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Restoring the KW Pilot Super, or Pampering a pulverized Pilot.
KW Pilot wreck

An example of a KW Pilot 6 or Pilot Super had been on the acquisition list for a while when this one turned up in a job lot that included the Rolleiflex from project 11. I made the assumption that this one came out at £35, which is high, given the condition and the missing extinction meter, but I was looking for a challenge to keep me out of mischief during the Covid19 pandemic lock downs we were having in the UK.

As received the lens was infected with fungus, so was hastily removed, stripped and cleaned inside and out as I don't like the spores in the house.

A brief function check revealed very stiff focus and aperture controls, a partially working rewind interlock, if you could get the shutter to cock the first curtain was lazy and the second hesitating to the point of stopping. Most of the paint was missing from the zinc shell, the pressed steel back was rusted and what covering remained was disintegrating. The tripod bush had been subjected to a screw longer than intended, this had punched a hole through into the film chamber, which is less than helpful.

The good news was that all the dress screws were original and present, the focus screen intact and the mirror remained silvered up to the edges. Although the camera wasn't working, it was trying to, suggesting that no major tampering was awaiting discovery.

KW leaves

I apologize for the focus on some of the pictures, I am in the habit of hastily grabbing pictures with my mobile phone and it struggles with close ups. Generally these images are just to keep a record or pictorial note book to aid re-assembly later.

The lens barrel was dismantled immediately on arrival to get the fungus cured with the usual acetic acid bath. The lens elements aren't as bad as the Rolleiflex from the same box, but they have seen better days. The fungus itself came off easily with no etching of note, but the front face of the objective element is pretty scratched and I just have to live with that. There was a lot of oil on the aperture leaves, that had no right to be in there so the barrel was stripped down to its component parts whilst I was cleaning the lens.

I have a cardboard jig I made up years ago to re-assemble ten leaf Compur diaphragm leaves, and happily it works for the KW's aperture too. Here you can see the leaves after cleaning off the oil and resting in the jig before chasing them round into a ring. The amount of gooey oil present could only have got there deliberately, they work much better dry, leave the oil can in the garage.

KW Leaves going back The idea is to nudge each leaf over its neighbour until a neat circle is formed. In the case of the Compur, I lower the activating plate on top, aligning the pins with the slots, close up to around f/22, then they drop off the jig in a neat flower and can be placed back into their shell. This is easy for the Compur as the slots can be seen whilst doing this. For this KW shutter I had to close up the leaves until they formed a circle of f/3.5, then lowered the activating ring on top, a bit of wiggling is needed as you can't see the slots so have to feel for the pins locating.
KW Leaves in ring

Having got the ring to sit on the leaf pins, you can rotate the ring gently to close the aperture up and visually centre the hole using the guide lines, with it closed up it holds itself together and it will come off the jig with the ring by inverting it held in place by a cylinder of rolled card. Standing the cylinder with the assembly on the bench, the lens barrel is lowered over it to be gently wiggled into the pin holes, making sure the screw hole for the activating lever is aligned with the slot at the correct setting. This can sometimes be a fiddle, but this one didn't put up any resistance and went in on the first attempt.

The plating on the focus ring was badly worn, but I didn't want to pay for a commercial plater for something as lowly as a Pilot Super, so elected to do the re plating myself, but for now I got it all working nicely then closed the lens up to keep the dust out whilst I went to work on another camera.

Modified KW This unsightly modification is interesting. Initially I thought it was just the addition of a flash socket, but I am beginning to think it was for something else. All the components used in the modification are fairly heavy duty and would appear to come from aviation stores.

At the end of the exposure, the circuit remains live, no attempt has been made to break it when, say, the second blind reaches the end of it's travel. It may have been used as a sequence camera, each one triggering the solenoid of the next in sequence, or it may have been a remote camera that lit up a bulb on a control board to let the operator know that camera number 4 had tripped. It could have been used for flash too, with the proviso that the shutter be cocked before connecting the flash, otherwise it would go off instantly you connected it. When this work was carried out the depth of field and extinction meter data plate that was riveted to one side was removed and the rivets hammered flat, the extinction meter was also deleted and the holes neatly disguised. From the wear, it saw considerable use in this form.

