On Building a Darkroom

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Dan Henderson, Jan 31, 2012.

  1. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    Elmore Leonard once wrote an entire book around his 10 rules of writing. Every night, David Letterman has his “Top Ten” list. Even God had his 10 rules, although He called them Commandments. I guess you can get away with that when you are God.

    I spent the last month building a new darkroom, during which time some things became evident to me that seemed to neatly fit into a ten-list. Having used all those brain cells thinking about them, it made sense (at the time, anyway) to write them down and share them with the little part of the world to which I have access.

    I am not nearly as well known as God, Elmore Leonard, or David Letterman, so I could not bring myself to call them rules, and certainly not Commandments. As Captain Hector Barbossa said, “they’re really more guidelines than actual rules.” So here they are:


    1. The “Home Depot Rule” does not apply to darkroom construction. For the unenlightened, the Home Depot Rule says something to the effect that any home improvement project will cost twice as much, take three times longer, and require at least four more trips to the home improvement center than originally anticipated. Being a photographically-related project, I instead offer the Inverse Square Law of Darkroom Construction, to wit: the cost, time, and trips required to build a darkroom are inversely proportional to the square of the funds, time available to spend on the project, and the proximity to the closest home improvement center.


    1. It is impossible to have too many electrical outlets in a darkroom. Figure out how many you think you will need, then square that number. Then add another stop or so for good measure. Too much is never enough.


    1. There is no such thing as too much storage space. Guideline #2 may be equally applied to shelves and cabinets. Nature, it is said, abhors a vacuum, so your storage space will soon be filled up, but look at all the cool stuff you will have. If some is good, more is better.


    1. Buy or build the biggest sink you have room for. My first darkroom was designed to make 8x10 prints comfortably, because that is the largest print I had ever made up to that time. I cursed the lack of sink space every time I later printed 11x14’s. My new darkroom is built to handle 16x20 prints with ease, and 20x24’s in a pinch, even though I don’t plan to print that large. Yeah, right.


    1. Use plastics instead of metals wherever you can in your darkroom. Darkrooms eat metals, which is a disturbing fact when you consider that silver is at the heart of the analog photography process. Mr. McGuire gave Benjamin Braddock good advice when he said, “I have one word for you, son: plastics.”


    1. Fermat’s principle states that "the actual path between two points taken by a beam of light is the one which is traversed in the least time." In other words, a straight line. Fermat, however, apparently never worked in a darkroom or he would have known that darkrooms are like black holes that attract any unsuspecting photons that happen to be speeding by. They bend, bounce, corkscrew, infiltrate, penetrate, and scoff at matte black surfaces, all so that they can fog the best negatives you have ever made as you load them into your daylight tank.


    1. There is no principle that states that darkrooms are like black holes that attract every unsuspecting dust mote that happens to be passing by, where it inevitably settles onto the negative currently in your enlarger. Dust can be defeated. Clean your darkroom once in awhile. Keep the door shut to keep out dust and things like cats that bring dust into the darkroom. On one of your innumerable trips to the home improvement store, buy a little HEPA air cleaner for your darkroom. The reward for a really clean darkroom is almost never having to spot prints.


    1. Provide visual cues for things as you implement your darkroom construction plan. Sketch little drawings of anything that is not plainly clear to you before committing building materials. Mark out the locations of equipment as construction progresses. Write “H” and “C” to avoid mixing up hot and cold water feeds (a sure way to waste an afternoon’s work.) Graph paper, masking tape, and a Sharpie were my most valuable tools when building my darkroom.


    1. Don’t forget about HVAC. HVAC is not some long-discontinued paper with reputedly magical powers that produces highlights so luminous that they glow in the dark. No, HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. Most darkroom chemicals work best at about 68 degrees farenheit. Happily, so do most people. The closer you can keep your space to this temperature, the less time you will spend heating or cooling your solutions before you can use them, and the more comfortable you will be. See #10.


    1. Make your darkroom as hospitable as you can afford. If it is a pleasant place to be, you are likely to spend more time there. If you spend more time there, you are likely to make more prints. If you make more prints your prints are likely to get better. If your prints get better you are more likely to become rich and famous. If you become rich and famous, a golddigger is more likely to get her (or his) claws into you, and as happened to O. Winston Link, lock you in your darkroom making prints that she (or he) sells for ill gotten gain. If this should happen to you, at least you will have a nice place in which to be imprisoned. See how it all works out?
     
