Finally...a darkroom : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Well, the wife and I sold the farm and will moving in two weeks to our new digs, and now I can finally have a full-time darkroom. I can not tell you how happy I'll be to be "out of the bathtub," as it were. I'm sure many of you have had the pleasure of designing your own workspace, for work or pleasure, so I thought I'd draw on your experience. Just one piece of information please: who's got the deals on stainless sinks, preferably in the 8 to 10 foot size? And are there any real alternatives to stainless?

-- Chad Jarvis (, August 01, 2001


Built my darkroom about 5 years ago and did some serious work on investigating sinks.

1. There is no bargain SS sink.

2. The alternative I found was a 7' x 2' fiberglass sink from Arkay. It cost me about a grand & included stand. It has a nice built-in backsplash. I couldn't do any better. Seven foot seemed odd, but turns out to be very practical. I'm glad I got exactly this sink.

Things to consider.

*I had a specific space to fit. Getting more space was my most expensive option, so I spend more on the sink than I wanted. I would have like a 30 or 36 inch depth, but have found I don't miss it. If I ever decide to do a lot of 16x20's, I figure I can buy SS trays that will fit. They are expensive, of course, but cheaper than finding more space for a 30 or 36 inch sink.

MOST IMPORTANT: Design your layout on paper. Do this about a dozen times over to make sure you've got the design that's good for you. Then see what equipment fits. Make a template on cardboard of the layout, and make paper cut-outs of the equipment to see how it fits.

Watch out for ABS plastic sinks. The material is fine, but Delta, for example, has spots for faucets that reduce the width in different places. Where the reduction occurs, you can't fit bigger trays, so it wastes space. This is where the cutouts can help you.

Make your aisle at least 3 ft wide between wet & dry sides. Give yourself enough space to breathe & be comfortable. Think about enough room for 2 people in case you want to teach someone or show a friend your process.

Safelights: I bought a Thomas Duplex. Big mistake. Too much light. I found an Aristo Red safelight on EBay for $50. Very nice. Even at the new price, I think I would prefer it. I like red, but not everybody does. Thing is, it's safe for virtually all B&W papers. Not all amber lights are.

Make sure the working surface height is good for you. Make it too low, and you'll get a backache.

If you're in the SF bay area, come see my darkroom. You'll figure out what you like & don't.

I've got lots more suggestions, but am rambling.

-- Charlie Strack (, August 01, 2001.

If you look in the back of any issue of the magazine "Photo Techniques," you'll see ads from several places that sell stainless steel sinks. They're also sold by places like B&H and Adorama. Midwest Photo Exchange has used ones in stock from time to time and that's probably your best bet for a relatively low price. I'd suggest calling - they don't always put them on their web site. I investigated a couple years ago and didn't find anything in stainless steel plus splash back and plumbing of any decent size for less than $700 or so new. You can get lower prices on plastic-type sinks but the ones I saw didn't work for the area I had available in my darkroom (I forget why now). They also were more shallow than I like. I ended up making one out of plywood, which has worked well so far.

-- Brian Ellis (, August 01, 2001.

PLYWOOD - and the best way to seal it is with fiberglass boat resin. It is much cheaper than stainless and you can build it to any size that you want. I am currently building two 8 foot by 36" sinks. Of course if money were no object then I wouldn't spend my time building stuff.

-- David Vickery (, August 02, 2001.

I'm not sure how expensive boat resin is, but I used a waterproof outdoor paint (guaranteed to me that it wouldn't leak) can't remember what brand it was, will dig it out of the basement,but back to the subject, was very cheap compared to stainless, and I have never had a single problem with it.

-- mark lindsey (, August 02, 2001.

I would use plywood and a 2 part epoxy resin. Epoxy resins when fully cured will provide the best chemical resisitance if stainless steel is not an option. Epoxy resin can be bought at most boat supply stores (humm) and the Home Depot. That's what I used and I have no complaints. The degree of resistance from chemicals of some paints vary considerally and is not worth the chance of having to did twice.

-- william nagel (, August 02, 2001.

