Installing The Feeder Bellows Hinge Cloth and Valves
This is a continuation of my previous post about replacing the bellows of The Gem Roller Organ. At this point the all the bellows cloth has been removed and the wood surfaces have been sanded completely clean of previous debris.
To begin installing the feeder bellows cloth, start with the hinge cloth. The hinge cloth is cut about 1 1/2″ longer than the length of the gap (the width was about 1 3/8″). The extra material must be cut to create two tabs at each end in order to fold over the feeder bellows cloth after it’s installed (see image above). I used a piece of bellow cloth from a previous project to create the hinge, not the material from the repair kit I purchased. The repair kit cloth will work just as effectively.
Using a double-boiler I combined about two tablespoons of dry hide glue and water in a small jelly jar. Once the glue reached 160°F (I monitored the temperature with a candy thermometer in the water of the double-boiler) I went to work. A disposable craft brush was used to apply the glue both to the centered hinge gap in the wood and the area of the cloth that’s inside the gap. The hinge cloth was installed with the help of a butter knife to push the cloth to the bottom of the gap.
New leather valves were cut from the leather from the kit and installed with hide glue. Remember, only the ends of the valve leather are glued! Be sure to keep the leather tight against the wood, for an air tight seal, before moving onto something else.
I added a little surprise for someone to find in a hundred years when they’re replacing my bellows cloth. It’s a photo of Lana Wood (Natalie’s sister) from a 1961 Playboy magazine. I made sure it was fastened good with spray mount.
The image to the right (above) is me adding shellac to the hinge cloth. As I mentioned in the previous post, shellac helps to seal up little leaks that most certainly will occur.
Installing the Feeder Bellows Cloth
Installing the feeder bellows cloth is fairly straightforward. Use the cloth you removed as a template for cutting the new material or download the pattern I created from mine. I recommend making a template out of paper to test the fit before cutting the replacement cloth.
Working one small area at a time, I applied hide glue to both the edges of the bellows wood and the cloth. I used some push pins to hold things in place while I worked, and while the glue set. In the end I used many more pins that are in the image above. The possible leaks the pin holes create are minuscule compared the leaks they’re preventing. I used a butter knife (image above) to press the cloth against the platform wood.
One word of caution. There is a finish applied to the wood in the push rod hole on the platform (red rectangle above) where the bellows attach. The original bellows were not stuck in this area, and it was very hard to make the new cloth stick as well. I permanently attached a few tiny tacks, applied with needle nose pliers, through the cloth and into the wood to keep the bellows sealed in this area.
When the cloth is completely attached remember to glue, fold over and tack the little tabs from the hinge cloth (red circles above). Leave the pins in overnight to allow the glue to cure. Resist the temptation to “test” the bellows until you’re sure the glue is set. I also sealed all the seams with a few coats of shellac.
Installing the Reservoir Bellows Cloth
Replace the reservoir bellows cloth following the same technique used to replace the feeder bellows cloth. Start by installing the hinge cloth. The hinge cloth for the reservoir bellows does not have tabs that wrap around the sides like the feeder bellows do. Instead, the main reservoir bellows cloth has tabs wrapping around the hinge cloth. Use plenty of pins to keep the cloth in place until the glue is cured. Use a razor blade to trim any access cloth protruding over the top edge of the lid.
Assembling the Gem Roller Organ Cabinet and Push Rod
Now would be a good time to inspect the reeds. With the reed block detached from the front of the cabinet gently blow on the reeds. It’s not a trumpet, you’re lips shouldn’t need to touch the block to sound each reed. I forgot to make certain all the reeds were in working order before assembling my Gem, and a few don’t sound. Reviewing some photos of my reeds, it is clear some are bent out of position. One day I’ll go back and adjust them.
Use bellows cloth, or I used black craft foam, to create a gasket for the front of the cabinet (photo above). Install the front of the cabinet and attach the mechanism. Then guide the wooden push rod from under the platform and attach it to the crank. Tighten the screw, then attach the other end of the push rod to the feeder bellows. With the push rod installed, attach the platform to the four sided base.
A note about the push rod. The original push rod on my organ withstood several attachments and detachments. During one assembly it broke (#1 in photo above). I crafted a new one out of random black walnut and it broke while being attached (#2). Next I tried a piece of Douglas fir (#3). It broke as well.
It was then I looked closely the wood grain of the original. The grain was tight and quartersawn, meaning the grain was parallel to the block (green check mark above). The red X in the image above shows bad wood grain for the push rod. The gran is bad because cracks occur with the grain.
A scrounged around my stockpile of wood scraps and found a suitable piece of black walnut. The resulting push rod (#4) installed with easy success.
Replacing the Valve Pads
Replacing the valve pads was an easy task. I used a dental hook to remove the old pads, they basically fell off. I used Q-Tips soaked with denatured alcohol to clean the metal surface. My patience was wearing thin so I decided to use CA glue (super glue) to fasten the new pads. Nothing stressful or unpredictable to report about the process.
The Gem Roller Organ Performance
With The Gem Roller Organ fully assembled (and somewhat adjusted) it was time for its first performance! I put on one of the cobs that shipped with the organ and started cranking. Strong and clear music filled the room. As I mentioned earlier, some of the reeds aren’t adjusted, so they sound weak or not at all. Regardless, the melody was clear and very familiar.
After sharing this video with my parents they immediately knew the name of the song, “Nearer, My God, to Thee”. My parents also knew this as the song the band played as the Titanic sunk.
I hope you’ve found my posts about The Gem Roller Organ helpful. I know it’s far from comprehensive, but it’s a lot more information than what’s on the internet. If you’d like me to post other specific information, or if you’ve found any errors in the text please let me know. I had a fun time restoring my Gem Roller Organ. If you decide to restore a Gem on your own, take your time, don’t rush or set any deadlines. It’s a slow process that’s best suited for deliberate and careful work.