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Thread: Paper + Gaffer's Tape Bellows

  1. #1

    Paper + Gaffer's Tape Bellows

    I have been interested for some time in constructing a bellows for a pinhole or lens camera, but haven't found the right fabric, and didn't like the idea of multiple layers of fabric with stiffeners between, and having to use spray contact adhesive. I was looking for a simpler, more elegant (and low-tech) solution.

    Then I began thinking about stiff craft paper, how you can score lines with a ballpoint pen and it easily folds along the lines, while the paper's stiffness helps it to retain its shape; and about black gaffer's tape, which I frequently use for handmade cameras, how it has a strong adhesive, is opaque, and, being cloth, provides the mechanical strength that the paper lacks, especially when folded back and forth repeatedly. So, a few months ago, I began collecting materials, large sheets of stiff, black craft paper (28"x22"), and a 1" wide roll of black gaffer's tape from the local film production supply house (Field & Frame, in Albuquerque).

    Yesterday evening, on the cusp of a winter storm, I decided to start the project. I laid newspaper on my dining room table, and collected the required tools: scissors, gaffer's tape, long straight-edge, ballpoint pen, pencil and 8.5"x11" white card stock, with which to build a prototype, in order to test out the whole process on a smaller scale.

    I also used my Speed Graphic as a model with which to figure out how the bellow's pleats actually fold at the corners, since I otherwise had a hard time visualizing them. The key learning was this little dittie that I made up, in order to use while laying out the pattern: "Long is the valley, narrow is the hill." That is, the pattern is a series of long, thin trapezoids, which have a long and a short side. The long edges get folded inwards, to form a valley in the bellows, while the short edges protrude to form a hill.

    I figured out soon enough, after an abortive attempt at a prototype that was intended to join at the corners, that you had to lay out three of the four sides, centered on the paper side-by-side, with the fourth side broken into two halves, which get joined together, to form a rectanglur tube, along the middle of the bottom side. The lines for the pleats are a 90-degree zig-zag pattern of lines between each of the side patterns. The whole pattern is drawn out on one continuous sheet, with parallel lines for the pleats' edges running parallel to the long side of the paper, and the zig-zag lines between sides running parallel to the paper's short side.

    For the small prototype square bellows, I divided the 11" long side of the paper into the four sides as described above (three of the four sides being 2.75" wide, the fourth side divided in half). The pleats for this prototype were 1/2" wide, as are the zig-zag lines for the pleats. I used a straight-edge to guide the ballpoint pen, which I pressed heavily onto the cardstock paper in order to crease it sufficiently.

    After trial and error in assembling the prototype, I figured out the best assembly method was to fold (but not crease) the paper pattern along the three lines that divide the sides, then join the open ends of the pattern, using tape, to form a square tube. Then you start at one end of the paper tube and begin folding the pleats, using the pneumonic "Long is the valley, narrow is the hill," working your way down the length of the pattern, creasing the paper at each scored line in turn. To keep me straight, I wrote little "V" and "H" marks along the appropriate edges of the pattern as a reminder.

    The results of the prototype bellows can be seen in the attached photos. I was pleasantly surprised that such a nice-looking model could be folded from one contiguous sheet of standard paper, with no cutting required.

    The prototype

    Edges scored using ballpoint pen

    It's flexible and collapses flat

    This encouraged me to begin making the largest bellows that I could fit onto the 28"x22" black craft paper.

    I decided on 1" wide pleats on this version, equal in width to the gaffer's tape. I decided the side dimensions would be 8"x6", which fit exactly onto the 28" long paper. I laid out the three lines marking the divisions between the sides, then two parallel lines to each of these, each 1/2" adjacent, to form the boundaries of the corner pleats. Next, I laid out all the parallel pleat lines along the long side of the paper, 1" apart. Then the zig-zag lines of the corner pleats are drawn in. All of these lines are drawn in heavy ballpoint pen, in order to score the paper sufficiently to enable an easy fold.

    Assembly went similar to the smaller prototype, although it took longer to fold. After assembly was complete, I began covering each external "hill" pleat with a strip of gaffer's tape, then cut 1"x1" squares of tape and covered each folded edge on the corner pleats. Finally, I installed strips of gaffer's tape on the "valley" pleats inside the bellows, which took a bit of dexterity.

    The result is seen in the attached photos. The clear interior dimension of the bellows is just over 5"x7". However, I don't own any 5"x7" film holders, so instead I might just make an over-sized 4"x5" camera with this bellows. Or, perhaps make another, slightly smaller version for 4x5.

    The completed bellows

    Detail of pleats, each edge taped with gaffer's tape to provide light-tight strength and flexibility

    All the interior edges are also taped

    Extended open

    Folded down flat, it's about the thickness of a film canister's height

    Here you can see the corner pleats all folded together. Also notice the middle joint in the bottom side, where the pattern comes together

    Overall I'm excited at the prospect of using the stiff, opaque black paper's rigidity as a means of dispensing with installing individual stiffeners, as is done in the standard bellows project, and instead use strips of gaffers tape to reinforce the folding edges and provide additional light-tight integrity to the contraption. It appears to be light-tight, but of course the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

    I would also add that this design's simplicity comes mainly from a non-tapered design, where the front and back flanges of the bellows are the same dimension, hence the reason why the whole thing can be folded from one contiguous sheet of paper without any cuts. I recall that the Finney pinhole camera used a nontapered bellows, so perhaps there's some precident for this design amongst the DIY crowd.


  2. #2

    Paper + Gaffer's Tape Bellows


    Very nice indeed; your neat folds are a sign of patience! Unfortunately bellows construction can get addictive, however I have convinced myself that time making bellows means that my future cameras will fold, be smaller and lighter, hopefully leading to more images captured from less accessible sites.

    Tapered bellows are more fiddly to design, but worth the effort as the camera can often be made smaller. I have worked out now how to taper bellows and also make designs where the fold depth varies, all out of one (big) sheet of material. I must write down the calculations when I get time and post them.

    My last set of bellows for my baby view camera ( are made from two layers of black craft paper stuck together. They have been well used, but are just starting to develop pinholes so I am planning a replacement. The paper bellows fold much smaller than the 3-layer cloth/stiffener/cloth ones I have made in the past, so I am intrigued to know how well your new bellows cope with use.

    Best regards,


  3. #3

    Paper + Gaffer's Tape Bellows

    Wow, something else to try....just because!

  4. #4

    Paper + Gaffer's Tape Bellows

    Joe, many thanks for showing how you made your bellows. Something else to learn.

  5. #5
    500+ Posts Longbow3's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    North central Texas

    Paper + Gaffer's Tape Bellows

    Sounds like someone has a new niche business. So Joe, for how much would you sell one of those 5x7 bellows?

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