Which woods for building a View Camera?

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Are any of the wood options better than another for hand building your own View Camera in formats from 5x7 to 7x17? I know they have to be strong enough to be lifted by a handle (without bowing) if I put one on the top section like the older woodies I have had. I will hand finish with a tung oil for waterproofing but will not be putting on a varnish or lacquer. I want wood that looks nice but isn't too dark though that could change as I look at the wood pattern. I plan on using dovetail joinery rather than straight tongue in groove on the main box and plan on bead blasted metalwork. Any info on what wood, and especially the WHY of the choice, would be appreciated.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), July 26, 2001


I like teak, it's a stable wood, that is to say it's not doing to bow,cup ,or twist on you you w/ seasonal changes. It's a strong wood, holds screws well(always pre-drill your holes)looks great when oiled and its weatherproof, that's why it's used on sail boats. I'm presently building a folding 4x5 fild camera and I'm using teak w/ bright brass. Enjoy the building process.

-- Greg Klabouch (greg@epud.net), July 26, 2001.

Your question about which wood is a very good one if your building a strong and beautiful camera. The selection of an appropriate material will ensure that first, you are able to achieve the appropriate workability to make the parts that you require. Certain woods, though beautiful to look at are not well suited to be worked by hand or machine for such a precise piece. The grain can be too coarse or the wood to soft and this would provide you with many frustrating hours of trying to handcraft your parts.

In response to specific woods you need to consider the properties of the wood, I believe before the aesthetics you need to ensure that your are able to obtain a rigid framework that will remain as constant as possible with minimal expansion and contraction. In essence wood can move in three separate planes. Longitudal which is parallel to the wood grain, radial, which is perpendicular to the annual rings, and tangential which is perpendicular to the wood grain. Your selection should thus be based upon these qualities of any species and the less movement the better. Also ensure to seal the wood upon completion of your project to reduce absorbtion of moisture, which will cause further movement.

So…some good suggestions are the most obvious. Ebony is excellent and that is perhaps why professionals frequently select it.I have never built anything from Ebony but understand that it can be a wood that can "knock the daylights" out of a sharp tool. Also Mahogany and Cherry are good woods to use. I personally like the working with Cherry but some complain that it is hard to work with hand tools. It also needs care when gluing but I enjoy the challenge and think that it is a beautiful wood especially after aging a few years. Mahogany is quite easy to work, resists decay (should it get wet and stay that way for awhile) and does not shrink or expand that much. This wood also is pleasing to look at but is porous and needs to be filled before finishing. Make sure to get Mahogany and not Philippine Mahogany as this one is of a coarser grain.

I hope I didn’t get to carried away (finally a topic I know something about :>)) )and best of luck in your upcoming project.


-- GreyWolf Phillips (grey_wolf@telusplanet.net), July 26, 2001.

Teak, mahogany, and cherry seem to be the three most popular choices. Ebony is used too, but not nearly as frequently. Ebony tends to be brittle, hard to work, will quickly dull tools, and is prone to checking in the drying process (not that you'll be working with green ebony, but still). Of the first three I menioned, I would generally go towards teak and cherry, as teak is generally only harvested in a mature form and the majority of the trees are left to grow (hence no large scale loss of trees). Cherry isn't exactly an endangered tree. Mahogany, on the other hand, generally comes from equatorial rain forests. In fact, US demand for mahogany makes up about 60% of the world market on mahogany, and is posing an ever greater threat to the survival of big-leafed mahogany species. It's a beautiful wood, but as far as I'm concerned, I'd like to be building my camera and not support logging of rainforest lands. Same goes for ebony- not plentiful and in no position to be catching up with current demand. Not an issue with the characteristics of the wood itself, but I think it's an important thing to have in mind when choosing materials for any woodworking project, view cameras included.

-- David Munson (orthoptera@juno.com), July 26, 2001.

Teak? A great hardwood for outside, I hope you've got plenty of sawbades! It's rough on tools. There are some other great hardwoods(deciduous) that you could check out.

Padouk is an exceptionally stable wood once properly cured and seasoned. Padouk is a beautiful orange/red color and in 'straight grain' isn't going anywhere. It is easy to work, I used some in working my daughters crib. Cuban or Brazilian Mahogany if you can find the stuff, is very stable. Many woods that don't act stable are prone to 'cup', 'bow', 'spring', and/or warp.

Help yourself out by getting the cut(i.e. quartersawn). You can't go wrong with one these woods that's been recycled from very old furniture or from 150 yr old or more logs that have been harvested from riverbeds. After a 100yrs this kind of wood isn't going to do anymore twisting, bending etc.

Stay away from 'Phil....Mahogany', which isn't a Mahogany at all.

About 15yrs ago, in the middle of remodeling my home, I advanced one of the carpenters who was supposed to redo the stairs in Oak, $3000 for what he said was an emergency(illness in the family). It was the first time I had tried a remodel, and after such a great sob story, I gave him the money. He left for Hawaii and never came back.

