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Monday, 21 June 2010


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You're gonna have to hang rock on that ceiling, you know. Otherwise, people walking around up there will shake dust onto you while you're working. :)

Re Jack's "darkroom": oh, a special light to view prints by. :)


I'm really enjoying this little series and I have no darkroom experience and no intentions of building a darkroom any time. I guess that is what you call really good writing. Thanks!


Will you get rubber mats (washable like for a restaurant kitchen) to put on that concrete floor? My back wouldn't last long without.

There's a less-than-1% chance of my ever building a darkroom (haven't even set foot in one for years) but there's something magical about this process you're undertaking and it makes for fascinating reading. Good move, Mike.

… nice touch Jack :)

Cool stuff! I've never had a darkroom of my own before, and these posts have been giving me long-term ideas.

I do have to protest the use of "embiggen" as a verb, which I assume you picked up from Grant Peterson and the Rivendell site. I love their bikes, but their attitude towards grammar is off-putting.

In a basement with an open ceiling, I'd definitely be wiring things directly, rather than stacking screw-in adapters. In particular, I want the safelight controlled through the enlarger timer, so it's off when the enlarger is on, and I want wall switches by the door and by the trays for controlling both lights. This improves the seeing for focusing, reduces the chances of fogging during exposure, and since the enlarger is on, I can still see to grab dodging tools during the exposure. But then electrical work was the first bit of household hacking that I learned, and still the one I'm most comfortable with.

Love the blacked out window picture -- oops! The window in my bedroom is treated close to that way, but the plastic is cut more accurately so there's less leakage. And it's just a bedroom so it's not as critical (I'll even sleep with the window OPEN sometimes!). I'm still considering just painting the glass black, as a better solution, but my wife objected last time I mentioned it.

Jack's darkroom shot is great!


Have you thought of putting a couple of layers of rubilith on the window rather than obstructing it? This would probably work as a nice and cheap safelight... It costs little to try.

"Doesn't look like much"? Nope, It looks like significant work done to me. Painting floors is big work, a job I have been putting off in my new framing space.
And that light set-up? I used one like that in my last darkroom for 8 years, worked just fine.
For blacking the windows I had plastic that was black on one side and white on the other (outside). That really cut down on the heat coming in from sun hitting the window. A second layer of plastic over the window opening will give you zero light leak, even with blue tape where you have it now.
And for wall color (maybe this should be in the previous thread) isn't there a scientific answer? It seems to me that matching the color of the safelight (at least the primary one you use) as closely as possible should give the optimum result. I just did it by eye, but there should be a slightly better way.


Just wanted to let you know I enjoy reading about your darkroom endeavor very much.
It sort of reminds me of the time when I started building a railroad room. I never really finished that though and all the train-gear has gone the Bayway to pay for a Summicron.

Best, Nick

I'd be nervous about that lighting arrangement -- too easy to pull the wrong cord. I'd want the white lights to be on a separate switch near the door or something.

Hi Mike- Great to see *another* darkroom in the making! Have you considered using 2 layers of rubylith on the windows and creating a natural safelight?

Mike, I don't know why but I'm oddly compelled by your darkroom posts--I know you think you're boring your audience but I think we're all living vicariously through your wild lifestyle (darkroom? in 2010? madness!)

I have fond memories of going through a similar basement conversion when I was still in high school. If I can make one suggestion for your windows, instead of tape staple some velcro along the outer edge of the window frame. Then get a few square feet of thick black nylon fabric and sew the other half of the velcro to the edges.

Now you can easily block or unblock the window, which gives you the option of having a dose of natural sunlight down there if you ever feel the need.

Have you considered putting different handles on the chains for the light? Say, a round one and a cubic one. This will eventually let you associate one with white and one with red light, and might help avoid a mistake some day.

Wish I hadn't given away my Durst L1200 embiggener. Mounted on tracks on the floor so you could turn it into an horizontal enormousizer.

Squisshy restaurant kitchen floor mats are nice, but a bar stool at the enlarger and another by the developing sink are even nicer.

I was 'shocked' to see the two into one bulb holder, as I've not seen these for many years here in the UK. Here they were used in the days where there were not many electrical power sockets in houses. One socket would hold the lamp (what electricians call bulbs, fluorescent tubes etc) and the other would power the iron.

