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  1. #1

    Join Date
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    Wood camera restoration

    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.

  2. #2
    Jac@stafford.net's Avatar
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    Re: Wood camera restoration

    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.
    .

  3. #3

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    Re: Wood camera restoration

    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.
    I tend to procrastinate on stuff. One of these days I'll do something about it.

  4. #4

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    Re: Wood camera restoration

    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

  5. #5
    Pastafarian supremo
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    Re: Wood camera restoration

    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.
    Rick Allen

    Argentum Aevum

    practicing Pastafarian

  6. #6

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    Re: Wood camera restoration

    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.

  7. #7
    Pastafarian supremo
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    Re: Wood camera restoration

    Quote Originally Posted by altb44 View Post
    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.
    Rick Allen

    Argentum Aevum

    practicing Pastafarian

  8. #8

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    Re: Wood camera restoration

    Quote Originally Posted by Rick A View Post
    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

  9. #9

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    Re: Wood camera restoration

    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/a...1-a7f900f728f5

    It looks like a varnish finish to me.

    Perhaps some detailed photos of details?

  10. #10

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    Re: Wood camera restoration

    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?Click image for larger version. 

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    advice is welcome!
    Last edited by altb44; 28-Sep-2017 at 17:34. Reason: thought a picture didn't load but it did

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