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Darkroom Building 101
Old 08-24-2005   #1
Stephanie Brim
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Darkroom Building 101

Before I go on with this post, I'm going to let you all in on a little secret: I am completely off my rocker. This may or may not come as a shock to you, but it will help if you keep that in mind for the remainder of the post.

I'm going to need to build a darkroom. Literally. From the ground up. There is no place in this house that is actually suited to making completely light tight and so my only other option is pretty much building a small area either inside my current room or outside the house that will work as a darkroom.

This is an insane idea. I don't know any carpenters. I know an electrician and someone who can pass as a plumber, but no carpenters. Nor do I have tons and tons of money to spend at this time on this venture. Right now, I pretty much just want to build an enclosure that would be light tight and afford me the space to at the very least print a few of my own photos. I pretty much know the supplies I need for a good working darkroom...but how would you go about actually building one?

Realistic, space-saving, cheap ideas wanted. I haven't Googled this or anything yet, though. Figured I'd ask here first. Any insight as to how I can do this would be appreciated.
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Old 08-24-2005   #2
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Since you're already off your rocker ... just dig a hole in the front yard, run an extension cord from the house...

Seriously. I use the bathroom in our apartment, which does not have an outside window. Light leaks are a problem around the door, so I just wait till it's dark outside, close the blinds in the living room, so that inside the bathroom with the door closed, it's actually completely dark. I've done about a dozen sessions that way, and it's been working fine, no fogging.
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Old 08-24-2005   #3
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I'm envisioning a "soft-wall" darkroom. Use two existing walls (a corner!) and use a black canvas type material from ceiling to floor. It'll probably need to be layered and will have to be sealed light-tight to the ceiling. It'll have to be situated near plumbing too. Just an idea! I've never tried it. I'll let it marinade in my head for a while longer and see what I come up with :-)

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Old 08-24-2005   #4
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I use that for developing my film, but it won't quite work for actually printing photos. Can you imagine carrying an enlarger to the bathroom every time you wanted to print something?
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Old 08-24-2005   #5
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"The Home Darkroom" by Mark B. Fineman. My copy is the 7th printing of the second edition, October 79. ISBN 0-8174-0555-0. You especially want to read the last chapter - "A Mobile Darkroom" as it answers the question on how to move the enlarger around.

I'd be willing to bet the local public library (or uni library) will have it or can get it easily.

Good luck!

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Old 08-24-2005   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stephanie Brim
I use that for developing my film, but it won't quite work for actually printing photos. Can you imagine carrying an enlarger to the bathroom every time you wanted to print something?
I don't have to imagine it... that's exactly what I do. That's why I scan most of mine, building up a list of prints that I want to do later.

Oh yes, my enlarger is one of those Russian suitcase enlargers. Folds down into a small suitcase/attache case size. Qualities' just okay. I do have a 6x6 enlarger in the locker room also.

BTW, it's my wife and I, in an apartment slightly less than 650sqft, the enlarger sits on the toilet (seat down, lid up) and the trays are on the floor. I'll probably setup a foldable counter over the bathtub for the trays instead.
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Old 08-24-2005   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by f/stopblues
I'm envisioning a "soft-wall" darkroom. Use two existing walls (a corner!) and use a black canvas type material from ceiling to floor. It'll probably need to be layered and will have to be sealed light-tight to the ceiling. It'll have to be situated near plumbing too. Just an idea! I've never tried it. I'll let it marinade in my head for a while longer and see what I come up with :-)

Chris

This may actually work...if I do what I'm thinking of doing. I'm actually envisioning pipe, black rubberized canvas, and a sewing machine. This would be easily portable. If I do it, I'll try and document it with photos and instructions.
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Last edited by Stephanie Brim : 08-24-2005 at 13:26.
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Old 08-24-2005   #8
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A black rubberized material also whill make the place get really hot, really fast, and hold in all the chemical fumes. I know how hot is gets inside my BIG changing bag with just my hands and arms in it for a few minutes.
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Old 08-24-2005   #9
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I'm not sure why it'd be any worse than a regular room. Maybe just situate yourself under an air vent. If you stuck your hands in a changing bag that was made of four walls of sheetrock I'm guessing it'd feel about the same.



