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Building English Bellows.


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I'm just starting an overhaul on a 1913-14 metal end Wheatstone English (#26159). As part of the job I'd like to build a new set of 6 fold bellows to replace the 5 fold set.

 

I have pored over the site (and the net) for a few weeks and have learned as much as I can so that I can ask informed questions about building ENGLISH bellows.

 

Firstly I should mention what music I intend to use it for as that surely has a bearing on the requirements. I will mostly be playing solo, accompanying traditional folk songs. However, I will also be playing ITM *shock, horror*, and Scandi tunes (and maybe someday a little Bach).

 

I'm buying all of the consumables through Concertina Spares, and, whilst I know Mark sells all the necessary materials, I'd really love to source and purchase the materials myself locally and do a complete build.

 

So, down to some questions.

 

As I understand it, the difference between Anglo and English bellows is the thickness of the folds. This is presumably due to using thinner card and perhaps thinner top run leather. The difference in thickness is really to make the bellows respond quicker and last longer with the frequent bellows reversals required on an Anglo. After reading plenty, I have decided to use cotton ragboard, but I can't find anywhere that mentions a thickness for bellows card for English concertinas. I have seen 4ply (~1/16" or 1.5mm) as being the thickness for Anglos. Am I to assume that 2ply (~1/32" or 0.75mm) is the correct weight to use?

I will likely use this supplier.

 

I have very little idea on what leather thicknesses to use. Being in Australia it is relatively easy to get my hands on kangaroo leather, which like goat and dog, is a good air tight leather. I'm trying to get my hands on some chrome tanned kangaroo which should be a lot softer than the veg tanned kangaroo I have used in the past. I will build a home splitter to thin down the leather but to what size? Bob's photo thesis references 0.025" (0.635mm) but this is for an Anglo. What would be the appropriate thickness for the top runs, end runs, and gussets for an English?

 

Let's move forward to glues.

 

I have built instruments and projects before using hide glue and am happy to use it throughout this job where applicable. I assume all leather- leather, leather- wood, leather-card bonds will be fine using hide glue. Bob also uses gummed linen tape (which have found here) for the inside. I assume tape was used here to give structure whilst building and offer strength and support for a frequently exercised joint. It doesn't need to be air tight as it is internal and the outside is covered with leather. Is there anything wrong here?

 

How about depth.

 

Currently the 5 fold bellows have 1" folds (measured from outside with the bellows in situ). Should I stick with 1" or maybe increase the depth. I do like the idea of having lots of breath in the instrument but not if it compromises stability.

 

As for papers. I really like Wim Wakker's gold stars on black paper. Is it okay to use on a chrome plated instrument?

 

That ought to be enough to get me in trouble for now.

 

JohnSmith

 

I know I shouldn't just barge in here on my first post and expect others to help. I hope that any answers I receive help others who have the same questions.

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I have found myself puzzled by the assumption of a clear distinction between EC and Anglo bellows. True, Jeffries bellows were thicker in appearance than Lachenal or Wheatstone EC bellows, but they were the same in their few ECs. The earliest Wheatstone ECs had very delicate bellows and the last of them were considerably thicker. Appearance may have been sometimes more important than function. Working backwards from the final use seems a better approach, and the expectation of many sudden bellows reversals might profit from a more substantial construction whether it is an EC or Anglo. I don't think appearance should make any difference to how the bellows work, let me try to put that better; whether the bellows are thick and strong or thin and less strong the important thing is they work well, ie. airtight, stable and without resistance.

 

Using card at about .7mm (1.5 is way too thick), thinning down the tops of the cards, using the thinnest possible fabric as hinges, thin leather top runs, say .5mm, will all create a delicate appearance.

 

I think your glue and fabric assumptions are OK. Not sure about dog leather but there is one near here you would be welcome to and they taste OK too.There is a place in Queensland (Packers?) will supply chrome tanned kangaroo. It is hard to find long runs in kangaroo and as they are not farmed the hides are often scarred. I have never found ragboard at a thickness which would make a delicate appearance easy. When choosing board it seems especially important to avoid anything which delaminates easily.

 

Depth of fold, as you say, will give you greater volume of air when it is deeper but it does bring less stability. Jeffries were around 30mm, some Wheatstones as shallow as 24mm.

 

Where are you based..?

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Thanks for the welcome Ken. I'd like to help out when I can, but I'm only just starting in the concertina world and have more questions than answers.

 

Where are you based..?

Chris thanks for your detailed reply. I am based on the Mid North Coast in the Manning Valley.

