Author Topic: How to convert a vintage or replica Graflex.  (Read 18989 times)

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Offline Luke S.

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How to convert a vintage or replica Graflex.
« on: February 05, 2012, 03:49:20 AM »
So you finally got your Parks replica Graflex flash or you scored a vintage 1940's camera flash on eBay.  Now what do you do with it?

This is a basic tutorial to assist you in your conversion of your camera flash into a realistic looking saber hilt resembling what you can see in the movies.  (Actually, our conversions make them better than the movies.)  ;)

Before you get started focus on a few of these tips.

First DO YOUR HOMEWORK. There are a few great threads to read that will help you get an overall knowledge of this conversion before you even touch a tool.

Graflex history.

Yoda's send in or purchase hilts.

Yoda's DIY chassis.

MAKE A PLAN.  Decide what episode you want, ANH or ESB. Start to form a parts list so that you can order everything at once to save on shipping.  Decide if you feel comfortable doing the conversion yourself or want to send it in to Master Yoda.

PATIENCE.  Don't rush so fast that you damage your newly acquired hilt.  A replica hilt can be replaced but if you managed to score a vintage you may have a hard time getting another one.  Take your time and think out each step before you start.  Make sure you have no distractions like kids or dogs.  You will be working with many small parts that you don't want to lose.

Fnd a nice clean work area with a soft top that won't scratch your hilt.  A wooden kitchen table or similar, wooden work bench, rubber mat or even a large piece of cardboard.  

I recommend having a bin or two to collect your parts as you remove them.  Small tupperware containers or similar work great as do ziploc storage bags.

SAVE all of your parts.  Some of them can be used later to build an emitter plug or used in another build.  If you get into building sabers you will find that saving all your parts allows you to creatively use "found" parts in future builds.


Remove the flash pan if it came with one.

Next start by separating the two main body pieces from the clamp.  Lift the clamp lever out 90 degrees.  This relieves the pressure of the clamp against the upper and lower sections of the main body. Its a little confusing on how to get them apart.  There are little tabs in the clamp that are in channels cut into the body tube.  They are in the shape of an "L" with a tiny raised hook on the bottom end of the L near the 90 degree bend. If you can visualize that then you are on your way.  Carefully hold the pommel tube in one hand and the clamp in the other.  Push them together slightly until you feel resistance then twist them until you feel a stop. They will twist about 1/2-3/4".  You then can pull them apart.  Do the same thing for the top section.  Look at my build and you may see the L track I'm talking about.  Just don't use gorilla force and you can pull and twist all day until you figure it out.

Picture #4 shows the "L" channel on the center section of the emitter tube.  You can also see small rectangular holes in the clamp shell.  These holes have tabs on the inside that when lined up slide into the "L" channels to keep the clamp aligned in the flash tube.  If you look carefully you can also see the little nub on the the "L" channel at the 90 degree point.

For a Yoda Graflex chassis these tabs must be filed down just a bit so as not to hit the chassis as you slide it in.  A sanding drum on a dremel is perfect for this job.

Once you get the clamp off take a good look at how it all works. The clamp lever goes through the clamp and threads into a rectangular piece of metal.  When you get to reassembly and I section of your bubble strip or circuit card you may need to tighten or losses the clamp.  Remember that these are old parts or new parts with small pieces.  Having an overly tight clamp lever could lead to failure of the small threaded section. Don't over tighten.  To adjust lever tension simply squeeze the clamp closed the you can rotate the lever in the threaded metal rectangle. A little trial and error and you'll get the perfect tension.  You want it all snug but not tight enough that you must put a lot of pressure on the lever to close it.  Proper fitting of your bubble strip or circuit card might require a bit of sanding to get e proper fit.  In other words.  You put your circuit card for ESB in place close the lever only to find the clamp doesnt tightened enough on the flash tube and they move loosely in the clamp.  In this case sand a little off your circuit card to allow you to be able to tighten the clamp just a tad more.  Don't over sand. You can keep taking some off but you can't put it back on.  Worst case you sand too much off and now when the clamp is tighten you card just falls out.  A small dab of silicone on the edge of the card will be enough to hold it in place.  Using silicone will allow you to remove it when you need to.  Again, just a small dab.  Too much and you will have trouble getting it off.

