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An easy way to develop sheet film
An easy way to develop sheet film
Alan Clark
Published by Alan Clark
28th December 2009
Default An easy way to develop sheet film

The simplest and cheapest method of developing 5 x 4 sheet film is in an open dish using the "shuffle" method. Its drawback is that it is not easy to load the sheets of film, with wet hands, one at a time, into a pre-bath of water. It also requires some skill to avoid damaging the film when shuffling the sheets during development.

Fortunately there is a simple way round these problems. Take six 1.5" plastic rawlplugs (used for fixing screws in a brick wall) and araldite them to the bottom of a 10" x 8" developing dish, as shown in the photograph. The dish can now be used to develop four sheets of film, each of which is placed emulsion side up in its own quarter of the dish.

During development the dish can be covered by a light-proof lid, also shown in the photograph. this allows you to have the light on during processing. Construction details are given at the end of the article. If you lack woodwork skills or facilities, you can dispense with the wooden lid, and cover the dish with a black towel. I do this when developing twelve sheets of film in three dishes, though I only have the safelight on then.

The divided dish is very simple to use, partly because the film does not fall out when you tip the tray up to pour liquid out. Suction causes the film to temporarily stick to the bottom of the dish. This means that the whole process; development, stop-bath, fixer and washing, can be carried out without removing the film from the dish.

Because chemicals are poured in and out of the dish in the dark, a certain amount of pre-planning is needed. I have wide necked containers for stop-bath and fixer, but they are different sizes and easy to identify in the dark. Developer is mixed in a measuring cylinder of a different shape, and all three containers are placed in order of use, in a line, at the start of a developing session. I check that the dish is dry, and standing on its baseboard with the lightproof lid propped up behind it. Then with the lights off I remove the sheets of film one at a time from their holders and place them in the dish, emulsion side up. Development then proceeds as follows.

1 Pour in the developer, start the timer, place the lid over the dish, check that it is covering the dish properly, then switch on the light.

2 Agitate gently and continuously until end of development.

3 Turn off light, remove cover, pour out the developer. Pour stop-bath into dish. Pour stop-bath back into its wide-necked container (the only slightly tricky part of the entire process).

4 Pour in fixer. Replace light-tight lid. Light on. Remove lid after fixing. Pour out fixer.

5 Wash film using several changes of water. Add wetting agent. Soak. Hang film up to dry.

This method of working has several real advantages.

a. Cheap, and easy to set up.

b. Easy to keep track of individual sheets of film. I always place them in the same order in the dish, starting back-left and moving clockwise to end front-left.

c. Very even development. Developer flow not restricted by rawlplugs.

d. No damage to film emulsion.

I do not claim that the method is foolproof, but I have used it for over 25 years and found it very easy to get good results right from the start.

To make the light-tight box use 3" x 1.5" softwood for the sides. Cut two lengths at 12" and two at 17". Make sure the ends are square or the box will not be light-tight. Join these four lengths together to make a rectangle with inside measurements of 12" x 14". This will fit over the dish nicely. Glue and pin a lid onto the sides, using 5mm thick MDF, or plywood. Fit two handles to the sides of the box, and glue thick black felt to the bottom edge that sits on the base.

Make the base from a flat sheet of 18mm thick chipboard, MDF, ply or blockboard. It should be at least 17" square if you make the box to the above sizes. Pin four thin strips of wood to form a guide to allow you to place the dish in the middle, in the dark. Fit some feet to the base, so you can get your fingers under it to agitate the dish during development.

I almost forgot. If you use 5" x 7" film, you can use this method to develop two sheets at a time, with a different rawlplug configuration.

Happy developing!
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