  2. zsas

    zsas Member

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    Dan - Was a great read! Thanks for taking the time to 'top 10' them! Look forward to seeing photographs of your new DR! Hope you are enjoying VA
     
  3. ROL

    ROL Member

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    Here is one of my favorites (in numerical sequence):

    1) I particularly liked the wisdom of number 1.

    1) I found number 1 to be true for any kind of project.

    1) Number 1 absolutely killed me.
     
  4. wildbill

    wildbill Member

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    11. BEER FRIDGE!
     
  5. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    I just realized that when I copied my text from Word to APUG it renumbered everything to 1. Sorry about that.
     
  6. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    This is the one that's sounding true for me, at least it seems so. I'm currently putting a darkroom together by transitioning a small bedroom (10' x 10') into a darkroom there are only three outlets, won't be installing anymore, so will just have to do. One will have a quality multiple outlet surge supressor.
     
  7. ROL

    ROL Member

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    Hmmm... Funnier when I thought you intended that way. At least it's better than all number two.:wink:
     
  8. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    Heh...I'm not that creative!
     
  9. Roger Thoms

    Roger Thoms Subscriber

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    Just figured you felt they were all equally important.

    Roger
     
  10. zsas

    zsas Member

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    ^ haaaa so did I! Thought it was what made it so genius
     
  11. hoffy

    hoffy Member

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    You could always do the dead opposite. Never ever clean your darkroom. Let the dust accumulate, as a matter of fact, let it become so thick that it settles it self down. With any luck, a bit of moisture will help stick that crap all together and will hopefully attract more dust to it.

    Like I say to my wife when she demands that I do some housework. Why stir up the dust – it’s only going to make the things that are not dusty, dusty and get up your nose.
     
  12. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    I especially like #1, but #1 is pretty good too.:laugh:

    It's a good list, I can personally vouch for the wisdom of pretty much all of them.
     
  13. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    I thought it was binary. 0 is not a guideline and 1 is a guideline.

    Hope your new darkroom goes to 11.

    Lee
     
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  15. Newt_on_Swings

    Newt_on_Swings Member

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    Dont forget the music! Silence punctuated by safelight buzz, and enlargers powering off and on will drive you mad after 6hrs.
     
  16. Tronds

    Tronds Member

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    I was looking forward to an update where the important points 2 to 10 was mentioned. I supposed the first ten number ones was enough for one posting. :smile:
     
  17. bsdunek

    bsdunek Subscriber

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    You beat me to this. I do like my radio/CD player in my darkroom.
     
  18. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    Excellent list. Full of truth. However, I notice one glaring omission (to me) that perhaps is simply implied, rather than omitted: running water.

    I know that there have been many discussions here about how you can do it with trays and buckets. That is surely better than no darkroom at all. But if one is building a purpose built room, installing more than enough electrical outlets, the largest sink possible, and HVAC (all of which I whole-heartedly agree with) you must have adequate plumbing. Otherwise, you have contradicted the last guideline.

    :cool:
     
  19. jeffreyg

    jeffreyg Subscriber

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    With your abundance of storage space develop a system of knowing what's in the boxes containing something you will need immediately although they haven't been opened for 5-10 years.

    http://www.jeffreyglasser.com/
     
  20. Doremus Scudder

    Doremus Scudder Member

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    I'd add a deep sink in addition to the shallower darkroom sink and a small toilet room accessible from the darkroom, both for when nature calls and for dumping chemicals.

    Otherwise, I'm copying this list so I can use it when I build my next darkroom.

    Thanks for posting this,

    Best,

    Doremus

    www.DoremusScudder.com
     
  21. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    David: Your assumption that running water is implied is correct. Also, I considered a separate guideline covering the "challenges" of extending plumbing, but I am still traumatized by the day I spent getting all of my connections watertight.
     
  22. ROL

    ROL Member

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    Weird??. There's an echo in here.
     
  23. Francis in VT

    Francis in VT Member

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    Ten great rules.
    I couldn't afford AC but I did have heat and a pressurized darkroom.
    In your case I suppose the Hepa filter will take care of the dust.

    Francis in VT
     
  24. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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  25. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    David: thanks for sharing. Misery loves company! I especially liked your revised poem.
    Dan
     
  26. GraemeMitchell

    GraemeMitchell Member

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    I get a nervous twitch just thinking about that experience. And I still get waves of occasional anxiety at the thought of a H2O connection bursting when I'm away.