Wood Stripper, Brass Rails and Cleaning

Discussion in 'Camera Building, Repairs & Modification' started by Kevin Kehler, May 11, 2011.

  1. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    I am working on restoring an Agfa Ansco camera, which needs to have all of the shellac/finish removed because of scratches, gouges and wear. I have taken the camera apart as much as possible (20+ labeled little bags with screws and parts for rebuild) but still have some brass sections that cannot be removed because they are either un-removable (tripod mount is driven in), riveted on or attached in a way I cannot remove without causing more damage. The geared rails look like they were nailed through the rail and then had the tops of the nail removed to allow gear usage; there is no real way to remove them without damaging the slots the rails now sit in. Take a look at the first picture on the listing here which also shows the riveted name plate.

    My plan is as follows - use a gelled wood stripper to strip the shellac off followed by paint thinner to clean the wood, allow to air dry for several days, make repairs to wood gouges, stain, coat with polyurethane sealant/coating for protection, then reassemble. I still need to order replacement bellows so it will not happen quickly, as well as replacing the majority of the original 3/8" brass screws, some of which are not looking so nice.

    So my questions are as follows:

    1. The original plan was to tape all the remaining brass in order to protect it; the guy at the paint store indicated the strength of the stripper required to remove the shellac would eat through almost any tape. Besides duct tape (which leaves residue), is there someway of taping the brass?
    2. Will the wood stripper have a negative effect on the brass if I don't tape it, namely tarnishing it further? Should I figure how to remove all the brass which leads to how do you get rivets and gears back on?
    3. Assuming the brass is not tarnished by stripper, how do I polish the gears without damaging the wood (should I polish the brass then stain the wood or stain/seal the wood and then polish the brass)?
    4. Is it better to use a chemical product to enhance the brass or use really fine steel wool (000) to polish? Is there a recommended way of protecting the brass (a sealant of some kind, maybe bee's wax)?

    In the end, I want a functional instrument, not a decorative camera. Worst case scenario, put the camera back together and use as is.
     
  2. George Nova Scotia

    George Nova Scotia Subscriber

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    Last edited by a moderator: May 11, 2011
  3. Mark Fisher

    Mark Fisher Subscriber

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    If it is shellac, definitely use denatured alcohol. Much easier to control and not nearly as nasty. I refinished a clock this way and I didn't even need to apply a new finish.
     
  4. 3e8

    3e8 Member

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    I recently went thru this with an older Kodak 2D. I found the best thing to remove the finish was Formby's Furniture Refinisher. This removed paint and the original varnish, without damaging the brass.

    For the brass, I found that fine steel wool was the best method. It certainly isn't like new, but it looks reasonably good.
     
  5. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    I just tried some Isopropyl alcohol and some ethanol (vodka) - no effect. I will have to try the denatured alcohol before going to more. Perhaps it is not shellac, maybe it is varnish. I just don't want to sand it as there are a large number of small corners and curves in addition to worrying about ruining the nice grain of the cherry wood.
     
  6. George Nova Scotia

    George Nova Scotia Subscriber

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    Either one of those should have at least made the finish sticky, so it's likely a varnish or lacquer. I still think the scraper idea is worth a thought, especially if the finish is dry and cracked. It's not too difficult to learn. Either way don't be surprised if the cherry gets lighter in colour. Just put it out in sun for a tan after you've refinished it. Cherry like film is light sensitive!
     
  7. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    If you don't mind buying some lacquer thinner, you can do the same test as you did for shellac.
    If it is lacquer a thinned coat of fresh lacquer will renew the old finish without stripping it.
    Just get a good respirator first, and a very soft artist's brush.
     
  8. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    All good ideas, looking forward to working on it. Any ideas as to how to polish the geared brass rails, specifically the gears themselves?
     
  9. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    Just to add. I did the same and it worked just fine. I used Brasso got the metal, it's time tested. Formby's is excellent.

    Curt
     
  10. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

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    I like Formby's too.
    For small brass screws try micro fasteners in NJ. Reasonable prices & pretty quick
     
  11. John R.

    John R. Member

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    If I were stripping the finish I would use a low heat hobby type heat gun, not a standard heat gun. I would use stainless steel English cabinet scrapers to remove the softened finish. You would have to either remove the name plate so the black paint does not soften from the heat or protect it with a heat resistant tape. be careful of tape lifting off the black paint. You do not want the glued components to get too hot so be careful. Wood can be scorched from too intensive heat so only use a low heat output and keep the heat moving at all times. If needed, I would use super fine 0000 bronze wool on the brushed brass components or 3M red pads. Don't use steel wool or you will leave small steel particles behind that will rust and discolor the finish or brass. I would do the basic polishing with Flitz liquid or paste polish. I would use Never Dull on any areas where you do not want polish build up in cracks, joints, seams and crevices.
    As an alternative you can use soy stripper on the finish which is not nearly as caustic as standard strippers. Though, I would not use any chemical strippers myself.
     
  12. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    Interestingly, heat has been what everyone I have talked to has repeatedly stressed should be avoided, since it can cause warping even at low levels. I am also interested in your desire not to use chemical strippers as I understand this to be the quickest and most cost effective way of working. While I understand the desire to use a more environmentally friendly product, I am not convinced the "green" products will work as well. Assuming you use proper handling techniques, most chemical products are just as safe.

    When I spoke with a chemist friend about getting some denatured alcohol, he suggested using nail polish remover as a more cost-effective method. Any thoughts? I was able to get the rails out after much wiggling but I noticed the leather handle is riveted in; can I assume almost anything I use will be bad for the leather?

