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How urgent are leaky bellows?


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I've recently gone through disassembly of a newly bought concertina, and I have few holes in the corners of the bellows. Pretty big, the biggest is approximately 5 mm long and 1 or 2 mm thick, doesn't look precisely like pinholes to me… So I'd be grateful for any tips how can I repair it myself.

 

I have gone trough rest of the concertina, and the pads are new, restored by Barleycorn (their stamp is inside), the bellows apart from the corners also look alright to me – I didn't notice leaks using flashlight. Also no cracks in the wood. So I guess it's the not-really-that-pin-holes that are responsible for the problem.

 

Also, how much of a damage I can make to the bellows if I continue playing without repairing it? I just got it, I'm tempted to learn, but I wouldn't like to make the damage bigger or harder to repair. And it will be some time before I can get the materials or send it to someone (I'm not sure how hard it is to repair such holes properly…).

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This is probably the reason why you are having problems playing legato.

Can you post some pictures of the problem areas?  You may be able to get away with some corner patches or you may need a bellows rebind kit.  Both of these consist of some very thin goatskin leather with the edges 'skived' or reduced to almost nothing.

 

I don't know where you can buy these now.  "Concertina Spares" used to have them but they have gone silent as far as I can tell.  Maybe you have a book binder nearby?  If so then they might be able to help you.  I have attempted to 'skive', or thin, leather but have not been very successful so far.

 

Get yourself a copy of Dave Elliot's 'Concertina Maintenance Manual', bellows repairs are addressed in detail starting on page 21.  This is a book that every vintage concertina owner should have.

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In reality bellows are a consumable item, like pads, valves etc. they just have a longer life. The best way of dealing with corner splits on the top skives is to re-bind them, corner patches are OK, but can come off.

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You also might want to consider a set of replacement bellows.

 

There is a guy on eBay called SandyLaneMan (he is in Ireland) who makes and sells new bellows kits for very reasonable prices.  I believe that several folks here have bought bellows from him and that they have been pleased with the result.  Be careful that you order a set that is the same size as your concertina.

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So, here are the pictures of some of the holes. The two that are the biggest and one smaller (I've noticed also 2 more smaller ones, which are analogous). I've made my best to backlit the holes while taking photos, but it was rather hard with two hands only ;)

 

The interior looks like this – I guess ok except maybe for this one taped hinge which is partially unglued. How much of a problem is that?

 

I'd definitely prefer to repair it if possible, I've found the bellows on eBay and not gonna lie, I'm hoping to make the concertina airtight a bit cheaper... But if it won't do, then I'll consider buying new bellows for sure. Having an instrument in very good condition is a priority for me.

 

@d.elliott I assume you are the author of the book? I've found only offers of printed version. Is there maybe an option to get a pdf or other digital format from you? I'd happily pay for that, it's just that I'm trying to reduce amount of printed books I'm buying (it's too much already for my little flat ;))

 

So, what would you say based on this picture? Are the bellows possible to rescue with some patches (or re-binding – I don't know what that means, but hopefully I'll learn from the book!)?

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Yes, it's possible to patch worn corners with very thin flexible leather. If you do a good job of feathering the edges of the patch it can be made nearly invisible. You need to lightly sand and degrease the old leather in the area where you plan to glue onto it. The patches may wear out eventually particularly if it's an area that rubs on your clothes while playing, but if you use a reversible glue like fish glue/hide glue/rabbit glue it will be possible to replace them in the future.

 

I believe some concertina restorers buy their leather from C.A. Cornish: https://www.cacornish.co.uk/musical-instruments/

 

I'm generally not a big fan of rebinding: I've seen several sets of bellows that looked nice but had been made very stiff and restrictive to play by somebody gluing new leather strips over the top of the original leather. Maybe it would be possible to do a good rebind if you removed the old leather strips first, but that would be a lot more work and risks damaging the underlying structure.

 

At some point if they are too worn out you have to just bite the bullet and totally replace them. From what I can see in the photos yours don't look like they have reached that stage.

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Not a fettler but these corner breaches appear to be caused by wear rather than flex.  I would be tempted to apply a flexible adhesive such as Goop Marine Sealant/Adhesive or shoe goo very sparingly from the inside and pressed out to be just barely proud of the corner then hand dressed with a small tool such as a flux brush inside and out.  The patch could be easily color matched with a dry powder.  The above appear to be silicone based.  There is a latex based alternative specifically for fabrics and leather.  The product I have is called Tear Mender.  I'd try this before springing for a new bellows....

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7 hours ago, alex_holden said:

use a reversible glue like fish glue/hide glue/rabbit glue it will be possible to replace them in the future

Not sure that Shoe Goo and the like are reversible.

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36 minutes ago, Don Taylor said:

Not sure that Shoe Goo and the like are reversible.

Perhaps not but the flex/fill/adhesive properties should allow for a plug contiguous with the leather edges with little or no overlap at least externally and maybe a brief thin film on the inside to anchor.  A future leather patch needn't reverse anything.  At any rate:

 

21 hours ago, d.elliott said:

In reality bellows are a consumable item.

3 hours ago, wunks said:

 I'd try this before springing for a new bellows....

 

 

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Alright, thanks for the insight! I'll buy the paper book then. I'm happy looks to you as the replacement of whole bellows is not necessary. I'll try to fix it myself for sure!

 

However, I'm going to be able to do so in the august, as right now I'll have many short trips and ordering anything online is rather bad idea, as it may arrive when I'm not home... Do you think it is bad idea to play the concertina on and off before I'll have time to repair it? Is there a big risk of enlarging the holes this way?

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12 hours ago, Vitlich said:

However, I'm going to be able to do so in the august, as right now I'll have many short trips and ordering anything online is rather bad idea, as it may arrive when I'm not home... Do you think it is bad idea to play the concertina on and off before I'll have time to repair it? Is there a big risk of enlarging the holes this way?

 

Probably not as long as you aren't playing it too energetically. I would consider at least gluing any loose internal hinges back down, as that can cause the cards to delaminate. You can use common PVA white glue. Try not to get glue on the part of the linen that bends or it will make it stiff.

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On 7/9/2024 at 7:08 AM, David Lay said:

Buy the book.  It's small on the bookshelf.  I saw that McNeela has it as well as other dealers. 

Reinforcing this suggestion. It is inexpensively available new from various sources. Beware way overpriced used copies offered on Ebay and other Internet sources. Every vintage concertina player should have this book.

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