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 

            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 

            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 

            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.