Bellows Mock Pic

March 14th, 2009

Here’s a picture of the little paper bellows I made from a sheet of 8.5×11 paper. I basically fit the 86×72 inch full size plan onto a piece of paper, and then folded it up to see if it would work. In paper its not too hard, even in this micro scale. I worry that in ULF it will be too heavy to hold itself up, particularly since it’s going to be made of leather. My working solution is to get some phenolic to use as the “stiffener” instead of card stock. Phenolic is a paper resin laminate like fiberglass, but because its paper filled, it is  cheaper, and can be made quite thin. A big sheet isn’t cheap, just cheaper than glass. The issue I am running into is that there aren’t many places that sell the stuff in the this area anymore, and shipping would be a fortune I’m guessing. We’ll see what I come up with.

The leather hide is supposed to come next week. I’ll post when I make progress with that and if I find a source for the phenolic.


At it again – The Bellows

March 8th, 2009

Its been just under 10 months since I last posted, and I have to admit that it’s  been that long since I have made much headway. Being a father takes up a lot of time, and any free time I had after that went into … well.. life, school and work.

I did do research, and think off and on about my design through that time, though. The design had some flaws in how I was going to build the mechanical joints. It occurred to me that when dealing with 5 lb lenses, and huge fulcrums, there will be quite a bit of force involved. So you might say that part of my down swing in activity has also been due to consideration of my plans.

Alas, I have begun tinkering again, and have been trying to get going on the parts that are a little more straight forward . The ones that will require less engineering, like the bellows. I have waffled about whether to buy one or not, and have decided to make one. New bellows run in the hundreds of dollars, and are hard to find in ULF sizes, if they aren’t custom made. Beyond money, I figured I was putting in the work to build the rest of this behemoth, so why not the bellows too.

In visiting the bellows again, I went back to search for materials, and discovered that Porter’s doesn’t have the blackout cloth anymore. There is an organ repair place in Montana that does, but at $30 a yard I wouldn’t be saving much by building it over buying a new one. I decided to see if I can use leather as the main material, and think I might be in luck. Full hides seem like they might be just big enough to cut a bellows pattern from in the 6 foot by 7.75 foot size I need. At around $100 for a discount hide, it is not cheap, but cheaper than two layers of blackout cloth, or other material, and will look and feel that much better. Plus it should age pretty well , and  be more historically accurate. We’ll see how it goes.

Next, I’ll be posting pictures of the paper models I’ve been making, and more on materials, and bellows math and design


The skeleton

May 15th, 2008

As I mentioned, I have most of the wood parts cut, and when I stack them up just right, they start to look like a camera. Some of it is awaiting joinery, which takes the most time and setup, and I will have to sand everything down before I can assemble it, but I think the bulk of the wood skeleton is done.

One thing I found, while stacking the pieces in order, is that one piece that is supposed to support the rear standard came out short. I think I cut it to the front standard length instead of the rear, Do’oh! I’ll have to back track and figure out what went wrong on that one.

The base has six cross supports, all mortised and tenoned to the base rails for extra strength yet still being light weight. The front standard rail has one 3″ support and one 1″ support. The rear standard rail only has one 3″ support that won’t be mortised in; I will use some screws and glue to bolster this joint, but I think there is enough surface area to make it strong.

The rear standard needs to be joined with a box joint, tongue routed into it, and a longer base cut. After that I will need to build the film holder back. The back will likely be an exercise in precision design, like the holders themselves. I haven’t found any great inspiration for it yet, but I think I have some good ideas, and will flush them out on paper.

I’m confident about my progress and design, though. The complex design is doable in the medium term, even if I couldn’t finish it in a semester. Plus, I think I will be very happy I spent the extra time to include all the camera movements once I start using it. The camera will be so heavy, that I won’t have the option of making slight adjustments without swing, tilt , and rise. Without these, I imagine I would be well in to the glue up phase and working on the bellows.

My access to the shop is over for now, until the fall, so I will probably start in on some of the non fabricated parts, like the belows, and start to sand (and possibly glue up) the pieces I have ready. When I started this, I knew it would take me a while, but this is turning into a major engineering project. I couldn’t settle for a fast, box camera, I guess.

Building parts

May 11th, 2008

I haven’t posted for quite a while, due to vacation (a working spring break), a cold (shop can’t be used while coughing, and sneezing), and a new baby (my first, and he is cute)! I have been slowly chugging along on the ULF, though. I also figured that posting more pictures of milled wood, wouldn’t be all that useful to anyone, until they started to look like parts. I have pieces cut for just about everything made of wood now, except for the lens mounting plate, and mounting base for the lens, and the back for the rear standard. The rear standard box, base and rails, standard pivot, sliding bases, and front standard rise/fall base are all cut to dimension and awaiting joinery.

