I agree that cherry is the first choice. Poplar or birch will take a paint finish very well. If you have a supplier of fine hardwood for cabinet shops in your area check and see if they have any odd pieces in a scrap barrel that they sell at very low cost. You might even get some split boards or short scraps at no cost if you are lucky. Probably you will need a lot of thin and narrow pieces that can be cut from salvaged boards. You might even run across some really exotic woods for detailing.
Silly idea but many materials got into other area's of use based on existing local products. Would Cherry Wood of been used for furniture or something similar at the time Field Camera's started to be produced and the tradition has continued? I never was very good at history.
Good question Tony. The species of wood available to local areas played a large part in its use. Cherry has always been a favorite for furniture and such. But if one was in an area where cherry didn't grow, it was seldom seen in locally-made articles.
Originally Posted by TPPhotog
Just as an extreme example, the area where I live now once had large stands of American Black Walnut. These stands, of course, were felled long ago. A friend was telling of a job his father got to tear down an old barn. The deal was his father and brothers would do the labor and salvage the wood as payment. This is a common practice. They started working the demolition and soon realized the entire barn was built from walnut; structural timbers, siding, roofing, everything. A virtual gold mine. The lumber provided many pieces of fine furniture for the family and paid off all the debt with several thousand in cash left over. No one these days would even contemplate building an entire barn with black walnut; but in the days when the trees were cleared for farming and there were many of them close by, it was logical.
An example of wood use that had international significance was the War of 1812. One of the primary reasons for the war was that England wanted to regain possession of the the Live Oak stands in the Carolinas. Live Oak was, at the time, the ultimate material for building warships. This is the wood "Old Ironsides" was built from. The Live Oak is so dense it could withstand and repel cannon bombardment, such as it was in that era.
Alex, thank you I really enjoyed reading that reply One of the things I most love about analog it that it's not only the present and future, but also has a history that reaches back and touches on so many wonderful things. Just imagine being able to go out into a wood/forest and helping yourself to walnut and oak these days, something we will never experience again.
Well Tony, you can always grow your own but that's something to start when one is young. If I were to start some walnut trees now, I doubt I would live to harvest them, much less be able to harvest them.
Just remember, the piers for London Bridge were made from English Elm, and they lasted 500 years. And if someone wants to make a camera from Elm, power to them (ie-one of the most difficult to work).
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Alex I must admit that although I love the feel and smell of real wood, my abilities to work it are confined to pruning. I envy those who are practical with their hands and able to work with wood to create beautiful pieces. Sometimes when I'm out on a hill I also think of what it must have been like when it was said that the great forest in Britain was so large that a squirrel (grey of course) could travel the length and breadth of the country without ever touching the ground.
I recently built a back for a camera and can say that the experience was quite an education. There is a learning curve attested to by piles of sawdust on the garage floor. If you're going for a 4x5, I can recommend the advice I've read elsewhere of purchasing an old Graflok back and adapting it to your design.
Based on the sawdust factor mentioned above (but not knowing your level of woodworking expertise), I'd stick to less expensive and readily available woods. If you can make it once, you can make it again with better materials once you get the hang of it. You'll always end up with sawdust. But cheap sawdust is better than expensive sawdust. Having said that, cherry is still a good choice both practically and aesthetically. It is a beautiful wood. It darkens with age and with exposure to UV which somehow seems appropriate for use in a camera.
Also, as Jay suggested, laminates are a possibility. However my knowledge of laminate technology is limited to Baltic birch plywood, which I've found very useful. It's inexpensive, mills well, is available in a number of thicknesses and is dimensionally stable. You can either paint it or apply a veneer to give you a beautiful and environmentally friendly (green) result.
I've found the sticking point in making a camera isn't in the woodworking, but in the various small bits required to allow movements and the ability to fold. For that you'll find yourself getting interested in acquiring machine tools and finding less and less time for making photographs.
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Anyone can appreciate a fine print. But it takes a real photographer to appreciate a fine negative.
Will has an excellent point which bears repeating - geting absorbed in building your own camera takes away from the time that can be spent photographing. I was warned of this too by an eminent photographer when I was contemplating building my own. I'm glad I took the advice. I'm sure I would have spent the last year building rather than photographing. I'll add just another little point - I'm not a novice at making things from wood or metal; I'm well experienced, have made a living doing it. Point is, given my relative level of proficiency in making things, I'm glad I didn't make my own. Maybe I'll save it for an 8x20.
Originally Posted by wfwhitaker
One other point; machine tools are nice but not necessary. Given their expense, it becomes hard to justify their purchase just for one project. One can make all of the necessary metal parts from brass which can be shaped quite accurately with simple hand tools. If you need round knobs, they can be turned using an electric drill and files. Same goes with the wood; the pieces are small enough that one is almost better off using hand tools. And, oh yes, you can be as accurate by hand as you can be by machine for as accurate as this stuff needs to be.
Build / buy advice
Will and Alex, Yes. I can certainly attest to the truth of your advice. In fact, I'm pretty sure I knew in my gut that it would be much more economical to buy than to build. Would that I had trusted my instincts.
Originally Posted by Alex Hawley
Hmmm, actually, I think we're forgeting the "wife factor". Consider:
1. "Honey, I'd like to buy (yet another) camera."
2. "Honey, I'm gonna build a camera out of wood!"
You see, my wife / accountant only considers the real dollar cost. Compare the cost of a few sticks of lumber, glue, sandpaper, wood finishing materials and some "small bits of hardware" to that of (yet another) camera. True enough, the dirty little secret is that I'm really making a big pile of saw dust and I may get a camera out of the deal but, I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. I've got a back and rear box roughed out. Still have a long ways to go...I look forward to drawing on the experience of this group along the way.
Thank you very much for your help and advice.
The 'Wife factor"... Seems like this is universal. Whenever I get another camera in the mail my wife gives me a look that many recognize as meaning 'Another @#$% Camera!?'.
Heh, on a side note, this has been a great thread, I thank everyone so far for their informative postings.