After some thought I have decided to retain the modifications in this case, although the option to return it to stock remains should an extinction meter show up. The data plate is relatively easily recreated should that be the case.

Modified KW 2

Removing the side panel revealed a bunch of redundant holes from a previous modification as well as all this rust. Visible in the back ground is part of a re-purposed relay neatly mounted into drilled and tapped holes, the contact itself protrudes into the mirror chamber and makes contact with a copper rivet as the mirror reaches the end of its travel, completing the circuit.

Also note that the spring for the first shutter blind is anchored this side.

KW interlock Turning our attention to the other side, the film advance knob is removed followed by a dust cover to reveal the mechanism that prevents double exposures. One of the countersunk screws has been lost but otherwise it's all intact. The standard of workmanship on the tripping lever is pretty rough though. This photo served as a reminder to the correct orientation of the cam washer that activates the lever. Inside this brass barrel is the spring clutch that prevents winding the camera backwards.
KW pintle The same assembly removed, laid out and photographed for later. The plating on the pintle is in a poor state and will be renewed.
KW re plate

Here it is, merrily bubbling off hydrogen gas whilst sat in a bath of home made nickel acetate. Nickel plate isn't as hard wearing as chrome plate and does dull over time, though readily polishes up - or remains bright with usage. At the beginning of the 1930s Nickel plate was very common, it gradually gave way to chrome throughout the decade and was uncommon towards the end when this Pilot Super was made around 1939. Nickel plating onto brass is very easy so I did all the re plating for this camera myself, the results are dependent upon the cleanliness of the object being plated which can take a bit of time though. This particular component is fairly roughly made in the first place, but looks significantly better with the new coating applied.

In the background the dark patch is the nickel anode, the object to be plated acts as the cathode and I am using 4.8volts DC, the process is complete in a minute or so.

KW Shutter Under the right hand cover is the shutter release and timing mechanism, with the exception of the first blind main spring which lives under the left hand cover. The shutter itself takes the form of two blinds shaped rather like excavator buckets that pivot about a common axis. The first blind is also the mirror tray and is consequently quite a weighty object, which of course means a meaty spring to accelerate it from a standstill. This spring lives under the left hand side. The only adjustment to the first blind is by bending a dog leg into the tail of the spring to increase or decrease the tension as required. There is a fair bit of space under the right cover, so the various levers and gubbins aren't too tricky to deal with. The second blind is triggered by a pin that is attached to the shutter speed dial and protrudes through one of the holes you see in prominent wheel with brass rivet. The second blind itself is a very flimsy lightweight aluminium bucket, driven by the bent spring you see on the left side, this propels a lever that drives the second blind through the slot cut as an arc near the bottom. This slot couldn't be cast, so was cut in afterwards, fairly roughly too. All quite simple. Most of the problems were dried gunk, although there was only a tiny amount of grease in here, it had dried out to a thick paste and gummed up everything. The interlock that prevents the shutter being cocked unless the film is advanced is the small lever sharing the shutter speed axis under the brass rivet. This was too stiff for its spring to move it, hence didn't unlock, cleaning solved this easily. In fact cleaning solved nearly all the issues. The second blind is rather flimsy and is only driven from one side, any drag in the system causes it to deform, making it rub against the shell or inside face of the first blind. Wear in the pivots cause it to drop over time until it rubs against the shell. KW must have been aware of this and two channels have been pressed into the blind, partly to stiffen it and partly to minimise the area that can rub. This example has clearly been rubbing in this region for a long time, this was mitigated by rubbing a very soft (4B) pencil lead over the affected area, the graphite acts as a very effective dry lubricant. You can gain access to the problem area through the back, there being a cover between the focal plane and mirror assembly, if it's rubbing you will see two tell tale marks where the second blind rubs away the matt black paint. The only speed adjustment for the second blind is by bending the spring. The large disc to the right is just a dust cover that prevents dust entering through the shutter release.
KW Shutter lever Just an example of many images I take during the strip down to refer back to later. I take many images from different angles to make sure everything is captured before taking it apart. This is a lot easier than trying to remember the exact orientation of a part or whether it had a convex headed or cheese head screw holding it down.
kw shutter speed wheel An important detail captured for later, a washer sitting under the shutter speed setting wheel, the sub assemblies are removed and photographed in the order they come off. This is gooey but otherwise fine and cleaned up perfectly well. As the lever is riveted through the wheel, it was cleaned in situ by blasting aerosol Brake Disc Cleaner through it, then polishing with a piece of paper pulled through the gap. Many of the parts are nickel plated brass.
KW shutter trigger mech Shutter trigger and B setting hold mechanism. The T setting is held by a mechanism riveted to the inside of the right hand hatch. These components are grubby and a little pitted, but after cleaning were all working smoothly enough. There's no substitute to a complete strip down, clean and polish to all the plain bearings and pivots. The deep clean on this example didn't need to extend to de-riveting these levers.
Kw Sides in The aforementioned T setting mechanism. This is permanently attached to the inside of the right hand side panel, consequently there is no need to attempt removal of the little control before taking the panel off. The left hand panel is shown here after starting to fill the redundant holes with JB Weld
Kw Sides out The two sides had rusted heavily beneath the faux leather covering. The data plate that was removed when the flash modification was done had its rivets hammered flat to stop them rattling at that time. At this stage I was contemplating returning the camera to stock, but then elected to reinstate the modification.
KW back panel The back panel is pressed from steel and hinged to the front panel, which is neither steel or brass. The steel back was heavily rusted, the covering either missing or falling off. The sliding hatch that covers the red film windows is riveted to the back panel, these rivets needed to be punched out to remove the remaining covering and clean all the rust from the part. This entire assembly is held on by four dress screws in the flanges of the front panel and is kept shut my a simple wide nickel plated clasp above the film chamber. The hinge pin was seized in place and I decided that I could complete all the work required without attempting to remove it. It's about halfway through the de-rusting and straightening out process here.
KW Tripod mount One of the issues with the back was the 3/8ths tripod mount. It had a quarter inch adapter screwed in. Quarter inch tripod screws tend to be a little longer though... Clearly someone has been determined to get their tripod screwed up tight and punched a hole through the mount bushing. It actually went in far enough to crush the film chamber plate against the cast shell. This was repaired with JB Weld.
KW Back in paint booth The rear panel in the paint booth in undercoat. The 3/8ths threaded bar protects the tripod bush threads from paint. Externally the finish will finally be gloss black. KW decided to finish the inside in gloss black too, although a subtly different hue to the external finish. KW did not use an undercoat, painting directly onto the bare metal.
KW Pilot shell in primer