I pretty much finished the parts for the base of the camera, and even have the Aluminum slides for the base rails. I have the slippery Rulon tape, and mounting screws (both from for it now too.  All that is needed for the base before I can assemble it, is a 1/8 inch slot for the Al rails.

The Al slides where originally cut out to be the posts of the front standard, but I have realized that 1/8″ Al just wouldn’t be able to support that large lens I have, and the standard itself, so I ordered 1/4″ Al bar, which seems it will be up to the task. This little setback didn’t prove to be too troubling (though, I had to shell out a little more money for the beefed up Aluminum), since I planned on using he same dimensions for the slides. I cut them out for the front standard, but I am using them for the base slides. No big deal.


I have also built the front standard “U” shaped support, and cut out the joint for it, a double mortise and tenon, which took a while to get right. The fit isn’t as perfect as I had wanted, but I think once I add the glue, it will seal up nice and tight.


The joints are the most difficult part of the build, so I am trying to get those done first. The saws in the shop have become pretty heavily used, so there is a lot more to set-ups than just measuring. Getting everything to 90 degrees is critical and often takes more time than the cut.

I’ll post pics and more drawings next.

Some parts

March 20th, 2008

WordPress just released an upgrade, so I think I can post cleanly again.

The parts in the center of this picture are the beginning of the base rail system of the camera. If you look through my notes you will see the drawing of it. ( It is very rewarding when I can draw something out and make the part to match.) The rails will be held in place with some Al plate attached to the center and one on the outside. The contact surface will have some stick’um frictionless tape designed to reduce wear on factory parts. 

The parts you see around the outside are the last stages of the film holders. AS you can see the cuts have become quite complicated in order to ensure that the joins don’t overlap. My thinking is that if there is going to be a light leak, it will likely be at the point of a joint, so I want the joint sot be hidden if possible and not overlaping to avoid pass through light. The need a few more set-ups to finish them off, but seem to be fitting together well.

Anyway, I am back in the shop this week, so hopefully I’ll have more progress to post by next week.


The Notes

March 20th, 2008

It has been a month since my last post, but I spaced this post out, because I don’t think a cut-by-cut analysis is necessary. You’ll see in a follow-up post that the film holder parts are coming along slowly, but they require so many set-ups it may seem I am not moving anywhere. As a result, for the sake of morale on the project, I decided to start building the actual camera itself in conjunction with the film holders. I figure, the quick progress I can make on it will help me feel like I am actually accomplishing things day-to-day. Also, by the time the holders are ready, I am hoping to be at a point where I can start making the camera back where they will be held.

What I have been finding out, as I move along, is that the techniques for building each joint, is the part that is really causing me the most time. As I become used to making certain types of cuts, and joints, the process is speading up, and my confidence is going up, so I am able to move right into a part without spending a day planning it out like I was before. As a result of the increase in woodworking knowledge, and speed of production, I am able make changes as I go along.

The decision making period is speading up too, which means my notes are becoming less detailed in some ways, but more precise in others. Instead of sketching something out several times, and deliberating dimensions, and scales, I am finding that I have a good idea of what size of part, and type of joint will work best, right off the bat. My sketches, now, are basically a scaled pencil drawing with a few key dimensions, and a parts list. I have foregone the super-detailed CAD drawing with every dimension plotted out. I have intuitively included how the machines cut, and the better wood joints into the design as opposed to trying to think up how everything will fit together.

All this has been a direct result of the woodworking class I am taking with a great instructor, Shannon Wright, who has been showing simple and versatile methods of furniture building. Plus there is a really knowledgeable shop manager that has given me advice, and cues on how to use certain jigs and saws. The time working in the shop has really become something I look forward to.

There is almost a genetic connection to the work. The cultural traditions of cutting wood into shapes that are useful is something that has been a joy to explore. Just getting into the simple things, like sharpening a chisel, can take me into thousands of years of history, and wisdom. So not only is the camera itself an exploration of past photographic methods, but the build process has been an almost zen experience, and lesson on the works our forefathers mastered to colonize the planet.

Anyway, without further rambling, here is what my notes look like.

Film Holders – Progress

February 21st, 2008

It has taken me a while to sort out the dimensions of the film holders, and actually begin building them, but I am making progress. I assumed the film holders would be the most challenging to build, and they have been.

I started with the plan of only making a few holders. My thought was that because the camera will be so large, I won’t be taking it into the remote wilderness, so having a limited set of film holders will cut down on weight, and clutter. To change film in the field, like with any sheet film camera, I can black out a hotel room, or bathroom etc, or make a huge changing bag to use in a car. I also, concluded, that since this was just the first phase of the build process that they might not come out right, so my intention was to just get a couple working holders for tests and initial trials of the camera. If I decide I need more later, I can remake them, with the added experience, that, hopefully, I will have at that point.

