October 31, 2010

The table

Got the worktable in place.

I had always intended to have a work surface in this corner. The original plan was to build it myself, just as I had built the other cabinets on the dry side. However, a couple of weekends ago my wife and I were shopping and came across one of those stainless steel work tables of the type that are in restaurant kitchens. It was the exact right size and looked perfect for the job. However, it was a bit pricy.

Since I was so close to finishing the darkroom, and this would save me several days of labor, and part of the cost would be absorbed by not having to buy materials, I inquired about the table. The question was whether or not the seller could disassemble it. No, was the answer, it doesn’t come apart. Well, I knew better, but this particular one was not going home with me.

A little internet research, and I came up with local suppliers of similar, if perhaps lesser quality, tables for about half the price of the used one that I had seen, and they came unassembled. Bingo! A stainless and very sturdy work surface.

When I was laying out the plan for the darkroom, lo, these many months ago, this was to be a combination desk, and negative prep area. Choosing negatives, cleaning them, mounting in the carriers, that sort of thing. At the time, I was not sure if the dry mount press would go in the darkroom itself. I have since decided that the press should go in the darkroom, since its principle duty is to flatten fiber prints.

Thus, this corner of the darkroom has evolved to be the alpha and omega of the printing process. The negatives start here, and the dry prints will end up in the yet to be built print racks on the shelf beneath the table. Everything else runs in a nice clockwise motion around the room.

You would think I had planned it …

Still to be done:

  • Film drying rack.
  • Make a frame for the print drying racks.
  • Get a new air compressor.
  • Better tray storage.
  • Storage for the enlarger lenses.

PS:  I recently got a "comment" on a post from back in May ("Another darkroom construction blogger").  It included a link to a darkroom blog by a photographer in France.  The blog is in English.  I added it to the other links page.

October 28, 2010

What's left (and what's still not right)

In any project that has gone on for way over the expected time, there usually comes a point where you just get tired of it. It doesn’t matter how much you want the project to be finished, or more importantly, want the final result of the project ( a working darkroom in this case), you are simply tired of the whole ordeal.

This darkroom is so close now, as to now be as frustrating as were all of the weeks and then months that passed while it was still so far from finished.

(Excuse the bad photoshop merge - I just don't put much effort into it.)

Where am I today? The safelights are up and wired. Testing them will be the first thing I do once I feel like putting chemistry in trays. All of the fixtures are in except for a work table. It goes where the chair is sitting under the shelves.  My plan had always been to build one, but in the interest of time and not much more money, I have decided to purchase one, as previously discussed.

So, what’s left to do?

There’s really nothing that would prevent me from working; not even the absence of a “work table”. However, I learned from my father’s wisdom and experience that there was often nothing more permanent then a temporary solution. So, I really want to get everything done. Granted, I may, and probably will, change and adjust things down the road, but starting without everything right now is not the answer.

  • I need to decide where to put up a rack to hang film to dry. (I have the rack)
  • Get the heater up and running. (Also already procured – but it may get down in the 40s this week!)
  • Make a frame for the print drying racks (old one didn’t survive the tear down of the last darkroom.)
  • Acquire the final fixture – a work table - so that I have a place for the light box.
Secondary importance, but I want it done:
  • Get a new air compressor (see previous blog post)
  • Get a stereo receiver (this is a story all to itself – maybe a future post)
And last – things that might wait, but are still on the must do list:

  • Better tray storage – right now they’re just stacked under the long sink. Need some racks or dividers or something.
  • Storage for the enlarger lenses.
And, of course, there are the dozens of little tools and do-dads that probably aren't in their final resting place.  They'll get moved around and settle eventually.  Almost there - almost!

October 25, 2010


For dusting negatives, I have been using an old paint compressor that belonged to my Dad. This thing is ancient and may actually be older than me. It had gotten to the point where it only put out about 40 psi - useless for paint, but perfect for dusting negs.

Like everything else from the darkroom, it has been idle for about a year and a half, but I took it into the new darkroom yesterday and cranked it up. The first time it came on, it didn’t sound right. I shut the switch off and started it again. This time, just a buzz for two seconds and then: SMOKE!

The old machine finally froze up. It’s not worth trying to fix. It has more sentimental value than anything. However, it doesn’t have enough sentimental value to keep. So long.

Now to get the smoke smell out of the darkroom and buy a small fire extinguisher.

October 24, 2010

Done! (Almost)

Water – more or less.

More in the sink – less on the floor.

In fact, none on the floor so far!

I am extremely pleased to announce that I have plumbing. One week later than I had anticipated the announcement (see prior post), and weeks (months) later than I would have liked.

I probably should have done this in the first place; but then hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it? Barely $15 worth of parts and material, and not too much time, and I had faucets like I want them. With no leaks!

After last week’s experience of cleaning up a bit of water with the old faucets, I also was determined to test the new ones outside before I installed them in the darkroom. Hooked up to a garden hose, the only leak was in one faucet, which was just not tight enough. A half twist with a wrench and it was fine. None of the PVC glue joints leaked, although I am very paranoid about that. I had one joint leak (out of several dozen) once before, and I guess that’s it. That leak was repaired with a small amount of epoxy, so it’s never the end of the world.

Once fastened down in the darkroom and hooked up to the water line, everything worked great! I can’t tell you what a relief that was. So different from a week ago.  I made a couple of small shelf supports for the pipe and faucets. In the prior darkroom, I had attached all of this to a board on the wall, as is traditional. I did have some trouble with the PVC pipes twisting from the weight of the brass faucets, and had to get creative. This time, I decided to be “creative’ and give them some support in the way of shallow shelves. This also allowed the faucets to be a couple of inches further out over the sinks. Seems to work fine.

