View Full Version : Refinish and refurbishing wood field camera

clay harmon
18-Jul-2005, 21:38
Anyone have any experience with persons in the business of refinishing wood field cameras? Any recommendations from people out there? I got a good deal on an old camera that could use a little polishing and refinishing. Thanks!

John Kasaian
18-Jul-2005, 22:49

If you have the space and temper, I'd suggest giving it a try yourself. Most wood field cameras are pretty basic---lots of parts, but nothing "high tech" An investment in a new set of good professioal grade screwdrivers will go a long way toward preventing boogered slots. Refinishing wood can be a lot of fun---don't do too good a job or your wife will go off antiqueing and bring home a dining room table needing refinishing and that will surely cut into your "camera time" ;-) If you need bellows you can farm that job out. Theres lots of dyi info on this site and others that'll be helpful.

Good Luck!

Oh yes, once you restore something ( be it a camera, old car, boat, airplane, rifle or whatever) you'll not only get a good education in the process, but also have a kind of "bond" or any rate an appreciation, not just with the "thing" you've rescued from recycling, but with the spirit of the craftsman who put the thing together in the first place---kind of a trippy thing to descibe I know, but you'll know what I mean once you do one.

John Berry ( Roadkill )
19-Jul-2005, 01:14
Just don't make it so purdy you won't want to take it out and bang it

John Cook
19-Jul-2005, 04:09
Assuming you have such basic woodworking knowledge such as sanding with the grain, avoiding crossgrain situations and the need for pilot holes when working with brass screws, this is probably something you could better do quietly and meticulously, by yourself. Especially if you are a perfectionist, like I am.

My observation is that the age of commercial craftsmanship is all but dead. Anyone with any brains in highschool these days goes to college because he has been brainwashed to be ashamed to work at something which will get his hands dirty. It is far more trendy to sit in a cubicle watching a cathode ray tube than to actually make something useful. Let the Asians do that.

Even when you manage to find a good craftsman, he will invariably rush the job to maximize profit. And they all come with bewildered assistants who go along behind them, destroying everything the craftsmen have just accomplished. I speak from experience, after 32 years of tradesmen's butchery, tantrums and tears ;0)

One man who both gives advice and sells finishing materials has a website which I found very useful in my personal woodworking. Read the pdf and then chat with him on the telephone. Possibly the best source of advice on your project, real quality materials to use and whether you likely can handle it. Much better than the part-time kid at your local True Value Hardware.


Michael Jones
19-Jul-2005, 06:06
Alan Brubaker (AWB) and Richard Ritter (http://www.lg4mat.net/index.html) both restore cameras. Patrick Alt used to, but I think he decided photography was more rewarding. It takes about 40 hours to restore a camera with no major problems or missing pieces. At $25 an hour (cheap for a woodworker or furniture restorer), that is a minimum of $1000 in labor. Make sure the camera is worth the investment; an 11x14 Deardorff is; a 5x7 Kodak D2 is not.

My philosophy is that I can always send it out for repair, so why not try to do it myself first? The other posters are right, it's relatively simple if you need no specialized parts made or extensive rebuilding. Figure on 40 hours and make lots of diagrams and label every baggy full of little parts. Good luck.


matthew blais
19-Jul-2005, 08:44
I agree with John that if you do it yourself you will have a bond or fondness and appreciate the camera more so.
I did my 4x5 Korona and spent close to 30 hours or more...course I'm a bit anal.

I used baggies to store the parts for each section i.e. front standard screws, metal, etc. I had several baggies at one point and if I did it again (which I will with the 8x10), I would do a section at a time. I advise against sanding, just liquid stripper, clean with mineral spirits, oil, wax and reassemble. I used a bench polisher to take off the ugly nickel plating back to brass and did not lacquer the brass...just keep it clean. The polishing is what took the most time, as some of the parts are difficult to hold.

My extensions and some of the frames were very loose so those were gently knocked fully apart to reglue with gorilla glue and I made a simple squaring jig with a couple straight boards clamped to a flat surface when regluing. I believe for the age and design of this camera it is as solid as it was the day it was made.

Even though I have recently picked up a linhof monorail, I really like to use this because of it's history (whatever that is) and my pride I guess in bringing her back to life.

Try it, you'll like it! (just don't be in a hurry)

ronald lamarsh
19-Jul-2005, 12:13
I vote with everyone else....go ahead and try it yourself its not that tough. One caution I haven't read here though: don't get carried away sanding any parts that mate flush with other parts i.e. front standard pieces that mate with others, you'll change the dimensions and introduce slop. It is much better to remove old finish with chemicals applied with fine steel wool: you will find that using this method very little if any sanding needs to be done. Instead of sanding I like to use a wood finishing scraper: it removes very little of the surface and give a smooth "plane like" finish to the surface. Have Fun

Mike Gudzinowicz
19-Jul-2005, 15:51

Consider cleaning the camera with mineral spirits and soft cloths. Then apply
a wax finish using a couple of coats of Butcher's paste wax. Screws may be
tightened by inserting a piece of wooden toothpick in the hole and replacing
the screw. You might find that the camera has a wonderful patina that will
be lost with more extensive "restoration".

If it is already trashed, remove the fittings and bellows. Use a synthetic nylon
kitchen scrub pad and lacquer thinner to remove the finish. Steel wool will leave
fines in the wood which will later oxidize into brown blotches. Wipe with paper
towels soaked in thinner to clean it up completely. Try not to get thinner into
the dovetails and other glued joints. Polish the wood with #600 or finer paper,
and give it very thin multiple coats of a wipe-on finish with light sanding (#600
or #1000 grit) between coats to remove dust or imperfections. Then wax the
finish. If the fittings are coated in old varnish, they may be cleaned with thinner
and polished with a commercial brass polish or Bon Ami prior to the application
of a wipe on finish (usually tung oil varnish - not the oil per se).

19-Jul-2005, 16:57
I don't recommend using gorilla glue, it is not reversable.

clay harmon
19-Jul-2005, 22:27
Thanks for all the advice. I went by the hardware store today, and they convinced me to first give it a go myself with Howard's Restor-A-Finish and Never-Dull magic wadding metal polish. The preliminary tests on inconspicous parts of the camera are convincing me that this will be the way to go. It will be newish looking, but still have a nice patina. Not to mention saving me some $$. I'll take some before and after pics.

Kevin M Bourque
20-Jul-2005, 06:24
I posted this here a few years ago. It may be of some help.