You now need to remove the maglite style battery spring from the pommel end.  Use long needle nose pliers if you have them.  Or take a wire coat hangar, bend a 180 degree hook at one end then carefully slide it in, hook the spring and carefully pull the spring out.

Next start with the small stuff.

Emitter section. (that's where the blade comes out)

Simply unthread the glass eye and red button.  Righty tighty lefty loosy.  ;). The red button has a keeper on it referred to as the beer tab since it looks like a beer tab off an old style beer can.  There is a small cut in the end of the beer tab opposite the rivet that holds it to the tube.  You can carefully work the red button threads into that cut to remove the red button or you can simply leave the red button loose until you get the interior parts out.  Just be careful to not let the red button scratch the tube.  Wrapping it in tape would prevent scratching

Remove the four brass pins in the recessed holes.  If you have a vintage they wont look brass as they will be tarnished a blackish green.  It's best to use the pin tool sold at TGS/The Graflex Shop.  If you dont have a pin tool you can carefully use some small needle nose pliers but make sure to wrap the plier tips with tape so you don't scratch you hilt or pins.  If you're a purist you'll want to reuse your pins for movie accuracy.  You won't want them all scratched up.  Worst case, you scratch them, you can use a very fine grot sandpaper or polishing agent to clean them up and remove the scratches.  You'll lose that tarnished look though and will have to wait 60 years to get it back.  ;)

Next remove the common head screw opposite the bunny ears.

Now you'll need a small pin punch.  Carefully tap out the rivet the hold the bunny ears to the bent tabs protruding from the emitter main body.  When you tap the rivet out be careful not to lose the little chrome bushing.  Now you can take one finger and place it in the bunny ears loop.  Slowly and carefully pull so the bunny ears go through the hole and out.

You are now ready to remove the bulb housing.  This can be accomplished by simply tapping it out the main body.  I used a small wooden dowel to carefully tap it out.

I can't remember which way you tap it out.  There is the small oval slide switch on the side that is connected to the black plastic housing. Going the wrong way will probably snag on it.  Mine was vintage and a few taps caused the entire plastic housing to crumble in pieces.

Once you get this out you are pretty much done.  Save the little brass pieces that came out with the bulb housing.  They go around the brass pins and near that common screw you removed.  I leave out the long thin one near the common screw since you can't see it anyway and it's a pain in the neck to get back in without scratching up your blade holder.

Now get some MAAS metal cleaner of similar and in a well ventilated area with rubber gloves start HAND polishing your parts.  Depending on interior corrosion you may want to start with some mild soap and water to get the major grime out.  After drying it thoroughly go back to the polish.  

When you polish, NEVER use a buffer.  ALWAYS polish by hand.  The vintage Graflex has a thin and very old plating that can easily be  polished right if if not done carefully.  No one wants a brass Graflex if you're going for a movie accurate hilt.

When you are done with phase one it should look like this.

Phase two.

Acquire the conversion parts.  I recomend Blastech or TFX studios out of Australia. For the Luke ESB, TFX has the best d-ring as its solid aluminum and not painted brass that can chip like found at Blastech.

Next you need to decide which direction you want to go and how much money you want to spend.  IMHO, our site owner, Master Yoda makes the best chassis system and internal crystal chamber on the planet.  He currently has two options.  Wait for a run of his DIY chassis if you feel you have the skills and about 29 hours of your time or do a send in and pay him to build one for you.  The main difference in his build over the DIY kit is the DIY kit does not include his high end crystal chamber with drilled quartz crystals and fiber optics fed into the crystals allowing the crystals to pulsate with the blade.  Worth every penny IMHO.

You also need to decide which movie hilt you want.  ANH or ESB. The main difference in the conversion here is the extra drilling required for the grip screws.  All screws whether on the grips or the pommel screws the hold the D-ring on will need to be ground down so they are flush in the hilt.  The hilt will need to be drilled and tapped ie threaded for the screws to stay.  The nuts that come with the small screws you purchase in your TFX or Blastech kit will not be needed.  The flash tube must be free of protrusions to allow the chassis to slide in.

