How to Make a Fireplace Bellows

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Introduction: How to Make a Fireplace Bellows

About: I love making all kinds of things, with a bent toward woodworking. I do projects for clients, improvements around the house and even some furniture pieces. Follow along!

In this video, I show how to make a fireplace bellows. These have been used for centuries to keep fires going while saving your lungs from having to do the work. Take a look:

Step 1: BACKGROUND

We live in Mississippi and it is very humid here. So much so that it is difficult to get a fire to stay lit at times. The wood seems to be damp, even on my woodpile. So, for our outdoor fireplace, we really needed something to help keep the fire going.

I was tired of blowing on the fire all of the time, so the fireplace bellows was definitely a necessity.

Step 2: TOOLS & MATERIALS

Step 3: DRAWING THE SHAPE

I started out by hand-drawing a shape that I liked. Since both sides of my drawing were not completely symmetrical, I used . trick that I've picked up over the years. Choose which side of the drawing that you like most. Then, find the center point of your entire drawing. Draw a line down the center, and fold it in half. Trace on the outside of the side you liked best onto the now folded side. Then, unfold and cut it out. It should be perfectly symmetrical. This is an easy way to get both sides of a shape perfectly symmetrical, even if you draw them by hand.

Step 4: TRANSFER THE DESIGN

I grabbed a piece of maple that was about an inch thick and cut out two pieces on the miter saw. Each time I use my miter saw since adding on the extension wings makes me really glad that I did that project. It is so much easier and safer to handle material now. I don't remember the exact length of this bellows, but I was making mine longer/larger than most I have seen. I will be the primary user of this, and I have long arms, so I wanted it to be able to reach the fire easily without me having to bend down as much.

Step 5: CUT OUT ON BANDSAW

Next, I stuck the two boards together with some carpet tape, traced out the design from my template onto the boards and took it over to the bandsaw to cut out the shape. I stayed outside of my line just a little so I could refine it later. I refined that line and shape with some files, rasps, a spokeshave and a random orbit sander. Really anything you have will work here...just so long as you can smooth out your shape and get rid of any tool lines the bandsaw left on the edges.

Step 6:

I shaped the handles with a number of tools starting with rasps and files, then moving on to the spokeshave and finally, the random orbit sander.

Step 7: DRILL HOLE IN ONE SIDE & CREATE HINGE

Next, I drilled a through hole in one of the sides. This would be part of the valve that makes the whole thing work. I also took that side to the bandsaw and cut off a portion of the tip. It is kind of hard to explain (I think I explain it really well in the video, because I can kind of show you), but this will become the hinge for the entire mechanism. The tip that I cut off gets glued back onto the other piece. Then, the now shorter piece can hinge and move with help from the leather.

Step 8:

Next, I used some contact cement to help adhere the leather to the inside of the hole. Contact cement works by applying it to two different surfaces, letting it dry for about 15 minutes so that it is just tacky to the touch, and then sticking the two surfaces together. The contact cement on either surface adheres to itself creating quite a strong bond.

Step 9: LEATHERWORK

Now, on to the leather.

I found this to be one of the most tricky parts of the entire build. With it being such a fluid shape, it was really hard to figure out how much leather I would need, and just how to draw out where my cuts would need to fall to accommodate the handles, etc. Some of it ended up just being trial and error, but I did a pretty good job not having too much waste in the end. There was just one kind of large scrap, but I'll be able to use that for some other project in the future. It will not get thrown away. This is 5.5 oz leather, so it is pretty thick. That made it a little more difficult to work with, but sure do love the look and feel of the finished piece. It is substantial!

Step 10: DRILL HOLE FOR NOSE

The valve mechanism is so simple in this bellows. I used to think it was some actual hardware inside of these, but it is simple mechanics. The through hole in one of the sides acts as an air intake. There is a piece of leather secured on three sides on the inside of this hole, with a little slack toward that fourth side. When you expand the bellows, it sucks air into the inside through the hole. Then, as you collapse it down, all of the air on the inside of the bellows presses on that leather "valve" on the inside, forcing it shut, and forcing the air to go out the only other place it can...the tip. This works surprisingly well, and it is so simple. I would love to know who first came up with it. I find that a little air leaks out of the intake hole, but it is definitely not enough to hinder the air coming out the tip from being very strong.

The next step was to drill a through hole in the tip for the copper pipe I would be using. I did this with a handheld drill, and ended up having to cut off a bit more of the tip of the shape since the drill bit I had was not long enough to get all of the way through. I also used some chisels to hollow out more of a channel on the inside, just inside of the pipe. Maybe I didn't need to do this, but I wanted plenty of space for the air to go down the pipe.

Step 11: SECURE PIPE

I cut some 1/2" copper pipe I had with a simple pipe cutter, and used some epoxy to affix it inside the tip of the bellows.

Step 12: FNISH LEATHER PARTS

Next, I turned my attention back to finishing the leather. I added some more contact cement to both the leather and the sides of the maple. I adhered the leather on one side to the wood, and then flipped it over to add some upholstery tacks. These seemed to work best when I started off holding them with some needle nose pliers and then driving them home the rest of the way with the hammer. Every once in a while, one of them would get turned in such a way that it was ruined, but that's just how nails go sometimes. I've seen some other people predrill a hole so they don't split the wood as they nail these into it, but mine were small enough, there was no need.

