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Thread: Fixing up old plate camera - cheaply

  1. #1

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    Fixing up old plate camera - cheaply

    I am in the process of fixing up an old Conley plate camera but can't find two things locally - first, the ground glass - it is just a hair smaller than 4x5 so the standard 4x5 cut glass won't work. I am now using a sheet of tracing paper taped in there which is OK but is not long-term usable. Anyone know where to obtain - cheaply - something that can be a substitute? Frosted plastic of some thicker sort perhaps, or even regular plastic that has some frosted tape on it?

    Second, I am trying to repair the old fashioned view finder which uses a tiny mirror long turned black. The mirror is about 1/2 inch by 1 inch. Is there a way of somehow coating a relfective background on this same piece of glass?

  2. #2
    Donald Qualls's Avatar
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    Re: Fixing up old plate camera - cheaply

    For the ground glass, one of the simplest ways is to get a piece of plain window glass and cut it to fit and optionally clip the corners (you'll need a glass cutter and a little skill, or if it's thin I've read many times that you can cut it with scissors, as long as the entire pane is submerged in water), then frost it with glass etchant from a craft shop, or by grinding it against another piece of glass, granite tile, or similar flat, hard surface with fine rock tumbling grit and water between (I'd use 220 or 320). When the frost is even all over, clean the glass carefully, and install it with the ground side toward the lens.

    Or, if you're not craft or DIY inclined, you could see if Satin Snow is still in business; send them your exact dimensions (along with the make and exact model of camera, so they can keep the dimensions) and they can make a beautiful ground glass for you at a pretty reasonable price.

    As for the mirror, the original was most likely silvered; the first thing to try is a jeweler's cloth to see if the tarnish layer can be removed without damaging the coating. Failing that, you'd need to strip the coating with nitric acid, then recoat the mirror with a silvering solution (look in an old book on telescope making, this is how homemade telescope mirrors were coated before vacuum coating was common and affordable).
    Last edited by Donald Qualls; 10-Sep-2011 at 20:52. Reason: Left out part of the answer
    If a contact print at arm's length is too small to see, you need a bigger camera. :D

  3. #3
    lenser's Avatar
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    Re: Fixing up old plate camera - cheaply

    Cyrus,

    I just had an 8x10 glass cut at a local glass shop for only $22.00. They call it frosted glass, but works perfectly for ground glass on my Century., perhaps brighter than a traditional ground glass would be, which is a plus.

    The mirror is likely front surface coated if it is a metal plate. Perhaps a local jeweler can either clean or replate it for you at a reasonable cost.
    "One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude." Carl Sandburg

  4. #4

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    Re: Fixing up old plate camera - cheaply

    Surplus shed has 4x5 ground glass for under $10, as well as various front surface mirrors inexpensively. www.surplusshed.com

  5. #5
    Scott --'s Avatar
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    Re: Fixing up old plate camera - cheaply

    WAITAMINUTE! Donald Qualls and Erie?! Haven't seen either of you in ages!

  6. #6

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    Re: Fixing up old plate camera - cheaply

    Dave at Satin Snow retired, or so has been mentioned here a number of times.

    I've made very nice bright ground glasses out of thin framing glass that I then ground with successive grades of telescope grinding abrasives. It was a satisfying little project that took not more than about 1/2 hour per GG and the cost was low.

    Too, if you need to take a several thousandths off or smooth the edges of a small piece of rough cut glass, coarse wet-dry sandpaper or emery cloth on a flat surface works very well.

    Edmund Scientific in NJ also sells mirrors and pre-ground GG.

  7. #7

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    Re: Fixing up old plate camera - cheaply

    Quote Originally Posted by Scott -- View Post
    WAITAMINUTE! Donald Qualls and Erie?! Haven't seen either of you in ages!
    Well, where have you been?

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