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  1. #1
    Troy Hamon's Avatar
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    Darkroom Construction

    In the past year, I made the great move from renting a home and using the spare bathroom as a darkroom to buying a home. One of the primary reasons I was interested in buying a home was so I could build a darkroom that was more conveniently laid out and had a reasonable ventilation arrangement. It sounded so simple...

    We looked at a number of houses last year, and I always looked at where the darkroom would go. Seems simple enough, but of course it never really is. There is almost always a perfectly legitimate alternative use for the room, which is what it was used for by the previous owners. Unless you look at a truly huge house, you will always have a number of necessary uses for each room. Ever the optimist, I kept looking. While we looked for houses, I was looking for information on how to build a darkroom. When you look up darkroom construction on the web, it is interesting how few really helpful results you turn up. The darkroom portraits thread on this forum was one of the more helpful options, but at the same time rarely does any poster there address the problems you face from the construction point of view. It is more generally oriented toward space allocation (and we're not talking about NASA here...) and how they made use of the space they had.

    Eventually, we found a really nice house for sale. In our area, there aren't many houses in general, and finding a nice one was pretty noteworthy. The downside...no room for a darkroom. In fact, not enough rooms in general to me, but then I grew up in a monstrosity of a house and have never really adjusted to the less spacious options that have confronted me since I left home...but that's a long story even my wife probably doesn't want to sit still for...

    At this point, it came down to whether I would be carving another room out of the nice but not overly large house or building a separate building. Since my wife didn't want to see her (notice now, I wanted to buy a house because I wanted a permanent darkroom, but as soon as we settle on a real house, it becomes hers...) new house afflicted by the addition of a darkroom into any of the existing space, she lobbied for a separate building. So...I started looking into the options for putting up a shed outside. Being a construction novice, this was even more scary territory than the prospect of installing one in a room. My internet search intensified, but again without avail. At first this concerned me greatly, then less so as I realized that the bottom line was that nobody would be responsible for my errors but myself.

    However, it seems like I've found a new surprise every week or two in this project, and so wanted to start a thread specific to darkroom construction. This is in part because, lacking an obvious thread to post on, I was posting my progress under the darkroom portraits thread. I've now realized that until I have a portrait to show, I really ought not clutter that thread any more with my incessant rambling about the state of my own little nightmare (or dream...depending on the day's progress...).

    Hopefully, whether folks are trying to decide how to fit a new ventilation system into their existing darkroom, turn that under-stair closet into a darkroom facility, or build a commercial lab, they can share their pain by posting the process of deciding what they need, the progress on the construction, and when helpful perhaps even ask for input on a related question. Although, as we all probably already know...you get what you pay for, and that includes in the advice category... That's not a threat, just an observation (in case anyone was wondering...).

    Post # 61! Woohoo! Watch out laz, here I come...!

  2. #2

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    Do you have a basement to build in? If it is below sewer drainage level a pump is easy to install. A shed in Alaska sounds kind of harsh. I rebuilt my darkroom last year. The best up-grades were a 9 foot 1 1/2" stainless steel sink to replace my 8 foot homemade plywood sink. I had a 9"3" wall for a sink and I framed it out with 2x4's. I found a sheet metal shop that could work with a 12' brake. I ordered a 30"x108" sink with a 3/4" lip all around by 5" deep. The extra large sink is wonderful to work with. Cost $600. Lots of extras lights, safe lights and 4 gang outlets. To top it all off was a Bose CD radio. Now I sometimes hang out in the darkroom just to fool around and hear the CD player.

  3. #3
    Dave Miller's Avatar
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    As far as structure goes I think you should think along house construction lines rather than shed structures. My reasoning is that you will have to heat the building if it is to be of any use to you. Whilst here in chilly England 6 inches of insulation and a 1kw heater keeps mine snug 24/7, I imagine that you may require a greater level of insulation to achieve comfort levels. Hence my advice to look a house structure rather than cold shed structures. Good luck, and please keep us posted.
    Regards Dave.

    An English Eye


  4. #4
    Rlibersky's Avatar
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    You can never have to many 3 and 4 way switches. Okay maybe you could. I would put one in every spot that you will want to look at a print or tool or instruction or something. At least one that you can reach without crossing the room every time you need to see in room light.

