Iron working, silversmithing and goldsmithing completed by our ancestors used a bellows to stoke the fire. This simply means they used a tool with an air chamber that blew oxygen into a fire so it would burn hotter and faster. I have had the opportunity to use a bellows when completing a forged ladel and find the use of a torch easier and faster. For those of you wanting to experience “the way it used to be” build a Roman forge to use with an open fire as the heat to forge a 21st Century metal item.
A Roman bellows works on the same principle as all bellows: You use the handles to create a pocket of air inside a chamber. The air then travels from the chamber through the nozzle to stoke the fire. The main difference between a Roman bellows and other bellows lies in the shape of the chamber. The chamber shape a long oval rather than a round or teardrop shape. Make a homemade Roman bellows using either vinyl or leather to encase the air chamber.
Things You’ll Need
2 lengths of wood, 1-by-8-inch, 18-inches long
Newspaper or wrapping paper
Drill or drill press
5/8 and 1/2-inch Drill bits
18-by-60-inch strip of Leather or vinyl
1/2-by-1/2-inch male-to-male compression coupling
1/2-inch flare nut
Step 1 – Unfold a piece of newspaper on a flat work surface. Place an 18-inch board on top of the newspaper. Trace around the outside of the board. Remove the board and set aside. Cut the traced rectangle from the newspaper.
Step 2 – Fold the paper rectangle in half matching the 18-inch edges. Place the folded rectangle on the flat work surface so the folded edge is on the bottom. Place the 1-inch line mark of the ruler on the fold line. Line the edge of the ruler up with the left edge of the paper. Place a mark on the newspaper at the 2-inch mark on the ruler. Repeat the process with the opposite edge of the folded paper rectangle.
Step 3 – Place the top edge of the ruler parallel to the folded edge of the rectangle. Move the ruler up and line it up with the two 1-inch marks. Draw a line 3-inches long from the right edge of the paper for the nozzle and 6-inches long on the left side for the handle.
Step 4 – Connect the end of the handle to the end of the nozzle by drawing a curved line in the shape of half an oval. Draw gentle curves from the oval to the handle and nozzle. Erase the sharp corners from the initial pattern. This is the air chamber.
Step 5 – Cut through both layers of newspaper to create a paper pattern for the Roman bellows. Open the paper pattern. Place the paper pattern on the surface of one 18-inch board. Draw around the outside of the pattern. Remove the paper pattern and set aside.
Step 6 – Clamp the two 18-inch boards together so the traced shape of the bellows is on top. Place a mark on the top and bottom board to indicate the outside of the Roman bellows. Cut through both layers of wood at the same time with a bandsaw.
Step 7 – Remove the clamps. Rasp the square edges of the bellows air chamber and the handle to remove the square edge and create a gentle curved edge. This is the side of the board with the mark. It is important to remove the square edges to prevent the vinyl or leather from ripping when in use.
Step 8 – Place one board aside. Drill a 5/8-inch hole in the center of the air chamber and in the center of the handle approximately 1/2-inch from the end in only one Roman bellows board.
Step 9 – Place a straight line across the nozzle of the drilled bellows board 2-inches from the end. Cut the nozzle at the 2-inch line with a bandsaw.
Step 10 – Place the undrilled bellows board on a flat surface so the curved edges of the bellows air chamber and handle are on the bottom. Match the 2-inch cut board to the end of the nozzle. Glue the board into place with wood glue making sure to line up the edges. Clamp the boards together and allow to dry for 24 hours.
Step 11 – Remove the clamps from the nozzle boards. Position the glued boards between a bench vise so the nozzle end is pointing straight up. Secure into place. Mark the center of the 2-inch glued board. Drill a hole through the center of the board 1/2-inch in diameter.
Step 12 – Remove the boards from the bench vise. Place the boards on a flat surface so the glued board is on top. Slide the male-to-male connection coupling through the drilled hole. Liberally glue the end of the male to male coupling on the inside of the air chamber. Place the flare nut over the coupling and secure into place. Allow the glue to dry three to four hours.
Step 13 – Measure and cut a 3-by-3-inch piece of vinyl or leather. Center the leather square over the drilled hole on the inside of the air chamber. Take the square into place on the side closest to the nozzle with three to five carpet takes.
Step 14 – Place the cut board on top of the full bellows board. Match the 2-inch cut line in the nozzle. Measure and cut a 2-inch square of vinyl or leather. Center the 2-inch square over the cut line in the nozzle making sure 1/2 is on either side of the cut. Secure the square into place with three to five carpet tacks on both sides of the cut line.
Step 15 – Measure and cut a leather strip 1/2-inch wide and 24-inches long. Thread the end of the strip through the hole in the handle. Match the ends of the 1/2-inch strip. Tie the strip to the handle. Lift the hinged top of the bellows to expand to it’s greatest width. This will be between 7 to 10-inches. Tie the 1/2-inch strap around the handles so the bellows cannot extend any farther.
Step 16 – Block the handles open to it’s greatest expansion point with a scrap piece of lumber. Place a 14 to 16-inch strip of leather or vinyl around the exterior of the nozzle and bellows chamber. Rough cut the strip so it 1-inch larger than width of the wood on the top and bottom of the bellows. This means an opening 10-inches wide will be a minimum of 12-inches in width. The extra inch on both sides is required to secure the vinyl or leather strip to the bellows.
Step 17 – Remove the block of wood from between the Roman bellows handle. Secure the leather strip to the bellows with carpet tacks placed every 3/8- to 1/2-inch beginning at the nozzle, around the air chamber, ending on the opposite side of the nozzle. Trim any excess vinyl or leather.
Other Articles You May Enjoy:
Tin Punch Revival
How to Cast Cement or Concrete Leaves
Make a Paper Japanese Lanter in 30 Minutes