I have a sickness, and the only cure is more door bell!

The most exciting thing for me lately has been our new door bell. This is no ordinary door bell. How could an ordinary door bell be all that exciting, anyway? No, this is a unique and totally awesome DIY door bell. And it’s a door bell with a backstory that involves a dilapidated fence, new gates, and a fruitless search for an old-fashioned farm bell.

The 12-year-old, now-dilapidated fence.

The 12-year-old, now-dilapidated fence.

When I first bought our house, it had a chain-link fence around the back yard, which was essentially a giant glorified dog run. Having no dog but a sense of privacy, I decided to put up a wood picket fence using the existing fence posts for support. It was one of the first DIY home improvement projects I ever did, and it looks it.

After twelve years, one of the gates finally collapsed off its hinges. It was the gate we used every day to access the back yard from the pergola, and the only way into the back yard without going through our master bedroom. We’ve had trouble with javelina in the front yard, and we’ve had trouble with children escaping from the back yard, so fixing the gate was a top priority.

I could have done a simple repair and got the gate back on its hinges, but that would not have furthered awesomeness. It was also annoying to have to use that gate to get into the back yard from the kitchen. So I decided to remove the gate altogether and install new ones on the pergola, essentially annexing the pergola into the back yard.

Now there is a side gate from the street, and a double front gate. I added some wood trim to the street side of the pergola to draw a horizontal line at the tops of the gates to the top of the fence around the back yard; I felt the posts and lattice of the pergola were strong vertical elements that needed to be broken. All the new stuff fits so precisely that it makes the old fence look even worse, not to mention the “shiny” new wood highlights the pergola’s dire need of refinishing.

The pergola, now with gates!

The pergola, now with gates!

We direct most visitors to the kitchen door because the front door does not work very well. Since visitors can no longer access the kitchen door without passing through a gate, we needed a door bell. We’d tried a wireless one once and found it would go off randomly due to radio interference. So I decided to kick it old school and go entirely mechanical. When I lived in Albania for a short time, I had encountered a mechanical door bell that sounded like, well, some kind of spinning whistle. It was so cool! And here I had the opportunity to do something really unique…

So it was that a simple need for a door chime turned into a sickness.

The double gate at the entrance to the pergola. We expect visitors to enter here... but how will we know to let them in?

The double gate at the entrance to the pergola. We expect visitors to enter here… but how will we know to let them in?

First I looked around for an old farm bell, but had no luck and decided replicas were too expensive online. Some of the local nurseries had little garden bells and chimes that sounded nice but were just as expensive. Then I found that large tubular wind bells made a very cool (and loud) sound, and the cheapskate DIYer in me figured I could make a set out of common hardware-store items like EMT conduit, chewing gum, baling wire, and duct tape.

A DIY tubular wind bell, adapted to be a door bell.

A DIY tubular wind bell, adapted to be a door bell.

A quick search online turned up some detailed instructions on how to cut and tune the pipe to specific notes. Once mentally prepared, I proceeded into the lab with some old fence posts, clothesline, some S-hooks, an eye bolt, a threaded rod, some kind of lid from a cooking pot, a screen door closer, and an old gate valve from a bathroom sink. A couple of days later I emerged with what is essentially a stationary tubular wind bell activated by pulling a cord. Tuned to make a tritone. (Well, I can’t find my electronic tuner so I really don’t know what they are tuned to for sure, but they do sound lovely!)

I am very excited about our new doorbell! I’ve always wanted something really unique, and this fits the bill nicely. There are a few issues with it, though. Since it’s unique, I’m uncertain if visitors will know what to do with it (hint: pull the cord). It could be a bit louder, too. I think it requires a little too much arm effort to get a good ring. It also doesn’t strike all the tubes at the same time to make a nice chord; instead it sounds like random chimes. So I still have some work to do…

Pull the cord to ring the bell. Yes, that's an old lavatory gate valve at the end of the cord.

Pull the cord to ring the bell. Yes, that’s an old lavatory gate valve at the end of the cord.

What do you think, have you encountered an unusual door bell?

  1. TJ McGreevy said:

    In a small way, it reminds me of the door bell on The Addams Family. Guests had to pull a cord and the result was a foghorn sound. I wonder if the clothesline will stretch and/or dry out over time. May want to use a metal-stranded cable.

    • ryan said:

      A foghorn would be awesome! Too bad our state is landlocked, that makes things like foghorns and ship’s bells a little hard to come by. A metal stranded cable was a thought, by the way… the clothesline is rather stretchy.

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