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Making the Bellows (1)

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The bellows was probably the hardest part of the camera to make - and yet once I understood how it was done - took relatively little time. The first bellows I tried was made out of cheap 'art' paper which was easy to work and relatively light tight. The big problems turned out to be the problems in joining four A4 sheets together and the light leaks in the folds and corners once the bellows was folded up. The latter problem I unsuccessfully tried to solve by laminating various types of paper together - which only made the first problem worse.

In desperation (and because Baby Benjamin was well on his way) I decided to build a simple bag bellows just to get the camera finished. However looking around the web and in various books I have on camera repair I rapidly decided I could make a proper cloth bellows just as easily.

Bellows end mount

I didn't fancy trying to attach the bellows directly to the front and rear standards - so I made bellows end mounts out of an old cereal packet.

(Note: cereal packet cardboard was far too thin for this job. If I was making another set of bellows I'd use thick card or 3mm hardboard)

I used the actual standards as the template for these so they would be an exact fit. I decided to use rectangular stiffening ribs for the bellows sides and ones with 45 degree cut corners for the top and bottom. These were to be 1cm in width and spaced about .5cm apart. However I had trouble deciding how long they should be. In order to solve this I made a very small sample of a bellows corner using short cardboard ribs and felt as I intended the real bellows to be. I folded this corner up and placed it against the cardboard end mount and pencilled it in - repeating at another 2 corners at least. From this I was able to draw in the full extent of the stiffening ribs which could then be measured and reproduced in quantity.

Having determined how big each rib should be - I was able to make the correct number for the size of bellows I wanted. The bellows material was just black felt which I already possessed and the ribs were made from a card backed envelope and a cereal packet.

A selection of cardboard ribs


Cutting out the ribs is pretty tedious - but the more accurately they are done - the easier it will be to get the bellows to fold correctly. Even more important though that the accuracy of the ribs is the accuracy of placing them on the bellows cloth.


Stiffening ribs layed out on the felt

Firstly I 'trued' up a corner of the felt so I had a decent right angle. I then measured the position of the first column of ribs and laid them out. These were laid half on and half off the edge so that the final seam would be in the middle of the bottom side and not at a corner. Next allowing the same gap used on the sample bellows corner I had previously made, I laid out the 2nd and subsequent columns. All ribs were stuck down using white PVA glue.

(Note: The more accurately you lay out the ribs - the easier it is to fold up the bellows. I did it by eye - and it was good enough - but I'd take more care if I was doing it again and measure more carefully).

I was going to use 2 pieces of felt and sandwich the cardboard in-between. However I thought that might be too inflexible. Instead I used some dull matt black wrapping paper for the inside.

Felt outer being glued to paper inner

Here the Felt outer is being glued to paper inner. Compared to the previous picture you can see the felt has been trimmed on both long edges. The protruding stiffening ribs on the right should be glued to the paper. However the matching felt flap on the left should be left unglued as when the bellows is folded around the protruding stiffening ribs will match up with this flap.

Next Bellows Page

Next Bellows Page

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