Kenyan blacksmiths make bellows from cement sacks

Afrigadget has a wonderful post on two ingenious blacksmiths in Lamu, Kenya, whose bellows have been improvised from cement sacks.

Lamu Cement-bag Bellows (AfriGadget) from WhiteAfrican on Vimeo.

Adam and Abdul make all types of items, but they told me that their main products are anchors, which range from small to large (2000-5000/= or $26-65) and, chisels and coconut shellers. They create a lot of the small metal pieces on the local dhows, and also make doors and window frames for the homes in the town. Really, they can make just about anything that you desire, like experienced metal workers anywhere in the world. What's amazing is what they do it with.

Cement-bag Bellows in Lamu


  1. Yes, it’s amazing that blacksmiths and craftsmen the world around survived for these thousands of years without the benefit of OSHA and the Nanny State to protect them from themselves.

    Here’s a picture of me melting down some scrap aluminum in a “pot in a pot foundry”, wearing sandals and flammable clothing. Oh noes! (I cheated, I used a blowdryer as my bellows)

    First pour

    Link to how to make a “pot in a pot foundry (not mine, but similar)

  2. Hrrmm.
    Yeah, I forget the exact reference but one of the earliest documented bellows was apocryphally something about ‘pressing skins’ or ‘pressing bladders.’ (think wineskin) What the author inferred was a setup like this, a nice ground forge, 2 man rig, with a dual chamber bellows made from… whatever.
    What I wonder from the video is how they rigged the flap or intake…
    Nice anvil too, can’t tell if it’s a really good brick or an old piece of low carbon.
    What I also notice is that this setup would be tough solo.

  3. Humans are so godawful and so godawesome. The news is always full of the -awful so what a delight to be reminded of the -awesome.

  4. be awful surprised if most private smiths wore goggles anywhere. As to simplest and oldest: a hollow branch blowpipe. Bag bellows are pretty ubiquitous since people cut open animals and find lungs to get the idea. A bicycle needs a fan or squirrel cage, lots more work.

  5. Takuan, I think baccaruda might have been thinking of using the circular motion of the back wheel and a couple of pegs as a makeshift crankshaft… unfortunately I don’t think that would work either since it looks like the guy opens the bag a little on the way up and then closes it on the way down, I’m probably wrong though since I’m taking the time to comment, there’s a 99% chance that there is a proper valve in the video that I’ve missed.

  6. The only blacksmiths that wear eye protection are the ones that really want to keep their sight. You only need to get a metal sliver pulled from your eyeball once to get that religion. But, as with motorcycle helmets, to each his own.

    @4-They hold the top of the bag open on the upstroke,close it on the downstroke.

  7. Kenyan metalsmiths are quite remarkable.Back in the days when the MauMau were doing their little number. The metal masters produced rifles using malleable iron gas piping. It was very much a hit or miss affair when engaged in confrontations with the Colonial forces and many rifles exploded in the “rifleman’s” hands.Yet as a morale booster the weapons had some merit, for the survivors !

  8. made a brake drum in oil drum forge with electric blower once, the design worked well but didn’t compensate for the ignorance.

  9. i’ve spent about two months on lamu island. its amazing what the locals are able to build out of near nothing.

    what’s also funny is that a lot of folks there cook on wood, coal, gas tanks.. and they build the dhows by hand… and for quite some time they have rolling or entire-island blackouts to manage resources… but somehow, most everyone has a big-screen tv and a satellite dish.

  10. They’re a resourceful bunch all right.

    I was in Ethiopia a couple of months ago, and an Englishman I met out there told me the tale of a road trip he and his wife made from Addis Ababa to Kampala in the late Sixties.

    Driving through Kenya, they had a bit of an accident (a pretty common occurrence), went off the road and rolled their pickup. The roof was caved in on one side and the truck generally wasn’t a lot of use.

    They’d been on their way to meet a friend who’d grown up in Nairobi. He took them to a backstreet garage and the boys in there made a new roof for the truck and fitted it ready for them to drive on the next day. The guy swears it was a better job than what it had to start with.

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