My napkin drawing wasn’t exactly a plan and the camera kind of built itself by what materials we found walking around the aisles: 1/2×3” poplar for the back standard, 3/4×1” pine for the main rail and front standard, some in-floor heating tube and dowels for the bellows supports and really poor quality 1/4” plywood for the lens board. The most expensive thing was the bellows plastic, 6 mil black, which I’d used before for making a darkroom in my old studio. They only sell it in 100’ rolls and that was $70.
Total cost for materials was $168.
Building the Camera
Back in the studio we turned on a playlist of James Bond theme music, cracked several beers and began cutting stuff. The back standard came first since which would more or less decide the rest of the design. The standard was just a simple 16×20 frame with 1/4” stickers nailed around the inside to hold the ground glass and actual ambrotype. This was then fixed to a couple of 12” rails on the bottom which would fit snuggly to the bottom main rail with thumb screws to lock the focusing and a couple of lips on the bottom to prevent rocking.
I’d roughly calculated how long the camera would have to be to make a portrait, around five feet total, so I made the bottom rail that length. It’s just a couple of 1×3/4” boards with four spacers glued and screwed evenly along the length.
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