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  1. #1

    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Medium Format

    Skinning a Camera

    Choosing a camera:

    First you gotta determine what kind of camera to recover. Most 1970s rangefinders are easy and look good recovered. Canon GIII QL17, various minolta Hi-matic cameras, Olympus RC, RD, SP etc. DON'T try a Yashica Electro. the glue used by yashica is very tough to remove. You'll get very frustrated. save that for later.

    Various SLR cameras are pretty easy to work on too. Pentax spotmatics and k1000, Canon ae-1, minolta x-models. The fewer odd shaped corners and cutouts you have to cut the easier its going to be.

    Some older cameras like the argus C3 used a shellac based glue that dries out and will pop right off. Some newer SLRs like most X-series Minoltas used a double sided tape that peels off very easy. And some like the Yashica Electro and Konica III are almost impossible to remove in one piece. Also many cameras have metal name plates glued to the camera body. The Canon G-III has a nameplate on the front and a serial number plate on the back. You'll have to decide whether you want to keep it and cut around it or just pop it off and cover over that spot.

    I've done some TLRs like the Yashica 124 and some SLR's and rangefinders like the Argus C3 and Kiev 4 that require a lot of complex cuts. It can be done but you might want to start with a camera that has small rectagular cuts only.

    Tools needed:

    A good sharp exacto knife with several blades.
    a flat exacto blade. this looks like a little flat chisel, good for removing old leather.
    "Ronsonol" this is the lighter fluid used in zippo type lighters, used to clean camera parts, use in well ventalated area.
    rags and q-tips for cleaning
    "Pliobond" an industrial strength contact cement, sold in most hardware stores.
    A cutting mat is helpful. It heals itself after cuttin on it. and doesnt dull your blade as quickly as cardboard or something else.
    A steal edged ruler, to make straight cuts.
    Leather punch to make small holes. for making holes around flash pc sockets, timer levers, etc.You can use your exacto knife but a punch makes nice clean holes. larger holes will need the knife.
    double sided tape comes in very handy. Called "carpet tape" comes in 2 inch wide rolls at hardware store. Dont try to attach your leather to the camera with it, it wont last. but when you take the old leather off you can put it on the tape to make a pattern that will attach to the new leather.
    A couple of sticks, i use tooth picks or skewers to position the leather in the corners and other tight spots. It wont scratch up your nice new hide

    Removing the old leather:

    Many SLRs have a slot on the back door where you put your film box end to remind yourself what film is in there. It is difficult to remove the old leather and apply new leather around this so I usually remove it. It is usually riveted to the film door or sometimes just glued (lucky dog). If you are lucky they used plastic rivits that can be cut with an exacto knife. But they probably used metal rivets that will need to be drilled out to remove them. Its easier if you can remove the door from the camera. You have to take off the pressure plate inside (it slips right out) and CAREFULLY drill the back of the rivet till it falls off. I cover the holes with little squares of black electrical tape then put the new leather over it. (the leather probably seals out any light by itself but you might as well be on the safe side.)

    To remove your old leather you'll want to start in the corner and slip the flat exacto knife under the edge. If you're lucky and you've choosen the right camera you may be able to grip the corner and lift it off. If it is too sticky or looks like it wants to tear you better use the knife to work it off. A back and forth rocking motion helps. If it is really sticky then dampen a q-tip with Rosonol and work it under the leather. Take your time. you want to get the old leather off in one piece so you can use it for the pattern to cut the new piece. if it wont come off in one piece you'll have to make a pattern out of paper or light cardboard.

    When you get all the pieces off, stick them to the double sided tape. Stick the tape to the BACK of the leather. This will help flatten them out and holds them when you go to cut the new pieces.

    The camera will probably have old glue and bits of leather on it. You want to get it CLEAN. the better you clean it the better your new skin will stick. Use Ronsonol and q-tips and get all that stuff off. After its thoughly cleaned try not to touch the surface with your dirty oily old fingers.

