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Gitzo Tripod Maintenance Guide

by Greg Downing | August 1, 2004

© Greg DowningMany nature photographers prefer Gitzo carbon fiber tripods, which are known for their durability and lighter weight. They are built to last though years of use, especially with proper maintenance and care. As a Gitzo owner, you may be wondering how to properly maintain your tripod when the legs start sticking, when leg-collars get grit in them, or when the tripod has been used in water—especially corrosive salt water. Maintenance and cleaning, while somewhat time consuming, is relatively easy.

Please note that this tripod maintenance guide is based on modern carbon fiber Gitzo tripods. Metal Gitzo tripods can be similarly maintained, but there may be slight variations in the design and assembly/disassembly process.

Greg and E.J. © Heather Forcier

Greg Downing (left) and E.J. Peiker (right), wading with their Gitzo tripods in Alaska. Image © Heather Forcier. Over the years I have subjected my tripods to a lot of serious use, often immersing them in water to get close to avian subjects. I, therefore, have spent a good deal of time maintaining them and keeping leg sections working.

Routine Maintenance

While serious problems require disassembly, these are a few steps you can take to keep your tripod in good working order under normal use.

  • When exposing your tripod to mud or salt water spray, use a wet paper towel, rag or cloth with plain water to wipe down and dry the legs completely before collapsing them. This will reduce the amount of dirt and grime that gets into the bushings.
  • Periodically wipe down the legs by applying a very small amount of Armor All or similar cleaner to a paper towel and wiping the legs until dry. Use the cleaner sparingly and do not use grease or oil.
  • Check bolts and connections for corrosion, and treat or replace, as necessary.
  • Check bolts for proper tightness to ensure the center plate or column is secure. The leg bolts should allow the legs to open easily but should not allow them to fold up by themselves. Make adjustments, as necessary.

When to Disassemble

With more demanding use, your tripod will sometimes need to be disassembled and cleaned. For example:

  • Water immersion. Water can swell the composite bushings causing legs to feel tight or worse, lock up, even when the leg-collars are loosened. This is especially true when using your tripod immersed in salt or brackish water. If salt water enters the leg sections, it can quickly cause corrosion to the aluminum threads and leg ends causing the composite bushings to become too tight. This will ruin a tripod in short order if not attended to immediately.
  • Grit and grime. Excess dirt and grime can enter the leg sections and leg-collars preventing the collars and guide bushings from operating smoothly and causing the legs to stick.

Disassembly and Internal Cleaning Procedure

When problems persist, thorough cleaning of the inner workings of your tripod can ensure it lasts you for years to come.

Items Needed

  • Spare bushings. In many cases no spare parts will be needed, but I recommend replacing the bushings once a year or rotating two sets, allowing each to be cleaned and dried between rotations.
  • Terry-cloth rags and/or paper towels.
  • Toothbrush or other small coarse brush (bottle brushes or mini wire brushes can be useful). A steel plumber’s pipe-cleaning brush can be helpful for extreme cases when corrosion is present on aluminum leg ends.
  • Water with cleaning/degreasing solution (can be purchased in concentrate at popular home centers). WD-40 (or similar) or mineral spirits can also be used to cut through tough grease, but care should be taken to avoid prolonged contact of cleaning solution to plastic and rubber parts.
  • Sharp “matte” knife or heavy scissors (for trimming plastic bushings).
  • Thick, white lithium grease (for re-lubricating leg-collars).

Before disassembly it is a good idea to become familiar with the internal components and how they work together. Inside each leg section there are three bushings, two plastic and one high-density composite bushing. See figure below.

Parts of a tripod

The purpose of the two plastic bushings (A) is to center and guide the legs as they move up and down, resulting in more stability between sections. These plastic bushings fit into shallow grooves at the top of each leg section and move up and down as the legs are extended and collapsed.

The composite bushings (B) are used to tighten the legs by compressing around each leg section when the threaded leg-collar (C) is tightened. These composite bushings remain in place beneath the leg-collar and the legs slide through them when extended and collapsed.

Disassembly

  • Starting with the bottom legs and working up to the top, remove each leg-collar completely by loosening and continuing to turn until it is separated from the mating threads. Since the threads are fine, it will take more than a few turns before the leg-collar is completely separated from each leg section.
  • One leg at a time, pull the sections apart and remove the three bushings (two plastic and one composite) from each section and set aside. Do this for all sections or just the ones that are problematic. If removal is difficult, this could indicate corrosion inside the aluminum leg end. Some force while pulling on the leg section may be required to break through this area of corrosion. If the sections will not separate, try getting someone to assist you, but be sure to brace yourselves in case the legs suddenly come apart (perform this step at our own risk!) Twisting the legs back and forth or collapsing them and quickly extending them to create momentum can sometimes aid in separation. If internal corrosion is ignored, the leg sections can become impossible to separate, requiring replacement.
  • With each leg section’s components disassembled, remove the bushings and set them aside.

