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  1. #1

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    A new darkroom springs forth... eventually

    Hi all,

    I'm starting this thread to document and chat about the design and construction of my first darkroom. I plan on doing black & white and alternative process printing, maybe dabbling with color as well.

    The basic layout
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    The room is a 6.5' x 12.5' basement space, with a low ceiling and open rafters.

    The Wet Side
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    I have two sinks in the plan, in large part so that I can get them into (and someday out of) this room. I'll be building those myself in plywood, fiberglass cloth, and expoxy resin construction. This layout also allows more working room around the 4x5 enlarger than a single long sink. The blocked off basement window (behind the shiny fiberglass insulation) will allow for an exhaust vent. Intake venting will initially be passive, provided via light-proof baffles between the rafters on the dry side. More on ventilation later.

    The Dry Side
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    I've adopted two LPL enlargers which will find a home here, a 4x5 and a medium format (a Rollei-branded LPL 7700). I'm planning on building a drop table for the 4x5 enlarger, so that I can choose to work at standing or sitting height. Full 20x24 prints will require the sitting level due to low ceiling clearance; the 4x5 enlarger head will actually slip up between the rafters at the top of the column. The plan for the drop table is in flux; I'm not happy with the ones I've seen so far. I'd love to find a bargain deal on a Fotar drop table or similar, and dodge the problem entirely. I'm also a bit up-in-the-air as to other dry-side particulars. I'll want storage space under the counter area, but haven't worked out those details yet.

    Those are the rough basics. I'll follow up with my thoughts and plans on ventilation, storage, water routing, the sink designs, and the actual construction in coming days, weeks, and months.

    References
    I've found a few references to be very useful so far:
    The New Darkroom Handbook, 2nd ed. This book's strength lies in coverage of darkroom ideas ranging from temporary bathroom affairs to the personal darkrooms of professional photographers. It includes plans, layouts, and a wealth of useful information on construction and design ideas.

    Build Your Own Home Darkroom was a good find for me. It's not as broad in coverage of layout possibilities as The New Darkroom Handbook, but I view this book as "Darkroom Construction for Dummies" -- and I mean that in a very good way. It goes out of its way to provide basic information on woodworking tools, and much more detailed plans and approaches than The New Darkroom Handbook. As I've not done with any significant woodworking before, this book is immensely useful and I prefer most of the plans (esp. the sink plans) in this book.

    APUG's venerable Darkroom Portraits thread and other related threads have been of immense value. I'm incorporating a few of the clever ideas presented there in my schemes, and will call those out as I get to them. I hope to add a neat trick or two for others to pick up on as well.
    Last edited by John W; 02-23-2009 at 12:27 AM. Click to view previous post history. Reason: Fix up image attachments

  2. #2
    MattKing's Avatar
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    John:

    You may find this helpful, as well:

    http://wwwcaen.kodak.com/global/en/p...bs/ak3/ak3.pdf

    Matt

  3. #3

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    Interesting. I'm in the process of building mine as well, though 2/3s the size of yours. I have the advantage of a high ceiling (8.5 ft from concrete floor to rafters). Essentially like the "A" diagram in the Kodak pdf, but the dry side is a bit longer than the wet side (it's not a perfect square).

    I have a Delta 6 ft. sink that I picked up a couple of years ago at a photo shop closeout. That will be my wet side; so somewhat limitiing. I was thinking of a holding tray for prints under the sink. Would only be necessary for doing larger prints. I plan to buy or build a vertical print washer for up to 11x14. Will build fold down drying racks above. I plan to put a 2nd drain in the sink for the print washer outlet tube, but not until I've used it a bit and workflow is settled in. There will be 2 containers under the sink for used developer and fixer, as I have a septic system.

    We use well water. There is a whole house water filter with a 30 micron sediment filter. The darkroom sink will have a standard kitchen type faucet with sprayer using regular "tap" water. There will be a separate water supply with homemade temp control, a 5 micron sediment filter, and multiple outlets. I will plumb in main shut off valves (hot and cold). My water conditioning "system" (temp and filter) will be built on a removable platform mounted above the sink so I can modify if needed. Connection to water supply will be via flexible tubing (the stainless steel wrapped lines commonly used for sinks and toilets). The mixing valves (off the shelf ball valves) will be before the single filter and the temp gauge after the filter.