I have built several sinks, one from plywood and epoxy, then one from plywood and polyurethane (which worked five, three coats every 3 years was perfectly waterproof). Now I have an 8' stainless steel sink (which I picked up used for $120 US) which came outof a hospital or university...we suspect it is a morgue sink, but who knows. It works perfectly, being 2" deep and 32" front to back. I made a stand for it which is tied to the wall, making it more then stable enough, and leaving tons of room for chemistry and drying racks below. I'd beat the bushes for something used, and see what you can find.

-- Eric Boutilier-Brown (, August 02, 2001.

Chad: I would do some calling around to try and locate a used sink in either fiberglass or stainless steel. I would start with area newspapers, since most are changing or have already changed to digital photography. Also, call the older photography studios in the area. A local studio offered me a huge stainless sink free if I would haul it off. I didn't have room for it, so it went to the junkyard. What a shame. Most of the studios do not do their own processing anymore, so some of the older ones may have sinks they no longer use. As stated my some of the others, plywood sinks work well and give you the advantage of being able to custom make it to fit both you and the darkroom space. Good luck with your quest.


-- Doug Paramore (, August 02, 2001.

I'm happy with an ABS plastic sink. Fiberglass on plywood also works, if you don't mind the construction project.

A few other ideas:

Paint the walls white and use light colors for counters, and the floor. This will make the room much less gloomy in safelight. Some paint the walls and ceiling near the enlarger flat black to absorb stray light, others say this isn't necessary.

Ventilate the room with pressure, rather than exhaust, to prevent air being drawn in from unfiltered sources. Big, slow, fans are quieter than small fast ones. Locate the (passive) exhaust vent near the sink, below "nose level". Use a timer switch for the fan, to run it for several hours after a darkroom session to dry the room out.

Locate safelight and viewing light switches to minimize steps.

Buy or build some sort of film drying cabinet, to minimize print spotting.

Congratulations on moving out of the bathtub!

-- Chris Ellinger (, August 02, 2001.

My experience agrees pretty much with Chris. I've used a Delta ABS sink for years and like it just fine. And the price is right, particularly if you can take it home and not have to pay freight. I got the "economy" one that is just a straight rectangular sink, with room to mount faucets on one end. But you may want to make a water control panel out of plywood and attach to wall, with faucets, etc on that. Makes it easier to add filters, temperature control valve, etc when you want to. Think about how you'll dry all the measuring stuff and trays. Some good (and cheap) options I have used...the wire shelves (covered with plastic coating) you can get at Home Depot...attach to wall above sink. The dishes drain right into your sink. Watch out for Summer humidity (or whenever at your place). When I'm not using the darkroom and humidity high, I turn on a cheap portable dehumidifier that sits on a table at one end of the sink, and drains right into the sink. Drying screens for prints...go to an art supply place and get wooden canvas stretchers (huge assortment of sizes, put them together to make a frame that will hold your favorite combination of paper sizes, go back to Home Depot and get some fibreglass screen, cover frame and staple down. the frame will have enuf thickness that you can make as many as you like and stack them to dry lots of prints at the same time. Accumulate a few half gallon and gallon plastic milk jugs to store chems you don't discard after use. For large trays to serve as holding bath for finished prints, etc., go back to Home Depot again or to super grocery, etc. and get plastic kitty litter boxes. Much cheaper than same thing that thinks it is for photo purposes. Stainless trays are awful. Much too heavy for anything like constant agitation. Cesco lite plastic trays are heaven. Light, and white, so you can see what you're doing better. You can get an 11x14 vertical print washer from Versalab for about $200 that works every bit as well as the ones that cost twice as much or more. I've done residual hypo tests and know it works. Just some rambling based on my own experience. Hope some of it is of some use to you!

-- John Sarsgard (, August 02, 2001.

Check out military surplus sales. Also college surplus sales. I recently saw a nice stainless setup with full sink, temp control units, shelving and water filters from Calumet for $50 at a University surplus sale. It was a 9 foot sink or close to it. I use a stainless sink I got from a surplus sale. It was originally an examining or washing table for use in an animal hospital. Have been using it now for a number of years & it has not rusted and it works well. If you look around you can probably find a number of places that have what you are looking for. Just remember that the wood sink lines people mention are much quieter to work on and don't feel as cold and can be built easily. If you are a good woodworker or know one you can have a beautiful as well as functional setup done in a short time for much less than a new stainless one will cost.

