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  1. #1

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    Flakey bellows. Suggestions for patching?

    Hey, everyone!

    I've got a 5x7 Conley, with cracking and flaking on the outer layer of the bellows. The inner layer is actually in pretty okay shape, and with a modest amount of work should be just fine. But the outer layer is made of what looks like book leather - you know the red, leather-like stuff that fancy books have on the spine - and it's a mess. Some of it is okay, some of it is flaky, and some of it just sheds little bits of red powder.

    Two questions:
    1. Is there something I can paint on this to keep it from shedding particles everywhere? Clear acrylic medium or modpodge or something? Maybe some kind of leather treatment oil?

    2. What's in this stuff anyway? Were they likely to be using cadmium, or arsenic, or some other kind of toxic badness as a colorant or preservative? Conely was in business from 1899-1927, not an era known for materials safety.

    My main limitations are that I'd rather not buy or build a new set of bellows today, and that since it's bitterly cold here, I don't want to use stinky stuff like cyanoacrylate or oil based sealants. (Unless I can use the garage, but the high temp today is 24F, and I don't know of anything useful that works at that temperature.)

  2. #2
    Jon Shiu's Avatar
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    Re: Flakey bellows. Suggestions for patching?

    One idea is to use thin black photo tape, which sort of looks like black masking tape.
    my black and white photos of the Mendocino Coast: www.jonshiu.com

  3. #3

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    Re: Flakey bellows. Suggestions for patching?

    Usually the outer layer of a bellows is the main light-stopper, and it sounds from your description that yours is in very risky condition. It might be possible to tape it successfully as Jon suggested, but failing that I'd suggest a flexible acrylic spray such as that used to paint plastic car bumpers. I understand your not wanting to use anything like this in a confined room, but maybe it's your best option given the low temperatures in the garage. Maybe you could use a room that won't be in use for 24 hours? Another option is black silicone sealant which doesn't have the dangerous solvents that some paints have. In my experience when a bellows gets to this stage replacement is the best option. Good luck with it.

  4. #4

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    Re: Flakey bellows. Suggestions for patching?

    Humm, I don't think I would have thought of black silicone. I'll have to ponder that further. The photo tape is also a good idea.

  5. #5

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    Re: Flakey bellows. Suggestions for patching?

    I tried using Plastidip once. It worked well until I folded up the bellows and the Plastidip wanted to stick to itself. I've also mixed white glue with lamp black acrylic paint. It's not very flexible though, and isn't good for corners. The Plastidip was great for corners, however. Just not good for corners that touch other corners covered in Plastidip. If I had to do it again, I'd look at fabric glue mixed with some kind of lamp black paint. I've never tried that however, so I can't tell you if it even works. In any case, you have to make sure to get the old bellows ultra clean before hand, so the glue will adhere.

    Any of those can be applied indoors, as none should give off toxic fumes. I definitely wouldn't do anything in the garage until it warms up to at least 50 degrees. I've got several spray painting projects on hold because it's far too cold out to attempt them now. I've painted in the cold before. The cans clog, the paint never dries, and if it does, it flakes off in a month. It's just a waste of time and money to me.

    Though at the end of the day, I think you'll find that new bellows are what you really need. Patches will work on tiny areas. If you've just got a hole or two to cover, then patches may be a good solution. But if the bellows are actually starting to decompose, then my experience has been that as soon as you get one hole plugged up, another on forms. And the next thing you know, you've got a bellows that's more glue than leather, won't fold up anymore, is too delicate to even breathe on, and still has pinholes all over it.

  6. #6

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    Re: Flakey bellows. Suggestions for patching?

    Taping, coating etc is an option, but the big issue is that whatever you put on top of the old covering, the remaining material will shed that too...

    Most coatings applied thicker will remain slightly very tacky to itself like Jim said..

    If the inside mesh is in good shape, sometimes it is possible to separate the bottom seam, lay out the bellows flat, find a thin flexible outer covering (papers, synthetics, fabric, etc) use spray adhesive, and bond on a new outside on... But this is very hard to do, but possible (I did it for several enlarger bellows)... But the mesh has to be in perfect shape, as that is the pulling structure, but with holes/gaps/breaks/brittle and it's bye-bye bellows...

    If you want a regular user camera, get new bels, as the game of wack-a-mole light leaks gets irritating very soon...

    Steve K

  7. #7

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    Re: Flakey bellows. Suggestions for patching?

    Quote Originally Posted by Will Frostmill View Post
    My main limitations are that I'd rather not buy or build a new set of bellows today,
    Well then why not buying them tomorrow or the day after? Because nothing will resurrect the types of bellows you have! You're just loosing time with your waiting and hoping. Hope that will put you out of your misery...

  8. #8

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    Re: Flakey bellows. Suggestions for patching?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pfsor View Post
    Well then why not buying them tomorrow or the day after? Because nothing will resurrect the types of bellows you have! You're just loosing time with your waiting and hoping. Hope that will put you out of your misery...
    It will also be cheaper to buy a new bellows. If he doesn’t now he will waste time and money trying to repair them and he still will not have a properly working camera and at any time his repair will fail and ruin film.

  9. #9

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    Re: Flakey bellows. Suggestions for patching?

    Spray paints for vinyl have come a long ways. Online you can find side-by-side reviews where they spray paint old vinyl upholstery on chair seats and the paint is durable. It must have some flex to hold-up on chair seat!
    Wing and a prayer

  10. #10

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    Re: Flakey bellows. Suggestions for patching?

    Quote Originally Posted by pchaplo View Post
    Spray paints for vinyl have come a long ways. Online you can find side-by-side reviews where they spray paint old vinyl upholstery on chair seats and the paint is durable. It must have some flex to hold-up on chair seat!
    But name a chair that has to be 100% light tight under all conditions, all of the time!

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