Building a Large Format Camera in Plywood

In these videos, I wanted to take my Shapeoko 3 a little beyond carving and making signs. I have built large format cameras before but never with a CNC machine, and never in plywood. Birch plywood is beautiful, lightweight and affordable. I do use several other tools as well, but the primary structure of the camera is cut using the Shapeoko CNC. I also try to cut brass with the Shapeoko for the first time here, and it was no problem (even with a tiny 1.8mm bit).

Part One (Part two below this video)

For software running the Shapeoko I used:

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Easel
  • UGS (Universal Gcode Sender)

Part Two (more text below the video)

The project turned out quite nice, but there are a couple of flaws here and there. I tried to fasten the vacuum hose when the Shapeoko was running; unfortunately,  this caused an indent in one of the corners. Not very smart. There are also some chip outs here and there both from the CNC router and the table saw (it is after all plywood…).

I used a water based finish hoping to avoid yellowing the wood, but it did not work very well. I usually use oil/poly mix for the finish but wanted to try something different. I am not very happy with the finish. I like the beautiful natural color in bare plywood, but it seems to be impossible to avoid yellowing when the finish is applied. (If you have any tip on how to prevent yellowing in birch plywood, please leave a comment.)

I am new to CNC machining and need to learn more about it. I am quite happy with the result, but there are some things I need to improve.

I hope you enjoyed this project and subscribed to my newsletter and Youtube channel. I will make videos building more high-end cameras in walnut and cherry wood in the future.


  • Randall Moe
    January 30, 2016Reply

    Fantastic videos. Bravo!

    • schneider
      January 30, 2016Reply

      Thank you so much Randall. I will make more camera building videos.

      • Artur
        February 6, 2016Reply

        You sir, have all those tools, and that awesome workshop… I’m so jealous 🙂

        Great job, I’ve always wanted to do something like this camera, but it’s hard in here. Ingredients for wet plate photography are hard to get and expensive as hell…

        • schneider
          February 6, 2016Reply

          Thank you Arthur. Chemicals for wet plate photography is actually not that hard to make yourself. The silverbath is the most expensive part, but for the last two years I have used the same silverbath. It lasts for a long time and can be maintained by adding minor amounts of silver nitrate. Collodion is the hardest part to make yourself (I buy this from Mamut Photo). Developer is easy and cheap to make. Fixer is also cheap (I use Ilford rapid fix). With a little effort it does not need to be too expensive, unless you are planning to make those gigantic 40x50cm plates.

  • Barry
    February 5, 2016Reply

    I too have struggled with a finish that does not yellow birch. Try a wax finish like briwax. It is not as hard as a poly ot tung oil finish but with several coats buffed on, it looks nice and protects the wood to a degree.

    • schneider
      February 5, 2016Reply

      Thank you for the tip, I will try that. Water based finish did not work very well.

  • Greg Roberts
    February 5, 2016Reply

    Nice looking camera! I’ve made a couple large format cameras myself, and would someday like to try doing so with a CNC setup. Your videos has renewed my interest.

    Something not shown, which I am curious about, how does the plate holder connect to the camera back during exposure?

    Thanks for sharing,
    Greg R

    • schneider
      February 5, 2016Reply

      Thank You Greg. I did not cover the holder because I had to get the video out. However I will probably make a video where I shot with the camera and then I will add how I made the holder as well. The holder is not very different than the door holding the focus screen. It’s just a thin groove and a door on the front (as well as some plexiglass holders inside).

  • Gabor Suveg
    February 14, 2016Reply

    amazing work, looks marvelous.
    the design of the camera is your? its possible to share the design ? i would like build a camera like this.

    • schneider
      February 14, 2016Reply

      Thank You Gabor. I am actually working on plans which I will share. I don’t know when it’s ready, but if you subscribe on my newsletter you will be notified once they are out.

  • Randy Rasmussen
    February 17, 2016Reply

    Yes, I too hope you’ll post your plans soon. I have access to a friend’s Shapeko and he’s willing to do the cutting for me! Thanks for sharing.

  • Edgar
    March 16, 2016Reply

    Hello! im really amazed by your work, is there anyway you could upload plans?

  • Walt
    April 23, 2016Reply

    Beautiful work! I’d love to see a 5×7 in hardwood. I’ve decided to build a pinhole 5×7 to test and if I like will design and make a complete camera. The bellows seem to be the hardest part to understand and make. I’m not sure what to use for material, any suggestions?

    The best water based finish suggestion I’ve heard is to use an oil base for the first coat to give the wood some color and then use the water based finish for the rest of the finish coats.

    • Dieter
      April 24, 2016Reply

      Thanks. For bellows I suggest blackout fabric from Thorlabs. It’s super thin and 100% lightproof:

      I would never use water based finish on hardwoods, and I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to mix oil and waterbased finishes. I only use danish oil and mix in a little Epifanes clear varnish for a nice satin sheen while keeping the wood structure. When the finish is done I buff it with renaissance wax.

      • Walt
        April 30, 2016Reply

        For chipout, wood or plywood, the table saw needs a zero clearance insert around the blade and for cuts with a router, use a scrap piece and let it be the chipout. Then with sharp tools you should not have the same problems. Oh, yes, cnc, well use a very light cut, with multiple passes and use a backing board under the good part to avoid chipout on the bottom.

        For a finish of the Baltic birch plywood I get 4×8 sheets from a local retailer, Woodworkers Source here in Arizona that comes prefinished from the factory. It’s no help for the edges, but the faces are really smooth, and yes a gold tint.

        Thanks for the tip on bellows material, I’ll check them out.

  • Ana
    September 1, 2016Reply

    I am really amazed by your job!!!!! Is it possible to get blueprint to assemble camera?

    • Dieter
      September 2, 2016Reply

      Unfortunately I don’t have any blueprints

  • Alexander
    May 15, 2017Reply

    Great job!
    Is it possible to place an order?

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