Master falconer, Bell maker
and Traveling Medical Technologist
When starting into falconry in 1986, I ordered my first pair of bells from the late Pete Asborno of Denver, Colorado. When the bells arrived, I studied them for hours and concluded that I could make them. I decided to get started the very next day.
Early next morning I set out to the public library and began digging into TheThomas Register for suppliers of tools and materials. (This was before the days of having everything online!) I found suppliers and ordered the block, shears, and nickel-silver sheet metal needed for my first attempt at bell making.
Within a few days, I produced an almost-perfect hemisphere. The next step was to figure out how to join two hemispheres with a clapper inside. Realizing the hemispheres didn’t fit flush, I found a metal file and smoothed them to fit. Something was still not quite right—my new bell was not round. It took two years—after countless trials and errors—and, finally, Eureka! I produced a bell that would ring! Over the next two years, I broke three 3-ton arbor presses while trying to perfect my bell making process.
Over the years I have acquired a wee bit more knowledge, resulting in faster research and development. Variables such as size and shape of the bell, type and thickness of the metal, temperature of the solder, use of annealing vs. non-annealing, and altering the dimensions of the clapper have an impact on the sound of the finished bell. Also, selecting the right alloy from the array of metals available can be a difficult task. I have produced bells made of nickel silver, sterling silver, brass, bronze, and beryllium copper.
In the past I would custom-make bells, usually out of bronze, to suit a particular falconer’s hearing. Nowadays falconers try the bells by ringing and ringing until they find a pair that fits their hearing. I am now able to change the pitch and volume by making adjustments to the equator band, thickness of the alloy, shape and weight of the clapper, and the placement of the sound slit and holes. For my hearing and for durability, sterling silver bells win by a mile.
For the last 20 years, I have used a hydraulic press and a lathe to produce bells. The process I have developed consists of 26 steps from start to finish. It still requires more than 30 minutes to make one bell. My bells are used by thousands of falconers in 31 countries.
In addition to falconers, other people have approached me to supply bells for them. I once created camel bells for an Arabian camel owner. A Celtic storytelling troupe once asked for bells for a storytelling stick. Hobbyists wanting to find just the right bell for intricate crafting projects have contacted me to supply bells to fulfill their custom orders. My bells have also adorned dancers (both Native American and erotic), bird dogs, and cats. Recently I have had numerous requests for bells for women’s jewelry. And every holiday season I have many queries about sleigh bells and ornamental displays.
My bell shop is located inside my traveling caravan in a space measuring 8’ x 10’, which includes a space for a small freezer stocked with hawk food. An air filtration system mounted inside the bell shop has proven to be a necessary innovation to assure that interior air quality is maintained.
All in all, bell making is a hobby for an ever-so-small profit. Mostly it is therapeutic, and a glass of whisky or a pint on the workbench makes life good!