The stripped zinc alloy cast shell also in undercoat. Originally the camera shell was finished in gloss black enamel externally and matt black internally, probably oven cured. Modern paints don't take well to zinc, so to get a good grip I use an acid etch primer. The mirror tray/first shutter blind is riveted to it's shaft, for an easy life I left it in situ but masked around it carefully.

I fully expect a lifetime's supply of Lidl's Chicken, Leek and Mushroom pie to be delivered to my door henceforth.

KW Pilot cast shell Here it is after paint, two finishes applied and ready to be reunited with the internals.
KW Pilot Super shell

The die cast zinc shell is well executed with none of the voids and faults seen in some cameras. Die casting became a common method of making camera shells as the 1930s progressed, initially with Zinc with varying amounts of Aluminium, Zamak or alloys referred to as "pot metal". After World War 2 the availability of aluminium lead to much higher or even pure aluminium content, leading to much lighter shells. KW have had to contend with a couple of difficulties with this shell, at the bottom by the hinge they've resorted to a brass lip screwed to the shell, rather than cast the lip in situ, presumably because it would have been impossible to open the mould as the dies would have been trapped. At the top near the take up film chamber a piece of bent steel plate has been inserted into the mould and cast in place, at a guess this looks like a solution to light leaks but without the expense of retooling the dies.

In this image you can see the very neat rectangular hole that was cut into the shell to insert the modified relay contact modification and beneath that the two drilled and tapped holes that mounted it. The engineer's marking out can still be seen very faintly in red pencil to this day. It's so nicely done that you'd think it was original but is in stark contrast to the second blind slot which, whilst original, looks like it was chewed by a cow.

In the top right hand corner of this chamber is the mirror/first blind pivot with the slot to receive the main spring, not fitted in this image. The spring acts against the back edge of the recess, a dog leg in the spring being the only means to adjust the speed of the first blind.

