Wood Tripod -- treatment

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I have a wooden tripod - love it - warmer to carry than aluminum - nice and stable. I like it so much, I'm afraid to take it out, which defeats its purpose. I am fairly sure the wood is oak. So, if it gets wet, what do I do? Do I oil it? Will that reduce the friction and make it wobbly? Yet I know what happens to old wood. WahdoIdo?


-- Dean lastoria (dvlastor@sfu.ca), April 20, 2000


First, don't worry. Use your nice wooden tripod.

If it gets wet, dry it off. It take a long time for water to soak deeply into the wood.

What condition is it in now? If it has a finish, the finish is probably durable and can withstand getting wet. Dry it off before you put it away.

The wood is probably ash, not oak. Oak is a very hard, brittle wood. It would rather break than bend. Ash is commonly used for legs on furniture and baseball bats. It would rather bend than break, but is hard and flexible. Before finishing ash and oak look similar. But ash doesn't stain nicely. It colors pretty evenly. When oak is stained, it heightens the difference in grain patterns.

Whatever you do, Don't oil it. Oil takes ages to dry hard. If it needs refinishing you want a finish that dries hard and quickly. Before the oil dries you can't use the tripod and that could take months.

Lacquer is good if you have spraying equpment. If not, use varnish. I recommend soya alkyd resin varnish. ACE hardware sells this as "oil varnish". Read the ingredients to make sure its this. Thin it down (at least 1:1) with thinner and rub on with very thin coats. Let each coat dry thoroughly before recoating.

I don't like polyurethane because it doesn't bond well and it feels "plastic-y".

What happens to old wood is because it is continuously exposed to the elements without protection.

-- Charlie Strack (charlie_strack@sti.com), April 20, 2000.

Dean: A wood tripod needs to be wiped down to remove grit and then a good coat of wax applied, such as a paste furniture wax. Also keep the parts waxed where they rub together, such as at the leg extensions. Get a good coat of wax on it and it should be moisture proof. Recoat every once in a while and it ought to last until you are too old to carry it if you don't fall off a mountain with it. Also, keep any screws or other fasteners tight, but not tight enough to strip out the threads. Just wipe it down when it gets wet.

-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alanet.com), April 20, 2000.

This comment is made regarding the finish on the tripod. What condition is the finish in? If the wood is unfinished or in need of refinishing, I would suggest a few coats of tung oil (I don't have experience with other oil finishes, so what follows applies to tung oil only). With all due respect to Charlie, I think that tung oil would have a few advantages over a kind of synthetic, non-oil finish. At least in my experience, tung oil does not take long to dry hard. The process of stripping the old finish (if it's there at all), applying a few coats of oil, and letting everything dry should only take three or four days. One advantage of an oil finish is that it will not build up on the surface like some other finishes would. Any added material on the surface might make everything a tighter fit and the legs would probably become harder to extend/collapse. A tung oil finish has the added benefit of being flexible and waterproof- this will help the tripod last longer than you'll probably need it. As for wax, I remember reading in the last few months in a woodworking magazine that wax finishes are not waterproof. Indeed, a wax finish is the reason you find a white ring under your drink on the table when you don't use a coaster. That said, a light coat of wax ON TOP of your primary finish in friction areas should keep things operating smoothly. A combination of tung oil and a little wax here and there was what I used when I built a Bender 4x5 a few years ago and I can vouch for the durability of that combination.

Just a thought...

-- Dave Munson (orthoptera@juno.com), April 21, 2000.

using oil is your best bet. If the wood is unfinished rub oil into it. the reason that oil works better is that it will absorb very deep into the fibre and grain of the wood, this prevents any further moisture from penetrating the wood (you will be able to submerge this sucker under water). once the oil has soaked in and is dried, the only way to remove it will be to sandpaper off a good portion from the surface of the wood. This is similar to the comparison between stain and paint. although it is important to note that if the wood has already been treated, you should properly sand paper the treatment off before applying the oil.

I hope that helps. Dave.

-- Dave Anton (daveanton@home.com), April 24, 2000.

Dean, I second the tung oil suggestion. I have a Samson wooden tripod (1920's vintage I think) that was used by Great Grandad with 5x7 glass-plate camera. I refinished it with several coats of tung oil, rubbed on by hand and wiped off with a cloth, over ten years ago and the thing is practically indestructible. It's sat for hours in salt water, taken rain, mud, sand and clattering down a cliff or two (thankfully, without camera attached!) and is not only still in good working order, but the finish is going strong as well. Some of the metal parts have corroded, but the wood is in great shape except for some honorable "scars". Regards, ;^D)

-- Doremus Scudder (ScudderLandreth@compuserve.com), April 24, 2000.

Oils aren't really finishes, though they're probably better than nothing. If you're really interested in the subject, I strongly recommend:

Understanding Wood Finishing: How to Select and Apply the Right Finish

by Bob Flexner.

He's researched the science (chemistry, in fact) of finishes. This is one of the very few books on finishing that treats the subject with a "reality based" viewpoint instead of "old-wives-tales".

There are two moisture related problems with wood.

1. Keeping the moisture that's in the wood in. 2. Keeping outside moisture from getting into the wood.

Shellac is the best easily applied finish for #1, but it's not very good at #2. Varnishes are good at #2. Shellac overcoated with varnish is about as good as it gets. You don't have to lay on thick coats, the coats can be extremely thin.

Straight oil doesn't really prevent moisture from moving in either direction. Now, OIL BASED VARNISHES, are a different story. And many commercially available oil finishes are, in fact, oil based varnishes.

I can't recommend waxing a tripod. Wax is always soft. Clamping down on the wood mushes the wax away, and probably prevents a good tight clamp. It will do the same to straight oil. That's why I recommend a hard film finish, which is what you get with lacquer, shellac, or varnish.

Say what you like, but you can't argue the chemistry. Facts is facts.

-- Charlie Strack (charlie_strack@sti.com), April 24, 2000.

Well, thanks for your answers. I'm glad to know that I can take the elements being from Vancouver where it rains 10 months a year. The finish is fairly good -- it was used, but well used. I will dry it off, keep the sand off and in a year or 2 re-finish it as required.

Thanks again,


-- Dean Lastoria (dvlastor@sfu.ca), April 25, 2000.

I've used wooden tripods for the last 15 - 16 years, first a Zone VI and then a Berlebach, both with Bogen 3047 heads. The first thing I always did when I got a tripod was apply a coat of linseed oil. It dries in about 24 hours and I've never had any problem with the tripods after coating them.

-- Mike Troxell (mtroxell@ix.netcom.com), May 23, 2000.

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