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View Full Version : Dry, stiff bellows...how to soften?



Craig Tuffin
30-Aug-2012, 06:29
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.

Sevo
30-Aug-2012, 06:34
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...

BrianShaw
30-Aug-2012, 06:36
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.

E. von Hoegh
30-Aug-2012, 06:46
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.

Craig Tuffin
30-Aug-2012, 06:47
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...

BrianShaw
30-Aug-2012, 06:48
Brian's right.

... if only Brian could type/spell correctly. :o

BrianShaw
30-Aug-2012, 06:53
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. :)

Craig Tuffin
30-Aug-2012, 06:54
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.

BrianShaw
30-Aug-2012, 06:55
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.

E. von Hoegh
30-Aug-2012, 06:57
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.

Craig Tuffin
30-Aug-2012, 06:58
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. :)

Thanks Brian! The only frame attached to the bellows at the moment is the centre frame...I'll be careful.

E. von Hoegh
30-Aug-2012, 07:00
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. :)

Saddle soap, as the name implies, is a cleaning product. I suppose it would be good after a hard day's ride on the bellows through mud and such....

Craig Tuffin
30-Aug-2012, 07:02
Perfect...cheers guys! Time to shop around fleabay...

BrianShaw
30-Aug-2012, 07:03
It's been a while since I've used saddle soap, but doesn't it also have leather conditioner and waterproofing (wax)? Or is that why I never thought it did much for my boots except discolor them?

E. von Hoegh
30-Aug-2012, 07:15
It's been a while since I've used saddle soap, but doesn't it also have leather conditioner and waterproofing (wax)? Or is that why I never thought it did much for my boots except discolor them?

It makes the leather smell nice, that's about all. It is a good cleaning product, but you have to follow it (after the leather dries) with a proper leather dressing. How are you using the saddle soap?

For waterproofing boots, Sno-Seal is about the best.

BrianShaw
30-Aug-2012, 07:38
It makes the leather smell nice, that's about all. It is a good cleaning product, but you have to follow it (after the leather dries) with a proper leather dressing. How are you using the saddle soap?

For waterproofing boots, Sno-Seal is about the best.

Well that explains a lot. When I lived in "snow county" we treated our Pac Boots (the all-leather version) with saddle soap, but never anything like snow seal. Maybe that's why I always had wet feet. That was a long time ago.

E. von Hoegh
30-Aug-2012, 07:51
Saddle soap is used by working up a lather with water and a brush, it's for removing mud, horsecrap, etc.. Brush the lather onto the leather, scrub it around, wipe the lather and crud off.

Ivan J. Eberle
30-Aug-2012, 10:21
Do a deeper search here on the LFF and you may be inspired rather than resigned.
There are threads with first-hand accounts of board-stiff 100 year old bellows being brought back, seemingly miraculously, with products specifically mentioned and praised.

TheDeardorffGuy
30-Aug-2012, 14:21
I've seen over a thousand bellows in the past 30 years od doing restorations. Only a dozen were treatable to the point of using them. Those were NOT brittle or stiff. But had been cared for from new. Your bellows sound like they are dead. Just get a new set.

E. von Hoegh
30-Aug-2012, 14:26
I've seen over a thousand bellows in the past 30 years od doing restorations. Only a dozen were treatable to the point of using them. Those were NOT brittle or stiff. But had been cared for from new. Your bellows sound like they are dead. Just get a new set.

Well, a miracle could happen. I didn't want to give the OP false hope, though. Treating old stiff brittle leather usually results in oily, slippery, old stiff brittle leather in small pieces. I've had a couple, maybe 3 pleasant surprises though.

BrianShaw
30-Aug-2012, 14:28
Oh, c'mon... join us in the Pessimists Cllub... err, I mean, the Realist Club.

E. von Hoegh
30-Aug-2012, 14:31
Oh, c'mon... join us in the Pessimists Cllub... err, I mean, the Realist Club.

PESSIMISM, n. A philosophy forced upon the convictions of the observer by the disheartening prevalence of the optimist with his scarecrow hope and his unsightly smile.

OPTIMISM, n. The doctrine, or belief, that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong. It is held with greatest tenacity by those most accustomed to the mischance of falling into adversity, and is most acceptably expounded with the grin that apes a smile. Being a blind faith, it is inaccessible to the light of disproof an intellectual disorder, yielding to no treatment but death. It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.

John Kasaian
30-Aug-2012, 14:56
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.
I suggest candle light, some Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin in Hi-Fi, with plenty of good wine for lubrication :rolleyes:

C. D. Keth
30-Aug-2012, 16:17
Be conscious that to get new bellows made, it would behoove you to have the old bellows reasonably intact so it can be measured.

Louis Pacilla
30-Aug-2012, 18:14
Try Ballistol Multi-Purpose Lube (www.ballistol.com). It's a spray lube designed by the Germans to have a ph balance which will mix with water instead of repelling it so it holds moisture and will not make glues fail. It was made for leather as well as most other materials.

I spray the stiff bellows down well & then wipe off excess. Try expanding bellows after a few applications and letting it soak in a while. If they are not completely back to life do another application or two.

I have truly brought back a few stiff bellows this way. It works. Oh yea! Spray the entire camera down as it's wonderful on conditioning the wood as well.

Ivan J. Eberle
30-Aug-2012, 20:07
It'd seem worthwhile to attempt, no? Versus the cost of a custom-made 12x15" bellows, as the OP mentioned being given the camera-- a size for which film may not be commonly available and the bellows alone could be half a kilobuck or more to outsource and wait months for delivery.

John Kasaian
30-Aug-2012, 21:16
Try Ballistol Multi-Purpose Lube (www.ballistol.com). It's a spray lube designed by the Germans to have a ph balance which will mix with water instead of repelling it so it holds moisture and will not make glues fail. It was made for leather as well as most other materials.

I spray the stiff bellows down well & then wipe off excess. Try expanding bellows after a few applications and letting it soak in a while. If they are not completely back to life do another application or two.

I have truly brought back a few stiff bellows this way. It works. Oh yea! Spray the entire camera down as it's wonderful on conditioning the wood as well. +1

BrianShaw
31-Aug-2012, 06:58
+1

Really... I've never heard of this product. Sounds like good stuff!

E. von Hoegh
31-Aug-2012, 07:09
Ballistol is great stuff, IIRC you can even use it as a topical antibiotic. I'm dubious about it's utility for leather, and I would never use it on any fine wood.... A baltic beech stock on a kar. 98, yes. The mahogany parts of a camera, probably not.