KW Pilot Super in bits A pile of Pilot parts, re finished and about to be joined as KW intended. Re-assembly was fairly straightforward, a bit of lubricant in the end of the mirror/shutter pivot had it running smoothly, to the point that a fair bit of pretension could be removed from the mainspring. The second blind was dragging a bit on its bottom edge, this was solved with a little judicious bending and a layer of graphite pencil at the points of contact.
Wrecked KW Pilot Super view 1 Restored KW Pilot Super view 1

Here are the before and after images. The covering is, like the original, faux leather but a tiny bit thicker, 0.42mm against 0.35mm. It's a bit more flexible than the original too. Soaking the backing in PVA stiffens it up when dry and makes it easier to cut. I worked this out after struggling with several panels!

The film advance knob and shutter speed selector are also cast zinc components

Wrecked KW Pilot Super view 2 Restored KW Pilot Super view 2 The modification to fit flash has been retained. As it's not original and has been changed at least once previously I decided I would modify it further using the same parts the way I would have done it. Turning around the socket to hide the ugly soldering, I routed the cable through the socket then through the side making a much neater installation and yes, it does trigger a flash.
Wrecked KW Pilot Super view 3 Restored KW Pilot Super view 3

From the front you can see why I elected to re plate the focus ring, it was heavily worn and would have looked out of place. The KW Pilot Super is not as worthy as the Old Standard Rolleiflex, so I did the plating myself. The Rolleiflex ran up a bill of £90 at a commercial plating shop, including courier charges - it's hard to find those parts if they go missing. The KW Pilot cost me £6 for a nickel cathode, and I really can't tell the difference between mine and the commercial plating, so that's a bonus. The rest of what I used was lying around the house, a worn out motorcycle battery only charging to 11.4 volts, a bottle of white vinegar liberated from the kitchen, an old jam jar, a four cell holder for AA batteries, four tired AA batteries, a splash of original Cillit Bang and a set of wires with crocodile clips.

The list of parts that were re-plated: Lens focus ring, shutter release button, T setting button, closure clasp, film spool pintle and left hand film release knob.

Wrecked KW Pilot Super view 4 Restored KW Pilot Super view 4 After recent experience with a viewing hood from a Rolleiflex, I limited the dismantling of the KW's hood to removing the rear sight panel. This was enough fun as it was, as there are two fairly vigorous little springs waiting to leap out at the merest suggestion of freedom. With that panel off there was just sufficient room to strip off the old paint and mask off for the two finishes required.
Wrecked KW Pilot Super view 5 Restored KW Pilot Super view 5

It's hard to appreciate the amount of angst the back caused now it's back together, so I will laboriously inform you. That rear sliding panel that covers the red film windows is riveted in place, with just sufficient clearance to allow the original covering to go underneath without jamming up the panel. As the new covering is slightly thicker this needed to be adjusted for, by dishing out the rivet holes slightly and making the holes in the covering slightly oversize to allow the dishing to pass through. Then the covering needed to be cut with holes for the tripod bushing, frame number windows and pressing details. Fortunately the KW has no leatherette adornments like piping or logos.

The original rivets were reused, a dab of cyano held them in place initially so they didn't fall out as their holes had been stretched during the removal and dishing process, then the hollow heads were re spread to hold them permanently. The dishing is hidden beneath the sliding panel and the film pressure plate.

A little original paint survives, the frame number cover and the dust covers beneath the take up spool holders were good enough to use cleaned up.

Wrecked KW Pilot Super view 7 Restored KW Pilot Super view 7

Setting up the focus was tricky, and here lies the KW Pilot's Achilles heel. The mirror is also the shutter, when cocked a beefy spring is trying really hard to move the mirror up. This is resisted by the trigger mechanism with an opposite force applied to the pivot points, both subject to wear as a consequence. Only a small amount of wear is required for the mirror to move closer to the ground glass screen. This camera needed a shim behind the lens mount to prevent it focussing through infinity at the film plane, then a further shim beneath the screen to lift it for infinity to focus in the centre. The nature of the design means that wear in the shutter mechanism causes the focus screen to become progressively erroneous, getting worse towards the base of the mirror, as that's furthest from the pivot axis.

All told though, it's an interesting camera from a manufacturer with a fascinating story.

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