My plan was to start making 5 double sided holders, with the idea that I might only get 3 working holders out of it. I figure 3 holders would be the minimum I needed to conduct tests and shoot my first photos. My assumption about only getting 3 out of the 5 is proving to be right. Film holders are incredibly difficult to build because of the 1/64th inch precision that is needed.

After milling the cherry down to size, I started on the task of cutting the 1/16th inch slots for the slides and septum. I opted to use a slot cutter in a shaper table. The alternative was to mill the slots, but that would have taken me into a whole other world, that I wasn’t prepared to enter. I figured the slot cutter would get me as close as I needed.

The slot cutter approach has proved to be challenging, yet I believe workable with practice and experience (neither of which I had when I started). I took me a day to really get a hang of it, and once I did, I was able to produce the results I needed. In the end, though, I lost 2 sets of rails, due to mistakes, so I am down to the 3 I had been planning for, and I think I am past the most demanding part of their assembly. The slot cutter is touchy on starts and stops and uneven pressure. Plus because I was cutting down the length of the pre-cut rails, any little wobble caused the slot to widen beyond 1/16 inch. I learned that if I cut the sizes down to their rough lengths, they are much easier to handle on the shaper, which is the opposite of other tools like the table saw.

The one major adjustment I had to make in the middle of the slot cutting was that the cutter only went to a 3/8th inch depth instead of the half inch I was told it would. The loss of that 1/8th inch could come back to haunt me, but for now I am going ahead with my recalculations. The new depths are basically scaled to what the tools could provide. The whole process required a lot of advice, and ingenuity in the cutter setup, so a thanks goes out to the shop master, Steve, who showed me what I need to know.

So from here on out, pretty much the rest of the camera will consist of cutting lengths, rabbets, tenon and mortises, plus the box joints for the rear standard; no more 1/16th inch slots, thank goodness. Oh, yeah, and the Aluminum parts; I still haven’t figured that one out yet. Hopefully these tasks will prove much quicker, and more forgiving, but I am not counting on it.


The shutter

February 7th, 2008

As I mentioned, in the lens post, I also got a shutter for my beast off that auction site. It’s a 50′s era Ilexpo, Packard shutter. It was a lucky find, because it is one of the few shutter designs that would work with my monster lens, and has a built in mounting system. This particular type of Packard shutter isn’t quite as common as the other newer ones. Packard shutters are still built and the company is still around, but the shutters aren’t built in to an systems anymore, so you have to figure out how to do it yourself if you want a new one, which are quite expensive by the way. For the size I need, it would have been up around $500 for a new shutter. Too much is going into this camera as it is, so I am stoked that I found this.

The shutter is a bit worn, but once I took it apart and figure out how it worked ( a simple yet ingenious design) all I had to do was remove one limiting screw to get the full range of motion back. At some point, I might want to remake one of the brass parts to compensate for the wearing, but as it is now it should work pretty well, and with a little Teflon grease it will probably be smother than it ever has been.

The shutter mount has a pretty standard lens plate setup, so that I can remove the lens on its own plate without having to remove the shutter. This is hugely better than most of the home brew mounting systems I have run across. This gives me the option to use more lenses, if I ever find more, or can afford the restored ones that are sold in boutiques out there.

I am starting to really grove on the idea of using a 100 year old lens with a 50 year old shutter on a home built camera using both traditional materials, and modern building techniques.

As for the camera build; I am starting to move out of the planning stage. I think I have a lot of the problems sorted out at least in theory, so I am beginning to work on the parts I know I have sorted out, like the film holders. I have already purchase my cherry wood, and planed it down. There really isn’t any such thing as rift cut, or quarter sawn cherry anymore, at least not at local lumber shops. Apparently the Chinese furniture factories have been buying up everything, so unless I want to spend 10x the $ and wait for months to track down what I want, I am going to have to settle for what I can find. This isn’t as bad as it sounds though, because if I buy big enough boards I can cut out the best parts for those pieces that need to be milled to 1/64 of an inch tolerances.

I also ordered and received, in a day, my garolite, A.K.A. Phenolic plastic, and 1/8th inch aircraft grade, corrosion resistant aluminum sheeting ( I also got some 0.001 stainless for a pinhole “lens”. another project I want to tackle at some point) from They ship super fast and their rates are quite low. I think I will buy my exotic raw materials from them from now on.