    I'd debating on whether to add a small sink on the otherwise dry side. Water supply and drainage is feasible. But would need a cover so as not to lose too much counter space. I'm leaning against and will consider later if necessary.

    Dry side will be 6.5 ft long (interior dimension). My Omega D5 will go in a custom built stand with adjustable base (from a photography school closing), leaving a 3.5 ft surface for contact printing and film loading. There will be a work table outside the darkroom for non light sensitive activities. I also have a B22. Since the D5 has a 3 lens turret, I don't see any advantage in setting up the B22 as a dedicated 35mm enlarger (open to suggestions).

    I have a dedicated 20 amp circuit going to the darkroom which I plan to use for all darkroom electrical. Should be large enough to avoid any power issues when using the enlarger. Unless, perhaps, I'm using a print dryer. But even then I don't think so.

    I will suspend the ceiling slightly to allow removable ceiling panels. As I have engineered floor joists above, that provides access for routing water, electrical, and ventilation. I plan to use a pocket door as it avoids having to deal with door swing location and should be easier to lightproof. I'm still debating on wall material. Current thinking is 7/16" OSB as it is more water resistant than wallboard, can hold a screw if I need to mount something (though not too heavy) and (most importantly) can be removed and reinstalled if I need to make changes. Plywood might be better but it's so much more expensive. It will be painted and, if necessary, can take a drywall patch. Or I can mix, with 1/2" OSB on wet side and 1/2" sheetrock on dry side.

    I will paint the interior black so as to minimize light reflections. Though this is a one-person darkroom so it's not like I have to deal with multiple enlargers being used simultaneously.

    I have a Thomas safelight (though one of the glass panes is broken). I don't know if this will be too much light for my small space. Over the sink will be a dropped section where I can install another safelight(s) and print viewing lighting.

    Some materials I am getting from a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. There is one in Seattle: http://www.seattlehabitatoutlet.org/

    Anyway, perhaps this exchange of ideas/thoughts will help both of us.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by MattKing View Post
    John:

    You may find this helpful, as well:

    http://wwwcaen.kodak.com/global/en/p...bs/ak3/ak3.pdf

    Matt
    Thanks Matt,

    I wasn't aware of that Kodak doc.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by mgb74 View Post
    There will be 2 containers under the sink for used developer and fixer, as I have a septic system.
    Makes sense. I'm just going to have a spare container for spent fix at the outset.

    For water routing, there's a utility sink and drain on other side of the right wall in my layout diagram. Hot and cold will enter the room there and the drain pipe will route out the same side. I'd like a water temp control unit (like a Haas Intellifaucet), but will likely put that off until later. In any case, I'm going to set up a plumbing board and connect everything with PEX pipe and connectors. It makes the initial setup and any subsequent reworking a no-brainer. And it seems reasonably priced.

    I'm also considering getting one of these aquarium heaters with controller (500W or 800W) for water temp control. I've already got a little submersible pump, but my current heater setup is inadequate. That'll give me a nice DIY tempering arrangement.

    Connection to water supply will be via flexible tubing (the stainless steel wrapped lines commonly used for sinks and toilets).
    Do check out PEX pipe and fittings, if you aren't already aware of this stuff. It turns plumbing into a tinkertoy type affair. Very handy.

    But would need a cover so as not to lose too much counter space. I'm leaning against and will consider later if necessary.
    On the "consider later" front, I'm planning the build out in phases. I'll have the 4x5 enlarger on its wall-mount shortly. Then I'll finalize the drop-table size and design. Then I'll get a first feel of the working space and how I'll want to proceed with the construction.

    Since the D5 has a 3 lens turret, I don't see any advantage in setting up the B22 as a dedicated 35mm enlarger (open to suggestions).
    One of the reasons to have a second enlarger at the ready is for flashing/fogging techniques. This can also be done with a PaperFlasher; that's all a space/cost/convenience tradeoff.

