Whether you’re holding a handbell for a musical event or looking at one of the bells in the towers of a nearby church, you’ve no doubt come across many bells in your life.
Have you ever wondered about the parts of a bell? What makes that famous ringing, chiming sound?
Bells have complex anatomy. Let’s take a closer look at all the various parts of a bell and explore their uses and history.
Parts of a Bell: A Summary
You might think there aren’t that many parts to a bell, but you’d be surprised. Artisans make bells with many parts. Each part has a specific function.
Below we’ve listed out the parts of a bell for quick reference:
- The Yoke: The wooden part attached to the bell. We call this part a “handle” on a handbell.
- The Canons: The loops at the top of the bell that fix it to the yoke.
- The Crown: The top of the bell.
- The Shoulder: The side of the top of the bell.
- The Waist: The majority of the bell that fans downward.
- The Sound Bow: The bottom of the bell around the outside.
- The Lip: The bottom of the bell around the inside.
- The Mouth: The opening at the bottom.
- The Clapper: That metal part that makes the “ring-a-ding-ding” sound.
The Different Parts of a Bell Explained
Some of the parts of a bell are more functional than others, but all are structurally required.
Whether you’re dealing with a handbell or a working bell, they all for the most part share the same components. Let’s unpack what each piece does.
1. The Yoke
The yoke is the wooden part of the bell, which people typically use to attach bells to towers or churches.
The yoke is made of wood because if it was forged from metal it could cause the bell’s acoustics to become warped.
You need to have a part attached to the bell that you can use to ring it.
2. The Canons
The canons are the part of the bell that tethers it to the yoke. Handbells, like many modern bells, don’t have canons. Some canons are affixed directly to the yoke.
Artisans forge the canons from the same piece of steel as the main bell. They do this instead of welding or riveting the canons on later. This action helps prevent any weak points in the bell’s structure.
3. The Crown
The crown is the top part of the bell. If a bell has canons, an artisan will affix them to the crown.
The crown is one of the first parts of the bell to show potential damage if people don’t properly care for their bells.
Cracks in the crown mean potential damage to the rest of the structure of the bell.
4. The Shoulder
The shoulder is beneath the crown, curving down to the waist of the bell. The shoulder is one of the bulkier, denser parts because it’s made for support, not acoustics.
The shoulder is necessary to shape the bell so that the bell can sustain its famous chiming sound.
5. The Waist
The waist is the part of the bell most people picture when someone tells them to imagine a bell. In other words, the waist gives a bell its iconic shape. The waist is also where the sound travels when you strike a bell.
The waist of a bell holds the reverberation caused by the clapper. This part amplifies the sound. The shape of the waist informs the pitch and tone a specific bell makes. In other words, the waist makes the music of a bell.
6. The Sound Bow
The sound bow is the lip of the bell. If you trail your eyes down the shape of the bell, you will probably see the corner where the waist of the bell has ended and the sound bow begins.
This part tends to be thicker than the rest of the bell and impacts the way the bell sounds when struck.
7. The Lip
The lip is the part of the bell that the clapper will strike when the bell rings. The lip is also the part of the bell that one is likely to reach for if they mean to stop it from ringing, so this part is often smooth to the touch.
8. The Mouth
The mouth of a bell refers to the entire opening where the clapper hangs. The mouth opens to the inside of the rest of the bell, where the sound comes. Because of this, the mouth is often the largest part of a bell.
9. The Clapper
The clapper is the hanging part of the bell that taps against the interior to create the ringing sound of a bell. The clapper is the primary working part because the bell would make no music without it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s look at some of the most frequently asked questions about bells and the parts of a bell.
What are bells made of?
Bells can be made of almost any material, provided all the pieces are made properly and put in their correct place. Some bells are made of iron, clay, glass, or steel. Some modern bells are made with plastic.
Where were the first bells made?
Bells have been around for thousands of years, or almost as long as human history. Archaeologists discovered some of the oldest bells in China, where they were first fashioned during the Zhou Dynasty around 4,000 years ago.
What are the religious purposes of bells?
People throughout history have used bells in religious rites. Bells are crucial for multiple Christian churches. Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism also make use of bells.
In Buddhism, bells sometimes symbolize the process of reincarnation; the sound wave of a bell is like a life in that it rises and falls and rises again.
The Russian Orthodox Church uses a set of bells called a zvon in its religious rituals.
What other uses do bells serve?
In the past, particularly in the ancient and medieval eras, town guards used bells to warn villagers if a threat was nearby. They would ring the bells to summon locals back into the walls of a town or a city.
The bells signaled to people that an enemy army was approaching or that they saw dangerous animals in the vicinity.
What does eight bells mean?
Have you ever heard the phrase “Eight bells and all’s well”? This phrase comes from European naval history.
Ships, especially in the Renaissance era, used bells to tell time or to inform sailors of specific duties they needed to perform.
Eight bells generally refers to when a sailor’s watch has ended. If it’s “Eight bells and all’s well,” the sailor’s watch has been uneventful.
There are many parts of a bell, and each one plays together to ensure the bell rings properly.
Any poorly-made components in a bell could lead to damage, including cracks along its surface, which will interfere with the sound of the bell.
All in all, a bell is a deceptively complicated musical instrument. Making a bell is an intensive process that requires precision to get right.
Bells have been a crucial part of human social and religious history for as long as humans have existed. It’s worth it when you hear those bells ringing. The more you know, right?!