  5. #5
    Monophoto's Avatar
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    Troy -

    I've built three darkrooms now - each limited in some way by constraints imposed on it by the shape of the house in which it was being built. Let me share some of my experiences.

    I think that an absolute first must be to think through the kind of work that you anticipate doing in the darkroom in order to decide how big it needs to be. Traditional printing requires four active trays (developer, stop, fix and rinse/holding bath). I bought the trays, and then laid them out on the floor to determine the size of the footprint required to hold the trays. That then became a design dimension for my darkroom.

    My only regret is that I have always underestimated the size prints that I might want to do in the future. So you may want to plan on trays at least one standard size larger than what you actually anticipate using.

    A key point is that you should think through everything about your darkroom before you start construction. Make lots of sketches. Once the building is built, it will be expensive and inconvenient to make changes, so you want to get it right the first time. But remember that you are likely to forget something - so leave some allowances for the future - space, plumbing tee's that you can tap into, wiring, etc.

    Dave Miller's suggestion about designing your shed around building construction practices rather than shed construction practices makes a lot of sense. I live in upstate New York where we have winter - perhaps not quite to the same degree as you guys in Alaska, but it still gets cold. You really want your darkroom to be able to be heated - both for comfort and also to prevent frozen water pipes. And don't forget that if your darkroom gets too cold, chemicals will crystalize out at temperatures well above the normal freezing point.

    Do you anticipate that your darkroom will be used only for chemical processes, or are you anticipating that you will do print finishing also. If the latter, you need to provide space for non-chemical activities like spotting, mounting, matting, framing, etc. And what about storage of materials and finished prints? If you plan to bring prints into the house for finishing or storage, can you do that in bad weather?

    Safety has got to be another major consideration. In planning your wiring, make sure that you use ground-fault interrupters on the circuits on the wet side of the darkroom. It doesn't hurt to have them everywhere.

    But in a separate building, you should also think about access and egress - having a back door or perhaps just a wall panel that you can easily break out in the event of a fire could save your life. I recall seeing a movie many years ago in which a character in England had converted a back yard bomb shelter into a darkroom - and someone murdered her by locking the door from the outside and then releasing a toxic gas in side.

    In my latest darkroom, I did the wiring for operational convenience. The light switch by the door controls a circuit that feeds both the white lights, the safelights and the exhaust fan, but there are additional switches on a panel in front of the enlarging station that provides individual control over white lights and safelights. This was easy to do during construction - and would be hard to add after the fact.

    Where do you anticipate the gray water from your darkroom going - can you drain from your shed into the domestic sanitary system? Or are you planning on a dry well to dispose of gray water? Are there code restrictions in your area that limit your options?

    I strongly recommend good ventillation. You can purchase commercial darkroom ventillators, or you can use residential bathroom ventillators available at home centers. In my experience, while these will effectively ventillate the darkroom, they are noisy and noise is a distraction when printing. I built a ventillation system around computer-style muffin fans that have the distinct advantage of being very quiet. And if they are mounted outside the darkroom, they are almost silent.

    The best design for darkroom ventillation is positive pressure - forcing air into the darkroom, and then allowing it to flow out through designated ducts. Where does the inlet air come from? This is especially important if you have a separate building - if you bring in outside air (a good thing because it's fresh), it will be cold (a bad thing).

    In planning the darkroom, don' forget to plan for things like negative and print drying. I designed and built a negative drying cabinet, and had to leave a space in the footprint for this unit. I also choose to dry prints on fiberglass screens, and needed to have a rack to hold those screens.

    I've thoroughly enjoyed building my darkrooms - but I don't want to do it again!

  6. #6
    blaze-on's Avatar
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    I decided to build a stand-alone DR and after getting info on city codes, decided to make it conform to within the "shed" structure guidlines.

    However I'm building it as I would a live-in structure. The one thing I had to keep to was the sq. footage of the roof area had to be 120 sq. ft. or less.

    I will have insulation, solar water heater (outside) and a built in vacuum line (vac outside encased).

    I am almost done with the outside, have surpassed my budget by about half what i estimated but hey, I ain't no estimator anyway.