    I have a dedicated 20 amp circuit going to the darkroom which I plan to use for all darkroom electrical. Should be large enough to avoid any power issues when using the enlarger. Unless, perhaps, I'm using a print dryer. But even then I don't think so.
    That seems like plenty. I'm fairly certain the circuit running to my room is 15A, but I don't think that will be a limitation. I will need to sort out the installation of some new outlets. I'd like to just install a GFCI outlet or two above the "processing" sink, near the wall.

    I will paint the interior black so as to minimize light reflections.
    One of my constraints is that I rent, but have the blessing of my landlord for the darkroom. He even offered to do the through-wall plumbing! (Is there an APUG medal for "Best Landlord"?!? )

    As such, I'm not painting the whole thing black. I currently plan on getting some of this flocking material which I'll hang around the enlarger, use to build some light traps in the rafter gaps in the dry-side wall, and for a few other projects.

    I have a Thomas safelight (though one of the glass panes is broken). I don't know if this will be too much light for my small space.
    Those Thomas lights are pretty big and bright. I don't have much of a place to mount one in my room, and even then I think it'd be too much light. I'm going to try one or two smaller safelights.

    Some materials I am getting from a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. There is one in Seattle: http://www.seattlehabitatoutlet.org/
    Good tip, thanks. Might be a good place to hunt up cabinetry and/or lumber for the dry side construction.

    Anyway, perhaps this exchange of ideas/thoughts will help both of us.
    Indeed!
    Last edited by John W; 02-23-2009 at 12:34 PM. Click to view previous post history. Reason: typo

  6. #6

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    I have pex running to the darkroom. I certainly see the advantages, but am too thrifty (i.e. cheap) to invest in a pex crimper when I have all the copper I need, plus torch, solder and fittings, left over from a previous remodel. If I do the bulk of the work in copper, I only need to rent a pex crimper for a couple of hours (included travel time). BTW, Home Depot rents them.

    Typically, plumbing installs still used the flex tubing from shutoff valve to faucet, so that would remain.

    2 years ago we had our kitchen redone and kept the old cabinets. Even though 18 years old, they were very serviceable and are now in my workshop. The remodeling company told me it's amazing what gets discarded. Much now goes to these Habitat stores; it's a 3 fer: less in landfills, tax deduction for owner, and income for a good cause.

  7. #7
    L Gebhardt's Avatar
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    I would, and did, install several circuits for the darkroom. A processor with a heater that kicks on can draw quite bit of power. Enough that it could lower the voltage and hence the light level from your enlarger. Since I was building and wiring mine myself I went with 4 20 amp circuits. That way I can have the Jobo, a print processor, a freezer, and the enlarger on separate circuits. I had already installed a subpanel for an office, so I had plenty of empty circuit openings. Make sure you use all GFCI circuits. One GFCI can protect all the downstream outlets, so it's not a big deal to add them.

    I'm glad I went with a light gray color and not black. It's a much nicer room that way and I have no issues with paper fogging as confirmed by a long safelight test.

    I also had to build a drop table, but I'm not very happy with my design so I won't describe it here until it's refined a bit. My next house will have a 10 foot basement ceiling.

    The Haas Intellifaucet has been one of my best purchases. I needed it for the Jobo, but I use it for much more. It's nice to be able to set the wash temp and leave it, no matter what the flow rate is at. Well worth the money. Also add more than one faucet. My sink came with 4 and I thought it was crazy. I use them all.