 

 

I have found myself puzzled by the assumption of a clear distinction between EC and Anglo bellows. True, Jeffries bellows were thicker in appearance than Lachenal or Wheatstone EC bellows, but they were the same in their few ECs. The earliest Wheatstone ECs had very delicate bellows and the last of them were considerably thicker. Appearance may have been sometimes more important than function. Working backwards from the final use seems a better approach, and the expectation of many sudden bellows reversals might profit from a more substantial construction whether it is an EC or Anglo. I don't think appearance should make any difference to how the bellows work, let me try to put that better; whether the bellows are thick and strong or thin and less strong the important thing is they work well, ie. airtight, stable and without resistance.

I agree with this. Function over form is more important to me in this case. This is my first bellows build, so I'm not expecting them to be perfect. I'd like them to work though, so I'll probably pay more attention to air tightness than the quality of the edge skiving and hidden glue joints. As I said, I will eventually be playing fast tunes with a bit of oomph so keeping them a little thicker may be useful.

 

 

Using card at about .7mm (1.5 is way too thick), thinning down the tops of the cards, using the thinnest possible fabric as hinges, thin leather top runs, say .5mm, will all create a delicate appearance.

I have never found ragboard at a thickness which would make a delicate appearance easy. When choosing board it seems especially important to avoid anything which delaminates easily.

The link I included in my post goes to a supplier of Alpharag in Sydney. They have 2ply for, what seems to me, a reasonable cost. I assume I thin the edges of the board in the same method that I edge skive leather? In terms of fabric I'm thinking that buying very fine linen and using a bookbinding glue/ hide glue might be cheaper than the gummed linen tape.

 

I think your glue and fabric assumptions are OK. Not sure about dog leather but there is one near here you would be welcome to and they taste OK too.There is a place in Queensland (Packers?) will supply chrome tanned kangaroo. It is hard to find long runs in kangaroo and as they are not farmed the hides are often scarred.

I have bought leather from a number of places in Australia, but I think Packers is the only place that has chrome tanned kangaroo (veg is just too stiff). They have lots of thicknesses and finishes to choose from. There is a craft variety that is about 0.65mm (still needs to be split), but perhaps one with a waterproof finish might be useful? As for the valley leather. Bob uses sheep skiver which I can get through Tandy leather Australia, but would the the kangaroo used for the rest of the job suffice?

 

Depth of fold, as you say, will give you greater volume of air when it is deeper but it does bring less stability. Jeffries were around 30mm, some Wheatstones as shallow as 24mm.

I think I'll stick with the 25-30mm figure. It seems to be a good compromise.

 

Thanks again

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The link I included in my post goes to a supplier of Alpharag in Sydney. They have 2ply for, what seems to me, a reasonable cost. I assume I thin the edges of the board in the same method that I edge skive leather? In terms of fabric I'm thinking that buying very fine linen and using a bookbinding glue/ hide glue might be cheaper than the gummed linen tape.


The link did not appear. Your linen/glue thinking is reasonable. You can sand the cards, getting them consistent is the trick, some sort of jig helps. Only the top needs thinning. I don't do it myself.

 

 

They have lots of thicknesses and finishes to choose from. There is a craft variety that is about 0.65mm (still needs to be split), but perhaps one with a waterproof finish might be useful? As for the valley leather. Bob uses sheep skiver which I can get through Tandy leather Australia, but would the the kangaroo used for the rest of the job suffice?


If you search the site Dana posts somewhere the thicknesses he uses for each part. You could use .65mm all over but thickness is not the only leather quality to take into consideration, stiffness, stretch and direction of stretch are significant too. Waterproof is not necessary unless there is something you are not telling us. I would think Bob uses that particular leather product for the valleys because it compresses to almost nothing; you can use .65 but if using Bob's method or something like it you would need to pack the stack at the bandsaw stage to balance for the thicker valley leather. Not difficult.


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Heh heh, a little more seriously. I'd be interested in what made you decide to make new bellows, and not just repair the old. Are the old bellows totally shot (and what comprises totally shot?), or are you out for the adventure?

 

Terry

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John, Why on earth would you want to make your own bellows when for a couple of hundred pounds or three hundred Aussie dollars you can buy really good ones. Learn German or Greek or translate Cuniform Tablets it is easier. Tho odds are that your "home made " bellows will affect the eventual re-sale value of the machine. Good Luck with the restoration.

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Heh heh, a little more seriously. I'd be interested in what made you decide to make new bellows, and not just repair the old. Are the old bellows totally shot (and what comprises totally shot?), or are you out for the adventure?

 

Terry

It's more for the adventure I suppose. I will do my best to preserve the current bellows when they come off. I like to keep all the stock parts when I repair things. I also wanted an extra fold. as for the old bellows they would need serious work. All top and end runs replaces, a good many gussets. They are stiff and noisy. It seems like more fun to make a new set. Given that I am also doing the gaskets it makes sense to take the end runs off too.

