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Restoring Movie Hardware

Please be advised that this page is an historic document and probably contains some references, phone numbers, products and services which may be obsolete.


Here are some suggestions if you find you have 8mm or Super 8 home movies or little film gems from family or friends in need of attention. We tell how to handle, care for and preserve the equipment and the films.

View Film as Film

Supplies needed before starting

Restoring a Viewer

Restoring Movie Rewinds

Restoring a Splicer

About Take Up Reels

Restoring a Movie Projector

About Lamps

Testing the Restored Projector


Cautionary Tips to View Film as Film

We suggest you view your film at least once for the purpose of discovering its condition, its contents and then making a plan for its future. You'll need to be able to handle and view the original film as gently as possible. So, you'll need to find or borrow a movie film viewer, rewinds, and a film splicer for each gauge of film you're likely to encounter. Virtually every piece of equipment you'll find will have seen years of use or been sitting in a closet a long time.

We do NOT recommend viewing film in a movie projector except under certain extraordinary circumstances (like the last request of an aged filmmaker) and then ONLY after you have examined its condition and found it to be excellent. Projecting film that is shrunken or deteriorated will damage its sprocket holes and make it hard for any lab to do good work later. For this reason the instructions on restoring a projector come last.


SUPPLIES: Before you start restoring old hardware

The equipment may be grimy, corroded and bruised and have a power cord with cracked and peeling rubber. To restore the equipment you will need these things from a supermarket or hardware store:



To Restore a Movie Viewer

Wipe it with alcohol on a soft, lintless paper towel. It won't harm plastic or painted metal or the plastic or glass optical prism or condenser lens or screen.  Next, scrub the rollers and sprockets with cotton swabs until clean.

Now clean the rollers and follow the film path by applying the wax polish generously with a swab. Be very careful not to get any on the prism or condenser lens. It is o.k. to wipe the viewing screen and case to clean and fill in fine scratches.

If the sprocket is not free-running try to work it free with an 18 inch length of film. Thread the film in the viewer and move it back and forth as you might a towel to dry your shoulders. It the sprocket still doesn't turn freely, put 3-in-1 Oil on the head of a pin or fine sewing needle and apply it as close to the sprocket shaft as you can get. The less oil the better. Do not spray Dry Lubricant as it will leave a film on the adjacent prism. If you get too much oil on the sprocket shaft and it works its way onto the prism, clean it off with alcohol.

The bulb.

Fancy movie viewers use rare and expensive bulbs, most of which are still available. We find them by Internet search. Remove the bulb if you can. If you can't, apply some 3-in-1 Oil and wait a day. Clean the socket with alcohol, rub generic petroleum jelly into your thumb and forefinger, then wipe the bulb and replace it. If you get too much lubricant on the bulb base, it will stink when heated.

The bulb in modern design Super 8 and 8mm viewers is usually a 6 volt, 10 watt bayonet-based affair, similar to an automobile lamp (which are usually 12 volts and do not have such a precisely aligned filament.) To adjust or replace a viewer bulb you will need a fine point Phillips screwdriver and a 1 inch square of cardboard (cut it from the back of a paper pad). On the upper right side of the bulb is the locking screw. To adjust or replace the bulb, plug in the viewer and turn on the lamp. Hold the cardboard over the bulb with your left thumb (it gets hot fast) while you loosen the locking screw. The bulb will want to pop out. Adjust the bulb by moving it in and out until the viewer screen is brightly and evenly illuminated, then tighten the locking screw. It may take a little practice as tightening the screw changes the position of the bulb.

Motor drive? If it works, you're lucky. If it doesn't, it might be repairable. Or just get along without the motor drive, moving the film through the viewer by hand.

Sound? Sound film is no longer manufactured except for the Fuji Single 8 system, so you may not need the sound function. Old movies which have edge stripes that are narrow brown magnetic material may well have sound recorded on them and need to be checked. Since the film must pass over the sound head, be sure to clean it with the wax (it won't hurt the sound playback quality and may prevent your film from being scratched.)

Sound recording? We have only used the Goko sound recording function, and it adds hum. Users beware. Don't spend money having a sound viewer repaired. Search to find a working unit.


To Restore Movie Rewinds

Some film viewers have film rewind arms attached. Regular 8mm and Super 8 mm viewers often have plastic arms which need special care. Douse them with the furniture wax and let it dry. This will lubricate the plastic gears and shafts and leave a protective coating on the reel spindles.

If the rewinds are metal, use 3-in-1 Oil to the above purpose, except use the wax on the reel spindles and their spring-loaded reel-locking pins.

Really large rewinds (like 16mm Hollywood rewinds)  often have a tensioning screw. Remove the screw and squeeze as much white lithium grease (from an auto supply store) as you can into the hole. Replace the screw and wipe away the residue. Crank away, then wipe off any grease that begins to ooze out along shafts.


To Restore a Film Splicer

A fearsome topic. But the word for today is this: virtually any splicer can be made to work well! We mean it. What is important is that you have a splicer for each gauge of film you are working with. A 16mm splicer will do for 16mm or 8mm film but not for Super 8. Clean the splicer and keep it clean. Make sure the pins fit the film you are working on. This means that if you are working with shrunken film, find a splicer, like the Minette, with pins you can adjust or bend to fit the sprocket distance.

Splicing tape may be difficult to find. If you have a tape splicer you must use mylar or polyester tape in it; office tape can be easily torn and the gum will bleed out onto adjacent wraps of film. Kodak Presstapes, Fuji, Guillotine or Ciro splicing tape are all strong.

