Darkroom: Storage Bottles, Graduates, Trays and Tongs
Storage bottles and larger storage tanks come in all different sizes and are a requisite component of any darkroom. A sufficient supply, in different sizes, should be kept handy. Bottles should be labeled and dedicated to a specific chemical, consistently. Some bottles come with a blank area for writing dates and other notations. Label and date your bottles when you’re mixing and storing chemicals. It is very frustrating and not worth the aggravation of using chemistry that is unidentifiable, outdated or spoiled. Your nose will tell you a lot, but why inhale noxious fumes when you can refer to a scribbled date?
Certain bottles are designed so the excess air can be squeezed out of the stock solution. They are pleated like an accordion and can be collapsed as you use the solution inside. This slows unwanted oxidation of the chemistry and prolongs the life of the mixture. Smaller bottles are easier to group together for submersion into a water bath in order to bring them to working temperature. Bottles with a handle provide a firmer grip and bottles with a tapered neck allow easier pouring.
Some of the larger storage tanks feature “floating” lids that float on the contents of the tank and descend as the liquid is drained through a spigot, thereby significantly slowing the process of oxidation and extending chemistry life. Storage bottles should also be opaque, to prevent light from affecting the solutions. Large storage bottles are good for mixing stock volumes, while smaller bottles are good for diluting to a working solution.
A good graduate for measuring chemistry is essential. Mixing your chemicals accurately ensures proper processing, which in turn ensures good negatives and prints. A number of graduates in all shapes and sizes are available on the market, in a variety of plastics as well as stainless steel. The plastic ones are good because you can see through them, making it easier to monitor the amount and tint of the fluid you’re mixing or measuring.
Stainless-steel graduates are good because they will not corrode or stain, are easier to wash and are more durable than the plastic ones—but you can't see through them.
There is still one company that makes glass graduates—and these have the best features of plastic (you can see through them) and stainless steel (they are easily washed and don’t corrode). Just don’t drop one on a hard floor!
Like storage bottles, large graduates are good for mixing large volume stock solutions, while smaller graduates are good for diluting small amounts of a stock to working solution. Good graduates are marked in both US and Metric volume and will come scaled for either gross volumes or small quantities. B&H keeps a large inventory of graduates of all kinds, and you will doubtless find the ones you prefer.
Trays can be made of either plastic or stainless steel and, of course, come in many standard sizes. The better plastic ones have one corner shaped like a pouring spout to make emptying and washing them easier. Stainless trays usually don’t have this feature, but their sharper corners enable pretty facile pouring, and they don’t stain over time the way some plastic trays do—especially the white ones.
Whichever you buy, they should be dedicated and labeled for the particular chemical they’ll contain, i.e. a specific tray for developer, stop and fix. This prevents contamination of the trays and chemistry. Trays come flat-bottomed, ribbed, deep, shallow, white or in sets of three, tri-colored, for color-coding your processes. Shallow trays can spill over when rocked, but are less costly and easier to use and store. You should include at least one deep tray for hypo (fixer) in your process chain. Why? While you are “fixing” one print, you can start work on the next print. Prints tend to stack up in a fixer tray.
Space needs to be left between prints to receive an adequate flow of hypo over the entire surface of the print, and they should be gently agitated periodically. This cannot be achieved in a shallow tray with multiple prints. When you have finished printing one batch of prints, they can be moved en masse from the deep hypo tray to a holding tray or washer.
Always keep an extra couple of trays on hand in the darkroom. It may be necessary to transport a print outside the room for viewing, or you might need to start another process, such as toning.
Print tongs are used to handle prints when they are being immersed in chemistry or moved from tray to tray. They are available in stainless steel, plastic or the ever-popular and inexpensive bamboo.
A set of tongs should be dedicated to each particular chemical. Keep an ample supply on hand. Consider them disposable items, but as a matter of course, they should be thoroughly washed after each session—impurities can remain on the rubber tips that could potentially contaminate your paper the next time you print. It is also important, when using tongs, not to ding or dent a print. Sufficient pressure should be applied only to lift the print.