    Applying new skin:

    Trim the carpet tape around the old leather. Use the metal edged ruler, exacto knife and cutting mat. this trimming doesnt have to be perfect but close. peal off the back of the tape and stick the pattern to your new leather skin. You should test the tape on a scrap piece of skin first. The tape may be too strong and can damage the new lizard skin when you pull it off. I usually stick the tape on my pants leg a couple of times to make it less sticky. (some cameras use double sided tape to attach the original leather and it is sticky enough, the carpet tape is not necessary.)

    When you get it positioned where you want it, PUT A NEW BLADE IN YOUR KNIFE!!! you want a fresh sharp blade when you cut the new skin. Carefully cut around your pattern and through the lizard skin. Use your straight edge and take your time. make sure to round the corners if the original has rounded corners.

    You can peel off the tape now and see how the new skin looks on your camera. Cool huh?

    spread out some newspapers to apply the glue. ventalation is good. I use "Pliobond" but there may be other brands of contact cement that work just as well. They usually come in a brown 4oz bottle with a brush attached to the cap. spread on a light coat and let it dry then apply a second coat. Try not to get too messy especially at the edges but if you do slop it around dont worry, you'll clean it up later.

    flip it over and position it on the camera. You'll have plenty of time before it dries to move it around a little. Use your stick to push it down around any cut-outs and around the lens mount. When it starts to dry rub it vigorously to remove any air bubbles and get it firmly attached. especially around the edges. Back doors of many cameras are raised in the center, you want to make sue it is firmly attached at the edges. If its not attached well you can try lifting it and apply a little more glue. rub, rub, rub.

    You'll probably have some glue on the outside around the edges. You can remove some of it by rubbing before it is completely dry. Or, wait till it dries overnight and use "Rosonol" and q-tips to clean it up. You dont want to use too much or you can loosen the glue. just a damp q-tip will do it. The leather will darken when it soaks up the ronsonol but dont worry it will dry up nicely.

    That's it. Brand new custom camera.

    Lizard skins for sale:

    you can search ebay for "lizard skin" (watch out for "woman in a lizard's skin") There's a couple people who sell skins or you can buy an old purse to cut up. I like old purses for a more antique look on old cameras. Old books or briefcases at the goodwill can provide leather.

    Avoid snake skins, except "Karung" snake. the scales are too large and loose on most snakes. there's also Ostrich, shark, stingray, eel, etc. just gotta search around.

    This is the best place to buy lizard skins. they also have some great bullfrog skins but it will take 2 to cover a camera. One lizard skin should cover 2-3 cameras. prices are $13 per lizard, and $6 for frog.


    Good Luck, let me know how it works out, if you have any questions

  2. #2
    Sean's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    New Zealand
    Multi Format
    Blog Entries
    Comments from the previous article system:

    By JHannon - 11:13 PM, 10-09-2005 Rating: None
    Nice Article Kevin. Using Pliobond is a good idea because of it's flexability and it is easier to remove the covering for future repairs. I recently did a black Yashica Electro in red lizard skin. I bought the leather already cut to fit from Cameraleather.com. More expensive but it looks great.

  3. #3
    Nicholas Lindan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Cleveland, Ohio USA
    Multi Format
    For making large(ish) circular holes a set of 'Arch Punches' is a nice thing to have:

    f-Stop Timers - Enlarging Meters

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Quote Originally Posted by Sean View Post
    Comments from the previous article system:

    By JHannon - 11:13 PM, 10-09-2005 Rating: None
    Nice Article Kevin. Using Pliobond is a good idea because of it's flexability and it is easier to remove the covering for future repairs. I recently did a black Yashica Electro in red lizard skin. I bought the leather already cut to fit from Cameraleather.com. More expensive but it looks great.
    I just recently saw that site. It's worth a look as you get some sense of what looks better on a black or silver body,a "vintage,a newer camera. I have several Mamiya DTL 1000s and was thinking that buying one "cut to fit" gets be the bonus of a pattern for whichever of the others I'd re-cover.

    An Argus C3? I think I eventually gave one away. They were not rare-just primative. You can get a Nikon FM or FE or a Pentax Spotmatic or MX or ME Super, Mamiya DTL,Canon A-1,Nikon F.....something that is CLASSIC-yet useable...fairly cheap on ebay. A matching lens cap could be a nifty touch.So could be a strap....which if you get your leather off a second hand purse-may have a strap not hard to modify.



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