Replace American Football Bladder

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I used the adjective "American" in front of football, because in most of the world, a football is round and punted around with feet. In the US our "football" is carried and is basically a form of rugby.

The summer school that rents space at my church had a bunch of flat playground balls that needed Fix-A-Flat and air, but this Wilson TD Junior bladder had competely disintgrated into little pieces of rubberized fabric.


Hey, no problem I thought. I'll just go to eBay or Amazon and buy a replacement bladder. Wilson used to sell a bladder + lace kit on Amazon for $5. It is currently "unavailable." eBay sellers wanted more for the kit than the football cost new, or would charge 3 times the football cost to do it for me. Just shipping the football back and forth makes this unprofitable. If you have a signed football your choices are still fewer as most sellers don't want to risk smudging the signature.

So I thought maybe I could make a bladder from a thin sheet of nitrile rubber.

Step 1: Homemade Bladder Leaks

I found a place near work that makes rubber mats and the like from raw stock and they gave me a small scrap of 1/32" nitrile sheet for free when I explained what I was trying to do. SuperGlue gel is the recommended adhesive, but nitrile doesn't stretch and I was unable to make a bladder that fit well enough that it did not leak when I tried to inflate it. I saved the lace from the football by carefully unstitching it with my fingers, and saved the valve from the remains of the original bladder.

I went to the local Super Walmart near work and asked the manager if they sold large balloons, intending to try stuffing small balloons in the ends of the football and then one larger one in the center with the original valve glued to it.

The balloons Walmart sold were cheap party decorations that didn't look like they would last for more than a few days, so I went to the toy section and began looking around.

Step 2: $3.88 Kick Ball With Bladder and Valve

Walmart sells a cheap looking kick ball that was the size of a real soccer/football and had a standard needle valve to fill. I cut the fabric off and left the fabric/rubber disk on the valve. I pulled the disk through the hole where the original valve had been and superglued the valve in place. I restitched the ball with the laces I saved and then cut off the excess of the disk and glued and sanded it flat. It has held air for over a day and the football has the proper feel to it and spirals properly when thrown.

I did not have a stitching awl, but I carry a tire patch kit and the plug awl that looks like the one above worked perfectly for restitching after cleaning it with GooGone to remove the sticky remains of plugs I had fixed tires with.

There are videos out there showing how to double lace, so I won't repeat that here, except to say that football stitches have non-stretch fibres inside a vinyl liner. Both Amazon and Ebay are reselling laces for more than the price of a football.

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