Making Bells

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My wife is driving me nuts about making a large scale bell or wind chime. I've seen some great work that apparently used recycled propane or gas cylinders/tanks. Does anyone have any advise on the process or even finding the cylinders? I'm particularly concerned about safety, but any advise on "tuning" the bell would be helpful as well.


Rich Waugh's picture

Bob, Getting the gas

Bob,

Getting the gas cylinders can be difficult, as the companies that have them are concerned about liability. With flammable gas cylinders traces of gas can remain in them and cause problems when the cylinder is cut. This can be avoided easily, but there are always folks who do it wrong and hurt themselves and then want to sue the guy who helped them out in the first place.

I suggest you contact your local propane supply in person and ask about de-commissioned cylinders. Explain what you will be doing and offer to sign a liability release/waiver. Or ask them to cut the tank open for you - after that it is safe enough.

Old cylinders from inert gases also work for chimes and don't have the problem of flammable residues. They can still be dangerous if you cut them using an oxy/acetylene torch, as residual acetylene can build up in the cylinder during cutting and suddenly flash. For this reason, I recommend using cut-off wheel in a circular saw to open up these cylinders. A hacksaw blade in a jig saw will also do the job, but it is slow and noisy.

Before you cut a propane cylinder, remove the valve completely and rise out the tank with soapy water a couple of times. Do this regardless of what cutting method you decide on.

There are a couple of "tricks" to making a chime from a tube. The best method of hanging them is leather cord. You can "tune" the sound by calculating the resonant frequency of the cylinder - there are websites about chime making that cover this. You want the hanging and striking points to be at nodes of the resonant frequency - usually about 1/4 of the distance in from the ends. Visualize a sine wave and put the hanger at a null node so it doesn't dampen the vibrations.

All the foregoing said, the best thing is to experiment. Get some cylinders, some sections of pipe and some pieces of bar and see what works. Try different hanging methods and different striking methods. Try more than one chime at a time. Get two tubes of equal length and try cutting one down a bit at a time to see what it does to the sound - when yo go too far, cut the other one a bit less. :-)

Lastly, the biggest mistake I ever made in making wind chimes for my ex-wife was making the first one. I made one that was very effective - responded to the slightest breeze and had clear, true notes. That thing drove me crazy after the first week! It never shut up. I finally had to remove the "sail" from the clapper so it would only chime in high winds. Next time I'll just get a parrot. (grin)

Rich


visitor's picture

wind chimes.

I know what you mean about hearing them after the second week or so.
Best wind chimes I ever made for wife's and own use was made out of hanging sponges.
No need for a clapper either.
bpfink


Bob Wilkerson's picture

Rich, God Save me I'm

Rich,

God Save me I'm shooting for that first one you made. Thanks for the good advise.

Bob


Gerald Boggs's picture

Have you thought about using

Have you thought about using old oxygen tanks. After the tanks are past their dates, they cut the bottoms off and scrap the metal. I got a few bottoms for dishing. They were happy to let me have as many as I wanted. Saved the hassle of carrying to the scrap yard.

Gerald Boggs


Bob Wilkerson's picture

Gerald, that would work

Gerald,

that would work great. Would actually give me a range of sizes as well. Thanks.

Bob


Rich Waugh's picture

I've used both old cylinders

I've used both old cylinders and new or used pipe for chimes and I think the pipe has a much better sound than the closed-end cylinders. There's a real art and probably some very esoteric science to making bells and it seems there's a reason they're shaped like, well, bells...and not shaped like old oxygen cylinders. I could never get the things to have the clear tone or sustained ring that open ended tubes would produce. It's entirely possible, maybe even likely, that I was doing something wrong with the cylinders, but the tubes just worked out way better for me.

Rich


Stephen Fitz-Gerald's picture

Bells from gas cylinders

Stephen Fitz-Gerald
I have several bells I've made from discarded gas cylinders.
Rich is right in that they are potentially dangerous if there's anything left inside...
I've always used a large horizontal bandsaw to cut them and it's always been trial and error to find the right note.
I've found it definitely makes a difference what the shape of the top of the tank is(the bell shaped part)as to the quality of tone ,as well as the metal. I have some aluminum aqualung tanks as well as steel ones.
I grew up on the coast of Maine on a cliff perched high above the Atlantic ocean where two rivers meet at the entrance to the harbor of Castine.I was lulled to sleep regularly by the irregular cadence of a loud bell buoy just offshore which indicated the entrance of the harbor(fog is a regular feature and makes navigation hazardous there) and activated by wave action.It was a single bell with six clappers that surrounded the bell on all sides,so that no matter which side the buoy tilted on ,one of the clappers would hit. I was able to make a bell with the same note (which my brother remarked on when he visited me out here in California)
which reminds me of my youth and helps me to go to sleep. But I have only one clapper on this one and it only rings in a good stiff breeze...LOL


TC -downunder's picture

Cylinders vs pipe?