    Most interesting tip I have found, mix up some sawdust and epoxy and fill the screw holes in order to get a better fit with the screws. I like this as some of the screws are a little loose even when screwed in.
     
  13. George Nova Scotia

    George Nova Scotia Subscriber

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    I too would avoid heat. The glues used are likely hide or fish glues which soften with heat. You may find joints coming apart. Nail polish remover is acetone with a few things added. It may soften some lacquers. You might also find some of the brass is lacquer coated. If you have some polish remover or acetone give it a try with a qtip and see what comes off. Some of the smaller rivets might also be small brass nails. I don't think you need epoxy, ordinary wood glue with sawdust or even a toothpick will do. Put the screw in while the glue is still soft or use a steel screw to make the hole then put in the softer brass screw. I still think steel scrapers will make quick work of the finish.
     
  14. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    Avoid heat and use a product specifically for the finish. It's an optical instrument and should be conserved as such.

    Curt
     
  15. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    I too would avoid heat. Plus, I'd only strip the finish if absolutely necessary. I restored a Korona last year. One section needed side needed refinishing due to a crack I repaired. For the rest of it, I used automotive polishing compound to renew the surface, and a new coat of lacquer here and there. If the current finish is lacquer, a new coat will blend into the exisiting, unlike varnishes and polyurethanes.

    Also, the epoxy and sawdust thing would work, but using regular wood glue and sawdust works just as well, and is much easier than dealing with epoxy.
    My second choice, and sometimes first, if I'm in a hurry, for screw hole repair is sawdust and cyanoacrylate (aka super glue).
    In general, avoiding epoxy will make future repairs easier, should they be necessary.
     
  16. gordrob

    gordrob Subscriber

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    I have refinished a Kodak 2D that had everything painted white. It was a chore to strip the paint from the wood and brass because the paint had penetrated the open grain in the wood. The brass was stripped and polished with Brasso and 0000 steel wool and the parts have a duller finish than new but still look fine on the camera.

    After stripping the paint and sanding the parts I re-stained the wood and finished it with a spray lacquer. I used an aerosol spray and put 4 coats on - sanding between coats with finer grit each time. If you use lacquer make sure you have good ventilation. I sprayed mine outdoors just to be safe as lacquer has a strong odor and is quite flammable.

    Regards
    Gord
     
  17. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    I restored my spare Agfa Ansco Universal 10x8 last November, I stripped off the old shellac where it was badly cracked with Methylated spirits. I filter my meths to remove the purple dye first, charcoal works well or an old water deioniser (jug type) but that need a few cycles.

    Being a purist I re-French polish my cameras, this takes a few days sometimes a couple of weeks but is worth while it's a more natural finish than lacquers/varnishes, I can now re-stain to match existing parts, I experiment with off cuts.

    Brass like others I just use Brasso, but sometimes I need to soak in Vinegar first to remove Oxidation, then I re-polish. I've just rest6ored a large shutter and had to remove solder from parts that looked almost a write off, but heat to remove all the solder then wet & dry and Brasso mean the parts look like new. I will give brass a flick of lacquer to prevent oxidation but I'm not 100% happy not to be using the original 1890's lacquers (on older cameras_.

    Ian
     
  18. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    The gel stripper will eat through anything, even nitrile gloves (use rubber, or remove the nitrile glove immediately if you get some on it). Have good ventilation for this (outdoors or in a well vented garage)

    Doesn't seem to hurt brass though. I recently stripped and re-poly'd a century studio camera. Used brasso for the brass parts.

    pix: http://jason.philbrook.us/gallery3/index.php/2010/album212
     
  19. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    Ian, sound like exactly my sort of desired workflow - I have been looking at varnishes/stains and would love to recreate the original finish. I am starting next weekend (long weekend in Canada) with the removal of shellac/stain. I don't expect to use the camera this summer, maybe the winter as bellows alone from Custom Bellows are 6 weeks to construct (and I need to raise the funds first). Where did you get your materials, as I am assuming your local hardware store does not stock a French Polish kit as a normal item?

    Jason, thanks for the tip on the nitrile gloves, which is exactly what I was going to use. Might need something a little more resilient. I plan on working out of a friends garage, since I live in an apartment.
     
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  20. Mark Fisher

    Mark Fisher Subscriber

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    In the US, denatured alcohol is available at hardware stores for a few dollars for a pint. It will only work if it is shellac. If it is the original finish, it probably is. Acetone (fingernail polish solvent) is also available at hardware stores. If it is lacquer, then lacquer thinner would work. If it is a varnish, you are probably out of luck and need to use stripper, but I'll try paint thinner as that is the solvent for conventional varnish.

    Shellac is a very traditional finish. French polish is a way of applying and finishing a shellac finish so everything you'd need would be at the local hardware store.
     
  21. John R.

    John R. Member

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    The heat, used wisely at a low and controlled level is not going to cause a issue. The old compromised finish will soften and render itself easily removable long before any threats to the wood substrate occur. I have used heat guns on marine brightwork on highly sensitive, expensive joinery and components for many years and the only time it has potential to cause a problem is when too much heat is used and/or it is concentrated in one local spot too long. I have an old Kodak 3A 5x7 view that I stripped with this method many years ago and it was just fine. It will not hurt the wood unless a person is careless and simply burns the wood because of poor technique.

    Soy stripper is a superb stripper and is extremely safe to substrates. It is not a weak green product. Soy stripper is highly effective and is far safer for sensitive hardwoods than a standard chemical based stripper.