O'connell

I purchased an antique bellows to restore.

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Just saw your post after all the time it’s been here.

How big is it? Was/is it leather or oil cloth for the flexible portion? That’s awesome you are going to literally breathe new life into those!

I spent one day at a forge that had a nice big double lung bellows, it was really fun to use, the valves would clack and make a kind of wheezing sound. When I had a big shop to work in I considered making a set but didn’t ever do it, always had something else with my attention.

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One of the funniest things I ever heard was when the sales girl at a leather place said, perfectly seriously,  "Sir, they don't make cows that big."  I still laugh about it. Good luck with the repair, have fun. Al

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Side note: back in my furniture selling days, I visited a factory in Texas that did made-to-order sofas. Since hides are irregular and "uncorrected" hides show the natural grain, range marks (barbed wire scars), brands, color variations, etc, it takes a fair amount of fiddling to figure out which piece goes where. This gets even more complicated when you're doing a custom order of, say, a sofa, a loveseat, a chair, and two ottomans, all of which have to look consistent across the entire set. So, this factory had a setup where they would spread a hide out on one half of a big table with a built-in vacuum (like a huge air-hockey table in reverse) and flip a switch to suck the hide down flat. Then a guy with a mobile computer screen and a joystick would pull up all the pieces needed for this particular job, select the part he wanted to lay out, and a laser mounted above the table would project the shape on the hide. He'd rotate it and move it around to find the right spot, lock it in place, and then select the next part. This would continue until he'd filled up the entire hide with pieces to be cut out. He would then hit a button and move to the other half of the table to start laying out the next hide. While he was doing that, a computer-guided knife on a CNC carriage would cut out all the parts exactly as he'd laid them out. It was an amazing melding of human skill and judgement with technological precision.

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Also, be on the lookout for people throwing away leather-upholstered furniture. The back, the sides, and the seat and back cushions can yield some substantial pieces of leather, although sometimes in rather odd colors. If you keep a blade and some trash bags in your car, you'll be ready when the opportunity presents itself.

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9 hours ago, PVF Al said:

"Sir, they don't make cows that big."

Never seen an oxen eh? Flatlanders. <sigh>

Then again I've only ever seen a brace once in 1995 at the state fair. HUGE, I could almost look under their bellies without bending. The one I petted had nostrils the size of small soup bowls say close to 4" across. Happily they were both gentile giants, loved attention and ear scratching. Ears the length of my forearm. If people were close they didn't lift their feet when they walked.

I'd still use canvas, hide is just too expensive.

Frosty The Lucky.

 

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I made my own bellows. I didn't use leather due to cost. What I got was the vinyl coated fabric that is used for awnings, the kind that are used on store fronts and are stretched over a frame. I went to a place that makes them for businesses and bought the yardage I needed. They have held up for years. 

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9 hours ago, Frosty said:

Never seen an oxen eh? Flatlanders. <sigh>  Happily they were both gentile giants, loved attention and ear scratching. 

The GENTILE ones are often like that, seaking attention and pleasures of this world. However xxxxxxxxxxxxx oxen eschew the lusts of the flesh and seeking attention from others. At least, that’s been my personal observation.

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It's a much older form of address for non-members than that. Couple millennia at least. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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I heard from an experienced blacksmith here that he rebuilds his with elk hide leather only and that it is the best.  That would be a lot of money compared to cow hide, but apparently the elk hide is much more suitable for some reason.  He built this replica Revolutionary War portable forge and bellows on wagon wheels and everything.  Works great and is what he takes to all his demos around here.  

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I built mine based on a Museum one (OKC fairgrounds) and used the heavy tarpaulin canvas used for wind wings in oil well drilling rigs.  Lasted 20+ years when I gave it on when I had to move. Worked a treat even after outside storage a few winters.   I also ran across a reference to using canvas "leathers" in De la Pirotechnia by Vannoccio Biringuccio written 1540; so not a new idea...

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MC my experience with elk and deer hide is that the are more supple and tear resistant for a given weight, goat hide is as well. Kangaroo hide would probably be the pinnacle except for the extra seams needed.  However as you said cost is steeper on most nonbovine leathers.

Id probably use a tight weave of canvas if I were to ever make one, as nowadays textiles are far cheaper than leather. I bet pre industrial era that wasn’t the case, so the fire resistance of leather at a similar price probably made it the more common material.

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A lot of medieval forge pictures show the bellows as being in a protected location  handy as many of those forges were burning charcoal which is a bit more spark throwing---when we did the pre-Y1K bloomery  using two single lung bellows run by a single person at a time, one of the assistants job was to splash water on the back of the bellows thrall when a spark landed on them.

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