  8. #8
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    Just some thoughts to consider:

    • Drywall over the exposed rafters to minimize dust, or use drop ceiling tiles. You might need to leave part of it open for the enlarger column but the rest is a dust magnet.
    • Under the countertops, install some vertical partitions for storing trays, matboard, foam board, etc vertically.
    • Consider some antifatigue mats.
    • Regardless of the color, use semigloss paint which is much easier to clean and does not seem to attract as much dust as flat paint.
    • The paper flasher from RH Designs is worthwhile and best mounted in a fixed position so that the flash time is always the same for a given paper. Perhaps you could make a pivot arm that retires to the wall when not in use but then rotates over the print for flashing position. Or perhaps hanging from the ceiling but the cord is not that long.
    • I think a Thomas safelight is probably too bright for your space. My darkroom is 8x16 feet and the Thomas fogged my paper. Also, mine has an audible hum which is very annoying. Too bad because it was really bright. Of course you can always reduce the light output but then it is just a big noisy replacement for a conventional safelight.
    • With the possible exception of fixer, consider using only 1 shot chemicals. Storing chemicals takes us space, requires cleaning of the bottles, introduces needless variables, etc.
    • If space allows, consider a smaller, low sink to house an archival print washer. If you have a large print washer (e.g. for 16x20 or 20x24) sitting on a regular height sink, then you will need a stool to reach high enough to insert/remove paper comfortably.
    • For the sinks, you might consider making them quite deep, say ~30 inches, to allow large trays. Or make one sink 30 inches and the other just 20 for processing film, mixing chemicals, etc.
    • For the drop table, consider two base cabinets with a 30 inch gap between them. Screw in some stringer boards on the opposing sides of each cabinet so that you can slide in a piece of 30 inch countertop material at either counter height or a low position that allows for your largest print size. You could put a piece of countertop in each position and leave the large easel sitting below and a smaller easel above. I do that with an 11x14 easel on the counter height and a 20 x 24 easel down below. Make sure that the stringers are level so there is good alignment of the enlarger to the easel.
    • For print drying, install a couple of retractable, vinyl covered wire clothes lines that can be strung across the room or above the sinks. This saves a lot of real estate vs. drying screens.


    Just some thoughts based on my experience/preferences. Enjoy the project.
    Jerold Harter MD

  9. #9

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    Jerold, thanks for the advice, especially the points about the archival washer and the drop table.

    As for the sinks, I'm currently planning on two 6 ft. by 30 inch sinks (interior dimensions) for all the reasons you state. I have the washer, so I can try placing it at various heights to see what I think. I may just lower the entire stand for the washing sink a bit.

    One great sink construction tip I picked up, IIRC, from the Darkroom Portraits thread is to install a cleat rail along the back to allow a board to be placed across top of the sink, effectively turning some or all of it into additional table surface. I really like this idea since I'll have exhaust ventilation right over the back of my processing (vs. washing) sink, which makes it good placement for doing alt. process paper coating.

    One wonky but unavoidable bit in all of this is that my Nuarc plate burner won't fit into the basement. I'll have to coat, head upstairs to do my exposure, then head back down to process. I don't mind this one bit, because I'm still relatively young and spry, and because I'll actually get to use the plate burner! (Craigslist was kind to me before I was fully ready.. )

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by L Gebhardt View Post
    I would, and did, install several circuits for the darkroom. A processor with a heater that kicks on can draw quite bit of power. Enough that it could lower the voltage and hence the light level from your enlarger...

    The Haas Intellifaucet has been one of my best purchases. I needed it for the Jobo, but I use it for much more. It's nice to be able to set the wash temp and leave it, no matter what the flow rate is at. Well worth the money. Also add more than one faucet. My sink came with 4 and I thought it was crazy. I use them all.
    Good point on the electrical. Issue is not just average load but peak loads as a heat element turns on or a motor (such as freezer) starts. My biggest concern is when the circuit is shared outside the darkroom, where you may have an unexpected and unknown impact. Hence the dedicated circuit.

    As to water, I have a difficult time justifying something on the order of the Haas unit - unless I find a bargain used. I'm more inclined to build a functional equivalent of this: http://www.cpmdelta1.com/Product%20A...Model%2015.jpg

    Though I will have, on the output side, a "manifold" with multiple outputs (including faucet spout and barbed fittings) each with their own shutoff.

    What I don't know at this point is whether I need stainless steel fittings (expensive and somewhat hard to find), brass (just expensive), or will galvanized do OK? Alternatively, I could use soldered copper fittings and transition to threaded where needed (my original thinking).

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