Quote:
Originally Posted by kiev4a
A black rubberized material also whill make the place get really hot, really fast, and hold in all the chemical fumes. I know how hot is gets inside my BIG changing bag with just my hands and arms in it for a few minutes.
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Old 08-24-2005   #10
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Even thuough my abode is a 1 bedroom apartment, I have a non-dedicated darkroom which consists of kits. Here is my film developing kit, shown for two rolls of 120.
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Old 08-24-2005   #11
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I'm sorry to say that I don't have instantly available images of my two sets of Nova slot processors for prints. They fit onto the same bathroom sink counter top as my film kit. So, it is one or the other, but not both. Also, out of the frame is a trusty Gralab timer.
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Old 08-24-2005   #12
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That's pretty much what I do, too, for developing. I'm talking about printing.

I'd like to build a completely portable freestanding structure because this would benefit me in the long run. Living at home is something I do not plan to do for very long.

And just so you know, there aren't darkrooms that I could rent/use around here. The college doesn't even have one.
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Old 08-24-2005   #13
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My enlargers are in an adjacent walk in closet. Even though I rent, I had to add a door between the bathroom sink area and the adjoining hallway from the closet
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Old 08-24-2005   #14
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Stephanie: one thing you have to keep in mind is that you will need the space to be rather tall, and well-ventillated; one fan with positive pressure and another with negative pressure (i.e. suck air and the other pull air); I know Ansel Adams had some darkroom building 101s out there.

It is not cheap. This is the sort of thing that you either do it right in the beginning or it's going to end up costing you more than it should. I don't mean to come across as negative or discouraging, just want to give a little "grounding" to your thought here. The chemicals are toxic, and some are flammable; you need moving space, proper drainage, and as I already said, proper ventilation. You may want to check with your city if they have ordinances for this sort of thing (I know where I live they do).

I do wish you good luck! That's quite gutsy (specially when "pros" are dumping their film stuff over "digital").
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Old 08-24-2005   #15
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I'm trying to figure out the best way to do this...at the moment I'm just planning because I'm dead broke. I can't get a job in this town and I'm thinking of selling the computer I have so that I can have some extra money.

I suppose that, for a while, doing things in the bathroom with trays and such would be the best thing to do. I have found out, though, how difficult it is to lightproof the downstairs bathroom, where I do my prep for developing, in the daytime.

There *is* an area in the washroom that would be perfect for one, but this isn't really my house and I can't go about taking up that space all the time.
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Old 08-24-2005   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stephanie Brim
I suppose that, for a while, doing things in the bathroom with trays and such would be the best thing to do. I have found out, though, how difficult it is to lightproof the downstairs bathroom, where I do my prep for developing, in the daytime.
Do it at night... that's what I do. Once the lights are out in the rest of the place, you'd be surprised by how dark it gets. Just try it... you likely won't even have to lightproof the place after dark. Paper is also not very sensitive to light, with an iso of only 2-6, and also not sensitive to red light.
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Old 08-24-2005   #17
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Stephanie,
My wife runs her business out of our home and I don't have space for a permanent darkroom where I can just close the door when her clients come over. So this is what I have done. I chose the basement bathroom because it has no windows and it has ventilation (fan). I made a table that has two telescopic legs (got them at Ikea) that have mounting brackets that allow the legs to unscrew from the top. This table sets on the back of the toilet and the two legs and that is what I set my enlarger on. I set my trays in the shower stall floor with a 5 gallon bucket of water for washing the prints. I also have a safe light that plugs in to the wall socket.

To make the door light tight I have a heavy wool blanket (WWII issue I think) that I hang in front of the door. I use 3 wooden blocks cut exactly the space between the top molding of the door and the ceiling. Then I wedge the blocks in with the blanket under the blocks so the blanket doesn't fall down. Then I use blue painters tape (so it doesn't pull paint off the wall) to seal the sides of the blanket. Then I stuff a towel under the gap at the bottom of the door and whala! light tight!

I use canned air to make sure none of the dust from the blanket gets on my negs etc. and it works like a charm. All of my stuff breaks down and fits into a closet for storing and I can have the darkroom set up in 15 minutes.

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Old 08-24-2005   #18
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The color of the wall fabric won't matter; the resistance to light penetration will. That wiil have to do with the weave and the type of fabric, not the color.
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Old 08-24-2005   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stephanie Brim
I use that for developing my film, but it won't quite work for actually printing photos. Can you imagine carrying an enlarger to the bathroom every time you wanted to print something?
You may find some good ideas here, Stephanie.

Lockable wheels/casters at the bottom of each leg would allow you to just roll the setup into the bathroom when needed.
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Old 08-24-2005   #20
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Can you imagine carrying an enlarger to the bathroom every time you wanted to print something?