Rich... I'm new at these postings and find myself jumping into ongoing conversations so forgive the impost.
Re gas cylinders vs tubes/pipes.... I have available to me three types of gas cylinders...1) pressed mild steel which always has at least 2 seams, one attaching the top and one down the middle...2)cast, iron or other... which is then welded into sections similar to the pressed metal tanks...3) metal cylinders that are cast in one piece. In my experience seams tend to dampen the resonance and dull the note while most seamless cylinders produce an ear-worthy sound. I have cut the bottom off these seamless cylinders to see if I could alter the sound (note, resonance or octave)and found no discernable change by ear or by the electronic tuner. So I gather that the sound we hear from the gas cylinder is a resonance we pickup from outer cylinder rather from within. I wonder what bells would sound like if they had a bottom?. Also I find it easier to tune gas cylinders than tubes.
Regards TC


Rich Waugh's picture

TC, Hey, post 'em where you

TC,

Hey, post 'em where you can, mate! :-)

As for making bells, I don't know much about it other than to know it is at least as much "art" as science. The tone of a bell has to do with the material, the method (cast v formed), the curves and/or recurves of the profile, wall thickness and maybe what you had for breakfast. (Not at all sure if Vegemite on toast could inspire any sort of bell at all! [grin])

Tubular bells (remember Mike Oldfield?) or chimes are much more biased toward the scientific, from what I can gather, as they are tuned by acoustic resonance of the air column as much as by the resonance of the material. For a given metal, thickness and diameter therefore, the longer the tube the lower the note and the pitch can be calculated. Some years ago I did some Google searching on these things and found a website where they explained it fairly well and provided the calculations to determine pitch. But I never found anything that gave any definite guidance on making bells of a specific pitch.

If you close the end on a bell, i.e. a gas cylinder that isn't cut off, I think you'll be dealing strictly with the resonance of the material, but I admit I'm guessing. Stephen or Daedalus can probably offer better information than I can on bells - they've actually made them, and I've only read about it. I keep saying I'm gong to do something about it, since I have access to literally hundreds of old gas cylinders here on the island. Apparently, once they can't pass a hydro test they're not worth shipping to the States for recycling so they just pile up behind the gas companies. I really need to come up with a use for them that could make me some money.

That's what little I know about such things. Not much is it? :-)

So tell me: Do you actually acquire a taste for Vegemite or do you guys just eat it to be "different?" I've tried it and simply cannot imagine facing that every morning. Yet they sell millions of jars of that and Marmite every year. Here in the Virgin Islands we eat a dish called "fungi" (pronounced "FOON-jee") that is corn meal and chopped okra boiled into a paste, usually eaten with "saltfish", which is re-constituted dried and salted cod fish. Most visitors who try it think we're either daft or desperate. I've actually learned to like it, though it took a while.

Someday before I die I want to visit Australia. What a fascinating country!

Rich


Daedalus's picture

local fare

Being of Celtic heritage,and temprarily insane,I decided to try some dishes from the UK.Blood pudding sounds better than it tastes as far as I`m concerned.A former friend of Scottish desent talked me into trying haggis.
I`ll take the blood pudding,thanks. :^(

While in Texas I tried calf fries,fried okra and BBQ`d rattlesnake.All were far better than either of my Celtic mistakes.

At one time lobster was either chopped up and used as fertilizer here in Maine or if you were a real hard case they served it to you while in jail instead of the fried baloney(how they spell it up here) sandwiches.
Then the tourists developed a taste for them and the rest is history.

PS-Those tanks with seams sound like prime candidates for the slotting technique.Slot them so the seams are taken out and see if that improves their sound.
We expect a full report so we don`t have to do any experimentation on our own and can simply ride you coat tails to financial success. ;^)

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.
In practice there is.


