Seneca View 8×10 – Front bellows frame…

After much hemming and hawing, I actually got a little work done today. Two things need to be fabricated on the 8×10 – a new front bellows frame (the camera was missing this when I bought it) and an extension rail. I scoured the shop for some time today, and finally found a piece of appropriately-sized oak to make the bellows frame. It needed dimensioning, which was done solely with the thickness planer. I didn’t take note of any dimensions, though, rather fitting the piece to the space needed:


After cutting the pieces to length (5-1/2″ each) I laid them out to make sure the opening would be sufficient:


The pieces are joined with my favorite half-laps. Quick to set up with the horizontal router table, though a little dicey cutting on thin pieces:


I ended up nibbling away the waste in small bites, taking four or five passes to cut the entire joint.

The joints, cut:


And with the pieces mated. Everything looks good.


I’m a big fan of polyurethane glues for most applications where strength and permanence is paramount. I always wet the surfaces a bit, as the glue needs moisture to cure. Small joints like these only require spring clamps to hold them tight while the glue sets:


After a few hours, I’ll remove the clamps and let the frame sit overnight. Poly glue creates a foaming squeeze-out which cures hard. It’s easily removed with a sharp chisel.

Now I need to measure exactly the final draw with the extension gear racks in place, and ship the frames off to Wales for bellows fabrication.


Seneca View 8×10 – Just when I thought it was over…

Okay, I’m all over the place these days. Was ready to get rid of the 8×10 project and buy a lens to cover 10×12. Found that I had an old process lens that’s insane-sharp and covers with room for tons of movement. Done. Then hit a crisis of sorts with large format in general: Becoming stale, not spending enough time actually shooting for creativity. So, I sold the Super Speedex and used some of the proceeds to purchase the Pentax 645, which gives me more creative options due to the availability of other lenses. Start scouting for another lens. Then spend a day contact printing 10×12 negatives. Find that I really enjoy having a traditional print in my hands, and that 10×12 is still too large for casual, spontaneous shooting. Want a new woodworking project – have a wine cabinet planned, but something shorter-term would be fun.

Re-enter the Seneca 8×10.

I’ve pulled a board of maple from the pile, which will become the rear extension rail. The woodworking is going to be pretty straight-forward. What’s going to be a (fun) challenge is the precision that must go into the alignment of the new parts with the old. Should keep me occupied for a little while.

So, the 8×10 is back on. Egad.

Seneca View 8×10 – Decisions, decisions…

Last week I came into a windfall buy of 10×12 FP4+, enough to keep me shooting for a long, long time. So, I’m feeling recommitted to the format, and want a lens with enough coverage to allow for some movements. Problem: No money. I’ve sold most all of the photographic chaff I had laying around. About the only thing left? The 8×10 Seneca View project camera. I know I’ll want an 8×10 again someday. I also know the 10×12 is an insane rig to carry around in the woods. But I don’t really feel like I have the luxury of maintaining both formats, even in project stages.

I also know the 8×10 would be worth so much more were it complete. But new bellows cost money, a new extension rail requires time I don’t seem to have. I fear I’m on the brink of forsaking this beautiful camera in pieces.

Decisions, decisions…

Seneca View 8×10 – Drilling and tapping rivets…

I seem to be in a perpetual state of stall with this camera. Odd, because I can’t wait to have it working. Ah, well.

Yesterday I bought some hardware bits to complete a tripod base plate for a client. While there, I bought a new #36 drill bit for my #6-32 tap, and a couple of 3/8″ #6-32 brass bolts. The rear box of the camera has been refinished and hardware reinstalled; all that was left was to drill and tap the side rivets and remount the box. I always get stuck mentally on this step for some reason.

So, today, I spent a grand total of 15 minutes doing the metalwork. Cut the remaining shafts off the rivets with a Dremel cut-off tool. Drilled carefully into the rivet heads. Tapped with the #6-32 tap. Installed the box.