Cleaning

  • Thoroughly clean the legs with cleaning/degreasing solution and a soft cloth. Be sure to get all the grit out of the recessed grooves where the guide bushings go, and also inspect the insides for loose grit.
  • Inspect each leg section on the inside of the aluminum end where the mating legs insert. This is an area where corrosion can form, particularly after immersion in salt water. If corrosion is found, clean the area with a hard wire brush similar to those used for internal pipe fittings. Alternately, a small “toothbrush style” metal brush may be used.
  • Clean the threads on each leg using a coarse terry-cloth rag or toothbrush dipped in cleaning/degreasing solution. If any grit is present, all grease and dirt on the threads must be completely removed.
  • Clean the insides of the leg-collars in a similar fashion, and remove all traces of grease and grime from the internal threads. An old toothbrush and/or small wire brush dipped in cleaning/degreasing solution can help clean stubborn grease and grime out of the threads.
  • Rinse each bushing in cleaning/degreasing solution and wipe any excess dirt from their surfaces using a toothbrush or washcloth for stubborn dirt. If grease from the leg-collars has migrated to the composite bushings, it should be removed or, if severe, the bushing should be replaced. The composite bushings can swell when they get wet, but will shrink back down when dry.
  • Rinse all parts thoroughly and allow them to dry completely before re-assembling. Use of a hair-dryer or heater can speed the drying process.

Re-assembly

It is important to note that no grease should be applied to bushings since they perform best when dry. Applying grease to the bushings can cause swelling and attract dirt. Grease should be applied sparingly to the upper area of the leg threads only, as indicated below.

  • Gather all the bushings and leg-collars and match them to the individual legs (the size difference should be obvious in matching parts to leg sections).
  • Starting with the top leg sections, slide the leg-collar over the end of the leg (be sure the leg-collar is facing the proper direction).
  • Slide the composite bushing over the leg; leave about 6″ down the leg at this point.
  • Compress each set of plastic guide bushings between your fingers and slip them around the top of each leg section in the groove. There should be a small space between the ends of the bushings when compressed in the grooves of the leg sections. If there is not, the bushings have become stretched and should either be replaced or trimmed using a knife or heavy scissors.
  • With all bushings installed, carefully insert each leg section into its mating section. Do not force the legs—this can be the most difficult part of the re-assembly process. If there is resistance, make sure the plastic guide bushings are adequately compressed and not hanging up. Taking them back off and compressing them between your fingers can help keep them tight around the legs. A slight twisting of the leg section, while applying pressure, can help with insertion.
  • Once the leg is inserted past the plastic guide bushings, slide the composite bushing down and into the space between the lower and upper leg sections.
  • Apply a small amount of lithium grease to the male threads of the upper leg section, being careful to keep the grease near the upper portion of the threads and avoiding the composite bushing. There is a slight recess above the threads to accommodate excess grease once the collar is threaded on. Only use lithium grease as it is less apt to melt or run in heat or freeze up in cold weather.
  • Carefully thread the leg-collar over the threads and tighten. Be careful not to cross-thread the leg-collar, and also be sure the composite bushing is in place.
  • Repeat the above re-assembly steps for each leg of the tripod.

While these steps may seem like a lot to go through just to keep your tripod in good working order, it’s really not as bad as it seems. My theory is not to let the tools of your trade limit your photographic opportunities. As with all tools, a tripod will be subjected to some heavy use, and even abuse, but with some preventative and routine maintenance, you can go after those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities with newfound confidence.

Pacific Loon © Greg Downing

Pacific Loon © Greg Downing—I love nothing more than to get right in the water with the birds; this affords me a close approach and puts me eye-level with my subjects. It’s also a lot of fun!

Bushings for Gitzo tripods are now available through the NatureScapes store. For questions or other support, contact the US distributor, Bogen Imaging, via their website at www.bogenimaging.us or (201) 818-9500. For information in other countries, you can visit Gitzo’s website at www.gitzo.com.

About the Author

Greg has been traveling the world teaching professional and amateur photographers for more than 15 years hosting his instructional workshops and seminars. Instructing photographers of all experience levels Greg has earned a reputation for his gracious and generous teaching style.

Greg's images are known for their unique style, exacting composition and strict attention to detail. As an internationally recognized photographer, his numerous publishing credits include books, advertising campaigns and editorial publications such as Birding Magazine, Outdoor Photographer Magazine, Birder's World, National Geographic and many others. Especially passionate about birds, his images can also be found in printed form in several Wildbird Centers on the east coast, as well as appearing in private art exhibitions.

In 2003 Greg founded www.NatureScapes.net with E.J. Peiker and Heather Forcier. Today Greg is the Publisher, President and sole owner of the company and oversees all operations from his home base in Parkton, Maryland.

As Greg travels the world taking pictures he enjoys meeting others, teaching and sharing his passion while making new lifelong friends in the process.

To see more of Greg's work visit his website at www.gdphotography.com.

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