View Full Version : Synthetic Bellows Reconditioning

David R Munson
8-Jun-2001, 00:56
I know some questions akin to this have been asked in the past, but I can't seem to locate anything on reconditioning synthetic bellows. Specifically, I'm tryi ng to squeeze about 6 more months out of the bellows on my Deardorff 8x10, as a new set of bellows does not currently fit into my budget. The bellows themselve s appear to be made out of about the same material as military raincoats. Is it possible to do anything to these bellows (or other synthetic bellows, for that matter) to make them any more flexible, or am I basically stuck as is until I ca n afford a new set? Thanks.

david clark
8-Jun-2001, 01:33
Hi David, I'll tell you what I did, then the decision to apply it is up to you, and you got to know I'm no camera repair person. I've softened old bellows with Armoral, and I've also used Murrphy's Oil Soap. This soap is supposed to be such it doesn't destroy natural fibers or something. OK. I think the bellows I had were made out of cotton, same kind of treatment that you find on some older books. There was a layer of thin black material on the inside, then there are the ribs, and then the covering which was thicker cotton. I think what happens is as with leather when it loses all its moister it is shot and you get the cracking and popping. The noise is probably the fibers giving out. OK. Once I got some moister back into it, then I found a significant amount of the fibers in the corners were just plain finished and there were pin holes all over the place. At that time I did not know how to tape bellows, so this is what I did. I got some very thin nylon which had a grey PVC backing on it at a fabric store, wind breaker material which is pretty light tight. Then I got some spray 3M contact adhesive. And I just glued the nylon in a wrap around the existing bellows. The basic structure was OK, and I had losened it up by introducing the moisture. It just had a lot of little light problems. Now, you can imagine that this is a some-what messy proceedure. And I removed my bellows from my camera to do it. That was three or four years ago. I keep thinking I will one day make new bellows for this camera, but in the mean time they've been working just fine.

Do you have bellows with a rubbery kind of material on the inside? Does the material on the outside look like painted canvas? If so, there is another procedure you might be able to use in that case. And, the first camera I had, had leather bellows that must have been eighty years old, and when I washed them the leather fell apart. So it is a gamble. Good luck, David

Dave Willison
8-Jun-2001, 09:25
Take a look at the following post:


Two replies suggest using some type of reconditioning product for synthetic material.

I'm not sure what your buget looks like but you might also consider getting quotes from several bellows makers. The price might be lower than you think, especially if the replacement is made from synthetic materials. (I just recently replaced an 11x14 bellows for about $190) There are several companies which replace bellows and two (Turner and Flexible Products) that provide on-line quotes.

You might also take an intermediate approach by re-covering the old bellows. I just tried this recently with an ancient Kodak Autographic folding camera. I removed the old bellows from the camera and stripped off the existing leather outer shell. The inner lining was ok and the support ribs were still in good shape. I cut the bellows in the center of the bottom panel and used an iron to flatten the folds. I then glued some very thin light-tight blockout cloth to the old bellows support ribs. With the bellows inside-out, I used black cloth tape on the interior to create a new seam on the bottom panel. After some drying time, I reversed the bellows and folded it back to its original form. If you are interested in this approach, you can probably get the cloth from Micro Tools. They also have tape but its a little expensive from what I remember. (I used archival hinging tape for framing and painted it black) Good luck!


David R Munson
8-Jun-2001, 11:11
Thanks for the ideas. The main reason I can't fit a new set of bellows into the budget right now is basically the product of still owing the parents $2k for 2 MF lenses I had to buy spring quarter, and the fact that I've got to round up enough cash on top of that this summer to buy a new 90mm lens for my independent study project in the fall. When I do get new bellows, I plan to get them made by the one manufacturer over in England (the name escapes me right now), but until then I'm going to try everything I can to squeeze a little more life out of my bellows.

Brian Ellis
8-Jun-2001, 13:43
Before you start any reconditioning you need to be sure you know what material the bellows is made of. If I remember correctly, Deardorff used three different types of materials for its bellows, leather, naugahyde, and some synthetic the name of which escapes me (or maybe it was just the two, leather and naugahyde). I don't think there was a consistent pattern to which was used at which time so the serial number of your camera isn't of any help and it isn't easy to distinguish the leather from the naugahyde or the third material if there was one. I spoke with Ken Hough before I worked on mine and he told me how to distinguish the leather from the naugahyde but unfortunately I don't remember what it was. I don't have Ken's e mail address or phone number handy but if you do a google search you should be able to find it and talk with him as to the best means to proceed. If not, send me an e mail and I'll dig it out or perhaps someone else will post it here.