You'll also want to decide whether you want to replace the rivet to keep the movie accuracy or if you want to tap/thread the upper flash section to allow a button head screw to go in place of the rivet.  I chose the screw.  It makes it easier for breaking it down and saves you from repeatedly tapping out the rivet and running the risk of damaging your hilt.  Both options work fine and it's just a matter of personal preference.

Grip templates can be found here.

Choose "Item" at the bottom of the main page then lightsaber in ANH or ESB. On the bottom of this page you'll see a link that ales you to the templates.  The final page gives you option for PDF files etc.  Download the template cut it out and try it on for size.  Depending on how your computer prints you may need to resize it a bit for a perfect fit.  Once you get the correct size you can use ape to hold it in place or get a spray on water soluable glue to hold it.  For ESB you'll next start drilling and tapping the screw holes.  At this time you'll also want to decide it you just want the screws at the end for the notches or if you'll want to add the black screws as well at the opposite ends of the grips.  I chose no back screws for a cleaner look.

For proper alignment of the clamp and D-ring remember that when Luke had it hanging off his belt all the cool sides were showing.  The D-ring hing part was closest to his belt.
The circuit card faces away from his leg.
The cool side of the saber faces forward so viewers can see all the greebles. The bunny ears face away from the camera.

For proper placement pretend to hang it from your belt and line it up as stated above.  
You can also reference:

Here's proof that the grips are not windshield wiper blades.  Look at the piece that broke off at the screw/rivet.  Rubber doesn't break off like that.

More coming soon............
« Last Edit: February 16, 2012, 03:05:38 PM by LUKE SKYWALKER »

Offline C-3P0

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Re: How to convert a vintage or replica Graflex.
« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2012, 03:54:44 AM »
Wow, excellent thread Luke! I shall be studying this and using your info here for my upcoming build :) thank you!

Offline Luke S.

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Re: How to convert a vintage or replica Graflex.
« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2012, 04:00:07 AM »
I'll work on some closeup shots in the future along with a video of exacly how to remove the clamp.

This is a thread that should have been here a long time ago.

Offline Jerome

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Re: How to convert a vintage or replica Graflex.
« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2012, 04:14:31 AM »
I agree, very well written. A lot of this would sound familiar to most people, but for some who are holding a graflex for the first time in their lives will appreciate this. A lot of the little things may sound simple but when you have not seen one before you wouldn't know. There are a few little details you could add that new owners may not be aware of right away, like how the clamp lever turns and how to actually remove the reflector dish. Took me a bit of searching to work that one out!

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Offline Luke S.

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Re: How to convert a vintage or replica Graflex.
« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2012, 04:40:52 AM »
This tutorial was last minute after another member asked how to do it.  I had insomnia so i decided to start working on it.  I will continue to add to it later this week.  I plan a short video for the clamp.  :). That's the only way to really help the new member.

If anyone has any details or close up pics to add please post them here and I'll incorporate them.  A close up of the "L" channel is my next item to tackle.  Removing the clamp can prove to be a challenge when you don't know what you're up against.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2012, 05:41:27 AM by LUKE SKYWALKER »

Offline metalskin

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Re: How to convert a vintage or replica Graflex.
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2012, 06:36:18 AM »
This is great info Luke, my vintage Graflex is sitting on my desk just waiting for a send-in spot, but I'm so dying to give it a go myself but being my very first saber I'd rather have a smith work on it but my antisipation for having a working Graflex saber is wavering  don't know how much longer I can hold out  ;D
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Offline Lord Xeno

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Re: How to convert a vintage or replica Graflex.
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2012, 07:52:00 PM »
Luke -- great tutorial and thank you for posting!

Offline Luke S.

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Re: How to convert a vintage or replica Graflex.
« Reply #7 on: February 07, 2012, 02:48:49 PM »
video added for clamp removal.

Offline scottjua

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Re: How to convert a vintage or replica Graflex.
« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2012, 03:48:55 PM »
So... running into replacing the bunny ear rivet with a screw... anyone have a clue a size recommendation?

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Offline Marv

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Re: How to convert a vintage or replica Graflex.
« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2014, 01:41:33 PM »
Brilliant thread
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