TC -downunder's picture

vegemite and other obsessions

Rich
As with most fine foods, vegemite is an acquired taste... I'm not a fanatic but I confess I opened this blog this morning with a vegemite sandwich in one hand....but for a real treat, one of my favourites is the sweet/savoury combination of a honey and vegemite sandwich (salami and strawberry jam works well too). And no we don’t eat it to be different.. we make art out of old cylinders for that.
Speaking of which I now have my lower C to give a nice round end to my chromatic scale of CO2 cylinders...that's 13 in all, tuned C to C (according to my electronic tuner).. now to install them in the machine and finish the key board mechanism ... I think my main problem is I forgot the KISS principle.
TC


Rich Waugh's picture

TC, Glad to hear you're

TC,

Glad to hear you're making progress on the "cylinder organ."

My brother used to say that when he and I collaborated on a project we could easily over-complicate it to the point it couldn't be done at all. I'm sure you'll get it completed.

Rich


Gerald Boggs's picture

I have no expereance with

I have no expereance with making chimes. so can offer no opinion on the pros and cons of using old oxy tanks. I did see an artist at a DC show that had some very attractive chimes out of old oxy tanks. No idea how they sounded.
Here's the link: http://www.kiderafineart.com/ed_homepage.html

Fair Winds
Gerald


visitor's picture

Use fire extinguishers

You can make them out of fire extinguishers, which your local fire extinguisher supplier will either give you free or sell you for the scrap value (a dollar or two). Steel and aluminum both sound fine.

To empty, put on a good-quality dust mask, go outside, turn the extinguisher upside down, and depress the lever. Keeping it upside down lets you shoot off the gas without releasing too much of the powder. Then take a big wrench and unscrew the top of the fire extinguisher; you may need to bang the wrench with a hammer to start it. Then empty the powder into a trash bag and stick it in the household trash. The powder consists of fertilizer and talc, so don't breathe it in, but it doesn't need to go into a hazardous waste collection.

Rinse out the tank and you can then cut it open as others have described here.


Bob Wilkerson's picture

Thanks everyone. I'm

Thanks everyone. I'm searching for oxygen tanks and fire extinguishers....good news is I'm pretty deaf so only my wife will have to suffer through the results.


TC -downunder's picture

Chimes

Way to go Bob.... I'm currently building and interactive piece of metal art in the form of a piano that plays large chimes (rather than wires)... namely gas cylinders.
From my experience LPG cylinders and like (3mm wall of mild steel) have a tinny ring.... I found that cast cylinders have the best resonance.... I am using multiple CO2 (fire extinguishers) cast iron cylinders of all shapes and sizes, 13 in all, tuned to the full Chromatic scale with a C at each end. If you are going to let it randomly sound in the wind then it may be best to use a Pentatonic scale rather than a Chromatic scale. The Pentatonic scale (6 notes) allows each note to be stuck in any order without making you wince…..but they need to be tuned. If this is what you are looking for then let me know and I will fill you in on the fine tuning.

Regards TC


TC -downunder's picture

Chimes

Way to go Bob.... I'm currently building and interactive piece of metal art in the form of a piano that plays large chimes (rather than wires)... namely gas cylinders.
From my experience LPG cylinders and like (3mm wall of mild steel) have a tinny ring.... I found that cast cylinders have the best resonance.... I am using multiple CO2 fire extinguishers cast iron cylinders of all shapes and sizes, 13 in all, tuned to the full Chromatic scale with a C at each end. If you are going to let it randomly sound in the wind then it may be best to use a Pentatonic scale rather than a Chromatic scale. The Pentatonic scale (6 notes) allows each note to be stuck in any order without making you wince…..but they need to be tuned. If this is what you are looking for then let me know and I will fill you in on the fine tuning.

Regards TC


Stephen Fitz-Gerald's picture

musical tanks

Stephen Fitz-Gerald
Dear T.C,
could you post an image of your "instrument".


