Asanuma project camera – plate back repairs

First step in making the camera 4×5-ready is to repair the parted-out plate back. One of the rails had been removed to allow mounting (poorly) of a Graflex spring back. Time to remake that rail.

First, I lay out the cuts to be made on the end of some mahogany:

The first rip cut is done blind, and defines the height of the working stock:

The next cut defined the thickness of the working stock, and separates it from the board:

The working piece, removed from the board with a series of safe ripping cuts:

Next, a rabbet is cut with two blind ripping cuts to hold the edges of the eventual 4×5 insert:

After cutting the stock to length with a miter gauge, the curves on the ends of the rail are laid out from the plate back. These curves are decorative, but also allow clearance for the mounting brackets on the rear standard:

The work piece, milling complete:

Next I lay out the mounting holes for drilling and countersinking. The piece is mounted with #4×1/2″ wood screws:

Testing the fit:

In order to match color more closely, I apply mahogany gel stain, let sit for 10 minutes, and wipe:

Finally, the completed rail, mounted and ready for lacquer:


Asanuma project camera – back planning

The camera is almost completely reassembled now:


The stripped back (minus the God-awful Graflex spring back) and a chunk-o-mahogany that I’ll rip a strip off for replacing the missing rail:


The plan, now, is to remake that rail, replace the four wood screws that tie everything together, and design a 4×5 insert of walnut. I’ll be using the springs from the Graflex back.

Asanuma project camera – mystery lines…

After disassembly of the rear standard, I did my usual solvent scrub with 0000 steel wool. The protocol is the same as always; I won’t repeat it here. However, after scrubbing away the grime and age from the wood, some small lines became apparent:

Scribe marks...

Now, I know what these are from years of hand cutting joinery, but it may not be apparent to everyone, and some may think they’re actually a bad thing, or indicative of abuse or sloppy manufacture. The lines, noted above with the blue arrows, are scribe lines made by a marking gauge when laying out the mortise for the inlaid brass corners. The lines are scribed on the wood to define the edges of the area into which the brass will be inlaid (a “mortise”). Then chisels are used to remove the material in the mortise, allowing the brass to sit flush to the surface.

In other words, this inlay wasn’t made using CNC or a router; a skilled workman used handwork to make the cuts. It’s indicative of a hand-made piece. Now, not all handwork is created equal, but on this camera the joints are tight and the quality is impeccable. All good.

Asanuma project camera – front standard (re)finishing

After removal of the lens standard from the front standard assembly, I scrub the lacquer with lacquer thinner and 0000 steel wool, followed by several wipings with paper towels soaked in lacquer thinner. Once dry, the wood gets a bath in cherry-colored TransTint dye and several coats of sprayed gloss lacquer. The nickeled metal is polished with Flitz and a Dremel felt wheel; the steel parts are sanded and sprayed with satin black Rustoleum enamel.

With the lens standard completed, I turn to the front standard itself. Four screws hold it to the base:


Hardware is removed and set aside for polishing:


As before, the wood is scrubbed, wiped, and sprayed:


Some of the nickeled hardware is worn heavily, and even gentle polishing by hand reveals some underlying brass. As I don’t plan on letting this camera sit on a shelf, I’m not interested in polishing all the nickel to brass, though this is an option. Instead, after the lacquer is cured, I reassemble the front standard:


With this portion finished, I need yet to disassemble the base, remove and strip the rear box, and fabricate the new back. I think the rear box will be next – disassembly of the base will require filing peened heads on the focus shafts. I’m not eager to start that part yet…

Asanuma project camera – front standard disassembly

First order of business – separate the bellows from the front standard. These bellows wewre glued in place. I applied some xylene to the seam with a Q-Tip in hopes of softening the adhesive.

This only slightly worked. I’d guess the glue was water-based rather than solvent-based. Water may’ve worked better.

I separated the bellows with a razor blade, but left part of the first fold in place (unintentionally):

Removal of the lens standard was an exercise in screw removal and gently easing the locking screws through their mounting holes. The side clips on the standard are screwed from the side and front; reinstalling will require threading the locking screws into the standard bracket, then screwing the lens standard in while in place. Should require three or four hands to do.

Regardless, the lens standard and hardware are now removed, ready for cleaning:

Asanuma project camera – unpacking and assessment

Well, the Asanuma arrived yesterday. Opening the box answered many questions, but raised many more.

Asanuma Half Plate Project Cam...

Asanuma Half Plate Project Cam...

Asanuma Half Plate Project Cam...

Asanuma Half Plate Project Cam...

It’s a sturdy, well-designed, well-engineered camera. It indeed looks to be an Asanuma, mainly due to the arrangement and design of hardware details (the locking knobs on the front standard, the scroll work on the lensboard retainers, the inlaid brass braces in the corners and base).

Asanuma Half Plate Project Cam...

It has the original plate back, but the back is unsuable in its current state, with parts removed to make room for a poorly-fit Graflex spring back. There are loose joints needing gluing, the bellows are poor, and the base needs a contemporary tripod mount. The metalwork is pretty tarnished, and appears to be a mix of metals – the top and bottom lensboard retainers are steel, and rusted, while the rest of the hardware appears to be chromed brass. That’s the bad.

The good: The wood, which appears to be mahogany, is in beautiful condition. The leather strap is sound, and appears new. The back will make an excellent template for the new back(s) the camera is going to be fitted with. Everything locks down appropriately, nothing is broken or bent, and the camera has about 14″ of draw and good movements. The back is easily reversible. And the camera, while robust and sturdy, is a featherweight.

Questions raised: Should I file the peened heads down to remove all the hardware for painting? Should I just paint the steel parts and polish as best as possible the rest? What was the actual format of this camera? I’ve been assuming it’s half-plate, but the window on the plate back is 4-7/8″ x 6-1/4″, which is less than half-plate. There are no bellows frames – they’re glued directly to the standards. Should I fabricate frames, or glue the (eventual) new bellows in place as the originals?

I’ve already pulled the top lensboard retainer and soaked it in CLR, which removed a little rust. I tried buffing with Flitz and a Dremel, which removed a little more rust. But I think the solution to the two rusted retainers is Krylon.

Once I decide what to do with the bellows situation, the camera is coming apart today. I want to get the loose joints glued, the mahogany finish renewed, and see if the finish on the hardware is salvageable. This will be a user camera, but there’s no reason to leave it an ugly one. The new back is either going to be black walnut or mahogany; I have decent stock of both woods, and while I lean toward using a similar wood with a compatible finish, walnut looks so nice, especially against mahogany…

Considering the seller (when I inquired about the back) replied, “…this is a junk parts camera, I wouldn’t give it a lot of thought,” I’m happy this camera never quite made the junk pile. I think it’s going to be a great 4×5.

Asanuma project camera – chasing details…

More research suggests that the Asanuma King has triple extension to 20″, which is a darned good thing.  Also, while the existing “back” looks very poorly adapted, it seems that both clips are in place to hold it.  If my thinking’s right, that means the previous owner cobbled the Graflex onto the original plate back.  If that’s true, I should be able to slide the plate back out and either use it directly or as a pattern for the 4×5 spring back.  And I think the springs from the Graflex back will be usable for the new spring back, which means less metalwork for me.

This is all pending receipt and inspection, but the photos are pretty encouraging!