Think about this. You are using a metal bodied appliance that you put water into, heating the water into steam so it can get everywhere, and the contraption is not earthed. Oh yeh, the lighting circuit may well be overloaded. As safe as houses...
: )

The bayonet fitting we use over here isn't too strong either. The US Edison Screw fitting is a lot more substantial and better suited to adaptors with pullcords.

As for electrical power sockets, you can never have too many. "provision shall be made so that the equipment can be fed from an adjacent and conveniently accessible socket outlet" as the old 15th Edition Wiring Regulations wordily put it. (Bearing in mind the typical length of the flex)

Now you know why my red light cord is kept totally separate from the white light control. No way am I going to accidentally expose and ruin the Epson paper!

Maybe tie both chains together and pull them both at the same time, turning one light on and the other off.

Nice stuff, Mike. As others have said, there's something that grabs me about the process of building darkrooms. Been there, done that, several times. Just fun.

I'm guessing (hoping?) that "embiggen" is a Simpsons reference. A quote from theor town founder - Jebediah Springfield - is "A noble heart embiggens the smallest man."

I'm guessing Rivendell bikes got it from there too - or else they coincidentally created the same nonsense word.


What you want is blackout fabric. It's the heavy white curtain material that they use in hotel rooms.

Any good fabric store will have it, and it doesn't look like you will need much of it.

I hope that in you sewer/water issues you have taken a good look at the walls. Water on the floor is one thing, but some unhealthy things can be involved if more than the floor got wet.

Consider the use of aluminum foil rather than black plastic for the windows.
1. It's non-flammable
2. It reflects heat very well (use shiny side out)
3. It is ABSOLUTELY opaque to visible, infra-red, abd UV light.
4. It last forever.
5. It's cheap.
6. Excess foil can be used for CIA-proof helmets....

Worried about pulling the wrong light chain? It's really no problem at all. You are printing so the safelight is on. If you pull the wrong chain it gets dark so you pull again and the safelight is on again. Then you look to see where the white light chain is. There is NO way you can screw up with this system.


Hope that basement of your's is water proof. Some major storms dumping alot of rain coming your way. We had alot of water backed up in the streets here on the east side of Madison tonight and I'm sure a few basements got flooded. My is nice and dry because it's well water proofed.

I'm watching this closely as well. In my youth I spent many years in the dark with chemicals (my father was a photographer). Curiously enough, the advent of digital drove me back to film - by that I mean the ease of digital printing scanned negatives. After several years though, I'm still not 100% satisfied with the results, especially when I see a "real" print and the difference is palpable. So, will I end up going full circle? One thing (at least) is looming in my way though - the spotting brush.

I've also started with large format in the last few years - maybe contact prints would be a gentle introduction.

Rob beat me to the punch. Yes. You really ought to sheetrock the ceiling. Don't be tempted to use plastic sheeting, or anything similar to keep the dust out - it's a potential fire hazard.

If looks don't matter, there's no need to tape and spackle - just caulk the joints and paint it.

As for your windows - masonite and velcro. Paint the outside white. The suggestion for Rubylith sounded like a good idea until I started thinking about loading film...

I do have to protest the use of "embiggen" as a verb

From The Simpsons:

Ms. Krabappel: “Embiggens”? I never heard that word before I moved to Springfield.
Ms. Hoover: I don’t know why. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.


Pardon the anticipation, but am I correct in my belief that CFLs are potentially paper and film foggers even after switching off?

Household incandescents have been withdrawn from sale in Australia, I'm hoping that my stash of them sees me through, otherwise I guess it's candles for me.

Regards - Ross

Dan L is being a bit stuffy about your coining the word 'embiggen'. Creative and amusing I'd say. It's always interesting to speculate on what the English language would look like today if the Saxon Harold hadn't lost to the Frenchman William at Hastings. We're very much looking forward to the completion of the darkroom and seeing your first embigments.

I can see why people get into building darkrooms without ever using them - lots of interesting little technical problem to solve: lighting, flooring, drainage, black-out. I could have fun with stuff like that without ever wanting to actually use one.

@Dan L. on "embiggen" - I think I'd like to see it turn up in the OED (no doubt it wll). Works so much better than the already present "biggen".

