View Full Version : help needed with camera 8x10 bellows repair/restoration

22-Sep-2013, 08:33
I recently purchased a Century Universal camera. It's in excellent condition except that there are strips of tape covering all four corners that run down the length of the bellows. The tape is no longer adhering to the bellows frame and has gotten extremely sticky. So much so that I have to peel parts of the bellows apart to open them. There don't appear to be any light leaks, and the interior fabric is in beautiful condition. However, the bellows are extremely soft, saggy, and cover part of the film plane unless the camera is fully extended. This may be due to the fact that they have to extend to 30'+, and compress down to a bit over 1". The 8x10s I've used thus far have been much bulkier, and conversely tend to stay firm when closed and sag at longer extensions.

Anyway, I am wondering if anyone could offer some advice as to what I should do to remedy the sticky tape issues. I'm assuming that I will need to remove and replace it, but I have no idea what materials to use.

Steven Tribe
23-Sep-2013, 10:54
There has been silence because adding full corner strips is not a usual solution for damaged one piece bellows!

This full corner tape, joining 4 separate pieces, was the standard bellows construction for German field tailboard cameras - including sizes much bigger than 8x10".
This tape was always in conrasting colour to the bellows!lo

The obvious solution would be to remove all existing tape, one section at a time, with new tape which is cloth reinforced. As you mention, there could be a problem with compression into the 1" maximum. It is possible to do a micrometer check of the existing bellows material and the tape thickness ane multiply by the number of folds - and then allow for a margin of error (25%?).

I have used high quality building tape on square bellows (2"), but other have mentioned tape available from bookbinders. What is important is glueing a black cloth strip inside that will stick to the "sticky tape" and then hand glue the overlap. This is best done with the bellows fully extended and removed from the camera.

This will stop the sag. Century made exceptionally nice cameras.

23-Sep-2013, 11:22
First thing I'd do is study the material that the bellows covering material is made of. Does it seem to be the original vinyl material?

You could take some warm water and dab a little bit onto the surface as you peel away the tape, trying to get under the tape. Don't soak it because you don't want the water to soak through. If it beads up on the surface and dries quickly when you wipe it off, then you don't have to worry so much.

Repeated wetting and drying tape residue can dry it and make it less sticky. Solvents such as lighter fluid can help remove the residue but you run the risk of weakening the vinyl. If you want to try that, try it on a very small spot and *wait* to see the effect it has on the material; wash it off quickly too.

Better is to start with some warm water and dish soap, take your time. Apply the solution, let it soak the residue, then wipe dry, gently scrape the residue, like with your fingernail, let it dry and see if it comes off easily, etc.

Meanwhile, does your bellows have some strips with rings attached to the top of it? If so, look for a little hook on the top rear of the front standard. That hook is there for you to put one of the rings onto when the bellows is extended, to keep it from sagging so much. Remember to detach it before closing and folding the camera. If that hook isn't there, get some long dowels or other type of narrow rod that will fit through the rings. You can rest the dowel on the top of the camera and it'll hold the bellows up.

While you're at it, check the bellows thoroughly to see if any of it is delaminated, i.e., if the covering has become detached from the inner lining and strips. Sometimes that will happen especially at the front of the bellows where there is a lot of flex as the camera is used. This isn't necessarily a disaster, just a sign that you have to use the camera gently. If there's delamination, be careful that the bellows folds correctly when you fold the camera.

One thing you can do with this model camera: When putting the front standard into the rear of the camera when folding, you need to make sure the front standard is centered vertically, for the bellows to fold well without stress on it. Push in on the front rise/fall knob as you push the front standard back into the rear "box" and this will release the front standard to move up or down to settle in; it releases the tension on the bellows. Try it and you'll see what I mean.

