If you decide to take apart a vintage film camera, the very first thing you should know is that almost everything is going to be made of either brass or plastic, depending on the camera’s age. Both of these materials are very soft, and they are very easy to break even when it feels like you’re applying a reasonable amount of force.

I learned this the hard way while reassembling a Minolta XE-7. After reassembling the film advance lever, I noticed this little gap between the thumbscrew and the lever:

Close-up front view of film advance lever on a Minolta XE-7. A red arrow points to a gap between the thumbscrew and the lever itself.

It didn’t look right, so I used some pliers to torque down the thumbscrew a bit… and promptly snapped the top of the screw off.

Panic. Instant panic. I dug through eBay, looking for replacement film advance parts for an XE-7. No dice. Then, I realized that the end of the screw was buried inside the film advance mechanism itself - a replacement thumbscrew wouldn’t help. This thing is going to need a full teardown and rebuild… unless I take a shot in the dark with a reliable friend by my side:

Well-worn tubes of J-B Weld.

J-B Weld is a slow-setting, ridiculously strong epoxy that works particularly well with metal. I have used J-B Weld for many household repairs, but never anything with such a small margin for error. I decided it was worth the risk, though.

The problem with J-B Weld is that it’s so amazing at holding metal things in place, that even a tiny mistake can hold things in place that you don’t want to be held in place - like a film advance mechanism. Too much epoxy, and I could cause the entire mechanism to sieze. Too little, and the screw would break again, but now I’d also have a bunch of gunk on the parts that need fixing.

I mixed up a tiny bit of J-B Weld - a pea-sized blob of steel, and another pea-sized blob of hardener. Even this quantity of J-B Weld was much more than I needed. Using a toothpick, I smeared a bit of epoxy around the edges of the screw hole, and then filled the screw hole about halfway. Then, I pressed and twisted the thumbscrew into place.

I then taped the whole thing down to apply pressure to the screw as the epoxy cured. A small, flat object served as a good shim. I originally tried taping the screw down without a shim, but this caused the screw to tilt to the side. Adding a shim (the blue thing in the photo below) made it stay perfectly flat:

Close-up side view of the film advance lever. Red electrical tape holds a blue rectangular shim against the top of the film advance lever thumbscrew.

The J-B Weld bottle says that it takes 15-24 hours to fully cure. My experiences line up with that figure. J-B Weld cures very, very slowly. It seems to cure a little faster in hotter and/or drier climates, but don’t push your luck.

While I waited for the epoxy to cure, I grabbed a quick family photo:

Four Minolta SLR cameras sitting side-by-side on a wooden table. The XE-7 is in the middle, with tape wrapped around it.

Digression: Shut up about Leica

The XE-7 inspires a great deal of clickbait thanks to its prestigious German sister, the Leica R3. Indeed, the two cameras share a chassis and self-timer, as well as a peculiar rear-mounted frame counter. The R3 even features Minolta’s asinine film takeup spool!

Despite the shared parts, these cameras have almost nothing important in common. Leica’s R-mount and Minolta’s MC/MD mount use completely different interlocks between the lens aperture and the camera body. The two cameras also have totally different shutters and light meters. Given that a camera is fundamentally just a box with a shutter, a lens, and sometimes a light meter, the two cameras have nothing in common in practice. Leitz-Minolta is a fascinating historical tidbit, but pretending that the two companies were making the same camera is plain old historical negationism.

Wait, wasn’t this a post about repairing an XE-7?


I let the camera sit for about 18 hours before removing the tape. I’m not going to test my luck too much until a full 24 hours have passed, but I can do this now:

That looks like a working camera to me!

If this repair doesn’t hold and the whole thing falls apart again, I’ll update this post to reflect that. However, at the moment, it seems to be working great. Given the cost and complexity of replacing the entire film advance mechanism, I’d say this bodge job was definitely worthwhile.

There is one downside, though I don’t think it’s a big deal. If the film advance lever ever needs to be removed again, it will be a destructive process. I look at it this way: Either I replace the whole mechanism now, or I glue it back together and maybe it needs to be replaced in the future. At worst, I’ve bought a little bit of time for this broken mechanism. These cameras are getting older, and Minolta isn’t going to make any new parts for them. Anything we can do to extend the life of these cameras’ guts is worth trying.

Picture of the repaired Minolta XE-7.