Making and Using Pot Bellows

At the 4th Annual Vounous Symposium (2022) we wanted to make a set of pot bellows, based on ones that were excavated at Enkomi, an archaeological site in North Cyprus where metalworking was performed in the Bronze Age.

The process began by coil building and paddling şamot, a heavily grogged clay. As the bellows were formed a ridge was put near the top. This will help hold the leather tops in place, and prevent them from slipping off while they are being used. A tube was added and a hole cut in the bottom. The tuyeres, the pipes that connect the bellows to the furnace will fit inside these. The bellows were fitted with a handle. The handles aren’t strong enough to use for lifting the bellows, but later we found that they came in useful for adjusting the position of the bellows when we were getting ready to start work.

Coil building the base of the bellows

Adding the ridge

The bellows were too large for the kiln, so part of the side was torn out in order to fit them in. The wall was replaced and the kiln was filled with smaller pieces of ceramics. We had a nervous evening because we were uncertain whether the bellows would survive the firing. The walls were heavy and thick and we hoped that they had dried sufficiently to prevent cracking. The kiln was a primitive two chamber type, typical of the Bronze Age in Cyprus. The ceramics are loaded into the top, which has a perforated floor. A fire is built in a pit outside of the lower chamber of the kiln. The chimney (which was extended upwards for this firing) creates an updraft, pulling the heat through the furnace. Normally the fuel would be put in the chamber underneath the kiln, but there was concern that the concentration of heat would crack the bases of the bellows since the heat would be unevenly distributed, concentrating on the bottom of the bellows. This unevenness of the heat would cause the firing to be uneven and result in the bellows cracking.

In the furnace

Firing the furnace

The next day they emerged perfectly fired. As soon as they were cool enough we put on the leather. The goat skins we bought were not large enough, so we used some soft cowhides. The hides are wrapped around the top of the bellows, with the edges overlapped by about 12 cm. When pulling up the overlap opens up and allows air in and then it closes on the downstroke. The result is a continuous and steady airflow. Thanks to Ergün Arda for his skills and expertise in making the pot bellows.

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