Silencing a Bell

Silencing a bell for teaching purposes
This is an article by Peter Dale of the Cinque Ports Ringing Centre, and he has kindly given permission for it to be reproduced here.  It has appeared in The Ringing World, and is now on the Kent County Association Website.
There are quite a few methods of silencing bells, some involving bits of rope, some using wooden clapper stays, and there is no universal agreement on what is the best way.  This is a description of one of the ways of doing it.

Silencing a bell using a motorbike tyre.

Finding the right tyre in the first place is probably the most difficult part of the process. A car tyre has too large a cross-section and there are steel wires running through the tread, so don't even think about that. You need an old motorbike tyre, not one with the thick chunky tread of a trial bike, but an ordinary old motorbike tyre. Even a bike tyre has wire bracing around the rim, though, but read on to see how we deal with that.

I retain one of my old style silencers as a pattern, to show the people in the bike shop the cross-section I'm looking for. They're quite happy to give me an old tyre as it saves them the cost of disposal, and they're intrigued when I try to explain what it's for. An average cross-section diameter of about 3 or 3½ inches is suitable for most bells, and the beauty of it is that the measurements aren't critical. One tyre can produce two complete octave sets.


Fig 1 shows what's needed, apart from a piece of chalk, which I forgot, and my trusty old Black & Decker Workmate, which wouldn't fit in the picture. On the left is the safety gear: mask, goggles and ear defenders. The only tools required are a mini-disk angle grinder and a Stanley knife with a new blade. Some might feel happier to include a tape measure even though it isn't necessary, but the jar of water certainly is!


Fig 2 shows how useful the old Workmate is for this job. Open it to its full extent, force in the tyre, and tighten it up so the two rims are squeezed together. With the tyre trapped like this it's a piece of cake to slice through the two rims at the same time with the angle grinder, but for goodness sake wear goggles and a mask. You can expect a shower of sparks and a cloud of pulverised rubber. I've used chalk for clarity in the photographs to mark the position of the cuts for one silencer, about one clapper ball diameter apart.


In fig 3 you can see the two cuts through the wire reinforcing of each rim. If you were making a complete set, you would mark up all the cuts before starting to use the grinder; so all this noisy filthy work can be completed in one go. Having removed the tyre from the Workmate you can now cut around the marks with the Stanley knife, dipping the blade frequently in the water. Why? Try cutting with a dry knife and you'll find out!


Fig 4 shows one section removed; carry on cutting off more sections if you're making a set.


This is the cunning part. Spread open the tyre section and mark an "H", as shown in fig 5. Make the three cuts of the "H" right through the tread, taking care not to sever your thumb at the same time! That completes the "silencer".


In fig 6 the highly technical "fitting rig" shows how the two flaps of the "H" will open up to grip the flight of the clapper.


With the tyre as shown in fig 7a, the clapper strikes the bell normally. Twiddle it round through 90 degrees as in fig 7b, and the bell doesn't speak.

Once fitted, it isn't necessary for the tyres to be removed, not even to fit the strap and lace type leather muffles. The straps go under the "H" flaps. I have no experience myself of fitting the Velcro-type muffles over a tyre, but I'm told it can be done quite easily. It took me 25 minutes to make the illustrated example, but that's including the time to set up and take the photographs.
Given the correct tools, a set of eight can be made in under an hour and the capital effort is well worth it. Apart from the convenience of enabling someone to silence an octave in two minutes, its big advantage is that it allows the clappers to swing freely, giving a normal feel to the bells. I don't think any other system does that.