Thanks for weighing in Terry. I'm don't think my bellows will be up to Grand Master Tedrow's quality on a first attempt, but I will certainly give the test a go (The current bellows fail in around 3 seconds).

 

 

The link I included in my post goes to a supplier of Alpharag in Sydney. They have 2ply for, what seems to me, a reasonable cost. I assume I thin the edges of the board in the same method that I edge skive leather? In terms of fabric I'm thinking that buying very fine linen and using a bookbinding glue/ hide glue might be cheaper than the gummed linen tape.

 

The link did not appear. Your linen/glue thinking is reasonable. You can sand the cards, getting them consistent is the trick, some sort of jig helps. Only the top needs thinning. I don't do it myself.

 

Sorry about the link. It should be http://www.artscene.com.au/shopping/boards/matboards/alphamat-alpharag

I will contact this mob tomorrow and find a rough thickness for the 2ply. I assume by thinning just the top you mean a kind of ~3/8" rebate that the fabric and then leather will bind to. Thus making the thickness of the mountain leather fold slightly thinner. How much material are we talking here? If the board is 0.7mm, is half the thickness going to leave enough card behind? (I'm thinking of a jig using a sanding bit on a Dremel or maybe even doing it on my router table as I would usually do a rebate.)

 

You could use .65mm all over but thickness is not the only leather quality to take into consideration, stiffness, stretch and direction of stretch are significant too.

 

I assumed the direction of stretch would be aligned radially around the top runs? It seems logical, as if it were linear to the direction that the bellows are moving eventually they would lengthen and create a less stable joint? Correct me if I'm wrong.

 

I would think Bob uses that particular leather product for the valleys because it compresses to almost nothing

 

Lamb skiver it shall be.

 

I contacted Packer today and they suggested gloving leather would be my best bet. http://www.packerleather.com/sports-glove-leather.html this page shows the products with a range of thicknesses. It seems I won't have to do any splitting if I can get it in the right size. So what thickness would be most appropriate? Should the gussets be different to the runs? I see Concertina Spares uses 0.2mm for the end runs. Should I split down to this thickness for the tops as well as the ends?

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John, Why on earth would you want to make your own bellows when for a couple of hundred pounds or three hundred Aussie dollars you can buy really good ones. Learn German or Greek or translate Cuniform Tablets it is easier. Tho odds are that your "home made " bellows will affect the eventual re-sale value of the machine. Good Luck with the restoration.

Now where's the fun in that? The likelihood is that it will cost me more than that price to make my own. The journey is the point.

 

To wax philosophical here I'm reminded of a quote "Man is never so authentically himself as when he is at play." -Johann Schiller. I understand your sentiment though. I get it all the time. I've spent most of my life learning new skills because it brings me joy. I'm an educator and nothing excites me as much as learning something new. Anyway why would I want to learn German or Greek or translate Cuniform Tablets when I can pay someone else to do it for me (or Google Translate for that matter)? (This is meant as a playful riposte, please take it as such)

 

However, you do raise a valid point. My work will not match the quality of the Wheatstone builders of that era. If they turn out okay and serve me well, I'll be happy. Maybe they won't be the same set on there in another 100 years, but given that as far as I can tell bellows are a consumable part (albeit a long term rather than short term), and a new set will only cost me $300AU, I'm not too concerned. Perhaps we are motivated by different principles when it comes to restoration. Primum non nocere; a new set of bellows will not destroy the machine. This particular model is abundant, but if it were a rarity, I would treat it with the due respect.

 

(Edited for grammar)

Edited by JohnSmith
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To wax philosophical here I'm reminded of a quote "Man is never so authentically himself as when he is at play." -Johann Schiller.

 

Having this sentence from Schiller quoted in our concertina community really makes my day! :)

 

Cheers - Wolf

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Hi, John -

 

"The journey is the point" - check!

Johann Schiller - check!

---

I built a bellows for an 56 key English that I plan to sell at some point.

 

Cards

0.6 mm acid-free

 

Cotton tapes

Gold-Zack or Prym 15 mm, 20 mm and 35 mm

(Check in the haberdashery department in a department store)

 

Leather

0.6 mm, sides pared - from C A Cornish. Ask them for samples.

 

The "hinge" in the bottom of the "valleys": Black softee leather 16 mm

The top runs: Black softee leather, 22 mm

The end runs: Black softer leather, 38 mm

Gussets: No. 114 (7.6 x 3.5 cm)

 

Glues

The leather hinge, the "inner" hinges, the top run cotton tapes, the end run cotton tapes: PVA (the white wood glue)

The gussets: "Fiebing's Leather Cement"

The top and end runs: a mixture of (non-raising) wheat flour and a little old-fashioned glue size (used for wall-paper in the old days).

The reason for old-fashioned is that modern versions contain fungicides - not a good idea if you used saliva for working on the leather. (No, I didn't do that with the other glues!)

