Repair: Camera Foam Seals

Hello, everybody! The weather is starting to get warm here in Tokyo and I have plenty of backlog that I need to fix! These do not only consist of my own gear but also from friends who’s lenses need fixing. I have to slow down in the colder months so I’m really going to be busy in the coming months!

One of the things that I had to fix is my Nikkormat. Yes, another damn Nikkormat! I hated working on these cameras but it can’t be helped because I really love them a lot. I usually get these from the junk boxes and so they need plenty of cleaning before I can use them. They would usually need a thorough cleaning and have all of their corroded foam seals replaced. This week, I will show you the easiest way I know. This technique is popular in Japan due to it’s simplicity and I take it that the manufacturers used this method,too.

IMG_3744Here are some of the tools that we need! Be sure you are comfortable with using a sharp knife; a steady pair of hands is also essential.

Before you begin:

Just like anything else, you will need to prepare everything you need for the task before you start working on something. This is one of those tasks that is going to be demanding when it comes to preparation because you are working with something that sets – glue.

You will need to have these ready before you begin:

  1. Lint-free lens tissue.
  2. Plenty of alcohol or MEK (methyl ethyl ketone).
  3. Popsicle (clean) sticks or toothpicks.
  4. Q-tips.
  5. Rocket blower (a good one, please).
  6. Camera foam (1.5mm, etc), make sure it doesn’t have adhesive backing.
  7. Sharp X-acto knife.
  8. Cutting board.
  9. Syringe.
  10. Rubber cement.
  11. Cardboard.
  12. 3M Magic Tape.
  13. Straight-edge (metal ruler).
  14. Toothbrush (clean).
  15. String (for measuring).
  16. Flat tweezers for handling the foam.

The items listed above are easy to source, except for the foam. I use and recommend the ones sold by my supplier, Japan Hobby Tool. This is an easy operation and it a great way to spend your lazy Sunday afternoon. I will separate this into 2 sections so that you can follow the steps easily.

Cleaning and Prep:

Before anything else, you will have to protect the camera’s shutter first. The metal Copal shutters are tougher than many would think but the metal foil ones are delicate. In order to protect mine, I taped a piece of cardboard on top of the shutter just to make sure that I won’t poke on it accidentally. This will also prevent junk from accidentally getting blown into the shutter mechanism and foul anything up. I only use 3M Magic Tape because they do not leave any residues behind.

IMG_3741Nice and secure. That calling card that you got from a car salesman will come in handy! Now that we are done with this step, we can now begin with the dirty work of removing what’s left of the corroded foam. If your camera has a removable back then it is a great idea to remove it before you begin. This will take patience so be prepared!

IMG_3743I used my metal ruler to remove most of the old foam that was left in the channel. I know that this isn’t the best way but I was lazy. The best way is to use popsicle sticks or a sharp toothpick because they won’t scratch the surface of the camera. A toothbrush will finish off what’s left and your bulb blower should remove whatever the toothbrush left behind.

Once majority of the old foam is gone, you will have to remove the remaining foam and the residual gunk that was left there. For this, I wrap a toothpick/popsicle stick with lens tissue and moisten it with alcohol and physically scrub where the old foam was. This is a time consuming task and I keep on repeating this until the lens tissue wipes clear of what is left in the channels. They will start out looking very dark in the first pass but it should get clearer after every successive pass. A Q-tip will be very handy for the wide and open parts of the camera. Again, use the toothbrush and blower routine again after this stage.

Foam Application:

Now that you are satisfied with the cleaning, you will have to replace the old foam in the camera. The thickness of the foam varies from part-to-part and will depend on what the manufacturer used. In general, 1.5mm is used for the channels on the film compartment and 2-3mm is used for the mirror damper in the mirrorbox. In the Nikkormat, the foam found on the right side of the film compartment uses a strip of 2mm foam. Do a research and check your manuals or you can also check another camera and see how thick is the foam in that particular part. It doesn’t have to be super exact because I suspect that the foam is used more as a dust-guard more than keeping away stray light. The Nikon F100 film camera that is used by pros as backup do not even have them!

I do not use foam with adhesive backing for the channels on the seals found around the film compartment but the ones that have an adhesive backing will be very handy for the rest of the camera. I use plain ones for the channels because I have a very small area to work in, if the foam has an adhesive backing it will just make things messy as it sticks to the walls of the channel. Some people have better dexterity than me and they can make it work for the adhesive-backed type but this doesn’t work for me with my stubby digits!

