4) use craft sticks to mix and spread epoxy on wood blocks and attach to other side of each piece of belting
5) put weight on block to hold it firmly in place on belting
6) when glue is cured, use screws to hold end without block to one side of opening, centering the block over the hole
7) use a piece of dog leash as a stop to prevent flap opening more than 45 degrees. Use screws to attach one end of the piece of dog leash to the top of the plywood block, and the other end to a spot in front of the opening, opposite from the screws. Length and location of ends of the piece of dog leash is determined by holding the flap open at 45 degrees.

The rubber belting acts as the hinge, and will last for a long long time. The felt quiets the valve and improves the seal. The piece of dog leash limits the opening of the valve to a 45 degree angle so that the flap does not get tangled in anything and the flap/valve responds quickly. The wood blocks serve to both act as weights and to keep the belting flat. This arrangement works extremely nicely on my wheeled Traveling Forge, so I can't recommend it higher.



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Hopefully this drawing will clarify a few points. The drawing shows which direction the valve should open and the limiting strap. The hinges for the valves in a traditional (non-Traveling Forge) need to be at the side towards the nozzle of the bellows. The strap limits how far the valve will open. The openings cut into the spacers above the valves, need to have the opening allow clearance for the valve to open. The upper valve should be far enough away from the bottom valve so that the bottom valve will, in the unlikely worst case situation, rub against the flat bottom of the middle-board and not against the valve opening in the middle-board.


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Another "grace note" is that you can build the valves on removable sections that mount into larger holes in the solid boards so that if there are problems on the middle board you can get in and fix it by removing the valve section on the outer board and then removing the inner valve. ISTR removable valve sections being used in De Re Metallica so it's not a new idea at all (500+ years old)

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If you want to try one of these:
You can find instructions in Hasluck's Smith Work downloadable from here:


There was a video on youtube, someone made this other bellows but it seems the user closed his account and I think I can't upload a ~8Mb video here for you to see in use, but the plans are here:


It seems it works very good; at least with charcoal (it needs less air)

Hope it helps...



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I made the bellows from that second link. They've been working OK for about a year, but they are definitely not great. However, they only took me a few hours to make and all the materials were free, so no real complaints if you're looking for something cheap and easy to start out with. I got the tubes from a local garage, old metal strapping from the lumberyard, and the scrap wood I already had on hand.

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  • 6 years later...
On 3/7/2012 at 5:57 PM, David Einhorn said:

Shown below are photos that I took about an hour ago

An excellent how_to!. Thanks.

I was unable to view your pics.

I used  ripstop nylon instead of leather. They worked fine.  

Also, I found that the action improved when I hung horse shoes on the end of the pole. I was able to add them until I got the action I needed. 

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  • 1 month later...

 I would reccomend strongly Cow hide.

I am willing to share plans for bellows 

and here they are

< pics no longer available >

ANd at this moment i wan't to thank guy who send me those plans.
My suggest is if you wan't to build bellows build it using real leather or hide and use good wood.


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  • 2 years later...

While I never post to ancient threads like this, I take exception in this case because most of the links and images provided seem to be dead. This forum post this comes up at the top of Google searches, so I wanted to post some links that I found to be very useful.

Very nice blog post about building a set: https://www.woodland-ways.co.uk/blog/primitive-crafts/home-made-bellows/

Here's a set of plans used to make the bellows above: http://www.manaraefan.co.uk/index_files/Page408.htm

Here's a guy who provided a novel way of controlling the airflow with his design: http://persimmonforge.blogspot.com/2013/01/making-great-double-lung-blacksmith.html

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Glad you made the exception and posted new info to the thread! 

I think I've seen the Woodland plans or some very like them. The Viking bellows look good, especially if a person updated a few things from "traditional" materials. The double lung bellow plans are more to my liking but I've been building from blue prints all my life so I don't have the difficulty with drawings less industrial folk have. 

I wish links lasted longer but some: folks, organizations, archives, etc. go away. 

Thanks for the update! 

Frosty The Lucky.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I made serval bellows, and neither of them worked until i bought one bellows and repaired it.

The thing is not all bellows are same.

The next thing is important, you need airtight an tough material, you can't use something that is airtight and expect it to work, material need to be strong, and then bottom chamber will inflate top chamber.

Material need to be hard to flex but still flexible.

I sugest making double lung bellows, if you dont want to see electric bills, since i live with my parents in vilage electricity were never option, it is saw as luxury to use fan or hairdryer just to blow air in fire. We use bellows for that.

I have book that i bought on bellows from Australia, it is shiped to me but i can't share it becasue of copyright issues.

This is smal book even i had bellows bougth that are old 200 years and repaired them, i wanted to see this australian bellows.

Thing with bellows is  Germans dont make same as Hungarians, Americans don't do nozzle same as France bellows.

They look similar but they are different in how they attach nozzle.

Americans just laminate wood parts to midle board,  in Europe some country they use huge block carve it out drill big hole, than stick that wood to midle board.

In Germany  they make some box of air for nozzle



"Austrohungarian bellows wich i bought and restored look like this"


French bellows look like this





American styl wher nozzle is piece of wood laminated to middle board.

There is difference in how you put nozzle and glue it.

Here is what i talk about notice how nozzle is attached here and how above in picture.
This are my bellows that i restored and you can see inside they have valves , nozzle, One tip too, dont make hole in nozzle to big, than your top chamber wont inhale good enaugh.



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18 hours ago, Frosty said:

Funny how different blacksmiths do everything THEIR way isn't it?

Frosty The Lucky.

I think its were carpenters and tailors included in making bellows before.

Too much spendig time with decprations and making every detail to look good.

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That was the way of craftsmen in those days. Every one had a personal flourish, a special flower patter, scroll, way of shaping corner joints, special angles for their dove tails, etc. 

Anybody who understands how they work can make a bellows that will blow air. You set yourself apart and hopefully above by making them special, works of art even. 

The artistic flourish is what makes Victorian age machinery so pleasing to the eye. 

If a person wants to see the art and superior craftsman ship in modern goods, look at the machinery we built to make the products. If you've watched soda, beer, etc. bottles being filled, capped and boxed in a plant you know where the artistry lays.

That's the way I look at it anyway.

Frosty The Lucky.

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And one important note too.

Some bellows have two ribs in top chamber, and top chamber is  half size bigger than bottom.


This give you more pumping, but it give you more air when you stop pumping, and if you put some weight on bottom chamber like hang it on lever that is attached to rope, you will get bellows closing valves faster in bottom chamber and traping air.



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