DIY Recovering

Jem Kime

I recently had occasion to try out one of the recently made available leatherette recovering kits for Leica and was encouraged to record my experiences as something that might be of interest to the wider readership.

The camera in question happened to be an M5, though that detail is of no great import to non-M5 owners, the principles and experiences remain near identical. As with many older Leicas the covering, which is made of a substance called Vulcanite, is subject to cracking over years when it becomes brittle. When the Vulcanite cracks it drops off in small parts at first and then larger pieces. If the pieces can be found then sticking them back one piece at a time is an option, but once parts are lost then it is a frustrating challenge to replace them without recourse to assistance or professional help.

We might recall the recent article by camera engineer, Peter Grisaffi, who detailed the recovering of Leicas with remanufactured Vulcanite. My course, as a lower cost solution for a 'user' camera rather than a collector's item, pursued a leatherette covering kit supplied from Japan. This was sourced through the internet on the eBay website and the item was delivered within a fortnight from the far side of the globe.

The supplier is Aki-Asahi and he can be contacted via e-mail on this address: /

His kits are stamped from leatherette with precision made dies as shown.

Cutter picture
M5 in 'naked' state front and back

The toughest part of the job is in removing both the Vulcanite and the remnants of the adhesive on the camera body. Like home decorating, the finish is dependent on the surface on which it is applied and insufficient care and time spent preparing the surface results in ripples, dimples and disappointment on the eventual finish. I found an old Stanley knife blade (new ones dig into the metal casing) usable for both removing the old covering and the adhesive. The leftover 'glue' seemed to be a contact adhesive and as such seemed impervious to mild solvents such as white spirit or isopropanol. Elbow grease seemed the one solution to the problem, with plenty of care when scraping around the delicate parts of the camera. Brushing off the dust and debris with an old toothbrush seemed to work quite well with a final surface preparation of being rubbed down with a solvent to ensure as good a grip as possible could be achieved.

See pictures:
Index 01-14

1. Remove the original vulcanite and clean surface well.
2. Set the self-timer.
3. Remove the new covering from the base paper.
4. Start from Finder Select Lever portion.
5. Place the leatherette around screws and edges. Do not press the leatherette onto the camera body yet.
6. Move the leatherette under the self-timer lever.
7. Place around screws and edges. Do not press the leatherette onto the camera body yet.
8. Squeeze the leatherette under the rewind lever.
9. Do not stretch the leatherette, it will naturally fall into place.
10. Apply along the edges until the end.
11. After applying in the right place, press the leatherette onto the camera body, then it starts to adhere. You can use small screwdriver for narrow places.
12. Use a flat head screwdriver like in the photo.
13. Around the self-timer portion, you can squeeze the leatherette under the self-timer with flat head screwdriver.
14. Press the leatherette onto the camera body with your hand, then it's finished!

Fitting the self-adhesive leatherette was a pleasant challenge and my main concern was ensuring I didn't reduce the efficacy of the adhesive by holding it with my (dusty) fingers, this was managed by careful jiggling of the holes around the frame preview lever and also the delayed action lever. I found I had to snip a small piece of the leatherette away near to the lens release button where it connects to the lens mount but that was the sole extent of 'modifying' the beautifully cut covering kit. Each small hole that is cut into the leatherette needs to be carefully worked around each screw head or lever base so that the overall finish is as good as it can be, and in doing this it quickly presents a finish approaching the original. A flat screwdriver head working its way around these small details pushes the leatherette down to hold the contours of any hole and ensure a good grip and flush fitting with the camera 'furniture'.

The finished result was, in my assessment, a 99% perfect finish. Extremely small discrepancies in cut might be sited as less than a factory finish but it would take a keen eye and a critical judge to make mention of them. The texture of the finish is a very close match to the classic Leica M vulcanite and having chosen to leave the original Vulcanite on the rear panel of the M5 (for history's sake), I shot a comparison photo to show what little difference there is. I hope this piece might encourage a few society members to 'have a go' at some simple renovation on their 'user' cameras. For those with more ambitious tastes, Aki-Asahi will also supply more exotic coverings!

Finished M5 pictures including "Comparison"