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Applying your new cover
Vulcanite removal

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The Leica repair technician will take your camera apart to recover it . . .  the levers and top plate are removed, and the body shell is usually placed in an oven to soften the vulcanite, which will peel off like old paint when it gets very hot.

This is not really practical for the camera owner/hobbyist to attempt, and we do not recommend it. If you want to go this route, there are other online resources and videos that will show you how to disassemble your camera.
In this section we look at the liquid stripper method of removing vulcanite from Leica M cameras, which can be done with no dis-assembly beyond the removal of the bottom plate. This section will also be of interest to owners of thread mount Leicas, although in our experience the coverings on these are usually easier to remove.

The key ingredient in an effective stripper is methylene chloride. This type of stripper contains chemicals that should be handled properly, but it's a widely used consumer product found in every hardware store, and in our application, is used in minuscule quantities.  By following the precautions on the can, the user will be much safer than when trying to chip away at stubborn vulcanite with a sharp metal chisel. The camera will be better off, too.

Anyone contemplating a "do it yourself" job should keep some things in mind. First, set aside a full hour or more to do the job.  Rushing will not give you the best results, and poses more risk to your camera and to yourself. This brings us to the most important  point: Pay more attention to your own safety than your camera's. For some Leica owners, this is a difficult concept to understand. Wear approved eye protection. Proceed at your own risk, be very careful with tools and always make sure the sharp end of any tool points away from any part of your body.  Do your work on a clean, well illuminated surface.

Since the bottom plate has to come off, you need to seal off the inside of the shell with some masking tape. Apply the tape so that it also holds the back door shut. This prevents any bits of vulcanite, or anything else, from falling inside. We have scored around the edges, so that there isn't any excess tape getting in the way of our work. Read this page fully before removing the tape and re-mounting the bottom plate, since you may want to leave your camera as pictured here for your entire clean-up job.

Before using any chemical stripper, remove all the loose vulcanite by probing every edge with a small chisel.
Never proceed with this step without proper eye protection!

You may be pleasantly surprised to see how much of the old vulcanite you can remove with a small chisel. Here we are using a hobby knife to test the edges, looking for anyplace that the chisel tip can slide under the vulcanite. You can start at any rough edge left by vulcanite that is already missing, even a small crater created by just a bit that has fallen off.

If no vulcanite is missing, a good starting point to test for a loose edge is at the narrow point under the lens mount. On the back, you can usually get some vulcanite to lift, by carefully placing the chisel tip between the edge of the ASA dial and the vulcanite, then you can work around the ASA dial, just as we are doing here. Be very careful not to scratch the black paint on the door frame.

Sometimes you will get lucky, and large sections will flake off, other times you will be prying off very small bits. Keep going until you can't get under any more edges. 

Remove all the hidden vulcanite.

There is vulcanite hiding, that you can't readily see . . . just under and around the strap lugs, under the raised metal edge where the vulcanite ends at the door, just under and around the bezels for the self timer and preview lever, in the crevice where the lens release meets the lens mount, and in the tiny channel between the lens mount and lens preview lever. One of the most overlooked hiding places on late M3's is in the extremely narrow channel between the top of the strap lug, and the top plate. If it isn't cleaned out, you will have problems. There will be vulcanite hiding between the self timer bezel and the trigger, and between the lens preview lever and the body screw above it.

Cleaning out the hidden bits should be considered here, because the places it hides are next to the places your chisel has usually been successful. Even after you have used chemical stripper on the persistent vulcanite, you will be going back to the method used here, since the stripper won't have much effect on the hidden vulcanite. Your camera is like a dental patient who hasn't had their teeth cleaned in 50 years. It may take awhile for you to remove every bit of vulcanite, but you don't want to discover an overlooked piece later, because of a bump you just noticed under your new covering.

Using a consumer-grade chemical furniture stripper

Our camera rests on a simple wood board,  with a strip of wood screwed along the bottom edge.  (Here we are using a section of old picture frame.) We also have a small hobby paint brush with natural bristles. Nylon bristles are also acceptable. This type of brush can be bought cheaply at hardware or craft stores. Next to the brush is a bamboo chopstick, from the supermarket. We've taken a hobby knife and sharpened the tip of the chopstick into a chisel shape. No sharp metal tools are needed for this job. The can at left is "ZAR" paint and varnish remover, also from the hardware store. This is a paste type stripper containing methylene chloride. There are many brands of stripper that will probably work as well as the "ZAR" product. It's important to use a stripper with methylene chloride, and that is a paste, not a liquid. A paste stripper will say so on the can, and will be labeled as suitable for use on vertical surfaces. 

