Latex Bellows From Scratch

You would be forgiven for thinking that the semi-spherical bulb [Len], from the Bellowphone channel, is holding is a toilet bowl float. It is a bellows of his design that is similar to the squeezable part of a bike horn but is more substantial and less irritating at six in the morning. These rubber squeeze balls are old-school in the best way, and craftsmanship rolls out from every second of his videos. The backdrops to [Len’s] videos are alive with tools, materials, examples, and instruments the same way our offices and maker spaces erupt with soldering irons, LEDs, and passives.

His video walks through all the steps to make latex bellows starting with a rigid stemmed bulb and painting it with latex. This takes a bunch of coats with the associated drying time, so if you need a lot of bellows, you will want multiple bulbs. After coating of latex, we move to the contraption known as the Snout Master 5000. The SM5K looks like a wooden jig held in a table vise, but it is a purpose-built over-engineered chuck with four ball bearings held in a vise. When the latex is thick enough, the form is removed, and the bulb is repaired, then, more coats. Each ball has roughly twenty layers, and with three hours between coats, this is a weekend job at a minimum. Good things come to those who coat. The final steps are boiling the bulbs and adding a silicone preservative. They can last up to a decade with proper maintenance.

We see lots of electronic and automated instruments here, and spherical balls are definitely on the human interface spectrum, but the techniques we see from [Len] would allow anyone to design their own bellows more conducive to mechanization. [Len] says one of his inspiration is [Harry Partch] and his Blo-Boy, an organ powered by fireplace bellows. We think these squeeze balls are even better.

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Forming Fipples And Accompanying Accoutrements

[Dr. Suess] created memorable books with minimal words and bright artwork. He inspired children and adults alike, and one of them, [Len], grew up to create wind instruments for the Bellowphone channel on YouTube. Behind the whimsy of his creations is significant engineering, and this time, we get to see the construction of a fipple. The video is also shown after the break. Even though fipple sounds like a word [Dr. Suess] would have coined, it is a legitimate musical term that means a whistle-like mouthpiece. In this case, it blows air across glass jars to create the sound for [Len]’s bottle organ. Check out the second video below for a performance from The Magic Flute.

[Len] uses clear rigid PVC for the fipples and a custom forming die to shape them while they are soft. The rest is precision hand-tool work with a razor saw, hand file, and wet-dry sandpaper. Once complete, the fipple looks like any musical instrument part produced by exacting construction techniques. Making a mouthpiece is one thing, but if it is not directed correctly it will not make any sound, so we also learn how to turn steel strapping into an organ bottle assembly. If you add some tubing and rubber squeeze balls, you can make your own instrument.

Part of the reason the Bellowphone channel exists is that [Len] found a lot of support in the pipe organ community that showed him the secret inner workings of their livelihood and now is his chance to share that enthusiasm with the maker community.

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