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altb44
27-Sep-2017, 15:00
I am restoring a wood 1800s camera. It's made of mahogany with brass fittings. Someone at one time painted the front standard with flat black paint, which I have now removed but the finish came off with the paint. I'd like to match any new finish to the old as closely as possible. The old finish is highly polished.Does anyone have any tips? The brass fittings are also liberally sprinkled with paint. What's an efficient way of getting these clean?

Another issue is the camera has a Thornton Pickard style roller blind shutter which fits into the front of the lens. It has the pneumatic bulb apparatus attached which is pretty cool. It doesn't work properly because there is a crack in the small end on the shutter. The shutter does work with the lever so it doesn't really matter but if possible I'd like to fix it. Also, someone at some time glued a plastic tube on to the front of the shutter. It also has a pretty firmly cemented rubber ring around it. I want to remove the tube, which is ugly and on the wrong side of the shutter anyway, and replace with a new fitting so the lens can hold the shutter. How do you remove an unknown glue from plastic on wood? Or should I just carefully break up the tube?
I know these are a lot of questions. Would appreciate any help.

Jac@stafford.net
27-Sep-2017, 15:30
Don't knock yourself out trying to match colors. Early camera makers made no effort to coordinate wood colors or grain. Wood was, to them, just ordinary materials to put together any way they could. Finally, mahogany is ill-defined. There are so many varieties.
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Willie
27-Sep-2017, 15:59
Find a good woodworking shop in your area or a custom woodworker and you can probably find out what the finish is and get a close match, if not an exact one.

Generally a lacquer or a varnish is used on the old cameras. One way to assure your refinish job matches is to re-do the whole camera.

LabRat
27-Sep-2017, 16:10
Look up French polishing, or find someone who does it (for the outer finish)... For the stuff stuck on, start with chipping it with a fingernail, plastic scraper, and there's a cabinet scraper on the other end of the spectrum... The color underneath might still be good, when you try to re-apply the finish...

Find a local woodworker to help if you are not sure... Someone who does music instrument restoration is a good place to ask...

Steve K

Rick A
27-Sep-2017, 18:01
Test the old finish with some alcohol. If it dissolves, its shellac and very easy to refinish. If it doesn't dissolve the finish, it's most likely varnish, a light sanding with fine paper and steel wool then a coat of fresh varnish. You can also try wiping down with some VM&P naptha to strip, then refinish.

altb44
27-Sep-2017, 21:04
Thank you everyone. I'll try testing it if it's shellac, that is a very good idea. I believe it is Cuban mahogany, and there is detailed work on the corners and the base of the camera using different shades of wood. The dovetails for example are a darker shade than the body. Fortunately these areas are in good shape.
I spent time today chipping away at the "rubber" around the plastic tube on the shutter. Turns out it isn't rubber. It's cardboard or tape, glued together with hide glue and painted black. I know it's hide glue because using warm water on it turned it to goo. So the tube is out, and the shutter is ready for refinishing.
There's a place not far from me that makes custom guitars. I think they may be able to help.

Steven Tribe
28-Sep-2017, 00:51
I have had some correspondence with the OP and we have found a very good example of the camera - the Swift "Challenge".

Here is a link to this smaller 1/4 plate version. Quite a well finished camera model and definitely worth restoring!


https://www.the-saleroom.com/en-us/auction-catalogues/flintsauction/catalogue-id-flints10003/lot-91f7efbb-41b9-4951-b701-a7f900f728f5

It looks like a varnish finish to me.

Perhaps some detailed photos of details?

Rick A
28-Sep-2017, 11:54
Thank you everyone. I'll try testing it if it's shellac, that is a very good idea. I believe it is Cuban mahogany, and there is detailed work on the corners and the base of the camera using different shades of wood. The dovetails for example are a darker shade than the body. Fortunately these areas are in good shape.
I spent time today chipping away at the "rubber" around the plastic tube on the shutter. Turns out it isn't rubber. It's cardboard or tape, glued together with hide glue and painted black. I know it's hide glue because using warm water on it turned it to goo. So the tube is out, and the shutter is ready for refinishing.
There's a place not far from me that makes custom guitars. I think they may be able to help.

The "darker color at the dovetails" is just where the end grain of the wood piece is visible, which absorbs stain and finish differently than side and face grain.

altb44
28-Sep-2017, 12:27
The "darker color at the dovetails" is just where the end grain of the wood piece is visible, which absorbs stain and finish differently than side and face grain.

Interesting. I didn't know that

altb44
28-Sep-2017, 17:30
Here you go Steven, some pictures of the details. I'm relieved that taking the finish off, if I need to, wont' wreck these details. If they are because of the way they are positioned it shouldn't be a problem. The one of the bottom isn't clear but it's a lighter layer above a darker layer with these tan keys(?)
I've included other pics of the camera for reference. The joints I have to re glue are on the sides of the back part. It looks like they are mortise and tenon though I'm not an expert so I might be wrong. On one side the mortises are worn and broken. I read that I should cut off the old ones and glue new wood cut to shape from a comparable wood. I have a mahogany book plate holder from around the same era with a long crack along one side, so I thought I could use wood from that, but I'm not sure if that is necessary. Can I just glue it as is?170327170328170329170330


advice is welcome!

altb44
28-Sep-2017, 17:46
and, at the risk of being annoying...here's some other pictures for reference. I took the black paint off the front and this is what is there now. There is a crack in the front piece that someone tried to fix but it's out of whack and sticks out on one side, so I was thinking of just sanding it on one side so it will match. The view from the top is the brass bar without black paint (took a while to get off). The third picture is what the camera looks like generally.170331170332170333

Steven Tribe
29-Sep-2017, 01:47
The break across the right rear standard where it is joined to the bottom timber is so clean that I think a system of dowels with glueing will work. Matching mahogany is a very difficult process as the wood in even adjacent trees from the same forest/plantation can be be very different in grain and finished colours!

