ORGAN BUILDER and ORGAN TUNER
3 Burtey Fen Lane, Pinchbeck
Lincolnshire PE11 3SR
Tel: 01775 766081
LEATHER IN ORGANS
The term 'leather' is used to actually mean 'sheepskin'.
Where the word leather is used in organ building, the actual material being referred to is sheepskin of varying thicknesses.
Leather is used in most pipe organs to create the moving parts of the bellows (a reservoir which holds a supply of air). This leather has a normal useful life of approximately 60 years before it becomes brittle and begins to split. This lifespan can be as long as 100 years or as short as 30, depending on environmental conditions, including temperature, humidity and dirt.
When bellows begin to leak, it is normally a sign that the leather is at the end of its useful life, and although patching the corners can be satisfactory in the short term, the only long term solution is to have the bellows removed from the organ, and replace all the leather with new.
Three newly re-leathered bellows
As well as the bellows, a much thinner leather (sheepskin) is often used to make very small bellows (perhaps as small as 1" x 2") to operate valves under the pipes. Each note on the keyboard may operate one (or more) of these small bellows, known as 'motors'. This type of action is known as 'pneumatic' and relies on air pressure to connect the keyboards to the valves under the pipes. These small 'motors' are sometimes exposed to the atmosphere, and seem to be a tremendous attraction for mice, who nibble away at the leather making the air leak out. This can cause notes to stop working, or in some instances notes to stick on. The only remedy for this is to remove all the motors and re-leather them with new leather - and make sure that mouse traps are set and maintained throughout the year inside and around the organ!
Pneumatic action organs are a great deal more complex than suggested here, but can contain hundreds or even thousands of components using thin leather.
Many organs which use a different type of action may also use this type of pneumatic action to operate the bass pipes or pipes situated away from the main organ (for example on the case).
[Left] - damage to leather caused by mice
[Right] - newly re-leathered motors
For free advice about the care and maintenance of your pipe organ, please contact us.
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