We've poured a little of the stripper into the metal cap of the can and are applying it thickly over the front vulcanite with our brush. To make handling easier, do the right or left side camera first, front and back. It isn't necessary to apply the stripper right up to the edges of the vulcanite.  We leave a "dry" margin of 1-2 mm all around, including the screws on the front. Applying stripper to the screws will remove any black paint. It's a good idea to keep the stripper off all metal parts that weren't covered with the original vulcanite.

The stripper is like a gelatin, and it may be difficult to pour out a small amount.  It may be easier to pour it into a larger container, but the container must be made of metal (not aluminum) or glass.

If your eyes can't focus closely, use a magnifier glass. It might help to mark each screw with a tiny amount of white toothpaste applied from the tip of your hobby knife. It seems silly, but it prevents us from getting any of the liquid stripper on the screw, during the application, and when cleaning up. Some screws are painted black, and some are made from black metal. But it can be hard to tell which you have.

Film door and camera back: It's important not to apply the stripper to the black painted frame on the back or the metal edge where the body covering terminates. This edge may look like black metal, but it's coated with textured resin.

 On this camera the back door vulcanite has already fallen off, but if we had to use the stripper, we would apply it in the same manner shown, by leaving a 1-2 mm "dry" margin next to the painted surface.

After about 20 minutes the stripper will have soaked in some. Now we apply a second coat of stripper all around. Let the camera sit for 90 minutes or more. Don't get impatient, let the stripper do its work. Letting the camera sit for several hours is best. But don't wait overnight, since the vulcanite can actually become stiff again, and require another round of stripper.

Left:  When the covering has blistered randomly, it's ready to be removed. The cover may seem to be blistered only in parts, but the entire cover is softened.

Now we've taken our board and placed it on the work surface at an angle, allowing us to work from behind the camera, and to scrape down using the chopstick. Always place the camera so the top plate is up, and then use the bamboo chisel so it points to the base plate. The bamboo won't harm the base plate.

Camera owners who have done this multiple times, usually end up using a metal chisel in place of bamboo. If you feel comfortable using a sharp metal tool here, you should be OK. But you need to be extra vigilant about your own safety, and avoiding cosmetic damage to your camera. In this case if you were using metal, you should leave the bottom plate off the camera, and the bottom of the shell fully sealed with masking tape, as shown in the photo at the top of this page.

Once we have all the vulcanite off one side of the camera, we repeat the above procedure on the other side.

When the vulcanite is gone, we're left with the residue of cement used to adhere it. This can be cleaned up with another, much thinner coat of the stripper, with our brush coming to within 1-2 mm of the edges, screws, and painted parts on the back.

At this point you may have to deal with one of the many glues and other unspeakable resins injected under the vulcanite by a repair tech in an attempt to keep it in place. The stripper will usually dissolve it, but you may have to apply it more than once. In the case of an epoxy or other "super-glue" type of resin, you may need to chisel it off. Use caution!

Use small pieces of cloth to clean up the residue, and replace with a fresh cloth often. Clean up the broad areas first, and then work out to the edges. When using any kind of solvent on your cloth, make sure only to dampen the cloth with solvent . . . never apply the solvent directly to the camera, or with a brush. You don't want any liquid seeping inside.

You can get the camera very clean by using a very small amount of mineral spirits with your first cloth, then another once-over with a fresh cloth, dampened with alcohol.

To clean up the edges and the hard to reach parts, we're using our chopstick and some crumpled bits of cloth. Discard and replace cloths as they get dirty.

It isn't necessary to remove every bit of residue. This M4 is cleaner than our M2 was, but the new cover will adhere well to both. Above all, the surface should be smooth, with no raised bits that might appear as a bump once the camera is recovered.

All M bodies have these round impressions on the back. These were filled, to bring the surface up to the surrounding metal. A white or grey paste filler was used. Some Leica owners think the white filler is corrosion, and scrape it out.  Your new cover will look better if you leave it alone!