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Thread: Repairing a vintage wetplate holder

  1. #1

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    Repairing a vintage wetplate holder

    One thing I have learned from my DIY activities is that making a plate/film holder is one of the more demanding activities, which I have never been able to do well with the level of skills/tools I have available. Fortunately, I have quite a large number of "back door" holders in good condition. But these are mostly from 8x10" up to 14x16" and have not been used a lot by the original owners who were mostly making CdeV and the 4x6" sizes.

    Anyway, I have become more interested in the capabilities of the the smaller sliding box cameras of the 1850's onwards. The lenses from this period are really relatively easy to get hold of - but the cameras are either very expensive (like early stereographic equipment - too many collectors!) or in really bad condition. There are quite a few nice replica cameras "out there", but the simplicity of the design and the availability of suitable vintage boxes makes a DIY appealing.

    So I have the "box" (photo 1,2 and 3) - american white oak - and the lenses (Ross CdeVs, Horne & Thornthwait and Bland & Co). But I needed a suitable camera back or plate holder to show me how to construct the rear end of the camera.
    I bought a wetplate holder which is called a 4x5" and which is approximately that size. It is more like 4x5 1/2" . It was very well described as "needing a lot of work". It is the slide down type with a "bridge" across the top. It will serve as a model for the GG insert.

    So this short thread will be about revitalising the wetplate holder. I am not quite finished, but it is not a tale of woes!

    Any doubt about what the holder was used for - and caused the damage - is removed as the bottom lip of the dark slide has a deposited layer of silver!
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails image.jpeg   image.jpeg   image.jpeg   image.jpeg  

  2. #2

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    Re: Repairing a vintage wetplate holder

    This holder had damage to both the dark slide and the holder frame. At the bottom end, where collodion will collect due to gravity. The "hinge" on the dark slide, which is usually cloth tape, was, in this case, a couple of small brass hinges. These looked to be in perfect condition, but the brass was paper thin and the screws completely disintegrated.

    Wood gets oxidised by silver nitrate and even looks burnt. The mahogany becomes rather expensive charcoal. Fortunately, the boundary between the powdery charcoal and undamaged wood is very narrow - unlike usual wood rot.

    The charcoal areas were scrapped away using a hobby knife. There is really no room to use more sophisticated tools! I removed some of the OK mahogany in order to obtain a reasonable depth (the thickness of the holder guides and the dark slide tongues) in order to form a stable/glueable for replacement thin timber sections. This tongue and grove area is not really structurally stressed - it just provides a light trap.

    I used boiling water separation of a suitable period piece of plywood, which had been cut to the dimensions I needed, to provide suitable thickness strips for replacement. Some modern plys may use non-soluble lamination glues?

    The results are shown below. Appearance was not one of the things I took very seriously! The new pieces are pretty obvious on the lower right frame, but are more descrete on the dark slide (upper right and middle left)
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails image.jpeg   image.jpeg   image.jpeg  

  3. #3

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    Re: Repairing a vintage wetplate holder

    The replacement of the two brass hinges by a heavy cloth hinge is quite easy. It is necessary to make a tiny indentation of allow for the thickness of the tape. Ordinary wood glue is suitable for wood/cloth marriage.

    The places were the 6 hinge screws were, have become real holes when the oxidised wood is removed. The hinge now forms a physical seal and black silicone filler will fill nicely up in these holes. Strength is not compromised by these holes.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails image.jpeg   image.jpeg  

  4. #4
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    Re: Repairing a vintage wetplate holder

    Will it be a bit like the Talbot "mousetrap"? cameras? Or will you do an actual sliding box camera out of it?

  5. #5

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    Re: Repairing a vintage wetplate holder

    A real sliding box with separate base and adjustable rear section. I can manage focal lengths from around 12 to 18cm (without adding to the present box constuction). As I plan to use Petzvals, I am a bit nervous about not having the "front standard" not secured to a base.

    I found lots of mahogany/walnut boxes on ebay (not in the photography category) on ebay - but nothing quite the right size. I discovered that corner joinery, even back to the Georgian era, was concealed corner mitreing (?) with inserted thin strips between sides.
    I found the American-made box (albeit for a still existing Danish firm!) in a tiny flea market 200 yards from where I live.

  6. #6
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    Re: Repairing a vintage wetplate holder

    A bit like this one then, except that you put the sliding box on a separate base plate? -> http://earlyphotography.co.uk/site/entry_C651.html

    Cool project!

  7. #7

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    Re: Repairing a vintage wetplate holder

    No, almost exactly like the one on your link!

    The dark slide or GG shown there looks exactly like the same as the one I am working on. Same drop in type, same mahogany profile and the same small leather tab in the middle - which is broken off on mine.

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