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Thread: Dry, stiff bellows...how to soften?

  1. #1
    Craig T
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    Dry, stiff bellows...how to soften?

    I was just given an old 12x15 camera that needs a bit of work. The double bellows is intact and in good shape, it's just as stiff as a board. I haven't tried to pry it apart as I know it will tear.

    Anyone have any suggestions on how best to soften it and make it pliable again...at least so I can see if it is usable? It's free from the rest of the camera BTW.
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  2. #2

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    Re: Dry, stiff bellows...how to soften?

    Hard or even impossible to tell unless you can give us some hints to the materials involved - there is no common treatment that will benefit all kinds of leather, vinyl and coated fabrics that have been used for bellows...

  3. #3

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    Re: Dry, stiff bellows...how to soften?

    Craig, be forewarned... I tend to be a pessimist. Although intact they are not in "good shape" if they are dry, brittle, and stuck in either the open or closed position. My experience has always been that if bellows are as dry as you say they are... tehn there is no hope for them except to serve as a template for having a relacement made. Being competent (in one piece) is the best place to start... so you are lucky for that.

  4. #4

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    Re: Dry, stiff bellows...how to soften?

    Brian's right. If they are that dry and stiff, it's probable that the leather will just tear and disintegrate no matter what you do. Also, I don't know what products are available to you in Oz. In the U.S. there is a product called "Lexol" which sometimes works wonders on old leather.
    One man's Mede is another man's Persian.

  5. #5
    Craig T
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    Re: Dry, stiff bellows...how to soften?

    Fair comments guys...thanks! It's a leather double bellows with timber separating the two. They are pretty much dried in a semi-closed (or semi-open if your glass is half full position.

    As a 'worst case scenario', I suppose that if I can soften it up it will make it easier to create an accurate template.

    When googling the issue, it was suggested to use olive or camphor oil...? Some mention Lexol leather conditioner...
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  6. #6

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    Re: Dry, stiff bellows...how to soften?

    Quote Originally Posted by E. von Hoegh View Post
    Brian's right.
    ... if only Brian could type/spell correctly.

  7. #7

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    Re: Dry, stiff bellows...how to soften?

    Craig... I'm sure you can find Lexol. If not, seek out mink oil. Those are the "normal" products for leather reconditioning. You might hear someone recco "saddle soap". That is also traditional but I haven't had much success with it except on a pair of old boots once that were already in good contition.

    Don't use olive or vegetable oil lest you create a stinking mess. I suppose camphor oil will smell nice, but so would baby oil (scented mineral oil). I wouldn't do that either.

    Whatever you do, make sure you don't damage the frames... you'll need those for the new bellows you'll be having made.

  8. #8
    Craig T
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    Re: Dry, stiff bellows...how to soften?

    Quote Originally Posted by E. von Hoegh View Post
    In the U.S. there is a product called "Lexol" which sometimes works wonders on old leather.
    You beat me to it...damn my slow typing fingers...but thank you for confirming this.
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  9. #9

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    Re: Dry, stiff bellows...how to soften?

    BTW, I just saw a product on the internet (but forgot to save the link) that promised to take old, dried, cracked antique auto seats and restore to factory new condition in just 3 steps: an abrasive, a crack filler, and a colorized topping coat. The pics in teh ad looked amazing. In fact, so amazing that I don't believe them to be truthfull. If only I could find that site/product again.

  10. #10

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    Re: Dry, stiff bellows...how to soften?

    Quote Originally Posted by BrianShaw View Post
    BTW, I just saw a product on the internet (but forgot to save the link) that promised to take old, dried, cracked antique auto seats and restore to factory new condition in just 3 steps: an abrasive, a crack filler, and a colorized topping coat. The pics in teh ad looked amazing. In fact, so amazing that I don't believe them to be truthfull. If only I could find that site/product again.
    It's for vinyl, and it doesn't work. The covers just crack elsewhere.
    One man's Mede is another man's Persian.

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