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Art and History of Asborno Bell Making

By

Dave Perfetti

 

Ricardo Velarde soldering a bell. A flat piece of metal supports the bell by the slot and turns on a spindle controlled by Ricardo's foot.

 

 

Custom two tensile nickel/silver bells in display box.

 

Pete Asborno at the vertical mill.

 

Ricardo cutting strips on the metal shear.

 

Here Ricardo is stamping out acorn disks on the hydraulic press.

 

A close up of the hydraulic press shows the stamping die that cuts the disks. The die is changed to a cup forming die to form the cups. Note the cut disks on the lower left already have the Velarde logo stamped into them. The cups on the right have been formed from the disks and are ready to go to the lathe for trimming.

 

Ricardo sets up the lathe to trim the bell cup halves. He inserts a metal rod into the bell cup and then pinches the cup into the vice. The lathe then turns the cup and the blade trims the cup edge to a tolerance of .001 inches.

 

The slot in the bell cup is shown being cut on the vertical mill.

 

Here is a string of clapper beads being cut on the lathe from steel hexagonal stock.

 
Asborno bells were developed by the late Pete Asborno. He started making bells in 1938. A machinist by trade living in Denver, at that time was not a falconer, but a pigeon fancier. That's until his good friend Hal Webster and others persuaded him to fly falconry birds. Pete developed the bell over the years and perfected them in no less than a fifty step process to produce the finished product. They are, in a sense, a modern day Pakistani bell, similar only because there are two halves and they're soldered at the equator. But that's where the similarity ends. Pakistani type bells are pounded by hand on a die. Then the cups are soldered together. This inferior product can produce good sound, but doesn't last because of the inconsistency in producing uniform walls, and the pounding of the metal makes them hard and brittle.
 
Pete's bells soon caught on and were getting hard to get. He, at one time, was over 1000 orders behind and getting older, when in 1987 a young machinist/falconer, Ricardo Velarde, became his apprentice. Unfortunately soon after, Pete's lung complications got the best of him, and he passed away on March 20, 1989 at 78 years old. A true loss for the falconry community.
 
If you've ever lost a bird, there's no sweeter sound than an Asborno bell ching-chinging in the distant background giving away your lost bird's position. Fortunately, Ricardo Velarde can carry on Pete's legacy and has been doing so in fine fashion. Ricardo pays the Asborno family a royalty for each bell sold. So now more about the bells.
 
Asborno style bells have no doubt proven themselves in the field. They're long lasting, and their high resonate pitch carries great distances. Asborno's have set the standard to compare all other bells to. Most falconers use bells and for good reason. Being able to know where your bird is in the field without having to see him is indispensable. Also knowing what your bird is doing in the mews, on the block, or in the vehicle without having to go check makes them absolutely a required piece of equipment. The only argument against using bells we've heard is that they're owl attractors if your bird spends the night out. This argument to me holds little weight when considering the advantages. Also if you've ever lost a bird and located him at night, it's amazing how the bird doesn't move a muscle, unless bumped or decides to take off for a night flight.
 
An Asborno bell starts with a roll of sheet metal, bought by the pound. Brass, bronze, nickel-silver, and special alloys are the metals used in two tensile and acorn style bells. Next is the machine shop, here modern machine equipment is needed. Also not to mention proper ventilation of the dangerous fumes and metal particles associated with bell making. The basic equipment used in fashioning a bell are: 1. sheet metal shears, 2. a hydraulic press, 3. a lathe, 4. a vertical mill, 5. a drill press, 6. some special made hand tools, and 7. an acetylene torch.
 
In Ricardo Velarde's shop, we found a nice wood stove and the above equipment. Ricardo is going to take us through the bell making process. First, the desired metal is measured and cut into strips on the shear. This strip is then fed by hand into a hydraulic press that cuts out a disk. The size of the disk depends on the size of the bell. After the disks are cut, the hydraulic press cutter is changed to the cup die. The male and female ends of the die press the disk into a cup or acorn half of the bell. The acorn halves are then taken over to the lathe. Here the halves are cut to the proper length to a tolerance of .001 to .002 thousands of an inch. Ricardo says this is the key to good bells, consistency in close tolerances. Next, while still at the lathe, the clappers are cut. Ricardo uses hexagonal steel stock and cuts a string of beads on the lathe. Different diameter stock is used for different size clappers. He then trims them off the strings one by one. Next, we move one of the acorn halves over to the vertical mill. Here the acorn half is fitted to a male die with a slot in it. The vertical mill then cuts a slot into the bell half to a precise tolerance.
 
Now then with a hand tool, three small dimples are set into the edge of the male half of the bell. This is so during the soldering, the two halves don't move and settle into each other. Next, Ricardo cuts really small strips of metal for the bell hanger, where the bewit goes through. A small special hand tool and form bends the ends in, and it's ready to solder.
 
Over to the soldering bench we go. The clapper is placed in the two acorn halves, and the bewit loop is soldered on with high temperature silver solder. Soldering is the most difficult part of bell making. It takes great skill and practice to get it right. Ricardo says he'll usually solder 120 bells a batch. It takes at least 20 to get him warmed up. The two halves then are perfectly matched and joined together. After soldering is complete, the bell slot is then stop drilled at both ends of the slot. This is the stress point, and the stop drill prevents the slot from cracking. The bell is now given a chemical bath which gives the bell its finished shine, and it's ready to fly. The bells are then matched up for opposite tones and are ready to installed on the bird.
 
Now we will discuss how the different metals and styles characterize the tone of the bell. First, acorn style bells have either the big cup on the top or on the bottom of the bell. The bottom cup with the slot produces the sound. A big bottomed cup produces the low tones and a small bottomed cup produces the high tones. Different metals produce different tones; brass produces the lowest tone, bronze the next highest, and nickel-silver being the highest tone. Some special alloys (that can be heat treated for hardness) are sometimes used. They are long lasting and have good pitch.
 
Two tensile style bells are shorter and look rounder. The lower tones are not attainable with this style bell, but they have a crisper tone. Sets of two tensile style bells will be closer to the same tone and not as high pitched as other bells. The advantage of this style bell is they are said to be better for tail or neck mounts.
 
Ricardo's bells are guaranteed a lifetime if properly installed. The bewit should not let the bell touch the perch below it. As long as the bell doesn't get "case hardened" from pounding the perch, it will last. Ricardo engraves bells also, really works of art. Sizes range from Kestrel to eagle, and prices start at $22.00 per pair. It takes Ricardo about one hour to make a set of bells, so considering his investment the price is a bargain. If you never have used Asborno bells before, try 'em, you'll like 'em.
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