    Soon to start the inside.

    here's the link to my previous thread though it has come far from there.
    http://www.apug.org/forums/forum43/18131-its-not-quite-dark-yet.html

    I will update this thread soon when I shingle the roof and get the door installed.

    Good luck and keep us posted on what you do..and don't do.
    Matt
    Matt's Photo Site
    "I invent nothing, I rediscover". Auguste Rodin

  7. #7
    jovo's Avatar
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    I can't imagine building a 'shed' in Alaska that could remotely be habitable in what I can only imagine is the coldest state in the union. Consider that your water source, alone, would have to be below frost line and the cost of heating the 'shed' would be enormous considering that it would always have to be kept, at least, above freezing to keep your chemicals from turning to ice.

    When we bought our house, the selling point (which was utterly unique to us) was that the 'walk-out' basement was a perfect studio for my artist wife. We then also noticed a little, dark, back corner alcove that I knew would be a first-time-in-my-fricken-life-it's-about-fricken-time potential darkroom. And so it has become. (There are some pics on the darkroom thread.) You must do likewise! First, assert that you WILL NOT accede to the female imperative that the toilet seat MUST be returned to the horizontal position. Maintain that attitude and behavior for weeks if not months. Begin negotiations about the IN THE HOUSE DARKROOM. When your ship starts to take on water, play the TOILET SEAT CARD!!! You WILL! put it down at least 50 percent of the time IF your soul mate comes around to your darkroom dreams. I guarantee it will be effective...and...you were gonna do the toilet seat thing anyway because you're a gutless, candyass husband (as am I!!) and you've bought into the unalterable fact that 'she who must be obeyed' must be obeyed!
    John Voss

    My Blog

  8. #8
    Aggie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jovo
    I can't imagine building a 'shed' in Alaska that could remotely be habitable in what I can only imagine is the coldest state in the union. Consider that your water source, alone, would have to be below frost line and the cost of heating the 'shed' would be enormous considering that it would always have to be kept, at least, above freezing to keep your chemicals from turning to ice.

    When we bought our house, the selling point (which was utterly unique to us) was that the 'walk-out' basement was a perfect studio for my artist wife. We then also noticed a little, dark, back corner alcove that I knew would be a first-time-in-my-fricken-life-it's-about-fricken-time potential darkroom. And so it has become. (There are some pics on the darkroom thread.) You must do likewise! First, assert that you WILL NOT accede to the female imperative that the toilet seat MUST be returned to the horizontal position. Maintain that attitude and behavior for weeks if not months. Begin negotiations about the IN THE HOUSE DARKROOM. When your ship starts to take on water, play the TOILET SEAT CARD!!! You WILL! put it down at least 50 percent of the time IF your soul mate comes around to your darkroom dreams. I guarantee it will be effective...and...you were gonna do the toilet seat thing anyway because you're a gutless, candyass husband (as am I!!) and you've bought into the unalterable fact that 'she who must be obeyed' must be obeyed!
    Ladies before any man in your life takes this seriously let me give you a hint how to circumvent this appaling idea. Make your way to the toilet first, after a time away when you made sure the other species had plenty of liquid and fiber. Run a small invisible to the eye bead of super glue around the seat. Leave with a smile on your face. Negotiations are easy from this point on.
    Non Digital Diva

  9. #9
    chiller's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aggie
    Ladies before any man in your life takes this seriously let me give you a hint how to circumvent this appaling idea. Make your way to the toilet first, after a time away when you made sure the other species had plenty of liquid and fiber. Run a small invisible to the eye bead of super glue around the seat. Leave with a smile on your face. Negotiations are easy from this point on.

    You obiously have no idea how inventive a man can be

    You will loose that battle.

    Now on the other hand if the super glue is on the upper side make certain you remember who is next inline to use the facility and why.
    Steve

  10. #10
    jovo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aggie
    Ladies before any man in your life takes this seriously let me give you a hint how to circumvent this appaling idea. Make your way to the toilet first, after a time away when you made sure the other species had plenty of liquid and fiber. Run a small invisible to the eye bead of super glue around the seat. Leave with a smile on your face. Negotiations are easy from this point on.
    My wife just told me she thinks you're aces!!! RRRRAAAAAATTTTTSSSS!!!!!
    John Voss

    My Blog

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