TC -downunder's picture

musical tanks

Hi Stephen
just finished all the major pipe bending for the frame today(60mm OD medium grade and about 2.8 metre 3.5 metres)) and with the cylinders already sorted and tuned (yet to get the lower C but acquired some larger cast cylinders recently)the assembly starts tomorrow.... it won't be complete for a month at least as the key board/striker mechanism has to be repeated 13 times (C to C)...in short; no photo yet but I will get you one when I have it together.
Regards TC


Stephen Fitz-Gerald's picture

musical tanks

Stephen Fitz-Gerald
Dear T.C.
I'll be interested to see this contraption.
It sounds complicated but exciting.
I was just given more diving tanks,so I now have a pretty good selection of small gas bottles in both steel and aluminum to make bells.
As some others have mentioned slicing off the convex end makes a real good female die for the press. I've had one for years I've used to advantage.
I'm anxious to try the hole and slit idea for the side of the bell to hopefully improve the sound. Soft but firm solid clappers seem to work better as well to produce a mellifluous tone instead of a tinny sound.


TC -downunder's picture

musical tanks

Stephen... I like the idea of a dome cylinder top for a die... takes over from where the anvil horn left off, particularly with copper and aluminium, I'll give that a go... as for the slits? is that for tuning or to improve resonance? my methods of tuning differ but I would like to know more about the purpose of slitting or holing a cylinder... I find some cylinders have such a depth of resonance that you feel you need a "sustain" control, while others are short and damped. With welded tanks the latter is probably due to seams and in cast tanks, type of metal, variations in thickness or possibly cracks....
Regards TC


Stephen Fitz-Gerald's picture

Slits

Stephen Fitz-Gerald
Dear T.C.
It was Daedalus that mentioned his friend Jeff Clap cutting slits in the tanks.
I found his site on the net.
http://www.bellsfromeverest.com/images-of-nepal-the-adventu/
the "slits" are not what I expected,and not like what I was describing on sleigh bells but kinda cool none-the-less.
I think I need to do some experimentation with my own concept of slits...
I let you know what I find.


Daedalus's picture

Pics on site not what I had in mind

I looked too and Jeff doesn`t have any pics of the ones he made that have straight slits running the length of the bell and ending in a round hole.They do remind me of sleigh bells too.
Stephen,if you want to give this a try I would suggest making a large wood V block and securing the tank to the block with a tie down strap.The ratcheting type seem more secure.
The holes we punched thru the wall of the tank were done with a Roto-broach bit but a small hole saw would also work well on aluminum.
We used the lowest speed on a rather large and heavy drill press.

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.
In practice there is.


Stephen Fitz-Gerald's picture

slits in bells

Stephen Fitz-Gerald
Daedalus,
What I'd like to know if you can remember is how far up the bell was the slit?
I'm planning on making 4 equi-distant slits with the width about 3/8ths inch wide. I'm also planning on cutting the bottom like 4 spear shapes pointing down. I think that will help transform the tank into a somewhat more aesthetic and artistic shape.
I can jig up the tank to drill the holes but I'm not exactly sure yet how I'm going to cut the slits. I have a very small plasma cutter which I'm not sure is going to be strong enough to give a clean cut,so i might have to do it with my oxy-acetylene torch...
Please have a lobster for me I'm dying for one...


Rich Waugh's picture

Stephen, If you're cutting

Stephen,

If you're cutting an aluminum tank, the plasma probably won't do a very great job. I'd recommend just using a circular saw with a carbide toothed blade, one with as many teeth as possible. I regularly cut aluminum in the 1/8"-1/2" thickness range using a 42-tooth carbide blade in my circular saw. You gotta wear a lot of protection 'cuz there's gonna be chips flying all over the place, but it makes a very clean cut.

If, on the other claw, you're cutting a steel tank, then the plasma might do it. If not, an abrasive blade in a circular saw will do it. Or a slitting blade - they get used up quickly but they also cut quickly. I make my forges and other stuff from old propane cylinders cut with an abrasive disc in a circular saw or 4-1/2" angle grinder. Messy, but makes a good cut if you're careful.

Rich


Stephen Fitz-Gerald's picture

cutting slits in tanks

Stephen Fitz-Gerald
Thank you Rich,
your info is always helpful.
I woke up bolt upright in the middle of the night with a weird but possible idea. I may actually be able to use my band saw for the initial straight cuts...
I also have one of those weird metal cutting saws with the two counter spinning 6"diameter heads with the big teeth,sold by Sears a few years ago.They work remarkably well but throw off the most horrible hot AND sharp shards,as you say ,you have to be nearly completely covered like a bee suit...


Daedalus's picture

Don`t look down!