The materials I chose are a bit on the steep side, but getting them from McMaster made it doable. Phenolic plastic is very rigid and quite strong, plus light opaque. It makes the ideal dark slide, and septum for the holders. With this plastic I can do with 1/16 material that probably would require 1/8th in other materials, and at a much lighter weight. The aluminum, if I can find a good laser cutter, or learn to mill it, is way high on the material grade-sheet, but it is so strong that once I anodize it, it will provide that super strength, and light weight in the critical areas of the camera that will need it with its huge stresses. With a 5lb ( I weighed it finally) lens I will need all the strength I can muster out of my materials without making it so heavy that I won’t want to use it. PLus I am learning that stresses don’t scale up linearly as you might figure. Going from 8×10 to 12×20 doesn’t multiply the stress by 2 or 3 as you might guess, but maybe up to 10xs more. Everything has to be overbuilt, but with the same tolerances. ITs just like me to take on the hardest type of project on my first attempt. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. If I am going through all the trouble, I might as well make it big and bad ass right?

All in all, I am making progress, and I can see the camera taking shape in my mind, but I can also see I am going to be in for a lot of work, and a LOT of trouble shooting. I am very glad my schedule has lightened up a bit for the next few months, cause I am going to be in the shop a lot.


The Lens

January 30th, 2008

So here it is; the lens. It is a Bausch and Lomb – Zeiss APO Tessar Series VIII – Made somewhere between 1903 and 1915. From what can find, B&L and Zeiss had some dealings before WWI in order to use the Zeiss Tessar patented design in the US. After the war, B&L ignored the patent, and started making the lenses with some improvements under just their own name.

This is a behemoth of a lens with a front diameter of 105mm, and a focal length of 760mm. APO means it can do color, and the Teassar design is supposed to be pretty flat and distortion free for an early design. It weight around 10lbs, I would guess. If you can’t read the ring, it covers 28×32 inches, so it will have plenty of room for movements on my 16×20/12×20, and would even kill on a 20×24, making it sought after in the ULF arena, and rare! This is the only one I have seen come up in the last 6 months and quite a few people bid on this before I won it, even though it was in bad shape. For a 100 year old chunk of glass, though, it actually is pretty clean and usable; a great find, and piece of history.

When I got it, it was in really bad shape. I got it off that auction site for about $220. The iris blades were all taken out, and 4 of them were damaged, but they were all there which was good. I had made the decision that if I couldn’t get the iris back in, that it would still make a great old lens. Luckily there was (and still is) a repair shop near by: ITC Camera, so I took it there instead of shipping it to the expensive Grimes in New Jersey. The guy at ITC gave me a reasonable quote of 3 hours work, but I had a feeling he had his work cut out for him. When I finally got the call to pick it up I found out all the damage that was under the skin, but the guy at ITC stuck to his quote, though he said he “lost his shirt” on it. He is a very honorable guy and I would recommend him.

Here’s what we learned from his work: at some point in the past the iris was damaged. Three nipples broke off three leaves, and one was bent. So the iris was taken out, and a slot was cut into the barrel to accept a plate type aperture. And that’s not all, somebody thought it would be nice to cut down reflections so they painted the inside black. It was a mess in there, and everything was stuck to everything else with paint and grease.

The guy at ITC soaked the inside to remove the paint, repaired the bends, manufactured new nipples, improved the design with a couple of retention screws so the iris won’t get jammed, got rid of the oil and grease (apertures need to be dry and clean, not lubed as most people think), and cleaned up the f-stop markings on the barrel. ITC did lose their shirt on this I think, but the owner was honorable, and only charged me for the low quoted price. So, he got it working, and its in pretty good shape now. The only thing that is still a problem is the slot cut into the barrel. I’ll have to tape that off or put a piece of brass shim in there or something. Now that its in better shape, I am guessing its value went up considerably, and is worth more than I have invested in it (~$500) thanks to the work at ITC.


Some plans

January 29th, 2008

I have been drawing up some plans in Inventor for a while now, but they were all sketches. I am getting to the point that the plan dimensions are making sense. Here is the sort of thing I am talking about. When I get to the finalized plans, I will post the original DWG files (maybe) but at least the details of what I came to.

I have decided to use Cherry. It seems to be the traditional wood of choice because it is very stable and workable word. WIth tolerances down below 1/32 of an inch, the material has to be solid and not warp much. For the rails I have learned that a straight grained quarter or rift sawn wood is best. These grain patterns make the swelling predictable and controlled.

I also picked up a lens and shutter. The lens needed to be repaired, but I’ll post pics and the story later. I have also found a suitable cloth to make the bellows out of. It is a little steep, but it thin and, lightproof. ANother route would be a leather bellows but I haven’t found a source for skins large enough or thin enough (or cheap enough.)filmholderrailprofile.jpg

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