The Use of Bellows (1)

When using a pair of bellows to a fire only partially ignited, or partially extinguished, blow, at first, not into the part that is still alight, but into the dead coals close to it, so that the air may partly extend to the burning coal. 

 The Use of Bellows (2)

After a few blasts blow into the burning fuel, directing the stream partly towards the dead coal, when it will be found that the ignition will extend much more rapidly than under the common method of blowing furiously into the flame at random. 

Wooden Bellows

After the discovery of fire, the first instrument employed to blow it and strengthen it, has undoubtedly been a hollow reed, until the art was found out of forming a stick into a pipe by boring it. Our common bellows, which consist of two boards joined together by a piece of leather, and which probably are an imitation of the lungs, appear to have been early known to the Greeks. I have, however, met with no passage in any ancient author from which I could learn the oldest construction of this machine, which in latter times has received many improvements. Had I found such information, I should have endeavoured to explain it, as it would have contributed to enlarge the knowledge we have of the metallurgy of the ancients.

It may be remarked on the following lines of Virgil,

... Alii taurinis follibus auras
Accipiunt redduntque 140....

that bull's leather is unfit for bellows, and that ox or cow leather only can be used for that purpose; but accuracy is not to be expected in a poet; and besides, Virgil is not the only author who employs the expression folles taurinos ; for Plautus says also, “Quam folles taurini habent, cum liquescunt petræ, ferrum ubi fit.”

Strabo 141  tells us, from an old historian, that Anacharsis, the Scythian philosopher, who lived in the time of Solon, invented the bellows, the anchor, and the potter's wheel: but this account is very doubtful, as Pliny,Seneca 142 , Diogenes Laërtius 143 , and Suidas, who likewise speak of the inventions ascribed to that philosopher, mention only the last two, and not the bellows: besides, Strabo himself remarks that the potter's wheel is noticed in Homer, and this poet is certainly older than Anacharsis. The latter, perhaps, became acquainted with that useful instrument during the course of his travels, and on his return, made his countrymen first acquainted with it. However this may be, it is well known that the person who introduces a foreign invention among a people, is often considered as the author of it.

In the oldest smelting-houses the bellows were worked by men. Refuse, therefore, and other remains of metal, are often found in places where until a recent period no works could be erected, on account of the want of water.

Bellows made with leather, of which I have hitherto spoken, are attended with many inconveniences. They require careful management; are expensive in their repairs; and besides last often not more than six or seven years. If thin leather is employed, it suffers a great deal of the air to escape through it; an evil which must be guarded against by continually besmearing it with train-oil, or other fat substances; and this is even necessary when thick leather is used, to prevent it from cracking in the folds. Damage by fire and water must also be avoided; and every time they are repaired, the leather must be again softened with oil, which occasions a considerable loss of time.

In wooden bellows these inconveniences are partly lessened, and partly remedied. As these bellows, except the pipe, consist entirely of wood, many, who are not acquainted with the construction of them, can hardly conceive the possibility of making such a machine. Though they cannot be properly described without a figure, I shall endeavour to give the reader some idea of them by the following short sketch. The whole machine consists of two boxes placed the one upon the other, the uppermost of which can be moved up and down upon the lower one, in the same manner as the lid of a snuff-box, which has a hinge, moves up and down when it is opened or shut; but the sides of the uppermost box are so broad as to contain the lower one between them, when it is raised to its utmost extent. Both boxes are bound together, at the smallest end, where the pipe is, by a strong iron bolt. It may be readily comprehended, that when both boxes fit each other exactly, and the upper one is raised over the under one, which is in a state of rest, the space contained by both will be increased; and consequently more air will rush in through the valve in the bottom of the lower one; and when the upper box is again forced down, this air will be expelled through the pipe. The only difficulty is to prevent the air, which forces its way in, from escaping anywhere else than through the pipe; for it is not to be expected that the boxes will fit each other so closely as to prevent entirely the air from making its way between them. This difficulty, however, is obviated by the following simple and ingenious method. On the inner sides of the uppermost box there are placed moveable slips of wood, which, by means of metal springs, are pressed to the sides of the other box, and fill up the space between them. As these long slips of wood might not be sufficiently pliable to suffer themselves to be pressed close enough, and as, though planed perfectly straight at first, they would in time become warped in various directions, incisions are made in them across through their whole length, at the distance of from fifteen to eighteen inches from each other, so as to leave only a small space in their thickness, by which means they acquire sufficient pliability to be everywhere pressed close enough to the sides 144.

