varnish for wood field cameras : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hi, I recently bought second-hand, a wooden field camera, hand-made by the English camera maker John Nesbitt. It needed a bit of tlc but now looks beautiful again. The body is made of Brazilian mahogony and I recently bought a piece as the camera came without its original lens panels. I have managed to manufacture a couple of panels out of the mahogony and have tried a couple of varnishes on some left-over wood. None match to closely but I realise that varnished wood changes colour over the years, that's part of the beauty. Is there a standard varnish that is used for woodys. As always thanks in advance....

-- dave bulmer (, June 06, 2001



Did you ask John Nesbitt himself? Cheers,

-- Geoffrey Chen (DB45TEK@AOL.COM), June 06, 2001.

Last seen living in France, still making cameras, but I haven't managed to track down an address for him.

-- dave bulmer (, June 06, 2001.

It seems that each camera manufacturer has their own approach to finishing and sealing wood. I think much the same can be said for cabinet and furniture makers. The most basic approach would be to apply several coats of stain followed by a protective poly varnish. Note that the appearance of the stain will darken with multiple coats and may change somewhat with the type of protective finish that you apply. You may also get a somewhat different tone if you use a sanding sealer before staining. It is also worth noting that some camermakers leave the wood in its natural state by using a sanding sealer followed by a protective varnish. Many fine wooden cameras are simply hand-rubbed with something like a Danish Oil. The hand rubbed finish repels water and can be replenished with additional treatments after many years of use. If you use a stain there are probably as many stains as there are colors of paint or types of wood. Different stains from the same manufacturer can also be mixed provided that they are both oil-based or both water-based. You may also want to look for a stain made (labeled) specifically for mahogany. My experience has been that Minwax Cherry looks best on cherry, Minwax Walnut looks best on walnut, etc. You might also consider that some woods with heavy grain structures don't stain well unless a filler is used. This applies to woods like red oak, but I've never worked with mahogany. If you are getting a build-up of too much stain in the grain areas, you may want to consider a filler. Having said all that, you may also want to use a contrasting color lensboard. Often times wood coated with a black laquer finsh can look good on a wooden camera. I hope this helps.


-- Dave Willison (, June 07, 2001.

Well, David, here's John's last "known" address:

John Nesbitt

Brick House





Hope it helps, and good luck! Cheers,

-- Geoffrey Chen (DB45TEK@AOL.COM), June 07, 2001.

Thanks for all the info and to the guy who e-mailed to my home address and suggested marine (yacht) varnish (sorry but I my e-mail account screwed up his address). I have tried some and it looks like that is the solution. It just darkens the wood enough after a few coats but without hiding the beautiful grain. I think that the address for John Nesbitt in Wales is his old address but I'll give it a try. Thanks again...Dave.

-- dave bulmer (, June 08, 2001.

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