Already last year I finished a project for my good friend Khalid Al Fikri here in Qatar. Since he was searching for the famous Kodak Aero Ektar lens, I offered him to re-build an according camera to accommodate this beautiful beast of a lens. As a well known approach, I’ve chosen an old 4×5 Graflex Speed Graphic camera with integrated curtain shutter.
First the camera had to be completly stripped down. Most of the parts including the shutter mechanism were easy to disassemble.
The Body Works
The most time consuming and dirtiest part of the work was the removal of the black leatherette and sanding of the camera body itself. The leatherette was very well glued to the surface of the camera. Eventually after some time I got all of it removed while the glue remained on the wood. It required a lot of sanding until I reached the wooden core. The more glue I removed the more it became obviously that the effort was well worth it. After I finished the sanding and applying bee wax in several layers the camera looked so much better. Today it’s difficult to understand why they covered the beautiful wooden body in the fake leather. I assume that when the camera hit the market, the black leatherette might have been considered as a new modern look compared to the old wooden box cameras which where quite common at these days.
Filling The Gaps
Since I also had to removed the chrome decoration strips on the front of the camera, I filled the remaining gaps with mahogany wood filler. …what a cumbersome job….
A problem to solve was the opening mechanism. Since the original button for opening the front of the camera was hidden loosely underneath the leatherette, the new button required some sort of fixation and had to fit in the existing hole. I found the almost perfect sized brass button from a online furniture dealer (prokraft) which required only slight modifications. I purchased also small brass screws for the camera from the same dealer.
Although that the curtains of the shutter where still light tight, they have been in a very bad condition and had to be replaced with new rubbarized curtains. While the shape and the correct cutouts where easy to make, I didn’t manage to squeeze the curtains into the metal rails on the upper and lower edge of the cutouts for the different shutter speeds. Since their main function is to keep the curtain tight, I decided to simple glue them with cemedine black super x glue on the curtain which worked out very well. This glue is my first choice when it comes to glue parts which require adjustment during curing since the glue requires some time until it adheres completely.
Shutter before refurbishment
Shutter after refurbishment with new curtains
I decided to cover the aluminium front of the Graflex with leather. After studying some videos how upholsteries are doing the leathering of dashboards, I followed their instructions. I think the result for the very first time does not look to bad. Sellers on Amazon are offering cheap leather scraps which are perfectly suited for such small jobs.
Step 2: Press the leather on the surface after the glue is dry and push them strong together.
Step 3: After some hours the next part of the leather needs to be pushed down on the surface and the area on the leather needs to be marked which can be glued next without to much squezing it. Then repeat step 2 and 3 until the whole leather has been glued to the surface.
This video on youtube explains the whole procedure very well:
The lens got some UV light treatment with a regular face tanner, to reduce the light fungus inside the lens.
To improve the look of the camera, I ordered a new bellow from this guy: ecbuyonline. He did a great job and I can highly recomend his work! For glueing the bellow on the camera body, I used again my favourite glue cemedine black super x.
Assembling the new bellow
Assembly of the camera was straight forward. After screwing and glueing the bellow back in place, I assembled the shutter by glueing the shutter curtain on the brass tubings (care needs to be taken that the cutouts of the shutter curtain aligns with the camera frame) The adjustment of the shutter timings is done by adjusting the spring tension in the lower curtain drum. If the timings are too fast, the prestress needs to be decreased. If the shutter timings are to slow, the prestress needs to be increased.
…and the final result
Let me know if you are planning a similar project. I might be able to provide you some tricks and tipps.