Step 13: AIR TIGHT

I made my way around, measuring the distance between each tack with my compass set to about 2". This just seemed like a nice spacing. I'm glad I did this, because it turned out looking really great!

On the other side, I just had to really work with the leather to make sure I was giving it plenty of travel room to move. As I worked back toward the handles, I had to cut the leather to allow it to go around the handle. Then, on the top handle, I had to do a bit of folding of the leather to get it to work right. I just attached it at the folds with some more tacks, and it seemed to work well. The last part of the leather working was adding another, smaller piece to the very front of the bellows. This covers the "hinge" part and makes it as air tight as possible. The only thing to really watch out for is how high up you go. I got lucky...I went pretty high up on the bellows, and I was worried at first that the leather would not be able to stretch to accommodate the opening of it. If you keep it closer to the tip of the bellows, you will not have as much trouble with this.

Step 14: TRIM EXCESS LEATHER

Next, I just trimmed off the excess leather, sanded it all again by hand (including the edges of the leather) and added some mineral oil to the maple. I didn't want another finish that would get all over the leather, so I just opted for a clean and simple mineral oil. I can reapply as the piece needs it, and it has a nice, organic feel.

Step 15: MARK YOUR WORK

The final part was to burn my logo into the leather with my new branding iron. (It is so satisfying!)

Step 16: CONCLUSION

I came across some things in this project that challenged me, and I'm better for it, despite what I feel in those moments. During the build, it can be incredibly frustrating to run into snags, but I usually learn from them, and after the project is over, I have grown as a maker. Do your projects help you grow as a maker? What did you think of this project? Do you have a bellows? Did you even know what I bellows was until you saw this? Let me know what you think below, and thank you for following along with the project! Don't forget to watch the video!

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    18 Comments

    Thanks so much! I appreciate you checking it out!

    This looks great!

    You have a valve on the hole in the wood, but not around the pipe.

    What stops the bellows from drawing air in through the pipe?

    A few pumps in situ might draw in hot embers into your lovely bellows.

    1 reply

    Thank you for the kind words!

    There is no valve on the pipe. I'm sure there is some bit of air that draws in there, although, I've not really noticed much. This thing is not perfectly air tight...maybe some are, but I would doubt it. It is more just a matter of the larger hole is where most of the air will intake, simply because it is so much larger. Some air does go out of the larger hole too, but not enough to stop the effectiveness of the bellows. Thanks for checking out the project!

    user

    Nice bit of workmanship and quite difficult to do as a one off. I went off to look at the 'antique' hand bellows I got from my parent's house. Interesting that if you put a finger over the pipe hole, air leaks all over the place when squeezed, but as bellows they work fantastically - the pipe is so much bigger than the little gaps. The reason is that the leather is just held by tacks at 1" spacing so maybe it is worth considering avoiding gluing as that will make it near impossible to repair if the leather develops a hole. Also there is a leather cord through the handles preventing them being pulled to far apart.

    1 reply

    Thank you! I do still need to make a strap so they can't be pulled too far apart. I just didn't get a chance before publishing this. And you're right about the tacks, rather than glue. I'm just not that skilled yet, and I figured using the glue would help hold it so I could focus more on the tacks.

    Fantastic Bruce! Oddly enough, I had just cut out my own template for a set of bellows I'm starting on when I saw this post... I guess you beat me to it haha. These look really slick, well done!

    3 replies

    Oh cool! What wood are you using?

    Cheers for the comment Bruce! I'm using some cherry on my project but I'll definitely be following your instructable to complete it. I appreciate all the work you're putting out on your youtube channel, I've been learning a ton over the last year or so. It's great inspiration!

    20180418_120618.jpg

    Those are gorgeous! I love the curved handles...I never even thought of that. Nice touch using the laser to add some detail. (at least it looks like a laser). Where are you drilling the hole? If you're looking for some upholstery tacks, I linked to some in my instructable and in my video. I think I ended up going with the shorter ones of the options in the antique brass. I like the look of them a lot. They are maybe 5/8" long.

    Also, thank you for taking the time to let me know about my YouTube channel. I really appreciate that! I've been struggling recently with motivation about continuing that...it is a tough thing to grow, and I'm not seeing quite as much growth as I would have liked. But it is comments like yours that really help...knowing that I am inspiring or helping someone learn...I love that!

    Great instructable! I made a set of bellows some years ago. Instead of pipe (for the nozzle) I took a .30-06 spent cartridge and cut off the closed end. It left a nice tapered brass tube that looked very finished. In answer to Magnusf0711, I do a lot of leather work, and I get my leather from Tandy Leather.

    1 reply

    Oh, I bet the brass looked great! I've looked at Tandy leather, but they're a good bit more expensive than the sides I've bought from Acadia Leather. The side I used for this leather was about 22 sqft and I got it for $35 shipped. And it was 5.5 oz leather. Tag me with a photo of your bellows on Instagram @Brudaddy. I'd love to see it!

    Thanks so much! I appreciate the comments.

    I love this. It looks wonderful. Where do you buy your leather?

    1 reply

    Thank you! I bought this leather from a company called Acadia Leather. I recommend following them on Instagram @AcadiaLeather as they put specials there periodically. That's how I found this leather.