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Sunday, April 8

Film Drying Cabinet


A very generous reader has "donated" a Marrutt film drying cabinet to the Robbins darkroom - and a wonderful bit of kit it's proving to be as well. I'd never used such a cabinet or even seen one in the flesh but I can already tell that it's going to be a big boon to my film developing workflow.

It's a simple enough concept. Films are hung up to dry in what is essentially a metal wardrobe with an air-tight door. Air is drawn in to the wardrobe at the bottom by a fan and has to pass through a filter for dust removal before it wafts gently upwards and out of the top. Films dry in about half an hour in the gentle breeze. For even quicker drying there's a heat setting which warms the air up although some users claim that too much heat makes the film curl. Think I'll stick to the unheated setting.

The cabinet is designed for 120 film and 24-exposure 35mm, in other words it's not long enough to accommodate the drop of a 36-exposure roll. I get around this by hanging both ends of the film from drying clips so it hangs in a loop and then cutting the washed film after frame 18 so it falls in two halves. This presents something of a problem as there's not enough blank film at the bottom of the cut ends to accept a film drying clip or weight to keep the roll straight. I sorted that out by taking apart four sprung clothes pegs and fashioning the springs into two hooks which slip through the last pair of sprocket holes at the cut ends. A normal film clip or weight can then be attached to the spring.



Four peg springs let me dry two 36-exposure rolls at a time. It's just a few minutes work with a pair of pliers to create another few spring attachments if needed. Stout fuse wire would have been easier but I didn't have any to hand. The cabinet got a very thorough cleaning and was allowed to run for a few minutes to remove any lingering dust particles from the air inside it before I tried it out in earnest. It worked a treat.


Bob, who lives just a 45 minute drive away, was showing me the cabinet when I went to pick it up when I glanced behind him and spotted a familiar and unmistakable sight (at least to this enlarger geek) - the lamphouse of a Blumfield Master Printer 5x4 enlarger peeking out a little from behind a door. I did all of my printing in the 1990s on the same model and never thought I'd see another. I said as much to Bob and he immediately said that he'd throw it in with the drying cabinet.

Now, if you're a regular reader, you'll know that I have far too many enlargers and didn't have the space for another but Bob said that he'd probably end up scrapping it if he couldn't find someone to take it away. I mean, what could I do? How could I let a great bit of British engineering like that meet such an unworthy demise? Making the enlarger's salvation even more pressing for a lover of vintage lightweight bicycles was the fact that T. F. Blumfield, who had their premises, fittingly enough, at Quality Corner in Eyre Street, Birmingham, also made wheel hubs in the 1930s, '40s and '50s.

Like the enlargers, the hubs were easily as good as anything else on the market. I've got a lovely pair that I'm saving for the right bike, even though I don't know what that will be yet. T. F. was Thomas Frederick and his dad, Thomas William, started Blumfield Manufacturing in 1897, going on to make motor cycles. Fine engineering must have run in the blood.


I've got four enlargers in the darkroom and a fifth in a cupboard in an upstairs bedroom. The Blumfield makes six and is at the moment sitting on wooden filing drawers in a corner of the man cave. Unfortunately, the drawers are a pair that came with a computer desk when the enlarger really deserves to be sitting on a set of oak drawers from the 1950s or early '60s. It's quite out of the way in that spot but I really want to print from it for nostalgia's sake if nothing else. It's mainly made from cast aluminium and stainless steel so there's virtually no corrosion on it. It had been sitting in Bob's workshop for a while and was quite dusty so I thoroughly cleaned it, rubbed some WD40 onto the crackle finish paint, put a thin film of vaseline on those moving parts that might benefit from it and polished up the linoleum covering on the baseboard. It now looks the business.

I haven't figured out yet how I'm going to accommodate the Blumfield in the darkroom but, even if I can't, I'll still make room for it as an ornament and talking point. One thing's for sure: the photographic industry will never see quality like that coming out of a British workshop again.

13 comments :

Martyn Lacey said...

Although I don’t have one myself, I have used a dryer in college but never managed to find one locally at sensible money. The advantage for me was being able to dry the negs dust free. Good thinking with the peg hangers too. For 4x5 negs I use a metal clothes Hanger of the type used mostly by women which are adjustable by sliding the two hanging pieces along the bar and have plastic grips on the jaws. The chrome ones are the best. Just slide the grippers towards the middle to hold the neg. Come to think of it would be great for the 8x10 boys as well.

Herman Sheephouse said...

You'll hate to hear this, but remember when the Art College were chucking your current darkroom sink out? Well a week previously, there was a full-sized Marrutt lying on its side in the rain waiting for death. Despite having had a hard life at the hands of millions of students it was still in decent nick . . . just full of water.
These things are really great.

DavidM said...

Now you have a drying cabinet, lucky fella, you can try to re-create the alleged Capa D-Day landing tragedy, where overheating caused the images to slide off the film. (Ha!) See AD Coleman for further details. I think you'll come to the same conclusion, but I hope you can get there quicker.
As for engineering quality, De Very are alive and well and living in Brighton.
I have seen film weights that consist of a weighted disc with a pair of hooks emerging from each side, to fit the sprocket holes. Plastic might be less hazardous than clothes-peg wire. The neg you scratch will be the best shot you've ever taken.
Is there an Enlarger Museum? Who would we nominate for curator?

Regular Rod said...

Mine never has the heat on. It works fine just as a dust and draft free space. Your films WILL curl if you use the heat. You can still buy the filters if yours is ready for replacement...

RR

Dave Jenkins said...

We had a full-sized drying cabinet when I had a commercial studio. It would hold, as best I remember, about ten rolls of 36-exposure film. Which was fine, because we could only process seven rolls at a time. It was great. Just one of the many things I miss about my studio. But life moves on. By 2000, I was making most of my income from location work and the work I did in the studio was just barely covering the overhead.

normusarms said...

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/T-F-Blumfield-5x4-enlarger/372273325986?hash=item56ad3827a2:g:KUAAAOSwIQdZEcOt nice find!

Bruce Robbins said...

What someone wants for an item on Ebay and what they get are two different things. That Blumfield has been on there for weeks if not months with no takers. I did inquire about the Blumfield enlarging easel that goes with the enlarger but the seller, a camera shop, wanted £75 for it so they can keep that as well! I think the last Blumfield that sold on Ebay went for £25.

Bruce Robbins said...

The last Blumfield actually went for £20. Unbelievable really.
https://rover.ebay.com/rover/0/0/0?mpre=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ebay.co.uk%2Fulk%2Fitm%2F323011960007

normusarms said...

Ebay can be really weird, people consistantly pay more for old film that you can buy for less brand new. Enjoy the Blumfield it looks like a real beauty, I also have too many enlargers but I would make room for a Blumfield.

Bruce Robbins said...

EBay has become too powerful. It’s reached the stage where you’re cheaper buying from online used camera dealers than from private sellers on Ebay in some cases.

Herman Sheephouse said...

AND you get a guarantee. It always bewilders me that someone will pay around £500 or thereabouts on ebay, for an M2 say, with NO guarantees!

Nick Davis said...

Bruce, you may find that you can hang 36 exposure films in your Marrutt drier. Mine (which appears to be identical to yours) has hooks up in the top, above the bars. They are not very obvious. I use the heater in mine, which has a wide range of temperatures, with no problems with film curling or melting! I do use weighted clips on the bottom of each film though.

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks Nick. I'll check it out when I get home tonight. Fingers crossed.