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Homemade bells from old gas bottles

Homemade bells from old gas bottles

In the mid-90s a book of homebrew musical instrument projects was published called Sound Designs, by John Scoville. Amongst the scores of awesome ideas within, the book suggests making hanging bells by cutting apart discarded gas bottles. There’s surprisingly little information about this trick on the web. This page, though an oldie, is still a goodie. The author discusses the tricks for cutting the bottles and the resulting tones from several bells. You can even listen to what they sound like.

14 thoughts on “Homemade bells from old gas bottles

  1. RocketGuy says:

    The days of “free scrap” are pretty much over for welding bottles. Sigh.

    I do have an oxy bottle I’m going to convert, the other is acetylene, which besides being a really bad idea to mess with in general, is filled with a solid that the gas is dissolved into. All that to say, don’t try using them for this. Helium and co2 are inert, hydrogen is quite explosive as are the other fuel gases, the “anes” propane, butane etc.

    Safety tip: if you must try this with a bottle of unknown heritage, it’s not a bad idea to fill the bottle with water completely to expunge any remaining gases before cutting by any method. This doesn’t work well with acetylene bottles, so once again, don’t use those.

    Be safe!

  2. Sean Michael Ragan says:

    Good safety info, RocketGuy. Thanks for that.

    I wonder whether or not this might not work with old fire extinguishers as well. Those seem to materialize on my junk pile with startling regularity. They’re not nearly as heavy-walled, of course, so their tone may be not so good.

  3. says:

    My local salvage dealer has been carting these away by the truck loads lately. I was trying to figure out all the ways I could use these. Unfortunately they are selling them at $2 a pound, which, on some of the bigger tanks, can really add up.
    I took some photos:

  4. Sean Michael Ragan says:

    Wow, Eric. Those would be perfect for bells. Do you mind if I ask where you are?

  5. Jon says:

    Reminds me of Harry Partch’s Cloud Chamber Bowls. Very cool.

  6. Sean Michael Ragan says:

    Those are awesome, Jon. I seem to remember that they mention the Cloud Chamber Bowls in Sound Designs. I actually have one of those old glass carboys in my shed out back. But I’m a loss as to where I might find another one, let alone an octave’s worth, and I’m gonna be damn sure of my bottle-cutting technique before I try to cut it!

    I would love to hear from anybody who’s made a bell. From anything!

  7. bp gas light says:

    Well, Thanks for this wonderful post anyway and hoping to see more info like that, great work.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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