-- Dan Smith (, August 02, 2001.

Yeah, go the surplus route first...when we moved into our new darkroom we surplused our old sinks & water was all Kreonite lab equipment, but it was pretty worn out. I outfitted my own darkroom largely out of stuff I bought from the university system surplus lot. Maple cabinets from chemistry labs etc.

Leedal sells off factory seconds of stainless steel sinks & tank lines every couple of months. You can check out the ads in Photo Techniques for these. I have a Leedal fiberglass sink at home, as well as a delta 1. Both are good bargains, the Leedal is stiffer than the Delta 1 though. I got around this by reinforcing my homemade stands. If you're doing this from scratch, make sure to put in some hot & cold water filters. Maybe a water panel if you can afford one, I bought a Leedal out of surplus again for this & rebuilt the valve.

Uhm, a Thomas Duplex is a great safelight, but you need a big darkroom for them....for example, we use 2 here in our lab....

If you want ideas on lab equipment, check out the products/cabinetry made by Kreonite. We have built-in stations in our darkroom that are like freestanding cubicles for the enlargers, complete with built in paper safes, and small light tables with OC filters for viewing negs. Everything is wired as well....

Other lab manufacturers (who may crop up in surplus lots) are: Regal/Arkay, California Stainless, and for processing gear: Eseco, Colex, Hope, Kreonite etc. Alot of these companies offer turnkey lab design/construction and their product catalogs are chock full of good ideas & solutions. you usually need to have an ID card to shop at federal surplus, but you should be okay at a state surplus lot. Now's a good time to check them out because alot of places are converting to digital, but that doesn't mean it's all going to be great bargains either. I work in a system, and when something goes to surplus, it usually means everyone has picked over it, or it has just slipped by. Sometimes, you may have to buy a whole lot of junk just for one good item....I see kreonite stuff alot though, so happy hunting if you go this route.

-- DK Thompson (, August 02, 2001.

One other thing, the kreonite sinks are great...they're usually made of fiberglass (although they also do s.s.) and built into their own cabinets. The usual color is a bright green, with a woodgrain cabinet. they have ribs down the middle...we had 2 nine footers in our old darkroom, with built in water chillers/mixing valves and filters. The sinks also had standpipes and water jet nozzles (2) in the corners, so you can convert them into big water jackets or print washers. They come with sprayers, and sometimes even eye wash stations...I saw a kreonite film sink last year in a surplus lot for about $50 that was a smaller version of these, complete with a chiller....they probably list for a couple of thousand dollars new.

-- DK Thompson (, August 02, 2001.

I tried to find a used SS sink, but could not. It's easier said than done. Anyhow, I built my own sink w/ the plywood and epoxy resin. It works great. It's some work, for sure. A day to put it together, then a coat of epoxy a day (I did three). Anyhow, about a zillion photographers over the years have made do just fine w/ the plywood sink. If you decide to go that route, I have a set of plans from Louis Feininger's old darkroom book and will send you a xerox. -jeff buckels (albuquerque)

-- Jeff Buckels (, August 02, 2001.

I've seen stainless sinks on Ebay fairly frequently. The problem will probably be in shipping, both logistics and cost. Depending on where you live, however, you could get lucky and find one within driving distance at a bargain. Many seemed to be well equipped.

I use two Delta ABS sinks side by side. One is six feet, the other four feet, giving me ten feet of sink. It works pretty well. I use the six foot one for processing andd the other for print holding tray and print washer. I built the stands from a sheet of plywood. They're very sturdy, not very pretty, but much less expensive than commercial versions.

My other suggestion is to build in lots of counter space. In my current darkroom, I only have counter space for my enlarger. Anything I need to do, I do in that space or in the sink. Makes it inconvenient and I can't leave anything else set up if I want to print.

I'd also second the suggestions to look at old photo magazines for ideas, make lists and work on your plan and then rework it a couple of times. My last two darkrooms have worked out well (except for size of my current one) because of good planning and the list making.

Good luck.

