Straightforward bellows for smallpipes & Uillean bagpipes.NOTE: 13 additional photos and a sound sample using these bellows are available. Click here for information.
These bagpipe bellows depart from conventional construction methods a bit. They can be built in an evening or two and have proven very sturdy. I have never had a single failure in many years of hard use, either as bagpipe bellows or as fireplace/sauna-stove bellows (the fate of one "wrong size" reject). I have used this same design with several different types of bagpipes including Irish Uilleann pipes & Scottish smallpipes with great success. It should work fine for my new project, Bohemian Dudy bagpipes.
Construction notes: Frame material etc: I used 1/2" thick softwood for the two "cheeks". I see no reason why any wood wouldn't work, but it might be difficult to nail brads into very hard hardwood. My use of a sturdy brass cabinet hinge is perhaps unconventional but worked out very nicely. Dimensions: General shape and dimensions aren't critical, but I would recommend sticking at least to the "ballpark size" here. Early on, my first bellows proved too large & a considerable effort to squeeze with my arm. My next attempt proved too small and my right arm madly pumping to keep the bag full reminded me of a bird trying to take flight. The dimensions below seem about perfect. The wooden framework measures 10. 5" long by 5. 5" at the widest part. Width at the hinge end is 2.25". Overall (collapsed) thickness (minus padding) is 1&3/8". Flapper valve: My flapper valve (check-valve) is made from rolled out silicone sealant (leather could be used, but leather dries out & often doesn't lay straight - I don't like leather for valves). Securely silicone-glue the straight edge of the flapper valve to the underside of the flapper plate (see illustration). The roundy-end of the valve must be allowed to flap freely & thus let air into the bellows, but prevent air from escaping.........................Click here for details about rolling your own flappers valve material.
Flapper plate: The wooden flapper plate is about 2.5" by 1.5" by 3/16" thick, with a 3/4" diameter air-intake hole drilled about 1/3 way from one end. Cut a rectangular hole in the top bellows cheek about 1/8" smaller in all dimensions than the flapper plate (see illustration) & silicone glue (or Titebond glue) this plate (with the flapper valve mounted on the bottom) to the cheek. Leather used: Thin leather, just a bit thicker than glove-leather, works nicely. One built using cloth-backed naugahyde worked fine too, but was a bit stiffer than the leather, which is more supple. Determining leather size and shape: While first intending to give the leather pattern here, I decided against this. Because of a multitude of variables, the best way to determine the leather size/shape is to open the cheeks to the maximum you'd like --- mine measure about 6.75" between cheeks at the far upwind end (distance "a to b" in the illustration). I recommend temporarily fixing the cheeks in this position using stick(s) & rubber bands. Then carefully fit & tape on a piece of newspaper, as if it were the actual leather. Be sure to leave a lot of "extra" (a few inches in all directions) at the "nozzle" end. This "extra" is folded around, over & up the nozzle end (& hinge) of the wood to provide a tight air-seal. Carefully remove this paper and use it as a pattern to cut out the leather. Leather is glued on with real, original (not "Silicone II") clear silicone sealant -- the type that stinks like vinegar. With the glue still wet, pound in thin 1/2" brads (the kind with about 1/16" heads) every 1/4" all around & anywhere you think air could leak out. Carefully fold the "extra" leather over the nozzle end of the frame (over the hinge and all) & glue heavily before nailing. This is easier to do than to talk about or visualize. Pound in the brads until the sealant oozes out then wipe away the excess. Be careful not to glue the hinge shut. This leather-mounting sounds scary but it's not that bad, nor that critical -- just make sure the bellows cheeks are open to the desired maximum before fitting and nailing. One suggestion -- before the leather is completely on, try to run a bead of sealant along as much of the inside leather/wood seam as you can, before your hand & sealant tube will no longer fit inside. Bellows padding: I covered about half of the bellows top-side, as well as about 2/3 of the bottom side with cloth-covered (glued-on) 1/4" foam padding for comfort. These pads were then silicone-glued on to the cheeks. Belts: The conventional bellows mounting method (same buckle system as a trouser belt) requires "three hands", is terribly cumbersome and takes forever to get into & out of. I've come up with an "instant" (well, timed 3 seconds to put on) and very secure method that I vastly prefer. Arm belt: To one end of my arm belt (which is made from lightweight 1" nylon webbing) is sewn a small D-ring. This ring quickly attaches to an eye-hook screwed through the flapper plate and into the top bellows cheek (see illustration). This hook's eye is opened just enough to let the D-ring pass. The last inch or so of the opposite end of the arm belt is folded linearly in half then half again then pushed through a quarter inch hole drilled into a metal mounting strip attached to one end of the top cheek (see illustration). Attachment to (& adjustment of) this arm strap is made by pinning a safety-pin in the appropriate spot on the top side of the quarter inch hole. Chest belt: The chest belt is made of the same webbing. This belt is fastened to the bellows by solidly glueing (with silicone sealant) & tacking about 3.5" of it to the bottom side of the bottom cheek (see illustration). Position belt so about 6" is sticking out towards the nozzle end. Sew the clip-hook to the end of the 6" piece & install a conventional lightweight belt-buckle type size adjuster four inches from the bellows on the other side of the webbing. Sew on a larger D-ring to the opposite end of the belt. Make small holes in the bottom bellows' padding to allow the belt to pass. "Air-pipe": For the approximately 8" long pipe connecting the bellows to the bagpipe, I simply used semi-stiff, clear, hardware store plastic tubing. I hid the tubing by running it through a piece of old neck-tie (finally a good use for a neck-tie!) with fringe sewed at each end. The tubing is force-fit over a short length of 1/2" pvc pipe which was installed (& glued) tightly into an angled hole in the bottom cheek (see illustration). A pot of boiling water, dish-soap and heavy gloves greatly facilitates the force-fitting of such tubing. At the bag end of the air-pipe, I affixed a couple of inches of 3/4" OD pvc plumbing pipe. This plugs into a mating pvc socket mounted in the bag. This plug/socket affair is meant to be glued together by plumbers -- in this case, I find the fit (without glue) perfectly airtight, easily disconnectable but solid while playing. Dennis Havlena - W8MI
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PS: As an "aside", After many years of daily use, one of the rubber drone mounts on my Highland pipes' Canmore pipe-bag (Goretex) finally went belly-up. Not wanting to toss out an otherwise good bag, I removed all four rubber stock-mounts from the Canmore bag, then cut eight 2.5" disks of naugahyde vinyl (the type with a bonded-on woven fabric on the back) to act as patches. One at a time, I glued (using clear silicone-sealant) two of these patches (with fabric side facing the Goretex) --- one on the inside and one on the outside of the bag. I applied sealant to the entire fabric surface of each patch. Heavy books were piled up as weights while curing. This patched bag made a great bag for my bellows-blown Scottish smallpipes and Irish Uilleann pipes --- as the stock hole locations for these pipes is different enough from the locations for highland pipes that I didn't have to make the new holes in areas where the vinyl patches were put.