A fireplace billows

Aside from mud, snow, and general temperature endurance; our major dilemma during our first winter on the homestead was heating and cooking with wet wood. Obviously the best plan is to cut your firewood a year or more in advance and always have a ready supply of dry wood to burn. As newcomers we were faced with acres of green wet wood, and some down half rotten dead wood, with very little good dry stuff to use. The end result found me on my knees many a cold morning or colder midnight blowing into a stubborn soggy stove. This of course sends much acrid stinging smoke in the face and a tent reminiscent of a sausage factory.

Seeking some semblance of sanity I finally got around to making a billows this week. I started with some stair planks from the 100-year-old house we salvaged this winter.

I will always remember fondly my wife’s horror-stricken face as she asked: “and all this old black wood has worth for us?!” the first time I triumphantly pried off a 24″ wide old growth poplar plank. Needless to say she was shocked to see what a few passes of the ole’ fore plane reveal below the dusty blackened exterior.


ladies get your undies here!

The old house was single boxed in green oak planks, gaps were covered with tar paper, newspaper and finally wallpaper. This ad appears to be from the 30s. On the reverse is an article from the Federal government asking people to call sauerkraut “victory cabbage” in an effort to remove the anti german food association sweeping the nation.


the beauty beneath

After carefully removing the nails and tacks I traversed the boards with the fore plane to just true up and clean off the surface.


I chopped out the basic outline with the broad hatchet, then smoothed down to the pencil line with the drawknife.


Once the two halves were a similar shape I hacked off a piece from one side with the crosscut saw and glued it to its mate, this area will be the hinge where the top piece pivots in action.


After boring a small hole I carefully gouged out the hole and surrounding wood into a matching conical passage for the brass fire hose nozzle my neighbor James gave me.


The nozzle in its seat.


I bored two holes for the air in take on one side and tested the action.


A small piece of leather was tacked on the inside to form the air intake gasket. It should open to let air into the billows, then close as you squeeze this air out the nozzle.


After smoothing all the edges over I fitted a leather gasket over the front, tightly covering the nozzle end.


Using upholstery tacks I closed down the leather on all sides trying to keep them as uniform as possible.


Wrapping a conical shape of leather around the nozzle end proved a bit trying, but I finally had it acceptably tight, then tacked two lines of tacks either side of the gap to act as a rather hinge.


Tacks went all around and a few coats of beeswax polish finished everything off.


This billows has been a real pleasure to use, both for tent fire starting and charcoal making. Every home with wood fire heat would benefit from one, unless you enjoy sitting on your knees blowing into a smoky fire until you asphyxiate!

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One Response to A fireplace billows

  1. Love the part about naming sauerkraut victory cabbage. So proud of all you do!


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