The handbell starts on the drawing board. The designer develops the shape or profile of a casting to produce certain partials or overtones. The fundamental is largely determined by the mouth diameter and wall thickness while other partials are controlled by the profile.
A master pattern from the drawing is used to develop a match-plate which in turn is used to make the sand molds into which the molten bronze will be poured.
Handbells are cast of pure bronze in the approximate proportions of 80% copper and 20% tin. The metal is heated in crucibles to 2,150°F in modern electric furnaces.
The molten metal is poured into the sand molds by means of a sprue through runners and gates until the cavities are filled.
After the bronze has hardened, the sand is broken away. The excess metal forming the sprue, runners, and gates is cut off leaving just the raw casting which is roto-blasted to remove burnt-in molding sand and scale. It is then sent to the lathe department for turning and tuning.
First, the raw casting is turned on the outside to a precisely predetermined profile or shape. To insure that the exact proper profile is maintained, the cutting tool is controlled by a stylus following a template.
Next, turning the casting on the inside is where the tuning takes place. Tuning a handbell requires knowledge, skill, and experience. The ability to guide the cutting tool to bring the partials of the bell into exact alignment and pitch is the mark of a true craftsman. After each cut, the lathe is stopped, the bell is struck with a mallet to produce tone and the vibrations are read on a tuning scope permitting reading the partials to an accuracy of 1/100th of a semitone. Allowance is made for polishing and final tuning.
Then, the casting goes to the polishing department where it is machine polished, first on the inside and then on the outside. The exactness required in a finely tuned bell is achieved by the polishing process.
The other component parts including the handle, handguard, clapper, and yoke mechanism have been carefully crafted and made ready for assembly to produce a complete handbell.
Then, the assembled handbell goes through an indexing procedure to determine that point on the casting which produces the best tonal response. The bell is scribed at that point and the casting is secured in that position. This is followed by a complete musical and mechanical inspection of each bell before being combined with other bells into matched sets.
Finally, after buffing each bell casting to a jeweler’s finish, they are placed in protective plastic bags and placed in carrying cases for shipment.
Custom cases house the handbells for storage and transportation. Interiors are plush lined over heavy padding with individual pockets for each bell.
Handbells are usually produced in sets of 25, 37, 49, 61, 73, 85 or 90 bells. Small sets can be expanded by adding bells. The large bass bells from G1 – F#3 are now also available in cast aluminum to reduce their weight and to provide a stronger fundamental tone.
In the hands of the Malmark craftspeople, raw bronze is transformed into fine musical instruments of beauty and purity of tone. In the hands of ringers, that beauty is released to ring out glorious music for the inspiration of mankind.