One of the other finish carpenters took pity on me and showed me how to do my own stairs and I've been into woodworking ever since. This guy not only showed me the ropes but gave me what many consider the wookworking bible, a book called the 'Encyclopedia of Furniture Making' by Ernest Joyce. The book goes into detail everything being discussed here and more. Even if you don't build your own camera, I think it would be a great book to get, in order to be knowledgable about wood before purchasing a wood camera. The book is simple, clear, concise, and there is no 'mysterioso jargon'.


-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), July 26, 2001.

Hi Dan, for the box, marine grade plywood (real marine stuff, not the junk they have in lumber yards that they pass of as marine plywood. Look for a supplier in Wooden Boat mag.), and this will provide you with max strength and stability per once, don't worry about a fancy joints, but glue it with 3M 5200 or Sikaflex. Don't use a brittle two part epoxy. For the rails, maybe African or Hondurous mahogany, cherry is probably a good way I'd go - or white oak (not red oak) might be OK. I wouldn't use teak, your camera won't benifit from its properties, it is heavier, and it is oily which means it is harder for glue to grab onto. Criteria here is strength, stability, and weight, and something that resists denting and showing what dents you are bound to get. The thing is, what ever you decide on, buy it from a well known hardwood supply, and tell them it must be well cured, and it has to be CVG (clear vertical grain). Really, you don't want wood pattern, that implies a difficult grain to work with and a stick with unpredictable characteristics. Once you build a camera, I assume you want it to remain exactly the way you put it together. I've an Eastman 2D, and I think it is made of African mahogany; I'm very impressed how this camera has held up for the abuse it has seen over 80 years or so. Also, Seafin Floor oil goes on like tung oil, but it toughens up the surface of the wood, and so I would go that route. You might want to look at a camera like a 2D to see how the grain and rings are matched. Best, David

-- david clark (doclark@yorku.ca), July 26, 2001.

Any "hard wood" will work fine. If you are concerned about the shade after staining, you might consider a naturally lighter wood like oak - but it is much heavier than traditional "camera" wood like cherry and Mahogany(inch for inch). Walnut is very nice for cameras, but if the color of the wood is important, you may not like the finished look.

Teak, Ebony and others are only found in the tropics - (without going into it) so unless you don't care about the rainforest, etc you might want to stay away from them.

-- Matt O. (mojo@moscow.com), July 27, 2001.

Sounds like you might want to take David with you to the lumberyard but you sound pretty advanced yourself. I don't know about where you are but here in Southern California, I'll go to a top notch outfit like 'Forest Strata Products' and they'll basically have select(firsts and seconds)and surfaced one side. They give you a rock bottom price for top notch stuff, but you pick it out.

'Anderson Plywood' or it might be called 'Anderson International' has Marine plywood on a caliber that David is talking about(David correct me if I'm wrong but I believe the top stuff is supposed to withstand being boiled for 72hrs with falling apart). They also have a website and mail order.


-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), July 27, 2001.

Pine would be the best for any pine hole camera.

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@smile.ch), July 27, 2001.

You might consider contacting Kurt Mottweiler of Mottweiler Design at http://www.cnsp.com/mdesign/. He is no longer in the business of making cameras, but I have seen several of the fine cameras he has made and don't know anyone who knows as much as he does about fine woods and camera design.

-- Ed Buffaloe (edb@unblinkingeye.com), July 27, 2001.

I am an avid wood worker and have been working with resin impregnated woods. The resin is forced into the wood under extreme pressure and fills any checks, grain or imperfections. It also stabilizes the wood from warping and from damage from the elements, leading to its common name of "stabilized wood." It is available in almost any wood and root burls. It is a bit more expensive but if you are a turner it is nice to play with. I order it from www.craftusa.com they are geared towards pen makers, but if you speak to them you can find out the availability of it it larger pieces and they should give you the name of the manufacturer if they aren't able to help you. There are a couple of variations of this type of product as well.

Good Luck!

-- James Christian (jcc928@aol.com), July 27, 2001.

Hi Dan,

Any of those mentioned hard woods would be fine for making a wooden field camera. You might want to get some sample chips from your local speciality store or from http://www.colonialhardwoods.com to see which one looks best with your titanium hardware. I would envision that Indian rosewood will give you the best look. How are you going to season your hard wood? Good luck!

-- Geoffrey Chen (DB45TEK@AOL.COM), July 27, 2001.

Gee whiz Dan... It sounds like a great project { I am gathering parts for one myself)... so why not really go for the gusto an do a wild glue-up with some exotic woods???? Similar to what are used on some of the fancy gun stocks! The woods are stable, and you could produce a truly one-of-a-kind machine!!!

-- Dave Richhart (pritprat@erinet.comn), July 27, 2001.

Hi Dan - everyone has an opinion - try Maple - stable, easy to work with hand tools, very strong, oil it and eventually it will take on a beautiful red/gold color. Straight grain is best for most parts as its easiest to work - figured might be good for some accents. Best Charles F. Barbour

-- Charles F. Barbour (chbarbour@sprintmail.com), July 28, 2001.

I'm using zebra wood right now on a camera. It's small grained. beautiful, and is working out very well for me. I also know I probably won't see another camera like mine! I also used a piece of burl for my lens board. It came out beautiful.

-- Dennis Gazso (dgazso@southbendnc.com), December 18, 2001.

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