Even though cleaning your tripod may appear daunting at first, it is a fairly simple task that will add years of use. Even if you don't go all out "Special Forces" in the mud and gunk with your gear, you should still practice a little routine cleaning after each shoot. Any time you submerge your tripod in water or mud, you should give it a more thorough cleaning to ensure you don't embed grit between the plastics and carbon fiber. We cover Versa & Gitzo maintenance in one tutorial, since there is a lot of crossover. If any of the cleaning steps vary for a Gitzo tripod, you will see that variation noted.
What you need before you begin:
2 or 3 bins/boxes to hold parts, source of running water, towel, and optionally a touch of grease.
If you have a tripod with 3 leg-sections per leg, set up 2 bins/boxes for parts. Set up 3 bins if your tripod has 4 leg-sections per leg.
Unscrew top twist lock.
When top twist lock is completely unscrewed, pull the lower leg fully out from the top leg section. Place the two plastic pieces and the twist lock in one container.
Step 3A - Gitzo
The internal plastic pieces on a Gitzo tripod are white. Before dropping these parts in the bin, inspect them for wear.
Step 3B - Gitzo
This is a potential point of failure. If your anti-twist sleeve has failed, contact Really Right Stuff.
Repeat the above steps until all of the lower legs have been removed. Keep all the plastic pieces and twist locks from the top tube in one container. We've marked our containers "Large" and "Small" to make sure we don't mix up the sizes.
Continue removing all leg sections.
Here are all of our parts, separated into bins. Remember, if your tripod has 4 leg-sections per leg, you'll need to use 3 bins.
Rinse the threaded end of each tube under gently running water. Rinse the entire tube if you've been in any salt water. You may have to use a soft toothbrush to help clear fine grit out of the threads.
Rinse the plastic pieces and twist locks under gently running water. Inside each twist lock, rotate the internal plastic sleeve under the running water to rinse out any trapped grit. Continue rotating the internal plastic sleeve until it rotates smoothly and you can't feel any grittiness.
Dry each piece thoroughly, including the legs.
Now it's time to put your tripod back together. Start with the largest leg sections first. First replace the twist lock on the carbon fiber leg section. Orientation matters! The threads on the inside of the twist lock should go onto the carbon fiber leg first.
This image shows the twist lock correctly installed. You should be able to see a gap between the leg section and the twist lock.
This image shows the twist lock incorrectly installed. There is no gap between the leg section and the twist lock.
Slide the twist lock partway down the leg section.
Pull two plastic pieces from the bin marked "Large." Look on the inside of each plastic piece; there is a raised round area on the inside that will drop into the hole on the end of the leg section.
Orientation does not matter with the plastic pieces. As long as the raised round area drops into the hole they are installed correctly. There will be an obvious gap between the two plastic pieces.
Step 15A - Gitzo
Orientation of the plastic pieces DOES matter in a Gitzo tripod. Be sure you properly align the plastic pieces so that they are NOT offset as shown in this image.
Now grab the top leg section that is still attached to the apex of the tripod. At the end of this tube you will see a very small white arrow. Line up the gap between the plastic pieces from Step 15 with this arrow and insert the leg section.
Before you do anything else, look at the other end of the leg section that you just inserted. The threaded end of this leg section also has a white arrow, and this arrow should also be lined up with the first white arrow. If it is not, remove the leg section, rotate it 180°, and re- insert. All of the white arrows on each complete leg should line up when you're all done.
Push the twist lock up and thread it onto the upper leg section. Apply a very small amount of lubricant on the threads to lubricate the twist locks. Beware that lubricant can also attract dirt and grit, so don't overdo it.
We recommend Phil Wood Waterproof Grease for your twist locks. Add one or two drops of this thick oil to the threads, then rotate the twist locks back and forth to evenly distribute. Waterproof Grease is the best lubricant we've found for this application. Also, we like the fact that all Phil Wood products are made in the USA - they are completely designed, manufactured and assembled in San Jose, California.
Continue with all of the remaining leg sections. Look over the entire tripod and make sure everything is in its place, that you don't have any leftover pieces, and that the twist locks are all working. You're done!
Cleaning your tripod will take some time, but it can save your shot when you need to rely on your gear the most. Now is also the perfect time to check all the plastic parts for cracking. An abrupt shock to the legs can cause micro cracks in the plastics and can get worse with time and use. This is true for any brand of tripod.