I bought a great bellows in Sedalia, Missouri, in September 1995 at an antique store. The tool was in poor condition with a lot of the leather missing and it was filled with mud dauber wasp nests. In May and June of 1996 I finally got around to the restoration.
Some people call these double lung bellows and they were a popular style for blacksmiths in the 1700’s and 1800’s until the ongoing industrial revolution brought the hand cranked fan blowers in the near the end of the 19th century.
I removed all the original leather and saved all tacks and nails. One leather panel was in good enough shape to trace an outline of a roll of paper. I took the pattern to a local shoe repair shop and and consulted with the owner. We negotiated a plan for four pigskin replacement panels. He obtained the skins and cut and sewed them for me. I made new leather hinges for the flapper valves with thicker but soft and flexible cow hide.
The wood panels were coming apart at the glued seams so I had to joint them and glue them to restore the integrity of all three panels and was able to preserve all the original pieces.
The wood trim strips were rotted so I ripped new oak strips 10’ long and 3/16”” thick from an oak 1”x4”x10’ board. These covered the leather overlaps on each rib. I planed them with a molding plane and tacked them (predrilled holes) with the original nails. I applied Neatsfoot oil to al the leather.
I fabrticated a square tube modular frame for the original pole and chain to support and operate the bellows. The bellows seemed to work very well but required a lot of effort to operate compared to the hand crank and electric blowers I was using. The bellows setup also took up a lot of precious space so it was stored away until I decided to take it to an old time demonstration at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve over the 4th of July holiday in 2004. It took a lot of work to transport and setup but I thought it was such a unique showpiece it was worth the effort. However, it proved to be a spectacular failure at attracting the interest of the visitors. On the other hand, they were much more fascinated by the lever and hand crank blowers which the older visitors recalled seeing their grandfathers use when they were children.
Lesson learned. I hung the bellows on the shop wall and they haven’t been used since. I should just sell them. Still, I value the experience of working with them. I recently came across some blog posts by people seeking information about making bellows so I decided to take some measurements from mine and make a set of plans. There will be some guess work involved as I’m not willing to take them apart to see the interior parts again. In those days I didn’t have a digital camera to document work so I’ll just have to rely on my memory. I’ll get to sketching now and hope to have some plans ready to post soon.