Building a Darkroom - 1

(Continued from ‘Building a Darkroom - Prologue’)…

Once I had negotiated the location I began designing the space I needed. I was lucky enough to build it as big as I wanted to and designed the room around 3 fairly large trays (16x20) along one side, a small sink (wet area) and a work bench housing the enlarger, with the possibility to add a second beside it if needs be (the dry side). The good thing was the space is easily 10ft high so I knew it would feel roomy inside - and be good for fumes. 

Laying out the space

Frame goes up.

Alex helping out (in the pram).

Frame complete.

Like I said in my last post, I am total noob when it comes to DIY and building in general. I wanted to build this room correctly and ensure it would last for some time - so I was glad my Uncle was onboard. I sounded out my opinion on the dimensions and layout and we made a slight tweak - moving from a galley style to an L shape layout which utilises the space a bit better. We measured it up and he suggested what materials and lengths we required. We used 2x4 lengths of wood and dry wall sheeting which I bought from a local builders yard. Dry wall sheeting is an absolute nightmare to work with, it does cut really easily with a handsaw but is so cumbersome and fragile, you can put your foot / hand / forehead through it really easily. Fitting the ceiling was the most awkward. Wrestling large ceiling sheets into position without breaking them up to the 10ft level took some effort and left us both looking like we had been in a fight with Pablo Escobar. Some ingenious ‘wedging’ techniques applied and we were off.

Ceiling wedge

Ceiling wedge

First sheet on.

Mondrian construction

Once the wall frames were constructed we built an entrance using an old door, this was the technical bit that I had no clue about and was happy my Uncle was showing me what to do. Obviously the thing needs to be light proof so it had to fit like a glove. We built the frame to fit the door and with a bit of tweaking managed to pack the door frame into the wall and get the door working well. We are planning to finish the door with a lip on the inside and some spongy stick-on seal to provide a good tight fit. The room was then sealed around the edges and some additional wood was used to cover joins. A light was fitted with a pull switch and some plugs were fitted in the new stud wall, so there are plugs at either end of the room an importantly right beside the enlarger. Getting there.

The door.

Door frame and wall.

Finishing trim and light.

More sunny evenings.


Next up I will be looking at plumbing (including drilling through the garage wall for drainage - something I haven’t told the Mrs about yet), air extraction, fitting out the work bench and building a darkroom sink using plywood and marine epoxy paint (another journey into the unknown for me). Thanks for reading!

Building a Darkroom - Prologue

I started messing about with all sorts of cameras from a very young age. As a 10 year old I remember taking pictures with my mum’s old Olympus film point and shoot camera. Random things like little plastic toy footballers standing in a mound of salt. My mum and sister thought I was a tad mentally deranged (jury’s still out). However, the first time I really saw pictures that got me excited belonged to my mate, taken of my mates and made with an old Pentax MX. I loved the colour, the out of focus quality (usually as most pictures were taken whilst inebriated), the ability to control the image, making the camera work for you and just thought they looked so damn cool. Holding, manually focusing and loading the camera was fun and interesting. I thought I could really get into this making pictures thing. 

Over the years I went from having film SLRs to digital DSLRs (as they became more affordable), to not bothering at all and back to film. I now shoot mostly with a Leica M6, Nikon FM2n and a Contax T3. I have dabbled with shooting and developing colour but about 2 years ago decided to limit myself to B&W film only. I taught myself to shoot manually, process the film and scan onto the computer (I am still learning the process of actually making an interesting picture). I then developed (please excuse the pun) a nagging urge to print my pictures. This could be something else to ‘get into’ and spend all my hard earned money on. I’m shooting film and making pretty good exposures so I thought it would be a crime not to give printing a bash. 

I’m sure in the good old days there were plenty of darkrooms around, however I could only find evidence of one in the country (Northern Ireland) and that was at Belfast Exposed (check them out - a fantastic facility / bunch of people that I am lucky enough to live near). The good thing about digital coming to the fore is the fact that professional quality darkroom kit is now fairly affordable on eBay and other sites. I have managed to buy the vast majority of gear for around £200, including a Durst enlarger and Rodenstock lens. I booked myself on a printing course to see hands on what gear I was missing and to get an idea of the printing process, as I had only ever seen the odd youtube video. The great Mervyn at BX led the course and I instantly fell in love, both with Mervyn himself and the silver gelatin printing process. Seeing the ghostly image appear and get stronger in the developer tray - It was magic. Right, I had to do this. 

I pestered and pestered my long suffering wife, who simultaneously rules the styling direction of our abode with  artistic flair and an iron rod. After many discussions it was agreed that I could build a darkroom in our garage, only if I tidied it up first and keep it so thereafter. Now, I am a total DIY noob and have no building experience, so through multiple tea and wee buns sessions I managed to rope in much needed help from my Uncle (who just so happened to be particularly skilled in this area). Hey presto - the project began… 

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