View Full Version : reconditioning 'leather' bellows

Jersey Vic
08-01-2008, 12:17 AM
I have a Rochester Optical Corp Empire State One full plate camera that I use and the 'leather' belows is getting mighty brittle. What's a good product for making it/keeping it supple?

Thanks in advance


Mike Kennedy
08-01-2008, 02:07 AM
It's got to be "Neats Foot Oil".I'm using it on my project camera and it does a wonderful job reconditioning the leather.Picked up a bottle at my local shoe repair shop for $7.00.


df cardwell
08-01-2008, 09:53 AM
Neats Foot will wreck the leather. The BIG problem with old bellows are the little paper stiffeners glued into the bellows.

If the leather gets too wet, assuming the stiffeners are still in place, the clue will let go and you will have a mess.

"Pledge" is about as daring as you might want to go. Go easy. Be patient.

Before you get rolling, be sure to keep this in a safe place:

Mike Kennedy
08-01-2008, 09:59 AM
Well,Neats Foot was recommended by the Graflex.org group and it seems to be doing a great job reconditioning the leather on my graflex 3-A.

08-01-2008, 10:41 AM
I took the advice of a poster here awhile back (my apologies, I don't remember who) and started using Talas leather saver, along with saddle soap if the bellows are real leather. The combo has worked very well. Here's the link. They have a lot of products with good info to go along.

08-01-2008, 10:45 AM
I would think neat's foot would work fine. I've been using it on baseball gloves for years. I'd probably put it onto a cloth rather than directly onto the bellows though. I use pledge occasionally on the outside of my cameras. Shines them up nicely but also seems to take off some of the black. I don't know that I'd put it on the bellows, although I suppose if it doesn't harm the outside the bellows would be fine too. Most of my bellows are still nice and supple - usually all I do is dust them using a dry swiffer pad.


Barry S
08-01-2008, 11:39 AM
I've got a hundred year old half-plate camera with a leather bellows that's in pretty decent condition, but it also needs a little conditioning. I've read that Lexol works well and I've used it on other leather goods with success. They've also got a cleaner and their own version of neat's foot oil. I've read some iffy things about saddle soap and normal neat's foot oil, but Lemon Pledge seems to be pretty popular--everybody must love a lemony fresh bellows.

df cardwell
08-01-2008, 06:00 PM
Lexol is very good stuff. Doesn't seem as likely to break down the leather as Neatsfoot may. One of the problems with neatsfoot is that it often contains mineral oil or other adulterant that destroys the material. Pure neatsfoot oil will tend to make the leather less supple over time. And in the creases and folds, the Neatsfoot will act just like it does on a catchers mitt, the more flexing the joint performs, the greater the effect.

Use the least dangerous stuff you can, use less than you really want to, and don't try to erase 80 years in 5 minutes. Don't forget the part about paper stiffeners. And PLEASE don't lose the address for the best bellows makers on Earth.

08-01-2008, 06:49 PM

Thanks for the reminder about not trying 'to erase 80 years in 5 minutes'. That should be a big ol' no-brainer, but I didn't remember to put it in my post. When I got my one hundred year old Century plate camera, the bellows was filthy and so stiff I was afraid to extend it. I started with a thin coat of saddle soap with as little water as possible, let that dry a day and repeated the step. Then, over the next four days I applied four thin coats of Talas Leather Saver. All I can say is that the bellows are now gorgeous and supple without being too soft (or oily).

I'm sure there are many products and many techniques for restoring bellows. It almost certainly depends partly on what condition they are in and what exactly the construction materials are. Perhaps if we put together enough testimonials of actual bellows restorations with fairly explicit details, this thread can be a de facto data base for old bellows first aid. Camera rescue is a noble (and fun) endeavor.


df cardwell
08-01-2008, 07:52 PM
Whatever success I've had in restoration projects over the past 40 years have been solely to to the good counsel and instruction
of generous folks like Merle and Jack Deardorff, Ken Hough, Steve Grimes, Sheldon Brown, Clive Russ,
and innumerable LF shooters who have tried to help me, often, in vain.

Failures, such as that poor Tele Photo Cycle Poco B whose lovely bellows I transformed into a useless, sopping mess, are all my own.

Denise hits the method right on the button. Patience, and wait.

Mike Kennedy
08-02-2008, 09:34 AM
I'll give Lexol a try on my Graflex.A man who spends some of his time in Cape Breton must have his head screwed on right.Thanks for the information df.


df cardwell
08-02-2008, 05:12 PM
old bellows treated with lexol...
on an old camera with an old lens on an old island

thanks mike

Jersey Vic
08-04-2008, 12:17 AM
Great shot DF ; My thanks to you all for the great info.

08-09-2008, 02:50 AM
I would agree that neet will damage your bellows over the long term.
Lexol is also good but if the bellows are old you take the risk of eating away savable areas.

DR. JACKSONS HIDE REJUVENATOR is by far the best for old bellows. It makes them like new and protects them from further damage.


df cardwell
08-09-2008, 07:55 AM
Is "Dr. Jackson's" a Tandy product ? I've become fond of Bickmore stuff for boots and shoes...

Might be time for an MSDS search for some of these very nice new-fangled concoctions !


12-23-2008, 10:57 AM
I'm not a large format shooter, but seem to remember that I once read that in the old days they used bees wax to keep the bellows soft.