Suggestions: (1)Cover your painted floor with one of those Pergo Floors. They're easy to install and make it much easier on your feet as you get older. (2) For dust reduction, use ribbed rubber matts, like those used by department stores during heavy snows, in the standing areas and wear rubber-soled shoes. This creates static electricity that pulls dust out of the air and on to the floor. (3) have a small exhaust fan over your chemicals and larger volume fan to blow filtered air into the room in order to keep a clean, positive air pressure in the room ( keeps dust from coming in). The above should be considered now. If that's a waste pipe I see near the corner. you might consider (4)tapping into it so that you can bring in running water later. A sink with running water (especially temperature-controlled water) is the greatest asset you'll have over time. -- All the best, Richard.

Just helped a friend set up a basic darkroom in her kitchen, hanging black Visqueen with black Gorilla tape (good stuff). You could just as easily staple the same plastic (in white even) to the ceiling to prevent dust from the joists from falling down onto your darkroom - why drywall if you don't have to? Homebuilders do this in some new-built basements too.

Black foamcore works well for sealing window wells and is removable. It's nice to able to restore the room to civilian use, or at least make it easier for your heirs.

Come on Mike, pull-chains. I built a basement darkroom when I was in 8th grade. It had a counter top with cabinets and drawers, a plumbed sink and print washer, wired electric with dedicated circuits and switches for the timer and safe lights. And no help from dad. Granted, I grew up to be an Engineer but you've got to step it up a notch.

Mike: Aluminum foil, just the regular or heavy duty type makes an easy to set in place light tight blackout material for windows. No need to worry about flopping plastic.

10' x 13' rings a bell for me. That was the size of a room I lived in when I came home from the military and started going to school. The room happened to be attached to a building that housed the office, bathrooms and filters/pumps room for a swimming/diving instruction
school with large state-of-the-art family pool, baby pool and Olympic-spec diving tank, along with training trampoline. Everybody went home at 5:00....I gotta say, summers were nice, real nice....

My last couple of darkrooms had pull-chain light switches. For the white light I ran a nylon cord the length of the darkroom and tied the white light chain to it near the middle. To get white light all I had to do was swipe my hand through the air to find the cord. No groping in the dark for the pull. Worked well for me as I could reach the cord from almost anywhere in the darkroom. The wall switch served as a master and each safelight had it's own local switch.

Though it is very unlikely I will ever again set up a darkroom I am enjoying this series. You have revived one old idea: In my early days of digital I talked about recording the sounds of my print washer and GraLab timer to play while I worked at the computer. It has been more than 10 years since I last had a darkroom of my own, but I still miss those sounds.

The timer and washer should be over in the storage unit, along with my Beseler 4x5 enlarger and the rest of the stuff -- if only I had the energy to dig deep enough.

Where does the beer cooler go?

No offense taken, but I'm alcoholic--haven't had a beer since 1990.

However, from experience back when I was drinking, I will say that I don't recommend drinking in the darkroom. For one thing, to be safety conscious you don't want to be grabbing containers in the dark and taking a swig from them, and for another, impaired states don't help your concentration and judgment any. I found that a buzz made me less conscientious about taking a print to a true finished state. Although I will admit that I often cracked a beer when the white lights went on and all I had left to do was clean up.


Vaguely related to the fuss about embiggening (I'm with Martin Doonan on that one), circa 1624, a recipe 'For six Minst Pyes of an Indifferent biggnesse' was filed by the secretary of state to Charles I. There's a decent view of the recipe here,

I agree Mike on alcohol and the darkroom.

Weed is much better lol.


For shelving, consider wire rack shelving instead of solid shelves. Shelves were always a dust source in my old darkroom. A friend of mine has a darkroom with wire shelving, much less area for dust collection.

All my safelights are individually switched with pull-switches; the white light is a wall switch so conscious thought comes into play before using it - quick check around the room to make sure all the unexposed paper is away.

All the pull-cords have wooden curtain rings at the ends, one finger suffices to pull them and they're easier to find in the dark.

Am enjoying reading about your darkroom project - you'll love using it I'm sure, but you do have to take a step back from the frenetic pace of 21st century life.

Just crackin wise. taking it a day at a time makes sense in the darkroom too. For me, a cooler with cold water and a few diet Cokes would be a welcome addition.

If you put foil over all your basement windows you may want to let the local authorities know it is for a darkroom and not to cover up a room full of growlux lights.

I've been interested in the ideas for the window blackening; not for a darkroom, but for my bedroom. I've been living with black plastic taped to the frame for a decade or so, but ugrading is still somewhere on the list. My favorite is still just painting the glass black, though.

I'll third the use of aluminum foil instead of blackout plastic. I used the plastic once and the heat buildup from the sun cracked the window.

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