Chapter 12: They Said The Water Would be In By April

Well, it's now July and the water is finally available, and in my studio. This is a big deal for me, after 6 years of telling people " make sure you, uh, you know 'do your business' at the truck stop before you come out... " Within an hour of turning the water on at the street, I was buying PEX tubing and knocking holes in the ceiling to run a 1/2" pipe to - the toilet. My second run was to the darkroom, to hook up both sinks - one of which leaked. So it goes. By the next day, I had everything shipshape and working, then moved all my wet-plate gear from the other room into the now-functioning sinks! ( applause, please ) I'm hoping that my future plates will be mildly better, because I'll be rinsing everything in nice, fresh, clean, cold water.

Back to Work

Where we left off, I was designing the cabinets and doors. The first job was hanging the small cabinets, which I won't show you pictures of because it's boring. Or, at least, as boring as drilling into cinder-block, then supporting a 30-lb cabinet on one knee while screwing it to the wall with one free hand. There was a certain amount of cursing, and some sweating.

Then, I positioned the floor-standing cabinets and started to think about how the counter-tops ought to look. Because I was making the counter-tops out of maple plywood, I had the liberty to play with weird shapes, depending on how I cut the plywood. So I decided to make a sort of a curve on one end, to make it match the curve(s) on the central enlarger table.

Template for counter-top

had a bunch of pieces of cardboard and a sharp knife, which I used to sculpt a few trial ideas until I had something I was happy with. Then I marked it on the plywood, cleaned up the lines with a ruler, made some sawdust with a fresh blade in my reciprocating saw, and - presto! Counter-top! The counter-top is glued to the top of the counters and held with two tough aluminum L-brackets screwed into the wood and bolted into the cinderblock wall.

Installed counter-top

On the side by the ABS sink, I made an extra little booster stand that I can leave my plate-holder on when I'm flowing plates. Part of the beauty of making your own counter-tops is that you can get as arbitrary and abstract as you like with the shapes - as long as you have enough plywood.

The Enlarger Table

I wanted the enlarger table to dominate the room, visually, and to be a little bit higher than usual, so I wouldn't have to bend over so much. Another nice part of making your own custom furniture is that you can make it fit you . It's also nice to be able to control the assembly order of your furniture. When I'm constructing something, I usually build it in a sequence so that the components are self-supporting modules that assemble at the end. Done right, it's kind of anticlimactic - you work in the shop for 3 hours (enough time for the glue on the first pieces to dry!) then carry them to their final resting place and - whap, boom, slap - the whole thing assembles in a few minutes.

Top of enlarger table, with struts, upside-down

I want things to be steampunk, but practical, so I thought I'd make the enlarger table look heavier than it is, by tiering it like a layer cake. That would give me some storage space underneath for paper, dust rags, etc. To keep everything stiff and self-supporting, I constructed a heavy back-piece to bolt to the wall, and some struts to space the upper and lower decks, with some visual emphasis on the ends. Cutting the pieces took a while, gluing it and screwing it together a little longer, and then it was done.

A leg to stand on

The top was tough enough that I could have just stuck it on the wall, but I thought some kind of a curvy leg would look nice and support the top while I was bolting it to the wall. Then I added a forward support, as well, to take a bit of the weight and stiffen the whole thing. I drilled the edges and glued "rivet heads" in, then used some pressboard to cut a "reinforcing bracket" and a curved plate to mate with it. When this is all painted grey it'll look a lot more uniform and heavy - that clear maple surface is very tough but light and pretty.


The leg bolts to the wall with two big bolts into the cinderblock, the top rests on the leg, and bolts to the wall with 3 bolts through the back - it's not going anywhere.

I configured the lighting on this shot to give you a feeling for what the overall room looks like: dark and gloomy. You've got to imagine what the table will look like when painted metal grey. The enlarger is on the table-top simply to weight it down while some of the glue cures.


Here's the finished table, with different light so you can see the details a bit better. I cheated a bit and didn't run the "rivets" all the way up the leg because I don't want to bump them with a knee while I'm working with the enlarger.

What's Next

The plumbing, as I ran it, is "quick and dirty" and my next project will be to get some PEX elbows and make some brackets, then run the pipe so it looks properly steampunky. I'll construct the brackets so that I can run electricty conduits along with the water, and then I'll route it and mount the wall-lights. At that point, I'll be nearly done. All that'll be left is to make the curtains, and the overhead green-foam arches (that will be tremendous fun!) In the meantime, I'll be using the darkroom to make wet-plates. That's really important since it'll allow me to make sure things are in the right place, the speakers for the iPad are well-positioned, etc, etc.

(Chapter 13)