Perfect fit. The rear standard is very nearly done. A change of direction on this rehab: I’m not polishing all the brass after all. Most of what I’d done before has aged in the interim; I’m not mentally in the same place about it anymore. Blame it on the 10×12. I just wanna shoot this, and the patina looks good. That said, I have a couple pieces on the rear box (the latch and the handle clips) that are very gross. It may only take a soak in Tarn-X to clean them up, but when they’re clean, the rear is done. Front standard is dusty, but otherwise in good shape.


So, here’s the plan: I need to fabricate a new front bellows frame, then send the frames off to Sandeha so he can start fabricating the new bellows. I need to make a new rear extension bed. I have the gear racks, which (on closer examination) are a different tooth count, but same pitch, as the existing. I’ve run the pinions over the rack over and over, and they appear to work. I’m going for it. When I confirm that it’s working, Sandeha will start the bellows, which will draw about 27″ total. New handle and lensboards, and install the bellows when they get here. Finally, this camera is moving forward.

Of course, this is all on immediate hold, until I complete the tripod base plate for the client. Time to get busy.

Seneca View 8×10 – sourcing a gear rack *UPDATE*

A special box arrived on the doorstep today. Containing the parts from an old Seneca Improved 5×7, it had two gear racks included which, on inspection and testing, proved compatible with the ones on the Seneca View 8×10! We’re in business! The generous seller included what amounts to about 90% of a complete camera – plenty of parts to keep me in projects for a while. To wit: The Competitor 5×7 is giving up the ghost. While there’s no compatible part to repair what ails it, there is the complete woodwork for a new 5×7 back. I’ll likely use the ground glass frame, the most demanding part to make, and assemble a new 5×7 back for the Seneca View. You know – in all my spare time.

I’ve already trolled the woodpile and found what looks like a suitable 8/4 board of seasoned cherry to make the new rail from. Will look wonderful and be plenty strong. There’s quite a bit of engineering to do on the new rail, and some hardware to be sourced at Ace (or Lee Valley), but the hardest part of this project – the gear rack – is tucked safely away in the spare bedroom, just waiting its turn…

Seneca View 8×10 – sourcing a gear rack

The Seneca needs an extension bed to give it full usability. This one was missing its original bed. I figured that gear racks are readily available through suppliers like McMaster-Carr and Boston Gear. Should be a simple thing to source a suitable rack, fabricate the wooden bed, and make a rail.

Turns out, not so much. A machinist friend schooled me on how these things work. Essentially, the existing rack and pinion is based on an obsolete size (a demetrial pitch of 46). Today’s closest match is a DP of 48, but that’s not good enough. Using the old pinions on the new rack would cause binding in use. That leaves few options: Have a shop fabricate a new rack with the obsolete specs; replace all the existing rack and pinion parts; find a donor camera in irreparable condition and scavenge the parts from it. The first two options are cost-prohibitive and logistically difficult; finding a donor to cannibalize seems the only workable solution now.

So, I’m trolling for a parts camera. I can’t foresee continuing the restoration of this camera without the proper extension. Drat.

Seneca View 8×10 – current status

Alright, I’ll admit it: I’m excited to start working on this camera again. Brought all the bits inside today and laid them out:

*Another* project...

The camera is a beaut. Really, aside from needing a new bellows and new extension rail, it’s just a refinishing job. I need to drill and tap the post rivets from the rear box (I have the tap, and bought the needed #36 drill bit today). I’ve already ground and replaced the original, broken glass. The back’s been completely refinished. Now I just need to brave the cold in the garage and start working forward on it.

This is symptomatic of a broader issue: I’m in love with these old wooden field cameras. They’re elegant, and speak to a time when process and quality in design were more than just advertising slogans. That they’re still completely usable after 100+ years is amazing to me – my Canon 20D is obsolete by years.

Now, I need to collect parts to finish the base plate on the Asanuma half plate conversion (likely tomorrow) – I shipped the original bellows to Sandeha today. I have the glass for the Eastman Empire State whole plate camera, and would like to get moving on that project. But this Seneca is dear to my heart – I have a soft spot for Senecas. And this one’s gorgeous. It’ll get a new bellows ultimately, and Dean Williams is helping spec the replacement gear rack for the rear extension. Going to be fun to get started on again. And, until then, it’s so much fun to just gaze at…