If that area of the camera is clean and functioning properly, if the front standard moves easily up and down, then it'll just move itself into place when you depress that knob, and you'll know that the bellows is folded up nicely. If that doesn't work out, remove the back and look inside, see if the bellows is bulging backwards at top or bottom. If so, adjust the position of the front standard, up or down, until everything looks pretty even. You could mark or remember that spot of rise or fall -- check the alignment nails on the front standard -- so you can repeat next time you close the camera.

Hope this helps.

23-Sep-2013, 11:51
I'd echo Steven on the silence, it's not the best way to repair bellows however I've seen it recommended quite a few times. The reason why it's not ideal is often people used the wrong materials and the repair fails after a few years which has happened here. I agree with Pacviewcam about bellows delaminating as I had this issue with an Agfa Anco luckily it was only just staring and fixable.

Strangely saggy bellows seems to be quite common with US made cameras (more specifically US made bellows) even some made today, of course some are better than others.

Ideally you need to post some images of the bellows and issues.


23-Sep-2013, 12:43
Thank you for all of the responses. The vinyl does appear to be original, and I am very conscious with all my cameras to keep the front and rear standards in alignment when closing the bellows. I'm not terribly concerned about the sag, as the bellows do have the loops attached to the top and they seem take up the slack quite well. I would love to be able to keep the bellows in tact. However, I am not opposed to getting new bellows, as the problems get significantly worse every time I open the camera and at this point I would not consider the current bellows functional.

I've been wanting a Century Universal for a while, but I just got this camera a couple of weeks ago and have only opened it a handful of times - i.e. maybe 4 or 5 total. Each time I do the adhesive issues are worse. The first time it was just a matter of the bottom of the bellows being slightly sticky. That spread to cover most of the bellows, then caused them to stick together at the folds, and finally the tape started to pull away from the vinyl. The last time I opened the camera there was also a small spot at the outer covering of the seam towards the front of the camera that was lifting up, but the laminate was still (loosely) intact. I went to close it after writing this post, and I had trouble getting the front of the bellows to fold correctly (which was not a problem the first few times I opened the camera) and noticed that the vinyl is indeed beginning to delaminate. My best guess is that the all of the adhesives were starting to breakdown, and that the heat of cross-country travel was just too much...

So with this in mind... Is it possible to take the bellows off and recondition them. Maybe re-adhere the original vinyl covering to a new (or reconditioned) interior structure... or something along those lines?

If images of the existing bellows would be helpful I can post some later this evening.... Thanks again!

23-Sep-2013, 13:15
No the vinyl is not original, it's someone's poor repair job.

If you want new bellows then Custom Bellows in the UK are your best bet, alternatively make your own. I've made my own a few times in the past in the past and will be making a batch in the next few weeks, I don't currently make bellows for others though unless they are identical to those I'm making for myself- ie I'm making pre-Anniversary Speed Graphic bellows, enlarger bellows, TP Half plate triple extension.


24-Sep-2013, 01:12
Why not just leave the camera open with the bellows extended for a few days to see if some of this adhesive stuff just dries up. I'm a little bit confused though when you say that the problem is spreading around on the bellows. Does this mean the entire surface, or just at the corners where the tape is?

In any event, a few weeks ago I had terrible luck trying to restore/repair a bellows of similar construction to yours; as I tried to extend it over a form to peel off the outer covering, the whole thing just started falling apart.

If your bellows is still basically intact, therefore, it's best to leave it alone. Leave it extend and try patiently cleaning off the adhesive from the outside; don't be in a hurry. If that doesn't improve things, and if you can't easily get the tape off the corners, then of course a new bellows is in order -- and possibly a word or two to the seller of the camera who didn't disclose this problem.

The bellows problem I mentioned above was on a Kodak Master 8x10. I also have a Century Universal, and the bellows on that are of similar construction and quality to the Kodak. I'm amazed at the design features of both of these, so if there's a way to salvage yours -- if indeed they're the same as mine -- then I would try to do so.

You mentioned heat of cross-country travel, so, again, just waiting for the whole thing to set back up while extended could very well be helpful at this point, might make it usable for a while longer while you ponder your options.