 

This is straight of Geoff Crabb's recipe and it worked darned well.

 

 

Now - more importantly: what are you building it on? Re: the 1961 film from Wheatstone - where you can see a bellows mould in action.

 

I mean, you can make all the card pairs. Remember that the end pairs have a card which is slightly higher than the others, to give that little air gape between the bellows and the surface where the instrument is sitting.

And all the pairs you can link together easily - but when you are sitting with 6 strips of bellows sides, what then?

 

PM me, if you want more details.

 

/Henrik

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All makes sense to me, John, as one who isn't yet quite sure where his concertina adventure is taking him. But I'm very interested in watching what you're doing, as I may well be following. So, Henrik, I wouldn't mind a copy of what you send to John! (terry@mcgee-flutes.com).

 

If you have any doubts about the airtightness of any of your leather choices, that's something I can measure, so feel free to send samples. About 20mm in diameter is all I need for a spot check. Or I can handle larger pieces if the concern is variability in leakage across a piece.

 

Terry

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Such great help from from everyone.

 

I'm finally settling on my ideas and have begun ordering the relevant pieces I can't source here.

 

Terry,

I'll give the old "suck test" a go first, and thank you very much for the offer. (On a side note, I think I've seen/ met you before. Do you attend the National?)

 

Henrik

Tusen tack för informationen. Det är mycket bra. The dimensions are especially helpful.

 

I have seen the jig for building it on and came up with a similar design that is easier to build. I will try to be helpful and make a photo series of me building the bellows including jigs etc..

 

So here is where I'm at currently

 

Cards

2ply Alpharag (0 out of 4 framers I contacted were able to give me a thickness for this. However their product manual states 0.75mm. Maybe a little thick but with the end thinning it may work. That works out to be 0.3mm extra per fold). 1ply was 0.35mm which seemed a little too thin.

 

Cotton Tape

Sourced from my local haberdashery store

 

Leather

I have contacted Packer and will purchase a hide of 0.5-0.6mm K100 gloving leather for the top and end runs, and gussets. Also a hide of 0.35-0.4mm gloving leather for the valley hinges. This is perhaps a little thicker than the others out there but I may rebate the bottom of the cards too to glue this in.

 

Glues

Acid free bookbinders glue for the internal linen-card bonds and hide glue for the external linen-card.

Hide glue for all leather-leather and leather-card. I will of course test before I move onto the job as I've only used hide glue with timber.

Not sure about the end runs onto the frame. I am concerned about how the next person gets them off. My gut tells me hide glue, as it would be easy to sand off the wood but not so easy to remove the end runs.

 

The next dilemma is how to consistently skive feather edges. I'm not buying a Scharffix 2000 no matter how impressed I am with its design. I have a few ideas for an edge skiving jig. My Dremel with a sanding bit has worked with 1.0mm kangaroo on small jobs, but I'd like a more elegant solution that uses a blade. My local sharpener has given me off cuts of planer blades to make various knives and tools from in the past so I might go see them.

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(On a side note, I think I've seen/ met you before. Do you attend the National?)

 

Heh heh, well known in concentric circles. We used to attend all the time when we lived in Canberra, but haven't since we moved down the coast 7 years ago. Probably get back to it at some time in the future.

 

Terry

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Hi John, a couple of thoughts.

 

It is my experience the cotton tape available in habadashery stores is thicker than is comfortable. Cotton which is thinner can be bought by the yard/metre. Linen is slightly thicker but still not as thick as cotton tape. All of the strain is taken by the leather anyway.

 

Thinning the bottom of the cards makes no sense. Thinning the top is cosmetic rather than structural, and you can't even see the bottom.

 

Skiving is a skill but not a terribly hard one to develop. The secrets are a good knife (single sided grind), get it extremely sharp and then sharpen it again, and find leather which skives well. Do it on a flat piece of glass. You need to have a few failures. While a straight edge is nice, don't worry if the resulting edge is not perfectly straight, especially at first, it is amazing how a ragged edge which tapers to nothing will disappear once glued if the leather is black.

 

I can't find a good reason to make the valley leather that thin. I know the Tedrow method relies on it but you can compensate by leaving a small amount of slack in the underside valley hinge, say 1mm, and using the leather in stretch across mode rather than along.

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...

Henrik

Tusen tack för informationen. Det är mycket bra. The dimensions are especially helpful.

...

Cotton Tape

Sourced from my local haberdashery store

...

 

Good Lord! He speaks Swedish now ;-)

 

A correction to the cotton tapes - I read Chris' comments, and thought "Is it really so thick?"

No, they are not: the cotton tapes I use (Gold-Zack or Prym) are 0.23-0.24 mm.

 

/Henrik

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