That how I did it. I built a wooden riser that would fit over the bathroom sink and that was a nice and sturdy place to put the enlarger and timer and other stuff.
When broken down all this would just take up a fraction of closet space. I kept a trash bag over the enlarger to keep the dust out when it was stored.
The enlarger I used was a small Bogen that could do 35mm or 6x6 film I put a nikkor 50mm F2.8 lens on it and aligned it. You can carry these with one hand. I then put the gralab timer on the toilet tank top and hung two small safelights in their. Bathroom fan was my ventilator. I printed at night and there were no windows in this bathroom. I also got some of the white wire rack shelving and made a piece big enough to cover the tub. Thats where my processing trays and washer stayed. Setup only took a few minutes and breaking it down took the same time. I would get everything organized before hand as to what negs to print and it would not take long to do my printing. I have a 2nd bathroom so it was no problem to leave it there if needed.
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Old 08-24-2005   #21
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Stephanie,

Kin Lau's suggestion is the best one for you at this time.

Although I haven't printed for a few years, this was my set-up:

I set up my darkroom in my basement laundry/furnace room. It has a small basement window. Since I only print after dark, I 've never covered that window, and it has never given me any problems. If you are still concerned about light leak, you might be able to cover it without a lot of fuss. Although I have not tried this, but I think a hard foam board cut to the size of your window opening will do. If your window has an insect screen, the board can be cut to size and take the place of the insect screen. You might wish to tape a couple of tabs on the board with duck tape to help you retrieve the board if it ever got stuck.

When I lived an apartment, I had a system that was even simpler than Bob's. I just set a piece of plywood across 1/3 of the bath tub, and placed my enlarger on top. If you are cocenred that the plywood might slip, you can add a couple of wood strips underneath to serve as stoppers. I then placed all my trays on the bottom of the bath tub. That was the wet side of my darkroom. Thst way, all the essential facilities of the bathroom (toilet, sink, counter top) were not occupied by any of my stuff.
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Old 08-24-2005   #22
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If only this were 1856, you could buy exactly what you need:

Portable dark tent (click)

Actually, I seem to recall that dark-tents were used by the armed forces well past the Korean War era... wonder if you could scare one up on the surplus market? (I did google for 'dark tent' but to no avail.)

Even more recently, I have this vague memory of reading ads for a device that was basically a huge changing bag with an air blower piped into it. You'd just sit it out in the middle of the floor, turn on the blower (filtered) and in a few moments it would inflate into a big enough enclosure for a person and a small table for enlarger etc. The blower took care of heat and ventilation issues, too.

But none of that helps you, because a lot of this stuff seems to be no longer available. Even the 'darkroom cloth' you used to be able to buy by the yard from Porter's Camera is no more, or so it seems from their online catalog. I got a hit on a 'portable darkroom' made by F.J. Westcott, but couldn't find it on their website (which has a lot of broken links); still, they might be a place to contact for possible leads.

If you absolutely insist on erecting something outdoors, I'd think one of those garden storage sheds sold at Menard's and such places might be a starting point. These are made of plastic, so you'd have to paint it with something totally opaque to make it dark. And ventilation would be an absolute must!
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Old 08-24-2005   #23
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jlw,

Although this will not help Stephanie because of large size and high cost, dark tents are still available, but not as darkroom tents. These gadgets have re-invent themselves as "Portable Planetarium" (use this term in your search). The following is only one of the makes:

http://www.cubex.com.ar/english/english.htm

If these are dark enough to be used as a planetarium, these should be good enough to be used as portable darkrooms.
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Old 08-26-2005   #24
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I know I'm a little late in responding, but Steph, I would think about what jlw said about a portable building. You should be able to find a small plastic shed for a resonable price, then if you move out, you can take it with you. Water could come from a hose run from inside the house, or hooked to the hot water heater. I have come very close to building another shed (I have one for gardening stuff) just for a darkroom, but I haven't gotten up the courage yet. I also want to start using a spare bathroom, and I would like to see any pictures you all have of those temporary setups in bathrooms.

Thanks,

Jeff C.
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Old 08-26-2005   #25
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Stephanie, in their webpage, under the "darkroom" section, Roger and Frances describe their experience with the Nova Darkroom Tent. You may want to check that out if that option interests you.
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Old 08-26-2005   #26
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Hi Steph,

You can get away without plumbing water and drainage. A freind of mine used to use her spare bed room blacked out for the enlarging, dev, stop, fix parts. The fixed prints rested in a bucket of water until she'd finished. Then the lights went on and to the bathroom for a final wash.

Just a thought if your stuck for space. Give it a try altough it's not ideal. Having been spoilt by a darkroom (err... kitchen) I'm not sure if I'd be happy for long doing this.
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