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Century Universal 8x10 Help?

 
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sauerwald



Joined: 11 Apr 2006
Posts: 18
Location: Maine, USA

PostPosted: Wed Feb 20, 2008 4:24 pm    Post subject: Century Universal 8x10 Help? Reply with quote

I have a Century Universal 8x10 which is in perfect functional, but cosmetically disgusting condition. The leather bellows is in great condition but the woodwork is scarred, the leather top handle is gone, and the hardware is all tarnished or oxidized beyond recognition.

I am planning to restore this camera to have something both to use, and to have as a pretty display camera. If anybody has any experience with this camera - please contact me!

Specific questions:

The hardware mostly seems to be brass - and looks like at one point it may have been silver plated - can anybody confirm this?

The bed of the camera is aluminium and was silver plated - the silver has oxidized to the point where it now looks like grey paint. My thought is to clean this, and either have it silver plated again, or have it anodized black - any thoughts or opinions on this?

Once I have removed all of the hardware, I plan on sanding and refinishing the cherry woodwork - the original finish looks like it was either shellac or varnish - any opinions on what a good finish for a camera like this would be?
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RichS



Joined: 18 Oct 2001
Posts: 1467
Location: South of Rochester, NY

PostPosted: Wed Feb 20, 2008 6:20 pm    Post subject: Re: Century Universal 8x10 Help? Reply with quote

If you have any respect for the original finish of the camera, DO NOT remove that "tarnish" from any of the metal. Yes, the hardware is brass and the bed rails aluminum. They were never plated. It was painted! That is the color and finish the camera was designed to have.

Right off the bat, I would say that if you want a shiny show piece, buy a deardorf or tachy and let the CU alone in it's natural state. The color is what it's supposed to be. The scars are a show of experience and enhance it's charisma.

The leather top handle can be replaced but there is a difficulty. The brass loops are riveted through the wood. Exact replacement rivets are impossible to find. Removing and reusing the old rivets is next to impossible. On mine I used brass #2 machine screws, washers and nuts to hold the loops on. It looks good enough, does no further damage to the camera and is removable at a later time. Care must be taken to the length of the screw though as the bellows comes very close to the inside top edge of the case and you don't want a screw rubbing on the bellows. I trimmed mine to not extend past the nut.

I'm not really sorry for my attitude towards Century Universal cameras. I firmly believe that they were in fact the finest camera ever made and are very underrated, mostly by the dorf users. There's a big difference between refurbishing, reconditioning, restoring, etc. These beautiful cameras should be refurbished to full working condition with as little reconditioning as possible. Once refurbished, they will easily stand up to any used or new 8x10 on the market and have the looks they were intended to have.

One side note if you're really into shiny show pieces... I do have a CU here that had it's hardware gold plated (not the bed rails). It does give the camera a shiny-show-piece look and is very different from other CU's. I also believe that it was done by Graflex as it is obviously very old plating. It's just as possible the owner had it done when he bought the camera? I tried to get some kind of confirmation that Graflex would do such a thing but could not get the info... So if you have to restore instead of refurbish and want shiny, gold plating may fall into that category. Shiny brass or silver does not.

Personally, I think sanding and refinishing the wood is a major mistake. The wood if thin enough to worry about. Refinishing the surface? Think antique....

Enjoy your CU and I hope you keep it original...
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Springback



Joined: 30 Jul 2002
Posts: 113
Location: Fresno, where the raisins come from!

PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2008 6:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Scars are like tattoos, only they tell more interesting stories. There are some great products on the market to clean up your Universal without resorting to refinishing.

If the loops that hold the handle on are tight you can use a belt for a handle. Any shoe repair shop or saddle maker should be able to make one for you and install it for very little $

IMHO, keep it stock and instead spend your time shooting one of the very best of the 8x10 clamshells!
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willysmb



Joined: 28 Feb 2004
Posts: 115
Location: France _ Europe

PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2008 7:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Sir,
I can heard the Richs argues but in some case, I think that a refurbishing work can offer a new life to theses fantastics Camera view.