Now, as far as the foam on the channels are concerned you will have to cut strips of foam in 1mm width strips using your ruler and a sharp hobby knife. I am not going to tell you how to do this and I will not be responsible if you get cut. I prefer a curved blade so that I will have better control of the knife and it will not snag on the foam. Some people use the usual one with an angular edge but this is just my preference.

To figure out how long the foam should be, I lay a length of string into the channels and measure how much I will need with that. The string is a great way to measure this since it can adapt to the shape of the camera’s surface. They usually curve here and there and is almost NEVER a straight or flat line because the camera is contoured to fit your hands.

Once you are ready with your foam strips, it is time to prepare your adhesive! Use a safe hobby syringe (with a blunt tip) and fill parts of the syringe with rubber cement. I do this by pouring glue into the syringe while the plunger is away and then replace the plunger once I put enough glue into the syringe. Press on the syringe until you see a bead form on the end of it, this means that the glue is ready. Wipe it off and set aside.

IMG_3742You can check with your grocery store and see ask they sell disposable syringes used for marinating meat. You can also file off the tip of a sharp syringe but why bother?

We will now work on one length at a time so we do not mess anything up. Apply the glue along the length of one channel and press on the plunger to make sure that glue is being properly applied to the surface. Drag the syringe along the channel until the entire glue is applied along the whole length of the channel. Set the syringe aside and wipe off any glue that was left on the tip with a clean tissue paper.

Now, place one end of the foam strip into one end of the channel and slowly work on it with a popsicle stick or toothpick until the foam is secure. Do not pull on the foam or it will stretch and leave an uneven look on the foam. I am still on hay fever medication and my foam was a bit uneven on one part of the channel.

Repeat this process until you have replaced all of the seals on the film chamber. Leave it alone to dry for a day and you should be able to use it once the smell of glue is gone. This means that the solvent on the glue has evaporated and it has probably cured enough for use. I am not a pro glue sniffer this but just give it a day to dry and you should be safe.

WARNING: Be careful not to close the door on the camera while the glue is curing or the foam might come off with the lid when you open it! Don’t be a “gong lan” like Mr. Bean!

If you got the glue in places that you do not want them to be, simple wipe them using a clean tissue moistened with alcohol. If it’s already dry then you can just rub it off with your fingers. Do not worry, there are times when the glue gets stringy so this is expected.


We are finally done! Sorry for not including more pictures but I was expecting this to be a short post but it seems that I had to explain more than what I was expecting. I will be more mindful next time. I hope that you followed the steps properly even with the lack of illustration. I consider this to be way below my standard so I will do better next time!

A word on how to store the used syringe. I usually have these stored with the tip pointing down so gravity will keep the glue on the tip. This will stop the glue inside from drying in the needle so it will still be good enough for another use or two. Do not hesitate to buy an extra syringe or two just in case this one dried so you will have an extra one ready.

That’s it for today! I was expecting to write a short article but this one ended up being a long one. Thank you very much for your support! I am going to write about one of my favourite lenses next week. It is way overdue but it is never too late to write about it! See you guys again and please help support this blog if you find this useful. Love, Ric.

Help Support this Blog:

Maintaining this blog requires money to operate. If you think that this site has helped you or you want to show your support by helping with the upkeep of this site, you can simple make a small donation to my account ( Money is not my prime motivation for this blog and I believe that I have enough to run this but you can help me make this site (and the companion facebook page) grow.

Helping support this site will ensure that this will be kept going as long as I have the time and energy for this. I would appreciate it if you just leave out your name or details like your country and other information so that the donations will totally be anonymous it is at all possible. This is a labor of love and I intend to keep it that way for as long as I can. Ric.

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mmarquar
    Apr 09, 2017 @ 15:54:43

    Another great description and discussion. Thanks.


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  8. Hubregt Visser
    May 20, 2019 @ 17:36:07

    Hi Richard, your web pages have made me start restoring old slrs and finally I have also started with Nikons, replacing light seals and mirror dampers and cleaning contacts for the light meter. I wonder if you have tips for keeping the focus screen clean when cleaning the sticky stuff left by the old mirror damper. I have tried to use foil to protect the screen, but the sticky stuff is getting everywhere and is hard to remove with alcohol or lighter fuel. Best regards, Hubregt


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