Kodak Presstapes are excellent in 16mm, but unsightly (on the screen) in 8mm and Super 8 because they tend not to end on a frameline. You can trim them down but this is labor intensive. Some filmmakers used to apply them just to the emulison side to provent loss of focus during projection. But for joining reels for storage or transfer, we suggest you put Presstapes on both sides of the film. After application rub Presstapes down on the film with a rounded implement pressing on a clean, hard surface.

Well made cement splices are excellent and dependable for long term storage. The technique of making good cement splices can be learned froma book with much practice, but it is better learned from a person who knows how to do this. For use with cement splicers, the original Kodak Film Cement is easy to obtain from Kodak. Again, you will need a splicer for each gauge you will encounter.


About Take-up Reels

Regular 8mm and Super 8mm is best stored on 400 foot plastic reels. Somer Super 8 projectors can take larger reels, but 400' is a convenient size. They come with a plastic center insert to make them usable on the smaller regular 8mm projector and viewer spindles. We like the Gepe self threading reels. They come in "library" plastic boxes with flip-down doors that snap shut and don't lose their snap as years go by (as the more expensive Bonum reel boxes do). We asuggest you consider rehousing your entire film collection in new, archival, vented film cans such as those made by StilDesign in Quebec City.


To Restore a Movie Projector

To restate: We do NOT recommend viewing film in a movie projector except under certain extraordinary circumstances (like the last request of an aged filmmaker) and then ONLY after you have examined its condition and found it to be excellent. Projecting film that is shrunken or deteriorated will damage its sprocket holes and make it hard for any lab to do good work later.

Set the projector on a clean table with the side which opens towards you. Most models will have the lens pointing right.  Remove the lens and any other optical parts, noting exactly how you extracted them (the drive pin on many Super 8 projector lenses can present a challenge). Set parts aside carefully protected. Spray a bit of the carnauba wax on a paper towel and wipe away the grime. A few minutes later the whole projector should look better (this is for your morale, you'll need it). The only things that the wax should not touch are the bulb and lens. Spray some dry lubricant on all friction points, like spindles, motor shafts and belts (unscrew the covers and clean inside).

Try moving the sprocket snubbers. Use more Dry Lubricant or a little 3-in-1 Oil. Some of the oldest projectors have oiling points (little holes, sometimes with spring caps) into which you should put a needle of 6 drops of 3-in-1 Oil. If the projector has belts on the reel arms, spray Dry Lubricant on them, too.

Clean the optical parts with lens tissue or a lint-free paper towel, moistening the glass with your breath. Always wipe in circular motions when you clean any lens. Repair any power cord cracks by covering the cracks with electrical tape. You can replace worn electrical cord later if the projector passes initial muster (be sure to use the same gauge wire).

Now run the projector for fifteen minutes WITHOUT film. This is the least stressful way to let it and its belts get back into shape. Turn the lamp on and off a few times. Try focussing the aperture outline on the wall. If it isn't smooth around the edges, break the end off a cotton swab, moisten the cardboard stick with wax, turn the projector off and try to rub the aperture clean of grime.

Use as many cotton swabs lightly moistened with the wax to clean the entire film path, with special diligence at the gate area. Throw swabs away as they come out soiled. You are looking to clean the film path of dirt and grime, broken film or splice bits and dirt and smoke from prior screenings. Beware using projectors that do not let you have access to the film path as that is inevitably where the film can get in trouble or get pleated. Wax the hubs that accept the film reels, too, as it seems to ease up the constant on and off action.


About Projector Lamps

Lamps used in movie projectors and viewers usually have a letter code designation, usually on the base. Try to find it and write it down before turning on the lamp. If the projector has an instruction book with it, the code may be noted. Order a spare or two through any specialty wholesale bulb and battery supplier you use. Do not go into your screening without a spare bulb or you will need one.

With the projector running, turn the lamp on with the clean lens in place. Focus the white outline of the frame on a white card, wall or screen. Is the light even? If not, there may be adjustments to the lamp to make it even. Same with a film viewer.


Testing the restored projector

After cleaning, lubricating and letting the projector run for a while empty, you are ready to run film as a test. Choose the film carefully. It should be a film in good shape that is not important in content, what we refer to as a sacrificial roll. Happily, both Super 8 and 8mm film is still available so you can make your own test films if you have access to a camera. We expose film in each gauge and make our own test film with good images to test focus and steadiness. I cannot emphasize using newer, less important film for the initial test, as precious or shrunken film is sure to bring troubles. Test the multiple frame rates on the projector and if sound, you need to test that, too.

Many 8mm projectors are called Dual 8, which means there is a way to change gate and sprockets to accommodate 8mm or Super 8 film. It is terribly obvious to state, but in your excitement, be sure you have the projector set up for the gauge of the film in hand, otherwise you are sure to damage perforations.

Check the white leader to make sure it is in good shape and clip its head end to conform to the shape the projector prefers to be fed. Most projectors have a leader clipper on the side or inside the case for this step. If the clip is skipped, projectors baulk and will pleat the leader.

Project your test film twice. The first time listen for chatter, make adjustments of framing and focus and and watch the image for sharpness and steadiness. (Focus on the film grain and the image should be in focus. ) Rewind the film. Project it a second time. This time watch for scratches that were not there the first time. If scratches show up, you must clean the projector again until you find the dirt that caused the scratches. We recommend cleaning at least every two hours of projection. Or clean between each filmmaker's film in a continuous projection with a variety of films.

Between shows, pull the projector out, clean it and test it. Remember to use it once a month to keep it running reliably.


Tech tips by Bob Brodsky, Toni Treadway   ©1982-2014 www.LittleFilm.org


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