I almost hesitate to post this because it`s pretty close to the edge of sanity but since It`s you Stephen.
What Rich said about the circular saw is a great way to cut both aluminum and steel.I use a worm drive saw as they are far more durable.I also put a double layer of nylon hose(the type you wife wears on her legs)over the cooling/brush area of the saw to keep the fan from pulling in any chips or sparks.The nylons keep swarf out but still allow the saw to cool.The stocking thing also works for routers if you have the nerve to try cutting the slot with one of those screaming monsters.
The length of the slits are how you tune the bell.Stop when the sound is about right,continue the cut if it`s not.Once you get the sound about right(you will probably have to sacrifice more than one cylinder to the bell gods for practice)you can then drill the stop holes.Kind of like drilling a hole to keep a crack from migrating further.
Jig saws will also work for cutting aluminum and will work for steel as well if you have both large quantities of blades and large blocks of time to waste.
Aluminum cutting will be aided by waxing the blade before use and periodically during the cut.I use parafin blocks from the local food store.
I suit up in all my welding gear(including welding helmet) to do this kind of work.Better safe than sorry.
Jigging the cylinder for the cut was handled by using 3/4 plywood and suspending the cylinder below the ply(we used tie down straps again) with a cut in the wood already made to act as a guide,or screw a straight batten to the ply to guide your saw base.Stop blocks and index lines help if you need to drop the cylinder and then reclamp afterward.Hot glue held blocks on the cylinder pretty well if the surface was clean and dry.
I cut a larger aluminum cylinder like you`re talking about for a friend as a gift.The bottom shape was taken from the tip of the ace of spades in a card deck.
I need to take more pics,especially of the things I make as gifts.The good news is that I have another aluminum cylinder and SWMBO says she wants a bell now.I WILL take pics of this one and attempt to post them here.
BTW-The mallet/clapper I sent off with the other one was made of wood.Exotic wood dowel with a hockey puck(radiused the edges) sandwiched between 2 pieces of teak for the head.
If you knew the trick you could release the snap hook that held it in place,pull it out and likewise release the wood sail then use it as a mallet to ring the bell at will.
I`m told not many were in on the secret as the bell could be LOUD if struck with enough force. :^)

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.
In practice there is.


Rich Waugh's picture

I think about the most fun I

I think about the most fun I ever had cutting metal with the circular saw was many years ago in my sign shop. I cut up a sheet of 1" thick brass so I could get smaller pieces to cut in the band saw. Man, talk about hot shrapnel flying everywhere! That brass heated up quickly and held the heat for a good distance. Sharp, too. The only good part about that job was that since the brass was so thick it wasn't noisy at all - no worse than cutting wood, really.

I think one of those double-blade counter-rotating saws might be a pretty good deal for cutting aluminum cylinders - never used one. The theory is good...(grin)

I have used a router to profile bronze for a railing once. Another not-fun job. Now that I have a power hammer I'd make a die and forge the rough profile before I went to the router for clean-up.

If you plan to cut much metal with a circular saw, go to the local saw sharpening place and tell them what you need to do and have them profile a blade just for that. I have one that is a triple-chip style ground to an almost zero hook angle that does wonders on aluminum and other non-ferrous stuff. Works fine on steel if you don't get carried away. You an buy blades for metal-cutting, but they tend to be 0-hook or negative hook and make a rough cut. I prefer to have one specially profiled. You need to start with a good quality blade with a full-kerf cut - no wimpy thin-kerf blades!

Rich


Daedalus's picture

Making the joiners` day.

When I worked in a yacht yard we used to do work on aluminum hulled boats and commercial vessels sometimes.As a result I had a few blades regound for the Unisaw in the joiners` shop and would cut thick aluminum plate and sometimes thinner bronze plate that was too wide to go thru the bandsaw on thier saw.It was a big 3 phase brute that was near bulletproof.
The joiners hated to see me coming with those blades and all my welding leathers and shield("Here comes the metal head again").They knew what was about to happen and cleared the shop as they couldn`t stand the noise or the flying chips.I always cleaned up after myself but that didn`t stop the complaints to the office who always turned a deaf ear.
I somtimes wonder if any of them would have ever talked to me at all if I didn`t know how to sharpen all their tools for them. :^)

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.
In practice there is.


TC -downunder's picture

Slits

Stephen, I may have missed this bit but what is the purpose behind the slits besides the aesthetics?... up and down slits as in cow bells would be likely to deaden the resonance as in clank clank instead of dong dong??? or are the slits across the cylinder? or is the idea of the slits not related to sound?
Regards TC