Using color print drums for black and white

Years ago I started using drums instead of trays to process black and white prints. I simply had no room and I was forced to improvise. My bedroom became a darkroom, but only for the dry parts. The bathroom was where the chemicals were used. The first step is to block all the light from the bedroom. A piece of plywood cut a little smaller than the window then covered on both sides with carpet a little larger than the window worked great. And it pressed right in with little effort. Cover the gaps around the door and instant darkroom. This is where I set the enlarger up and also where I loaded film. If you’re not familiar with print drums, they are basically tubes with end caps that allow you to pour chemicals in and out in room light. The paper (or even sheets of film) are loaded into the drum curling around the perimeter emulsion facing inward. With the drum standing up, you can add chemicals into the end cap which has a little cup inside. When the drum is set on its side, the chemicals flow into the drum and once finished you just turn the drum upside down to let the chemicals drain. During processing you roll the drum about 1 1/2 times forward then back. It’s a really simple thing and being light tight allows you to work in the light during processing. These days I still use drums mostly because I don’t have adequate ventilation to use trays. An added convenience which I highly recommend is a motor base to automate rotating the drum. The motor really saved my knees and back because I was rolling the drum on the floor.¬†Now I just set the drum on the base and flip a switch.

Now let us talk about some of the challenges of using print drums.¬†There is the potential for uneven development. I recommend using at least 150ml of solution in 8×10 drums and 3-5 min for development. I prefer 5 minutes myself. This will allow the print to fully develop without any streaking. The amount of solution is low, so I use the developer as a one shot and the fixer I use for one session or up to 10 prints then discard. The print is under constant agitation and will over develop if you don’t adjust your dilution. The developer I’ve been using recommends between 1:9 and 1:14 for tray processing. I’m currently using 1:49. You will need to experiment to find what works for you. When done right the results are beautiful and repeatable. For sheet film the starting point is to use standard dilution with 85% of recommended times. Once I experiment more with sheet film I will write up my experiences. If you decide to try drums, good luck! And always have fun!

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