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Wednesday, 14 July 2010


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Plywood sheathing is certainly more flexible; er, that is, you can do more things to a wall built that way than to sheetrock. It's more flammable, but that and price are reasons not to use it generally; I don't see it as a reason not to use it in (most) specific locations.

I would be plumbing a sink into that wall, though. You should be able to get to the drain from it easily enough. (I'd be making that the edge of the darkroom.)

It's interesting to see all this, Mike. The story via pictures approach works well. I particularly like the way you maintained the same framing in all four shots showing the dry-side being built, which aids our (well, my) comprehension. And your new bench looks neat, too.

Luckily I deferred to your experience a few days ago rather than express my doubts about the enlarger stand. :) That was close! I, too, wondered whether it would be too easy to kick the bottom shelf during an exposure.

Mike, it is so interesting to see the pics of your project.
I live in California, so no basement. We had a basement when we lived in Pittsburgh, I miss it :-)

We non-Americans see American houses on TV and assume that they all have large basements. Is it a regional thing though? If so, what are the factors which determine if a house is built with a basement?

Great to see this progress - keep posting! It look like you are almost set to go. We don't have basements in this part of the world, and I've often wondered about the dust and moisture generated by a clothes dryer - is that all ventilated to the outside?

Mike - Sure glad to see that darkroom coming along so nicely (but not TOO nice!) I'm eager to see some images posted when you are up and running. I wanted to make my own "quick" comment about the stability of the enlarger table/counter, but it looks like you've already addressed any vibration or 'wobble' concerns.

What I had intended to say (so I'll say it anyway, for what it's worth) was going to be the story of how I inadvertently solved this problem, again with some help from the "List of Craig" (and some serendipity thrown in).

In a flash of inspiration I found one of those electronic work benches, which for whatever reason were all over the classifieds at the time. It has a worktop of right at 6' long and 36" wide - somewhat wider than a standard kitchen counter (ideal for my big enlarger tables) and I don't know the height, but it's perfect for printing. The two movable gray pedestals that support it are lockable sheetsteel shelved cabinets in my version, but these pedestals also often come with drawer configurations which would make excellent working height papersafes, or other accessory holders.

The real gem though, and the reason I mentioned this at all is that the countertop/worktop that this typical bench came with, weighs in at maybe 200 pounds. BIG surprise! It's fully two and a half inches thick. I think it must have either a sheet of steel in it, or else it is SOLID masonite.(I never suspected this when on my way to pick it up from the seller either - my back reminds me still!)

I won't say that this setup is stable - it would be an understatement - but I think one could quite hold a small square dance on the one half of the counter while exposing a print on the other half and niether'd know any better. And it just sits there on top of the pedestals, no brackets or other hardware needed other than the whole thing being placed up against one wall. I mean this thing don't budge! Oh, and it cost me a total of forty bucks plus my labor to move it. I removed and threw away the metal cantilevered electrical plug shelf thing that usually comes with these benches.

- Just my fourteen bits in the effort to give you something to consider and maybe make some little contribution to your project.

Phil M

Just wondering what the floor is where you will be standing. Will you be using duck boards ? Might affect the height of the bench.

The rigidity of a metal frame such as that shelving unit, can be transformed with diagonal bracing (singly, or crossbraced). The legs and shelves are probably strong enough per se, but their jointing is typically not rigid enough to resist "racking" - which is where an assembly is able to deform out of its parallel geometry. Fit a metal strap with its one end firmly self-tap screwed near the top of one upright, and its other end near the base of the next upright - and do this to two adjoining sides - and the whole frame will firm up wonderfully. (It's not necessary to do this on all four sides, so access to the shelves doesn't have to suffer.) - RP

How about a real wet side?

Found this 7 foot SS dark room sink with mixing valve for $125 in Milwaukee on CL.


Are you worried at all about the potential for dust from the open ceiling joists? Or, is a drop down ceiling in the works?

"I've often wondered about the dust and moisture generated by a clothes dryer - is that all ventilated to the outside?"

The guy who owned the house before me had a system whereby the dryer was vented to the outside during the humid summer months and to the inside in the winter, when it acted as a de facto humidifier. I just keep it vented to the outside all year long. My lint trap is pretty effective, though--I never notice dryer lint collecting anywhere outside near the vent.


"what are the factors which determine if a house is built with a basement?"

It would be interesting to know for sure. My speculation is a) a basement is cheaper added space than a second story; b) properly insulating slab (i.e., non-basement) construction is more difficult in severe winter climates; c) basements afford tornado protection, both in giving the residents a place to go when the wind blows and in more firmly anchoring a house to the ground (not for nothing is tornado devastation often reported in trailer parks--the "houses" there are often just sitting on top of the ground); and d) purchaser expectations and local construction traditions. Regarding this last, builders are often extremely conservative with their practices. They don't like to depart from whatever is considered standard practice in their area. Not only does it tend to complicate later repair and insurability and liability issues and so forth, but it's more difficult to find workers who are trained in nonstandard construction methods.

