Biltmore Bellows

Our client purchased one of the bellows from the Biltmore historic collection.  While in good condition, it had issues which he wanted repaired.  The bellows was not to be used everyday, but he did want it to be usable.

In that spirit, the cracking leather was to be replaced, and many missing decorative nails needed to be replaced.  A handle would be created to hang the bellow to the side of the fireplace.

It is odd to think of this as an upholstery project, but of course it is!

We will show more images, but may not discuss specific processes as many processes are quite like might be performed in a very old chair or chest.

Roll your cursor over the top of an image to see any notations we have made, or click through the images.

Assessment Images

Prior to beginning any treatment, a thorough set of images are taken during the assessment phase.  We inspect the item, photograph the item, take notes, and from this the final estimate is created.

Excavation, or,
We Take It All Apart!

Early on we realized that at one time someone had picked up water in the bellows, and this lead to serious problems in the leather, but more importantly, in the wood itself, and in the decorative nails.

Normally we would reuse as many of the original decorative nails as possible, but these tacks, as you will see during the excavation, were rusting and rotting altogether.  MPF Conservation replicated several decorative nails.

Rarely does Mitchell take copious notes as he is excavating, but with the bellows he was meticulous.  We never treated a bellows before, and we wanted to remember each of the many issues, and how the original creator had resolved the various leather wraps and hinges.  No conservator can have experience in all items but with careful attention to the excavation process, and good images and notes, a record of how an item is built can be recorded.

Carefully we began excavation with the long leather pieces on the sides, then worked to release the nozzle area.  The entire bellows was excavated with all parts removed and disassembled for repairs, though some images are missing due to a computer failure.

Starting on the backside, we worked the leather wraps, beginning our unwrap on the last leather wrap, noting missing decorative nails, and areas where the leather or wood was damaged from the water.  Removing decorative nails carefully took a good deal of time, as the nails would be reused whenever possible, so we wanted to minimize damage from the process of removal.

Unfortunately, we confronted rust and degradation in the nails from the water damage.

Removing the side tacks and loosening the leather for the bellows leather proper, below, along the handle.

The back was studied before removing the parts.

It is unfortunate that we had a computer issue and lost some of the body of the bellow excavation, so it will be missing at this point.

All leather was removed and laid out flat; see below for leather patterning.

Normal Repairs

By normal repairs, we are discussing filling nail holes and screw bores with hard wooden picks, above, preparing them for the decorative nails to be reinserted into the same holes.

There were no splits in the wooden body or other repairs, but the wooden area surrounding the nozzle had splits which we repaired using gap filling PVA, then clamping to cure.

Finish Conservation

Before and after finish conservation and restoration, above;  details below.

For the wooden parts, we made a wax and odorless mineral spirits slurry, and applied it by brush.  The wax was a combination of beeswax, carnauba wax, organic linseed oil, and fine ground earth pigments.  This was brushed in coats until it would not longer be absorbed by the dry wood.  Then Mitchell burnished the finish with brushes and rags until patina.

For the brass nozzle, we used a micro-crystalline wax.

Repairs Continue

The nozzle and repaired (once split) wooden nozzle piece was placed back onto the body of the bellows, below, and the leather strapping piece was applied first to ensure the splits were doubly secured.

Parts were labeled and set next to the applicable area of the bellows, below.

Leather Patterning

Leather was softened and laid flat for patterning.

A supple goat hide treated to make it non-air and water permeable was cut from the patterns, above, and the bellows was ready to be reassembled, below.

Video of the tongue describing the issues, above.

The Tongue,
That Which Drove Us Crazy!

The tongue has to be operable, and must blow air when the bellows is used.  For an unknown reason, though we thought we had patterned everything correctly, ours failed to blow air properly!

The only way to see if the tongue worked was to have all the leather upholstered as if finished.  For some reason the tongue was not working, and so each time we thought we had the tongue worked out, we had to attach all the leather to see if indeed it blew air!  Never has Mitchell reupholstered one item so many times!

The handle and bellows was finally upholstered to the frame, the historic and few replacement decorative nails applied into the original nail holes, and the bellows was completed, below

Finally, Completion!

Overall image of the completed bellows from the top, above;  details below.


Written by Kate Powell  ©MPF Conservation.
May be printed for your own use ONLY, not for use on blogs without permission.

About dkatiepowellart

hollywood baby turned beach gurl turned steel&glass city gurl turned cowgurl turned herb gurl turned green city gurl. . . artist writer photographer. . . cat lover but misses our big dogs, gone to heaven. . . buddhist and interested in the study of spiritual traditions. . . foodie, organic, lover of all things mik, partner in conservation business mpfconservation, consummate blogger, making a dream happen, insomniac who is either reading buddhist teachings or not-so-bloody mysteries or autobio journal thangs early in the morning when i can't sleep
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4 Responses to Biltmore Bellows

  1. lois says:

    So much work but the finished product is beautiful, Katie. I’m guessing the owner knew this would need a lot of work when he bought it?

  2. Dan Antion says:

    Beautiful and truly amazing work!

    • Thank you, Dan! There was a great deal of time invested into that, seemingly, little project. While reviewing the steps during the creation of the final report it became clear that what seemed simple to my memory of the project was, in fact, quite complex. Thanks again for your review and comments!

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