Thursday, 24 October 2013

For I Am Man!

  Being a man i am possessed with a regular need to build and fix things.  This mood tends to come in cycles where, after months of laziness, i suddenly decide to make some shelves for a cupboard, hang some mirrors on a wall or (in this case) convert a shed into a darkroom.

  As regular readers will know i recently moved house, downsizing from a 4 bed to a 2 bed house.  Naturally the spare bedroom would have the computer in and all my guitars, instruments, amplifiers and pedals; and my large collection of cd's and dvd's.  This left a minor problem - no darkroom.  Originally the plan was to use the little breakfast bar area at the end of the kitchen but Jess didn't seem to happy with this.  Being the devious, scheming lady that she is she suggested i get a shed - a suggestion i immediately dismissed as foolish.  However, as days went by i began warming to the idea.  Could a shed make an effective darkroom?  I began to investigate online and saw that it could indeed be done - but at great cost.  I found a few articles where people had converted a shed into a darkroom but they had gone the whole hog - electric supply, running water, insulation panels, kitchen units etc.  I needed to do mine at as small a cost as possible but still make it useable.

  First things first - find a shed.  I went to B&Q because i needed to get some gear for decorating the new house.  Special offer on a 4x6 shed - £120.  I considered it for a while but then came to the conclusion that it was too small.  I hit EBay and found a few but they were all too far away for me to collect.  I tried Preloved and Freecycle but to no avail.  Then i found one on Gumtree a mere 10 miles away.  It was an 8x6 and it was listed at £175 or nearest offer.  I offered £150 and got it!  The next problem was how to get it home.  Enter my good friend Steve who has a nice big estate car with roof racks.  We went to the house, dismantled the shed, loaded it onto the roof racks and took it home.  As a side note let me just say that if you ever need to dismantle a shed make sure you have an electric screwdriver.  And make sure the guy you buy it off doesn't keep letting the shed walls drop onto you - it hurts!

  So, after an hour or so the floor was down, the walls were up, the roof was on and the doors were attached:
  The next job was to get it insulated in some way as the weather here in England is very changeable, especially this year.  We've had snow follow by blazing sun followed by snow again followed by rain, it's mental!  If i'm putting electronic gear inside i want to make sure the temperature is as stable as possible or damp will get inside and destroy everything.  And fluctuating between hot and cold is definitely not good for photographic paper!  So, what were my options?  Well i could get loft insulation or polystyrene panels, or i could just use foil or bubble wrap.  In the end i went kind of in the middle.  The local B&Q sells this stuff - B&Q insulation which is basically bubble wrap coated in reflective aluminium on each side.  It's about £12 a roll which isn't too bad compared to other types of insulation, and each roll covers about 4.5m2.  There is a cheaper option available but only one side is coated in foil.  I decided that although more costly, the double sided stuff would be best.  So, i bought a few rolls and began stapling it to the inside of the shed.  The idea is that the foil would keep heat inside and reflect the heat coming in form the outside, thus keeping the temperature in the shed a bit more stable.  Make sure you buy a decent staple gun - i got a £5 one from B&Q and it died the next day.  An extra £5 would have got me a good sturdy metal one.  So, once the insulation was stapled in i had what looked like a set from Dr Who:
  Note the hole on the bottom left.  I left that open to use as a vent and to run an extension cable through from the kitchen.  There was no way i was going to be able to get a water and electric supply to the shed as i'm living in a rented house so couldn't do anything permanent.  This hole would be ideal for putting a cable and, potentially, a hosepipe through.  You can't see i
t in this photo but i also stapled insulation to the inside of the doors as there will be a lot of heat loss through there.  I had about half a roll spare so i put an extra strip over each side of the roof as this is where the majority of heat loss will be.

  Next job is to board up the walls.  I considered just using card but thought if i'm going to all this effort to make a darkroom i may as well fork out and do it properly.  So, i scoped around for prices for sheets of chipboard.  When it comes to sheets of timber it's best not to use B&Q or Homebase etc as you can get it cheaper from a local timber merchant.  In this case i was quoted £7 a sheet from Preston Plywood which was a great price.  If you can get oriented strand board (OSB) instead of chipboard that would be better as when chipboard gets wet it just crumbles whereas OSB is a lot more solid.  But i thought i would be ok with chipboard so went ahead and placed my order.  For a small extra fee they could cut the wood to size and deliver it to my house so i gave them the sizes i needed and my address.  When you're measuring out your sizes remember to deduct the thickness of the board from the adjacent piece e.g. the board at the back would need to be 24mm (2x12mm) narrower than the width of the shed so that the board for the two side walls could fit alongside it.  Once the wood arrived i started boarding up the walls:
  Next i had to board the roof.  Now, at such an angle 12mm chipboard was going to be a pain.  I just needed something to go over the insulation to add that little bit extra.  Preston Plywood came through again with some 3mm MDF/Hardwood.  I got two sheets delivered and cut them down to size myself.  It was easier not to saw them, i just used a sharp blade and scored down the sheet so i could just bend the wood and snap it in the right place.  I commandeered Jess to help me hold the sheets while i screwed them to the roof.  It was awkward but we got it done eventually.

  So, that was the whole inside of the shed boarded out now.  Although it was only cheap and thin insulation you could feel the difference in temperature compared to how it was with nothing on.  obviously, more expensive and thicker insulation would have a greater effect.  Insulation has a thermal resistance rating - the higher the rating the more insulation you get.  This stuff only has a rating of 1.5 but it is certainly enough to make a difference, especially with board covering it.

  At this point i turned my attention away from the shed and began to think about workbenches.  I'd need somewhere to put my enlarger and a surface to put my developing trays etc.  I thought about using computer desks, kitchen units and even considered buying a workbench.  it's shocking how much workbenches cost!  So, i decided to build my own.  For about £35 i got the materials required to build my own 2 shelf workbench that would measure 1.2 x 0.80 x 0.60m.  It was a squeeze to fit it all in the car but i managed it.  I spent the afternoon sawing, screwing and assembling all the pieces until i had my bench.  Solid as a rock and the perfect size.  I was so impressed with it that i went ahead and built another one but made it slightly shorter so that my enlarger would fit on it.

   I put them in the shed and then put in the shelving units i had from my previous house.  Then i started shifting in all my gear.  A few hours later and it was all done...
...well, almost.  I still need to figure out how to lightproof the vent but still pass an extension cable through it. and i still need to lightproof the doors.  Ill probably velcro some lightproof plastic over the inside when i'm in and hang a curtain there too to keep out some of the cold when the shed is locked up.

  So there you have it - a darkroom shed on a budget.  Hopefully this weekend ill be able to get in and start making some prints.  If there are any improvements i need to make i can do it as i go along.  It's nice and roomy though and i think i'll be happy printing in there.  The main thing is that, should we ever move house (which i have no plans to do), i can dismantle it and take it with me.  I really have to thank Jess for coming up with the suggestion and managing to cook me a delicious tea everyday despite the kitchen being full of darkroom gear!

  I don't know what my next bit of DIY will be (probably making some shelves for our towel cupboard), and i'm sure the mood won't strike again for many a month; but i know that when it does i'll be unstoppable - for i am man!