Diagram of a fireplace hand bellows.

A bellows is a device for delivering pressurized air in a controlled quantity to a controlled location.

Basically, a bellows is a deformable container which has an outlet nozzle. When the volume of the bellows is decreased, the air escapes through the outlet. A bellows may have a separate air inlet and check valves or flaps to ensure that air enters only through the inlet and exits only through the outlet; the nozzle may be very close to a fire and dangerously hot air.

Hand-made English fireplace bellows



Several processes, such as metallurgical iron smelting and welding, require so much heat that they could only be developed after the invention of the bellows. The bellows are used to deliver additional air to the fuel, raising the rate of combustion and therefore the heat output.

Various kinds of bellows are used in metallurgy:

  • Box bellows were and are traditionally used in Asia. (1)
  • Pot bellows were used in ancient Egypt. (2)
  • Tatara foot bellows from Japan.
  • Accordion bellows, with the characteristic pleated sides, have been used in Europe for many centuries. (3)
  • Piston bellows were developed in the middle of the 18th century in Europe (4). However, the double action piston bellows were utilised by the Han rulers in ancient China as early as the 3rd century BCE (5).
  • Metal bellows were made to absorb axial movement in a dynamic condition. Often referred to as Axial Dynamics bellow types (6)

The Han Dynasty Chinese mechanical engineer Du Shi (d. 38) is credited with being the first to apply hydraulic power, through a waterwheel, to operate bellows in metallurgy. His invention was used to operate piston bellows of blast furnaces in order to forge cast iron.[1] The ancient Greeks, ancient Romans, and other civilizations used bellows in bloomery furnaces producing wrought iron. Bellows are also used to send pressurized air in a controlled manner in a fired heater.

In modern industry, reciprocating bellows are usually replaced with motorized blowers.

Two-chambered forge bellows

The most common type of bellows used by blacksmiths for delivering air to the forge. Preferred for their near constant stream of air, they are typically constructed similarly to fireplace bellows, but made with a two-section accordion, allowing for two chambers separated by a central divider. They are mounted by the middle paddle, and air is drawn in through the bottom chamber, then forced into the upper, which has a constant rate of exhaust due to a weight or spring pushing down.

Double-acting piston bellows

Double-acting piston bellows are a type of bellows used by blacksmiths and smelters to increase the air flow going into the forge, with the property that air is blown out on both strokes of the handle (in contrast to simpler and more common bellows that blow air when the stroke is in one direction and refill the bellows in the other direction). These bellows blow a more constant, and thus stronger, blast than simple bellows.[2] Such bellows existed in China atleast since the 5th century BCE, when it was invented, and had reached Europe by the 16th century.[3]

A piston is enclosed in a rectangular box with a handle coming out one side. The piston edges are covered with feathers, fur, or soft paper to ensure that it is airtight and lubricated. As the piston is pulled, air from one side enters and flows through the nozzle and as it is pushed air enters from the opposite side and flows through the same nozzle.[2]

Further applications

  • Bellows are widely used in industrial and mechanical applications such as rod boots, machinery way covers, lift covers and rail covers.
  • Bellows are widely used on articulated buses and trams, to cover the joint where the vehicle bends.
  • Bellows are an essential part of anesthesia machines.
  • Bellows tubing, a type of lightweight, flexible, extensible tubing may be used for delivery of gas or air at near-ambient pressure, as in early aqua-lung designs.
  • Cuckoo clocks use bellows to blow air through their gedackt (pipes) and imitate the call of the Common Cuckoo bird.
  • Folding cameras, such as early Polaroid models and some early Kodak Retina and Retinette cameras, used bellows to exclude light while allowing the lens to be moved relative to the film plane for focusing. View cameras also employ bellows to keep the light-path dark while allowing the lens and tail boards to tilt and shift relative to one another.
  • Musical instruments may employ bellows as a substitute or regulator for air pressure provided by the human lungs:
  • Piping expansion joint: In this application, bellows are formed in series to absorb thermal movement and vibration in piping systems that transport high temperature media such as exhaust gases or steam. (8)

See also

  • Sylphon for uses of metal bellows in experimental physics and engineering.



  1. ^ Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Part 2. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd., p. 370.
  2. ^ a b Craddock, Paul T. Early Metal Mining and Production. pp. 183-4.
  3. ^ Temple, Robert K.G. (2007). The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention (3rd edition). London: André Deutsch, pp. 46-49. ISBN 9780233002026.


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Bellows — Bel lows, n. sing. & pl. [OE. bely, below, belly, bellows, AS. b[ae]lg, b[ae]lig, bag, bellows, belly. Bellows is prop. a pl. and the orig. sense is bag. See {Belly}.] An instrument, utensil, or machine, which, by alternate expansion and… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Bellows — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Brian Bellows (* 1964), kanadischer Eishockeyspieler George Wesley Bellows (1882–1925), amerikanischer Maler Gil Bellows (* 1967), kanadischer Schauspieler Diese Seite ist eine …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • bellows — [bel′ōz΄] sing.n. [ME belwes, orig. pl. of beli: see BELLY] [with sing. or pl. v.] 1. a device that produces a stream of air through a narrow tube when its sides are pressed together: used in pipe organs, for blowing fires, etc. 2. anything like… …   English World dictionary

  • Bellows — (spr. béllos), Henry Whitney, amerikan. Geistlicher, geb. 10. Juni 1814 in Boston, gest. 30. Jan. 1882, wurde 1838 Pfarrer der ersten Kongregationalistenkirche in New York, wo er 1846–50 zugleich das liberale Unitarierblatt »Christian Inquirer«… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Bellows —   [ beləʊz], George Wesley, amerikanischer Maler, Zeichner und Lithograph, * Columbus (Ohio) 12. 8. 1882, ✝ New York 8. 1. 1925. Als Schüler von R. Henri gehörte er zu den Malern der Ashcan School. Er suchte Themen im städtischen Alltag,… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • bellows — c.1200, belwes, lit. bags, plural of belu, belw, northern form of beli, from late O.E. belg bag, purse, leathern bottle (see BELLY (Cf. belly)). Reduced from blæstbælg, lit. blowing bag. Used exclusively in plural since 15c., probably due to the… …   Etymology dictionary

  • bellows — ► PLURAL NOUN 1) a device consisting of a bag with two handles, used for blowing air into a fire. 2) an object or device with sides that allow it to expand and contract. ORIGIN probably from the plural of the Old English word for «belly» …   English terms dictionary

  • Bellows — [bel′ōz΄] George (Wesley) 1882 1925; U.S. painter …   English World dictionary

  • bellows — bellowslike, adj. /bel ohz, euhz/, n. (used with a sing. or pl. v.) 1. a device for producing a strong current of air, consisting of a chamber that can be expanded to draw in air through a valve and contracted to expel it through a tube. 2.… …   Universalium

  • Bellows — /bel ohz/, n. George Wesley, 1882 1925, U.S. painter and lithographer. * * * Mechanical contrivance for creating a jet of air, consisting usually of a hinged box with flexible sides, which expands to draw in air through an inward opening valve… …   Universalium

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