-- J. Wolfe (, August 02, 2001.

Hi Chad. I gave up on trying to find a used stainless steel sink. Its dificult when you only have "X" amount of space to find one that will fit. I made a sink out of wood and marine epoxy. I used 3/4 inch alder for the sides and 3/4 in plywood for the bottom. I even added color to the epoxy. The sink is great ! and is exactly the size I needed. Good luck.

-- Paul Mongillo (, August 02, 2001.


Making your own sink out of plywood and fiberglass is fairly easy but time consuming. i have seen plans in a couple of DIY darkroom books and someone else may be able to direct you to plans on the web. I don't know where you are moving to but check sheetmetal fabricators in your area. They probably have experience working with SS and could fabricate your sink for less then retailers previously discussed. At the very least you would probably save on shipping costs and have exactly the dimensions you need. I saved about $200 on an 8'x3' sink and had the drains, backsplash height and cutouts for faucets exactly where i wanted them.

Enjoy the new facilities! James Chinn

-- James Chinn (, August 03, 2001.

Chad, Congrats on getting your darkroom setup. I am going in th opposite direction. I just took a new job and had to move out of a house where I had built a darkroom and now am at the stage of setting up one in a apartment using the bathtub as my rinse area. It is tough. I would suggest you buy kodak's building a darkroom book for ideas as well as visit any local labs and the college or university locally for ideas. For a sink I got a ss sink at a garage sale for $5 with all the hardware. That doesn't happen every day but if you have the time you may find a deal also. Next best is to visit a used resturant equipment dealer. Even small towns have them and are a great source for deals. For counter tops I visited the local Lowes and Home Depot and got chipped counter tops for about $10 a section. Putting a 2x4 nailer on the wall and 2x4 leg on the front of the top made some very nice looking and cleanable work spaces. I had a big fan in one corner and a small but efficient bathroom exhaust fan in the ceiling at the opposite end of the room that worked fine. As long as your are working with just b&w you shouldn't have a problem. I didn't have any lower cabinets by the way. It was all open for storage so I could see everything. I cut up some used 1x12's into shelving for the overhead storage. Again, all open so I could see and get to everything. Hope this helps out some. Let us know how you are doing.

-- Doug Theall (, August 03, 2001.

Be careful about going the ex-restaurant route. They use a different SS than photo users. Their's will rapidly stain with some of our chemicals. They LOOK good, but they just aren't the right thing for photo use. I've had a Delta 1 for many years. I especially like the dropped portion on the end of mine for the paper washer. Highly recommend. Also, get some plastic grid from a lighting dealer to level the bottom. Most plastic sinks come with "ribs" which make it difficult to keep things level inside. The grids come with 1" squares and can easily be cut to size. The water flow goes right out underneath them.

-- Alec (, August 03, 2001.

Here's a thought if you're going to make a sink, try using Sintra. It's compressed PVC sold in a 4x8 sheet. We use it as an exhibit construction material, but have used scraps as duckboards in our sinks. It's expensive, about $80 a sheet, but unlike wood materials, you will not have to fiberglass, or use marine paint etc. on it. You can do anything to Sintra that you would do wood, you can drill it, route it, cut it on a tablesaw, use screws on it, epoxy etc. Even our Wing-lynch cabinet is made out of the stuff. It comes in different thicknesses and colors as well, you can paint it too...we silkscreen onto it as well. look for it at plastics suppliers.

-- DK Thompson (, August 04, 2001.

Actually, I've had tremendous success with the cheap Delta plastic sinks. I have three (one for ATL2 processor and two for trays end to end). They are flimsy and cheap feeling but simple ply and 2x4 bracing underneath makes them as sturdy (for banging around in) as any ss sink and alot quieter. They are 2.5'x7' each and I have drilled tap holes where I want them and drained them from the supplied central hole. They have a tall back-splash and just work perfectly.

By the way, I would paint the walls Kodak yellow. It avoids the gloom of black or dark but yellow absorbs blue/white light scatter that can fog paper. White does not so it is more possible to fog. Filter your water, ground-fault all electricity, vent with a baffled fan. And enjoy.

-- Rob Tucher (, August 08, 2001.

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