Introduction: How to Make a Pair of Bellows
A useful aid to a roaring open fire, or simply a nice decoration to adorn your fire surround. Whatever the reason, making your own pair of bellows will challenge your creative juices, and better your woodworking skills!
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Step 1: What You Need
Pipe or nozzle of some kind
Leather or leather equivalent
Drill and drill bits
Super glue or epoxy
Coping saw or jigsaw
Sand paper (Coarse to fine)
Wood finish E.g. varnish, paint, oil etc
Knife or scissors
Helpful tools (not essential)
Hand or power plane
Files and rasps
Decorating equipment E.g. chisels, paints and brushes etc
The bellows I made here are roughly 6” across, at its widest point, and 14” from top to bottom. This makes a nice small sized bellows, but any size and shape can be adapted to work with this how to!
Please watch the video above and have a read through the tutorial before you start. This will help to get an idea on the build as a whole.
Selecting wood is entirely up to the individual. So use what you have available. Stick to plywood or splash out and get yourself some exotic wood!
I chose to use some scrap mahogany I already had.
Step 2: Prepping the Wood
If you’re scrambling through your scrap bin for some nice looking wood, you may not find anything that is 6” wide. So our first task is to create a board big enough from which to work with.
If you have the right sized boards, or are using sheet material such as plywood, skip to “Cutting Out”.
I took some scrap pieces, roughly 3” wide and ½” thick, and cut them into 4 separate, 14” long pieces.
Putting two together at a time, I clamp them in my vice and plane them flat.
Keep checking progress with a straight edge. If you’re able to buy your wood pre-planed, check that it’s square and flat and skip straight to gluing up!
Apply plenty of wood glue to both edges of the boards and spread it out evenly.
Next you will need 3 or more bar clamps in order to clamp the two boards together. Placing the clamps on either side ensures the boards will stay flat!
By now you should have 2 identical boards, the right length and width of your design.
Step 3: Cutting Out
Here I stuck the two boards together using double sided tape, and then glued my design to the wood. If you’re feeling arty and adventurous, you could simply draw your design straight onto the wood!
Tip: If you’re using a dark wood, draw on your design with a white pencil.
I use a bandsaw to cut around the outline of the bellows, but a coping saw or jigsaw can be used to achieve the same results.
Saws can leave very rough and unclean edges, so these need to be cleaned up!
With the two boards still taped together, I use a rasp to quickly shape the edges. I then move to a file and finally sandpaper. The same results can be achieved with a succession of graded sandpaper if you don’t have a rasp or file available.
When you’re happy with the outer shape, you can now prise the two boards apart.
Take just the top board and make a straight cut across, roughly 2 inches up from the bottom, or wherever you feel looks right for it to hinge. Again I use the bandsaw here but you can use any kind of saw.
Don’t lose that piece you cut off!
You now need to apply some wood glue and stick it to the other board.
Any clamp can be used for this small piece; here I just clamp it in my vice, but you could just rest something heavy on it to apply pressure.
Step 4: Decorating and Finishing the Paddles
You don't need to decorate your bellows. You may want the wood grain to speak for itself, but I’m a lover of hand carving, so I hand carved my fiancées and my initials, with two acanthus leaves either side of a heart that I created by using a router with a V bit.
To achieve the patterning inside the heart, I simply took random passes in various directions with the router.
Whether you carve or paint your bellows, make sure you leave some space at the bottom, as the leather will overlap that section to create the hinge.
Once the glue has dried on the other piece, place the two boards back together and drill a hole through the top of the handle. A strip of leather or cord will go through these holes to prevent the bellows from being pulled open too far.
This is where it gets a little tricky!
I used a drill press, but a normal drill, and keen hand eye coordination will work too!
Locate the centre on the bottom of your bellows (where the nozzle will be). Now drill a hole through into the belly of the bellows. This will also cut a small groove on the inside of the board. Just be careful to keep straight, go slow and don’t drill out through the side!
I used progressively larger drill bits until I reached the size of the nozzle I will be fitting in.
Using a spade bit I drilled a hole in the centre of the bottom board (undecorated board).This will act as the valve to let in air but stop air escaping.
Again, this can be done with a hand drill and regular drill bits. If you only have access to small drill bits, drill a few holes close together instead.
Before we assemble it, we need to finish off the wood, either painting, varnishing, oiling etc.
Here I used a gloss polyurethane varnish, mixed roughly half with white spirit (any thinner will do). This allows me to simply wipe on the varnish using a “J cloth” (or rag). This prevents horrible brush marks, and stops thick blobby clogging around caved areas.
Between coats I simply lightly sand it down with 400 grit sand paper, dust it off and apply the next coat.
Because it’s thinned down you will need to apply more coats than you would normally, but I find I get better, and easier, results.
Step 5: Fitting the Leather
The bellows are effectively complete, but they wouldn’t be much use without the leather!
I used Eco friendly, recycled leather for my build. I’m not sure how it’s made, but it's a lot cheaper and better for the planet!
Before we go any further, cut a small square, just bigger than that hole you drilled in the middle of the bottom paddle. Now simply apply glue to one edge and glue the square over the hole (the side that will be on the inside of the bellows). This will be the valve!
I laid the paddles on their side to roughly how far apart I think it will be opened, and then cut a rough, oversized, shape that would fit from the front, all the way round the back, and back to the front.
If I could advise anything on this build, it would be to make a paper mock up for this part, to check how it fits before cutting your leather.
Once your leather is cut to size, we need to start gluing it down.I used spray glue at first, as that is all I had lying around.
I don’t advise it at all! Stick to super glue if you can.
We only need to do a section at a time so don’t go slapping glue all over the place!
For extra strength, and to add a little flair, I tacked the leather down using upholstery tacks. I slightly pre drilled these, just to be on the safe side, as the last thing you would want at this stage is to split the wood!
There’s no definite distance that you need to space these tacks, but try to keep the spaces even throughout.
When you’re all glued and tacked you can cut away any excess with a knife or scissors.
If you’re the present wrapper in the family, this next bit will suit you to a T!
Take a scrap of leather, ensure that it’s wide enough to wrap around the bellows, and long enough to wrap over from front to back.
With the bellows laying topside down, I cut 2 diagonals radiating from the corners.
Now that’s prepped, you can secure the front.
A line of tacks must run either side of the split you cut in the wood earlier. This will create a hinge with the leather. I later add more tacks under these, but they are mostly for decorative purposes.
You should find that the diagonal cut in the leather you made, runs along the tip of the bellows.
Making sure you have the bellows fully open at this point, begin tacking and wrapping the leather as shown.
You may have noticed that we’ve covered the hole?!
Simply grab a knife and poke it through the hole, making a sort of asterisks.
For me, the leather pushed into the hole, and with a few bashes of the mallet, it held the pipe in without the need for glue, but add glue if the pipe is not secure.
In case you were wondering what sort of pipe that is……I have no idea! I found it and cut it to a descent length. It really doesn’t matter, as long as it’s some sort of metal and it fits!
The final touch is to add a strip of leather to the holes in the end of the handle.This allows it to be hung, and acts as a safety measure to prevent the bellows being pulled apart too far by over enthusiastic family members!
Please be careful but have fun!
Remember, this “how to” is just a guide and there are many ways to shape the paddles and wrap the leather. There is no right or wrong here as long as it blows air, so go crazy with designs!