The advantages of these wooden bellows are very great. When made of clean fir-wood without knots, they will last thirty or forty years, and even longer, though continually kept in action forty-six or forty-eight weeks every year: nay, Polhem assures us, that, when properly made, they will last a century. The effect produced by them is stronger, as well as more uniform, and can be moderated according to circumstances. They are worked also with greater facility. The slips of wood on their sides are apt to become damaged; but they can soon and easily be repaired. Every three or four months, however, the outer sides only of the inner box, and the bolt which keeps the boxes together, must be smeared with oil. If we reckon up the price of such bellows, and the yearly expense, they will, according to Grignon's account, be only a fifth part of those of the old leather bellows.

That the invention of these wooden bellows belongs to the Germans, is certain. Grignon 145  expressly affirms so; and in Becher's 146  time they were to be found in Germany, but not in England. Genssane, who ascribes the invention to the Swiss, is certainly mistaken; and perhaps he was led into this error, because these bellows were first made known in France by a Swiss. I cannot, however, ascertain the name of the real inventor. In the middle of the sixteenth century lived at Nuremberg an artist called Hans Lobsinger, who, in the year 1550, gave to the magistrates of that city a catalogue of his machines. From this catalogue Doppelmayer concludes that he understood the art of making small and large bellows without leather, and entirely of wood, which could be used insmelting-houses and for organs, and likewise copper bellows that always emitted a like degree of wind. As Lobsinger made organs, he, perhaps, fell upon this invention; but in what it actually consisted, or whether it might not have died with him, I have not been able to learn. Agricola, who died in the year 1555, makes no mention of wooden bellows.

Samuel Reyher, formerly professor at Kiel, in a dissertation on air 147 , printed there in 1669, tells us, that about forty years before that period, two brothers, Martin and Nicholas Schelhorn, millers at the village of Schmalebuche in Coburg, first invented wooden bellows. Both the brothers, he says, kept the invention secret, though he thinks they did not conceal it so closely as to prevent its being guessed at; and he relates also how he himself formed an idea of it 148.

To these bellows Schluter has assigned a much nobler inventor, who, perhaps, was the first person who made them known by a description. He says expressly that they were invented by a bishop of Bamberg 149 : but of this I have been able to find no confirmation; and I am inclined to ascribe that service rather to an organ-builder, or a miller, than to a bishop. According to Schluter's account, these bellows were employed so early as the year 1620, in the Harz forest, to which they were first brought by some people from Bamberg. What Calvor says respecting the introduction of these bellows into the Harz forest is much more probable; that in the year 1621 Lewis Pfannenschmid, from Thuringia, settled at Ostfeld near Goslar, and began to make wooden bellows. The bellows-makers of that place conspired therefore against him, and swore they would put him to death; but he was protected by the government. He would disclose his art to no one but his son, who, as well as his grandson a few years ago, had the making of all the bellows in the forest.

We are told by French authors, that the art of making these bellows was introduced into France, particularly into Berry, Nivernois, and Franche Comté, by a German.


140  Georg. iv. 171.

141  Lib. vii.

142  Epist. 90.

143  Lib. i. 8.

144  A complete description and a figure of these bellows may be found in Schluter's Unterricht von Hütten-werken. Brunswick, 1738.—Traité de la fonte des mines par le feu du charbon de terre; par M. de Genssane. Paris, 1770, 2 vols. 4to. [Ure's Dictionary, p. 1128, also contains an excellent figure of these wooden bellows.]

145  “Germany is the country of machines. In general the Germans lessen manual labour considerably by machines adapted to every kind of movement; not that we are destitute of able mechanics; we have the talent of bringing to perfection the machines invented by our neighbours.”—P. 200. [This remark of Grignon will sound rather odd to English ears.]

146  Becher's Narrische Weisheit und weise Narrheit. Frankfort, 1683, 12mo, p. 113.

147  In this dissertation, the time of the invention is stated to be about forty years before, which would be the year 1629 or 1630; but in an improved edition, printed with additions at Hamburg, in 1725, a different period is given. “About eighty years ago,” says the author, “a new kind of bellows, which ought rather to be called the pneumatic chests, was invented in the village of Schmalebuche, in the principality of Coburg, in Franconia. Two brothers, millers in that village, Martin and Nicholas Schelhorn, by means of some box made by them, the lid of which fitted very exactly, found out these chests, as I was told by one of their friends, a man worthy of credit. These chests are not of leather, but entirely of wood joined together with iron nails. In blacksmiths' shops they are preferred to those constructed with leather, because they emit a stronger blast, as leather suffers the more subtile part of the air to escape through its pores.”

148  In many places these bellows were at first put in a wooden case, to prevent their construction from being known.

149  In J. P. Ludewig, Scriptores Rerum Episcopatus Bambergensis. Francof. 1718, fol. Where any bishop of latter times is praised, I find no mention of this useful and ingenious invention.