Now these dowels would have to be of smaller diameter than the usual type available at shops. Perhaps they should be of other materials than wood, but must still be capable of glueing. I think you will have to remove the damaged right-hand side piece, otherwise you can't do any drilling work on the short piece attached to the bottom. You, or your "employee!" will have to be careful about where the holes for the dowels (3?) are placed due to the small square being, in fact, made of de facto "laminated" timbers! The three brass screws through the edge brass fitment should give some sort of stability, but will also dictate where the drilling for the dowels should be.

The joints should be held at the moment with water soluble hide glue.

I hope others will contribute, as I havn't actually been through this process with these sort of dimension timbers!

By the way, it is looking very good and the series of brass screw heads on the front are very impressive!

I can't comment about the front reglue possibility as I (we) need nearer photos.

A later thought.

With this kind of dramatic wood shear, there is no way of telling whether the bottom piece has received hidden damage. Trying to replace the whole side piece may reveal that the end of this bottom piece has cracks etc. This would not be a problem with the system I suggested as a first step would be to clean the broken end and the saturate this piece with thin flowing water soluble glue which would hold everything together!

altb44
29-Sep-2017, 16:31
What I understand from this is it's wise to be conservative and clean the broken end before glueing with thinned glue. I agree that this may be best. Drilling holes into a possibly cracked piece of wood would not be good, I think, and since it is only an inch wide and the other side has a perfectly useable mortise and tenon I think I'll go for glueing it as is.

Steven Tribe
29-Sep-2017, 16:58
It is worth a try - it is certainly the easiest and least intrusive method of fixing it. There are a couple of "stumps" that will guide alignment and give some lateral stability when glued. Of course, all loose fibres and debris have to be removed and a dry run assembly is necessary to ensure wood to wood contact everywhere.

altb44
29-Sep-2017, 19:28
The old glue is the toughest. Spending a lot of time with toothpicks and a strong light...even when I've softened it with warm water it is hard to get out

Rick A
30-Sep-2017, 07:04
If it's hide glue, some denatured alcohol should dissolve it. Hot water only returns hide glue to a usable state, that's why it appears "gummy". Hot vinegar will dissolve PVA glues.

Jac@stafford.net
30-Sep-2017, 07:38
To separate animal-glued wood parts, first remove any metal.
Place the wood parts in a microwave.
Turn it on high, and set for ten seconds.
Test the parts - do they pull apart?
If they do not, then repeat the ten-second exposure until the parts separate easily.

It works. It is safe, quick and easy.

mdarnton
30-Sep-2017, 10:20
A couple of points:

1/ Water dissolves hide glue; alcohol does not. Alcohol dehydrates it which makes it less resistant to impact, and the way alcohol is used is to first dry the joint and the glue and then one subjects it to shock. This probably won't work if the alcohol can't reach deep enough to dry out the glue on the interior of the joint or if the interior glue surface is so good and large that the wood may break first.

2/ The microwave works by generating steam within the wood, which dissolves the glue. If the wood is dry (if you live in Arizona, for instance), this may not work. In Seattle, it might.

3/ Any cross-grain reinforcement (i.e., dowels) weakens a joint. Your best strategy for fixing something is always to get it perfectly realigned and glue it with a good glue. Epoxy and super glue would be my last choices for this. I'd use hide glue because I'm a violin maker/restorer and have it at hand. Gorilla glue would be permanent, but you have no idea how messy! Yellow glue is preferable to white, if you shop at the hardware store.

4/ Vinegar does dissolve white glue and yellow glue to a lesser extent. The stronger the acetic acid, the better--I might mix a 10% batch for this, and use it outside.

5/ In any repair, you can never be sure what the previous person used, which means you don't know what will work. Regardless, it will almost never be really easy to open a previously-glued joint

6/ Don't use liquid hide glue (cold, from a bottle, as opposed to made up hot from dry bits) for any joint you want to last.

If something isn't floppy-broken, it's often best to leave it alone. Scraping or sanding mistakes level is bad practice in my world. I'd rather see something poorly glued than something poorly glued and sanded because the first always has the hope of being correctly fixed later by someone with adequate knowledge.

A good color to match old camera finish: Rembrandt artist's oil paint, Transparent Oxide Brown, is often a perfect match. That brand, only--others won't necessarily match. Lay it on thin and rub it in.You can't put lacquer over this, but after it dries completely, several days at least, you can spray shellac over it. Zinnser spray shellac is good for this. Your color will probably lighten when shellacked, but you can repeat as necessary. Anything but shellac over oil paint may never dry, so don't do that.

Any finish previous to about 1915-1920 is likely to be shellac; after that, lacquer.

Be aware that wood in a microwave heats center first. Too long and the inside starts to char and burn. By the time you see smoke coming out, it is too late. I use 15 second blasts, then rest for a few moments. In my microwave burning starts in less than a minute! There's no need to rush.

Jac@stafford.net
30-Sep-2017, 11:02
MDarton's post would be a good article for the main info page.

altb44
30-Sep-2017, 14:59
Very good point about sanding. I'm going to just leave that piece alone. It functions fine. Thanks for the advice, very useful.
So I plan to be very conservative and glue the two parts and refinish the wood that had the paint on it. Since it's the front standard hopefully my refinishing job will be close enough.
Thanks again