Back from the Brink – A Kodak 2D restoration project by Shane Booth

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You know what it’s like – you see something you don’t really need but want it anyway. Well this purchase was a bit like that. I was offered this Eastman Kodak 2D for a reasonable price at Goldstreet Studios “The Gathering” in November 2014. I really didn’t need another 8×10 camera, let alone one that needed restoring. So with all reasonable thought out the window I bought it thinking how nice a winter project it would make.

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The good thing was that the timber work was in good condition with only minor damage on the extension rail, the brass work was complete and straight, unfortunately the bellows were shot and it was missing the all important springback, and a lesser degree the extension rail to allow full use of the 800 mm bellows. The camera sat on the floor of my office for a whole 4 days before temptation got the better of me, and I knew it wasn’t going to be a winter project.

I started stripping the brass from the camera, taking a few photos along the way to aid reassembly, screws and bit got bagged and marked with a brief description about what it was and where it came from. Now the designers of the Kodak 2D never intended their camera to be pulled down and restored, I think they would be quite surprised that they still exist. Most part come off quite simply by undoing the screws and few need a bit more help such as the rear standard vertical support that needed drilling out as their simple studs penned over like a rivet. The bottom bracket needs the shaft to be removed but the knobs don’t unscrew so to keep things simple (and I assume cheap) the knobs are simply screwed on and the shaft is burred over stopping the knob from unscrewing. Lucky for me a bit of working the knob backward and forwards let the knob cut a new thread, the worst case was it just stripped the thread.

With the brass removed I stripped the old coating using a commercial paint stripper, followed by a rub down with steel wool and methylated sprits. Messy, but it allowed the underlying stain to be redistributed evenly around the timber. Without any further need to sand the timber I decided that a shellac finish would suit best instead of a urethane coating which might be a bit tougher but just didn’t seem right, so I gave it 4 coat of shellac followed by a dry rub with fine steel wool then two more coats of shellac, followed by a rubbing with steel wool and wax which allowed a lovely natural sheen to the timber to come through.

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To the Brass – the brass fittings on a Eastman Kodak 2D were never a highly polished item. Most parts are pressed from sheet and slightly pitted for a deliberate low sheen, now with a bit (OK a lot) of hard rubbing a mirror polish could have been achieved but who was I to rob it of its original working class roots. Besides, it was a much easier to clean the crud of the brass with vinegar, ammonia and steel wool followed by a good rinse and dry. I haven’t applied any coating to the brass beside a light wax when re-waxing the completed camera, it should allow natural patina to return, we will see how it goes like that.

So with the timber and brass finished all it needed was reassembly, not as simple as pulling it apart but with the aid of photos it all went back together with no spare parts left over. The drill out rivets from the side bracket were drilled and tap to allow reinstallation of the original parts which will allow removal if need be. So at this point we’re back to a skeleton camera that looks good, won’t work, but looks good so I posted a photo of it online a week or so before Christmas.

In the between time I had been chasing down a springback , not desperately so, as my Burke & James back is a direct fit so worst case that could be used but I still wanted an original back. I tried a few places I knew of in Australia that may have one without luck, I could get one from the USA but with delivery costs and falling $AU it was a costly option so I decided to wait until the camera was finished before making the final decision as they did appear to pop up for sale quite regular online in USA for similar prices. However, as luck would have it a friend in NSW saw my online image and though he just may have a back sitting around (as one does) so we checked a few measurement which seem to match and three days before Christmas I got an early present in the form of an original 2D springback. It was promptly pulled down and received the same attention as the rest of the body and put back together.

I still needed to make a ground glass which was done using 600 grit silicon carbide and a glass block. I had not been too concerned about the bellows throughout the project as I knew of an Ebay seller in China which advertised direct replacement bellows who was reliable and the quality of product was good enough for this project. But since I now had a back they were the only thing required to finish the job. I ordered a set of bellows on Christmas Eve and received them 13 Jan, true to word they fitted the existing bellows frame perfectly. So as of now I’m the proud owner of a very functional Kodak 2D, unfortunately I haven’t got out to try it.

– Shane Booth