Why, for instance, are we not moving to permanent roofing? It makes little sense to continue the old practice of installing asphalt shingles, that are in effect "temporary" (lasting 15-40 years), make up a large part of a house's regular maintenance costs, and take up a very significant percentage of space in our landfills. Nowadays permanent roofing solutions are much more varied and affordable, yet we're moving to those practices only very slowly.

All of my comments about basements are speculation. I'd have to do some focused research and talk to actual builders to know for sure.


"Will you be using duck boards?"

No--foot relief will take the form of two bar stools, also left over from another life and hanging around in the basement and garage.


"How about a real wet side? Found this 7 foot SS dark room sink with mixing valve for $125 in Milwaukee on CL. http://milwaukee.craigslist.org/pho/1838890789.html"

That's certainly a smart way to go, especially these days, when there are many bargains to be found. I just opted not to do any extra plumbing, is all.


"Are you worried at all about the potential for dust?"

Not really. My house is very dusty, but my basement isn't. Things that have sat down there for years have virtually no dust on them at all. I do have some industrious spiders, however.



As a chronic lower back pain sufferer myself, here are a couple of things that have helped me. Consider putting something with a little "give" on the floor where you'll be standing. I've used a rubber mat in the past and it's helped considerably. I've also found it helpful to have something that I can put my foot up onto for a few minutes. (Think of opening the cabinet door below you kitchen sink and resting one foot on it while working at the sink.). Rather than standing with my feet rooted on the floor, I've learned that putting one foot or the other up on a small box every now and then really helps stave off back pain.

Best of luck with your darkroom. (I wish I had more time to spend in mine.)

Dave M.


I had a hunch that the regional variations in the construction of basements has to do with climate. It turns out that it is climate combined with tradition. Found the following on Wikipedia:

"In warmer climates, houses sometimes do not have basements because they are not necessary (although many still prefer them). In colder climates, the foundation must be below the frostline. Unless constructed in very cold climates, the frost line is not so deep as to justify an entire level below the ground, although it is usually deep enough that a basement is the assumed standard. In places with oddly stratified soil substrata or high water tables, such as most of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and areas within 50 miles of the Gulf of Mexico, basements are usually not financially feasible unless the building is a large apartment or commercial structure."

I'm rather peculiar to real estate agents because when I look at houses, the first thing I want to see is the basement (for potential darkrooms, of course). In Vermont, I saw a house that had a full basement that was dug down to standard depth in some places, but in other places had huge outcroppings of granite impinging on what theoretically would have been "basement space." They dug where they could, and, where they couldn't, they went down to bedrock.

On the other hand, I once saw a foundation dug for a condominium in Illinois. It was done in the dead of winter. They dug a trench with a Hobie Cat, filled the bottom with gravel, then, in the trench, built a wall that came back up to a little higher than ground level. The wall was two and a half or three feet high, and exactly three and a half inches wide--just wide enough to accommodate a nominal 4-inch 2x4 plate! They then infilled the outer perimeter with dirt, and poured a slab in the middle. On top of this they built town homes FOUR STORIES high.

I actually went over to speak to the concrete guy, and in response to my innocuous question about the foundation, he literally spat on the ground, then let fly with a long torrent of profanities. He had to build it like he was told to, but he definitely wasn't happy about it.


I don't know why we don't have basements in California, other than lower construction costs. My friend, a structural engineer told me that it has nothing to do with earthquakes.

Your pieces on darkroom construction have me seriously thinking about taking over part of the garage for a darkroom. In old CA houses, our garages serve the purpose of a basement (to collect junk), and the cars sit outside.

"Why, for instance, are we not moving to permanent roofing? It makes little sense to continue the old practice of installing asphalt shingles"

That's quite interesting. As a UK resident, one aspect of US house building I have admired is asphalt shingles on a close boarded roof.

It seems to be a very simple way for a home owner to re-cover his roof without the expense of hiring a contractor. Your less steep roof pitches probably help too!

Our standard is slates or tiles on spaced battens but we are tending to close board the roof in some new builds now.

"...this is really just a fancy, built-in version of...a table"

Or a small room turned inside out. The care, effort, and know-how going into your make-shift darkroom is impressive.

Speaking of underfoot-support, I recommend the perforated rubber mats used in restaurant kitchens. I base this recommendation on having worked in same, compared to my time working in a factory, and commercial copy center. The "anti-fatigue mats" used in those places were quite inadequate for standing for long periods, regardless of the quality of the shoes I wore. The restaurant type are also nice, since they are designed to get wet and still be slip-resistant. They are also easy to roll up, and some are even designed to let water drain away underneath! Nice in a darkroom that unintentionally becomes wet periodically. Here's a link to a supply house that has a number of different models, mostly black, pink, or safelight red.

Best of luck on die Dunkelkammer,

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