Installing Aki Asahi's skins on the Leica M3

David Krauss February, 2004


 

Before we begin we really need to talk about the process of ordering skins for your camera. Aki Asahi will provide a leather cover for your camera that will fit to perfection but he can only do this if you provide the information that makes this possible. Leica built the "M" series in an amazing number of variations in their pursuit of the perfect camera. No detail was too small to be overlooked. From the shape of the pointer on the film counter to the machining of the body casting every detail was open to question and was continuously modified. To make sure your experience restoring or upgrading your Leica is a pleasant one I offer the following guidelines:

 

Examine your camera carefully and answer all of the following questions:

1  Does it have a view finder select lever?
2  Does it have "Buddha ear" strap lugs like the camera shown below (before 1958) or the round "moon" type (after 1958)?
3  Do you want the self timer hole cut to 13 or 14 mm diameter (more about that later)?

If you are now thoroughly confused please contact me and I will help in any way I can. You can call me at (650) 329-1900 or email me at dkrauss@yavapaisystems.com.

 

To begin you will need:

 

 Isopropyl Alcohol

 Cotton swabs

 1 cm (1/2 inch) paint brush

 Pointed knife

 Methyl Ethyl Ketone solvent

 Masking tape (medium adhesion)

High quality 2 mm screwdriver

If you will be repainting the film door you will also need:

 

 1 sheet 400 grit wet and dry sand paper

 Semi-gloss black spray enamel

The first step is to remove the bottom cover and the rear film door. (The camera used here for illustration has more extensive disassembly in preparation for a complete overhaul of the shutter and range finder but that is not required for replacement of the skin.) You may choose to remove the self timer and view finder select lever but you should only attempt this if you have a high quality pin wrench such as those available from Fargo (about $40). WARNING!: The screw holding the self timer lever has a "left handed" thread and must be removed in a clockwise direction or the shaft can be easily broken. In this example we will leave them in place which is by far the easiest method.

 Door hinge release pin

There are basically two ways to remove the old Vulcanite covering; heat and brute force. Heating the camera to about 200 degrees F. with a heat gun or a baking chamber will soften the material and make it very pliable but can do irreperable damage to the shutter lubricants and de-cement or even fracture the range finder optics. For this reason I rely on the more tedious brute force method. This is done by chipping away at it with a blade. Occasionally it will come away in large chunks but more commonly it will flake off in little (1/8") pieces. Plan on spending up to an hour on this step. Be careful to keep track of all the pieces. If one falls through the lens opening and gets wrapped up in a shutter curtain you may be in for an expensive repair! If you are nervous about this you can cover the lens opening and the rear shutter with masking tape. The underlying adhesive was originally quite flexible but after 50 years of drying you will probably find it as hard as a rock.

The old adhesive must be removed as thoroughly as possible to assure a clean finish for the new skin to adhere. If it is not completely solidified you may soften it with Methyl Ethyl Ketone applied with a cotton swab (don't forget Murphy's First Law of Capillary Action: "any spilled fluid will flow right to the the one spot where it can cause the greatest harm") and then wipe away the softened residue. If it is rock hard you should follow the application of the solvent with scraping using a knife blade or razor blade then repeat the process until most of it is gone. This camera fell into the latter group and only very aggressive scraping sufficed.

If you ordered your covers cut with a 13 mm self timer hole you must devote a great deal of attention to cleaning very carefully under the lip of the bell washer. If you ordered the 14 mm hole you can be far more cavalier with this step.

The camera is finally ready! I would normally place the self timer in the "half cocked" position rather than the full cocked one seen here.

You can see that removal of the front controls makes placement and alignment of the leather a far simpler task. If you have good tools it is worth the extra effort. If you do this, here is a suggestion: Fully cock the self timer before removing it. Be very careful not to fire it. This makes reinstallation and alignment very simple while it can otherwise be a daunting task.

Carefully peel off the main skin from the backing paper and lay it out with the adhesive side up. Using a cotton swab or paint brush, apply a liberal sheet of alcohol to the adhesive. WARNING!: do not attempt to use a cotton ball, tissue paper, or cloth for this step as they will leave fibers behind in the adhesive! The alcohol delays the adhesion and allows you time to position and adjust the skin.

Start positioning the cover by sliding the self timer hole under the self timer lever then do the same for the view finder select lever. At this stage the skin can be stretched a little and moved easily if you used sufficient alcohol. Using finger pressure, stretch and position the front portions until they are aligned with the range finder cover, lens release button, and lens mount. If you are using the 13 mm self timer hole you will need to get the leather under the lip of the bell washer. This is done by stretching and pressing down with a knife blade or fingernail until it is all in place. Be careful not to scar or mark the leather during this step. Once you are fairly satisfied with the position you can wrap the leather around the strap ears and the back. Again, stretching and sliding it into alignment. You will find the there will be some recoil effect and you must continue this process of manipulation for up to one half hour until the alcohol has evaporated and the adhesive becomes permanent.

When these steps are complete use a high quality screwdriver, locate the four black screws on the front of the body and, one by one, unscrew each one then replace it. This will trap the leather under the screw heads.

On this camera the film door was a disaster! If you have this problem now is the time to fix it.

 
Before starting to work, apply masking tape to protect the pressure plate and film reminder dial.

Using a 600 grit carborundum paper carefully and thoroughly sand the painted portions of the door until all irregularities are gone and the gloss finish is completely removed. Wrap the two chrome hinge pins with masking tape to protect them from paint

Spray the door with a semi-gloss enamel and let it dry on a dust free area. I use #1974 semi-gloss black from the "Painter's Touch" line by Rust-Oleum. The finish gloss is not a perfect match for the original but is as close as I have yet found. Allow the paint to harden for 24 hours then apply the leather.

Finally, reinstall the door and bottom cover and get out there and make pictures! As for me... I am off to the shop to finish the shutter overhaul.

 

Copyright David Krauss 2/2004