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16 October 2014
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Bellows that baffle

Article written by Brian Willis.

Myth & Mystery

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All right then... what is it? I found it whilst "Skip Sourcing" many years ago and it has lain about in the garage ever since. I once strapped the pipe to my electric fret-saw to blow the dust away. But this was only moderately successful. Remembering to pump the bellows with my foot and work the saw at the same time was too much for my feeble brain. (Which probably explains why I can't play the bagpipes either).

The mysterious bellows
My mysterious bellows.
12 inch (30 cm) ruler for scale

It is a handmade set of leather bellows with a spigot on the top. From this spigot comes a rubber tube of about six feet in length. There is nothing on the end of this tube, which incidentally is badly perished. The whole apparatus rests on a thick wooden board. There is a spring to return the bellows to their "Open" state.

The bellows are in two parts with the upper section mounted with a foot pedal on the back. Pushing this down activates not only the top bellows but appears to make the underneath ones work as well. Giving the combined blow of both sets.

Close-up of the 'Foot Pedal'
Close-up of the "foot pedal"
showing ridge on back edge.
The Foot Pedal

I call the flat section at the back a "foot pedal" but am only guessing. There is a peculiar ridge at the back edge of this "pedal" too which I don't understand.

Side view of bellows
Side view with 12 inch (30 cm) ruler for scale.
Final Puzzle

Hanging from a nail on the side of the top bellows is a small length of string. Now of course this might once have carried the label of the lot number at an auction or some other prosaic reason. But why plonk one of the leather upholstery nails slap in the middle of the bellows? This side view also shows the twin bellows to better effect.

Please let me know your thoughts so I can once more sleep at nights.


You'll see in the "Discuss this Article" section (at bottom of page) about this Bellows article that "SEF" suggests the ridge on the pedal might be for the heel of the operator.

Heel used to work bellows
Heel used to work bellows

So I tried your idea of using my heel to work the bellows. Fitting my heel in/on was a bit of a tight squeeze, though I think it would work for a smaller heel.

Foot on bellow's ridge
.Foot on bellow's ridge

An alternative thought is if the ridge might be there to help stop your foot from slipping off when the pedal is depressed and at an angle.



Alan Clarke - Mar '07
We had a set of these bellows at work Admiralty Experimental Diving Unit Portsmouth I thought I would let you know

The Fourth Schedule to the General Regulations (Rescue) 1928 required each Central Rescue Station to maintain 4 sets, and each colliery employing 100 or more persons underground one set, of tube breathing apparatus. The eighth Schedule to the regulations required the official calling assistance in case of emergency to requisition the "smoke helmet" or other apparatus serving the same purpose.

1.- Helmet Type. This type of apparatus allowed the wearer to go a limited distance into a dangerous atmosphere by obtaining fresh air, forced through a tube, from a point beyond poisonous area.

The Spirelmo type comprised a leather helmet with an apron which completely enveloped the head of the wearer; the fresh air being delivered to him, through an air tube of two-ply canvas insertion rubber with an internally embedded wire armour and an external canvas fabric covering. The air was pumped into the helmet by means of a hand or foot operated bellows worked by another person. The air tube is 3/4"diameter, usually in 2-60ft. lengths, and fitted with screwed unions.

Ivan Briggs wearing smoke helmet and Asst Superintendent Radford on bellows.

When in use it was vital for the bellows to be operated continuously, to supply a continuous flow of fresh air to the wearer, and to maintain a pressure above that of the atmosphere, in the helmet.

William Jackson - Nov '06
I remember similar bellows used at St. Peters Cof E Secondary School on Byrom Street Blackburn around 1951- used to AIR power NATURAL GAS torches for annealing and Silver brazing the Copper Pin Bowles that EVERY class member was required to make. Incidentally I wonder if the size of the foot pedal indicates that the bellows might be designed from Historically being that many forges were manually powered by the use of Child Labour, true of England to some degree and certainly true of the Asian Continent.

Chris - Aug '06
Hi Brian
You can now sleep easy. zzzzzzzz!
The answer to the puzzle is as follows:- The item is a Foot Bellows, possibly made by a company called Greenslade.

Foot operated Bellows was used in the Jewellery trade, by out-workers employed to braze pins onto badges etc. Foot Bellows had a very robust iron framework which enabled variations to be made in the frame to hold the fittings of a forge, giving the user the option of mobility.
It is described as 'double action' or 'double blast' ie: air is forced out of the pipe when the operator's foot is pushed down and lifted up.

To operate the bellows I suggest the heel of the foot is placed on the metal plate with the sole of the foot on the wooden top board of the bellows. One should then adopt a rocking motion with the foot, in a similar manner to that used on a treadle sewing machine or wood turning lathe. There is quite a knack to this but once mastered it becomes second nature, as long as you remember to keep the memento going.

The piece of string is not part of the bellows, but don't remove the nail from which it hangs, as this will allow the air to escape and make the bellows useless.

The rubber tube is probably a modern replacement of the original metal tube that was fitted to the nozzle. It was made of metal to concentrate the flow of air from the bellows and was resistant to the heat of the fire.
Pleasant dreams.

Jane - June '06
Skip Sourcing is a delicate form of Bin Diving?
OK so my identical item is also redundant but the fact still remains that - nobody has answered conclusively the 3 pertinent questions!
1. What was it used for?
2. What is it called?
3. What is it worth?
There is an oval mark & two pin/screw holes where there was once a makers plate, maybe if we knew the manufacturer we could progress? What did he call it? Who did he selll it to?
By process of elimination -
Not for a forge. Not pretty enough for domstic use. So intended for use on work that requires less heat but more accuracy.
Jewellry sounds good, but straightforward provision of air has some merit - firefighting / anasthaesia?
Whatever the purpose - did VONO beds sponsor this? Why?
Because I'm sure the spring was last seen on a Vono bed base!

John Winder - May '06
I too have a set of these bellows, they were from a lot of items from an old forge. Only on my set the bellows set underneath is operated by a separate rod to give a pump both on the up and down stroke. I have seen them in use on the UK Tv program "Time Team" on a portable forge.

Orlando Clarke - Januray '06
I agree with mark and roy masters. I have seen about 80 sets of these bellows used in the jewelry workshops at saint martins college of art and design.


Helen Porter - Sept '05
So glad to see this query! I have a working set of these bellows, almost exactly the same but in beautiful condition which I am looking to sell, but I have no idea what to call them, so was finding it hard to describe them. I now know what they do, but can anybody please tell me what they are called. Many thanks


Bob Prout - August '05
I think you may find that these are bellows that were used for breathing apparatus for fire fighting at sea mainly in Mercahnt \ navy ships, I may be wrong but I have seen similar ones in use at the fire fighting schools around UK.

Mark - June '05
I have used similar bellows in various workshops that had yet to install an electric blower. They supplied the air blast for the gas torches used to the soldering and annealing of larger work. They once quite common in most silversmith and tinsmith workshops and I have a small delicate one as used by jewellers and laboratories, but I have yet to see one used with a blacksmith forge. Bernard Cuzner has one in a drawing in his book "a silversmith's manuel", page 13. They are not so easy to find still working due to deterioration of the leather and people sticking nails where they shouldn't.

Roy Masters - December '04
Hi Brian, I disagree with Paul Baker, I am a traditional Master Blacksmith and I am certain your bellows would not have enough output for even the smallest of forges.
But I do think they may have been used in a laboratory for a small but powerful flame, say for moulding glass tubes and making equipment.

Paul Baker - December '04
These are typical Blacksmith's bellows. Originally used in a forge to get the temperature of the forge hot enough.




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