Making a fireplace bellows

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Blog entry by Jim Finn posted 09-28-2016 11:09 AM 5218 reads 1 time favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch

Instructions for making functioning and decorative fireplace bellows: Feb. 9, 2004
(Up-dated Sept. 2016) I have made well over sixty of these. I developed this process and pattern from a carved bellows I bought in Norway in 1984. The decorative inlay process is explained in another blog of mine.

Wood can be any kind that you like to use. Needed is about 30 inches of 1×8. One half-inch thick wood will also work if you can find it. I have used Oak, Cedar, Pine, Walnut, Maple, Mahogany, Chesnutt and Apple. I have made well over fifty of these bellows over the past thirty years/
Cut leather patterns from 3 oz leather being careful to get a finished edge because this will show on the finished bellows. A sharp scissors and care will achieve this. After cutting I use mineral oil on rough side of the leather to soften and darken it. Rub the oil in until the color is even on both sides. Allow to dry a week or more.
Trace pattern onto wood and cut with band saw/jigsaw/scroll saw/coping saw. And sand the edges to the line. Cut the nozzle end of the top piece at the hinge line and glue it to the top side of the bottom piece nozzle end. Yellow or white wood glue works fine. Clamp and dry overnight.
Drill ¼ inch hole for nozzle all the way from front to hinge line. Through this doubled area on the bottom piece. Enlarge the first ¾” of this hole to fit the brass nozzle.
Make the nozzle from a shell of a 30 –30 rifle or any shell you have. Cut off the primer and insert the shell into the drilled hole and glue in with wood glue. Before installing I tap, with a hammer, the small end (exposed end) of the shell, mushrooming the end inward just enough to strengthen it a bit. With practice this works easy.
Cut or grind a 45-degree slope on the top piece and the bottom piece at the hinge as shown on the drawing. Using a 1 inch or ¾ inch brass hinge install as shown and check that it works freely. Note while closing bellows that the ¼” hole for the air to exit the bellows gets blocked by the inside of the top piece. I use a dremmel tool to grind out a small rounded “tunnel” in alignment with this ¼” hole. Just enough to allow the air to pass. Note: When using the bellows the top will never be closed completely it will be held apart a bit by the bunched up leather.
Take the brass hinge off of the top piece and carve and decorate the face and handles on both pieces of the bellows and the nozzle end too. I inlay an image into the top piece as decoration before turning the whole thing to form the handle and nozzle in lathe. I screw the top and bottom bellows pieces together where the screws will not interfere with the decoration. One in back where the air inlet will be cut out and on the other side (top) where the hinge will be placed. These two screws and the sides taped together will do. Turn them in a lathe at slow speed to form the handles and the nozzle end. Do all shaping and sanding of the wood. As shown on the drawing make a hole in the bottom piece for air to enter the bellows. I usually cut a star shaped hole here with my scroll saw but a ¾” round hole will also work fine. Tack a 3”x2” piece of oiled leather over this hole on the inside of the bellows to form a valve so the air will come in this hole and not out of it. Put the rough side down and tack the four corners. Drill a 3/16” hole in the base of the handle of the bottom piece ONLY as shown on the drawing. This is the hole that the hanging strap passes through.
After carving, decorating and sanding the whole bellows on the outside put 2-3 coats of ”Deft” on it or use some Danish Oil on it. Any finish you choose will work.
Tack the light weight, oiled, leather, cut to pattern shape, to the edge of top piece all the way around from past the hinge line to handle and back past the hinge line. I keep it about ¼ inch away from the face of the top piece. Leather must be smooth to the wood but not stretched too much. Evenly space the decorative tacks about 1½ inch apart. Note: the leather should extend past the brass hinge line on each side about ¾ inch or so. Then, on the INSIDE of the top piece put white glue where the leather meets the wood all the way around and let it dry a few hours. (White glue dries clear)
Now the hard part: re-install the top piece and hinge to the bottom piece with the hinge screws. Slip the leather over the perimeter of the bottom piece and align tacks with the tacks on the top piece. After tacking in place, squeeze white glue in between tacks by pulling the leather away just a little from the wood. Wipe off any excess glue. Glue here is necessary to avoid leaks. Glue the ¾” extra length of the installed leather to the sides near the hinge. Glue hinge cover piece of leather (arched shape) on to the top ONLY to hide the hinge. Allow it to dry a few hours before stretching it around the sides and gluing and tacking in place covering the entire joint on the top and two sides. I cut this hinge cover piece flush with the bottom of the bottom edge of the bellows leather. Leaks are common here so glue this leather in place well. Both ends of the 16” oiled leather thong or string are threaded through the small hole in the handle from the front and tied together. Loop the rest of the thong over the front handle to keep bellows closed while hanging on the wall.
When all the glue is dried start your fire!

Jim Finn!!


-- No PHD just a DD214 Lubbock Texas

1 comment so far

View Druid's profile


2205 posts in 3960 days

#1 posted 09-28-2016 06:13 PM

Ok Jim, Now you’ve made me add yet another project to my “To Do” list.
But, thanks for posting the details. This should become a popular posting.

-- John, British Columbia, Canada

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