I just finish my 2D refurbish process and I present here some links to the original condition and the final result.

http://www.collection-appareils.fr/images_du_forum/121276-Vue-gene-Achat-SYLV.jpg
http://www.collection-appareils.fr/images_du_forum/121276-Vue-gene-Achat2-SYLV.jpg
http://www.collection-appareils.fr/phpBB3/download/file.php?id=2021
http://www.collection-appareils.fr/phpBB3/download/file.php?id=2022
http://www.collection-appareils.fr/phpBB3/download/file.php?id=2218

Regards
Laurent
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Springback



Joined: 30 Jul 2002
Posts: 113
Location: Fresno, where the raisins come from!

PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2008 9:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Respectfully a 2D is a very different camera in that it is a lot more beefy than the Universal and doesen't have the unique wood to metal work issues which are really quite precisely fitted on the Universals---how precise? Consider a Universal to be the wooden equivalent to the Kodak Masterview! I agree that old wooden cameras do look great when they've been refinished and your 2D is certainly a fine example of that, but a Century Universal is IMHO a different critter. Of course if it has been completely thrashed I think rebuilding one would be a worthwhile endeavor, but for a few scars and scrapes and tarnished fittings I don't see the benefit compared to it's value in it's original condition (being that it is still functioning!)
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Rodney Polden



Joined: 17 Oct 2007
Posts: 1
Location: on Healven Ridge

PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2008 10:19 am    Post subject: Century Universal 8x10 Help? Reply with quote

It may be, sauerwald, that the CU that you are thinking of restoring is one of those that were originally manufactured for the OSS (Office of Strategic Service, forerunner of the CIA), which had a drab green-grey paint finish. I initially thought the colour was due to corrosion or tarnish on my CU, since it was only obvious on the metal parts of the focus rails etc, but on further investigation, I discovered that small areas of the woodwork (not easily visible in normal use) were also coloured the same way, presumably left "un-restored" by a previous owner, who had stripped the overall wood finish of the remainder of the camera.

Regarding the top handle: RichS's comment above, regarding the rivets of the handle-hoops, is a valid concern. However, on my camera the handle had been replaced by the owner-restorer without the need to remove the hoops. S/he had achieved this by constructing a "built-up" handle that was a lamination of quite a number of layers of leatherette, glued together one onto another, after fitting each lamination through the hoops. By using this technique, the restorer had been able to construct a handle with 'barbs' that prevented the handle from being pulled back through the hoops in use. Subsequent layers glued onto this core then resulted in a handle thick enough to give the requisite strength. Not a 100% perfect solution, but good enough...

If your bellows are in good shape and the other functions work properly, then get yourself and your camera out into some area of natural beauty and just enjoy this amazing creation for what it is - "in fact the finest camera ever made, and (...) very underrated". There are not many other contenders to challenge the Century Universal as the earliest, lightest and most versatile of its kind. I can mount my 600 mm Nikkor and focus without difficulty, then mount my 120 mm Nikkor and focus without difficulty (and without needing either a recessed lensboard or bag bellows).

The range of movements is unparalleled, considering that this is a camera seventy years old, and light enough to hike all over with. By comparison, a Deardorff is an obese blob, a Masterview is a chunky-chicky and a 2D is a ....... forgive me, I promised myself I would not start getting personal. Play around with a CU for a few hours though, and you will wonder why on earth camera design slid so far backwards after the CU.

I am sure that it is only the relative rarity of the CU (not a great number were ever built), that has led to it being so little known or acknowledged. The ingenuity and sophistication of its variable geometry resulted in new solutions to old photographic problems, rarely matched in the decades since. To me, it seems like some kind of pinnacle of achievement in practical woodworking technology. A joy to use.

Do ask more questions, if there are specific issues you are working on.
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