No hot water yet, but that was planned. The pipes are there when and if I decide to add a heater. So now all that’s left are the dozens of little things. As I’ve said, the darkroom will never be completely “finished”, since I’m always rearranging something. But, there does reach a point of stability where it is fully functional. I could actually work now, but the place is a mess and I’ll wait a bit.

Still need to put up a few more shelves; place the safelights (and test); maybe another task light or two; build the frame for the print drying racks; and, get the stereo going! Next weekend I’m going shopping for the work table. I was going to build one myself, but an analysis of time and material costs vs. just buying something has pushed me to retail. Down the road, I want to fabricate more elaborate storage for things like enlarger lenses and negative carriers, which I can’t really buy retail, but that can wait.

I’m to the point now where I can schedule the opening. Woo hoo!

October 17, 2010

Water, water everywhere …

S. T. Coleridge wrote:

“Water, water, everywhere,
     And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
     Nor any drop to drink.”

My version:

Water, water everywhere,
     Since all the fittings leak;
Water, water everywhere,
     I hate this god damned sink!

I had anticipated announcing in this blog, this very weekend, that my darkroom was fully functional, if not totally complete. It may never be totally complete, as many of us are always tinkering, but that’s another issue. However, I thought I had finished all of the plumbing and once I turned on the water, I could at least process film! This was to be a milestone! Well, it was not to be.

Sometime in 2008, I bought out a commercial photographer who had gone completely digital and was selling his darkroom – everything but the room itself. I got a Beseler 4x5 enlarger, several Componon lenses, trays (up to 20x24), tanks, reels, washers, timer, and a partridge in a pear tree. Actually no birds, but there was a 4 ft. temp control sink! The sink was filthy, but I cleaned it up and put it in storage, since there was no room for it in the old house’s darkroom. Someday I would expand. I sold the enlarger lenses and got all my money back, so all this stuff was, well, free.

Beware of cheap/free stuff. The enlarger and lenses were fine, actually, but much of the rest of the stuff was in various stages of decrepitude. All of the trays are/were filthy, but I still have them, just haven’t cleaned (or needed) them yet. I threw out half of the steel developing reels, since they were bent. I actually left several boxes of stuff at the guy’s studio that were in such bad shape as to only be described as trash.

Anyway, the sink, I thought at the time, was a steal. These things are expensive. This is why I held on to it even when I had no room. When fate stepped in and caused me to have to build a much larger darkroom, the sink’s true purpose was revealed.

As you can see from the photo, there is a hot and cold mixing valve, an inline thermometer, and three faucets. All of this is connected in back of the sink by standard faucet supply hoses. Now, I am thrilled to have another 4 feet of sink, and the hot/cold mechanism is just bonus – especially considering that I am not even going to have hot water initially.

The metal stand was badly corroded. (Should have been a sign.) I took it all apart, sanded and repainted, and replaced all of the connecting bolts with brass, to avoid corrosion problems in the future. The stand looks fabulous! There was a pinhole in the sink that I repaired with a little epoxy. It seems to be fine and does not leak. What I did not do, is any rehab on the plumbing. I definitely should have done a check of all this stuff before I installed it upstairs in the darkroom. When I put water to this thing, it was squirting everywhere!

OK, pulled the sink out from the wall and determined that the leak in back of the sink was in the vicinity of only in one hose, it was just a lot of water. After cleaning up the water, I re-did the connection, which appeared loose, and tried again. This time I could see the hole in the hose! Cleaned up the new water and called it a night.

Things often look better in the morning, and that morning I got a new hose and installed it. When I turned on the water, no leaks! That is, there were none that weren’t going into the sink. The mixing valve was dripping, but at least it was going into the sink and down the drain. OK, I can live with that. When I turned on any of the faucets, the thermometer leaked. OK, live with that, too. But the worst was the faucets themselves. All three leaked out of the handle when turned on and sprayed at weird angles.

The weird angles was because of the anti-siphon valves installed on the end of each faucet. Not only did these leak and reduce the water flow, but when I put a hose on one of then, there was no water at all. OK, I’ll just take them off. They are not needed. There is a set screw on the valve. The first one I attempted to remove broke off rather than turn! All of this stuff is corroded! I give up.

I am still going to use this sink! It holds water and the drain works fine. But, I am going to start from scratch as if I had just the sink and it was not already plumbed. This will be simpler and cheaper than trying to fix and/or replace all of the corroded hardware built into the sink, and will be more versatile and practical for what I need anyway. I should have done this initially, but it seemed easier just to use what was there. The mistake I made was not testing “what was there” in the first place. Oh, well. Stay tuned.

October 7, 2010

New link

New link to a website/blog about analog photography.  He has a separate thread going on building a darkroom, complete with an 8x10 enlarger!


October 5, 2010

(D)rain barrel

I discussed this a while back, but here’s a photo of the rain barrel turned drain barrel.

In the old darkroom I had a 200 gallon stock tank under the building that the darkroom sink drained into. Periodically, I would empty the tank, but not every darkroom session. In any event, I could not see inside the tank, so I don’t know if it ever got full.

I don’t know how the 55 gallon barrel will compare. At least I can see how much water is in the barrel. If it proves to be inadequate, I can add more barrels and connect them together.