Chapter 8: That Sinking Feeling.

I'm past the hardest part of the project, now - I'd guess about 1/3 of the way complete: the sinks are in! It was a lot of fiddly detail-work but the most important part of the project is no place to cut corners. To get all the water connections right, I needed to fabricate pretty much everything, custom, from scratch. It required many more trips to the hardware store than I wanted to make - a total of about 10 trips over 3 days. I kept needing one little specific piece or another - if I'd been smarter and lazier I'd have gotten a whole lot more than I needed, kept the reciept, and then returned all the leftovers for a refund. But, it's done.

1930s Chicago Lab Faucet: 10 solid pounds of polished stainless steel industrial-age deliciousness.

All the faucets for this project were sourced piecemeal on Ebay. If I bought them new from a science supplies store, I'd have been out about $1,200. As it was I spent a total of about $300 on stainless. Have I mentioned that I hate drippy faucets?

Each faucet has slightly different connectors and the sinks have a variety of holes. The black ABS sink came without holes, so I cut them with a forstner bit, then built wooden backing-blocks to stiffen and support the ABS. For the horizontal-mounted faucet, above, I made an ABS backing plate that served as a sort of giant washer for the brass 2-threaded nipples (in the picture) to grip on. With a bit of teflon grease and some polyurethane to bolster the ABS, the faucet is mounted on the sink well enough that it does not move - at all - if I grab it and shake it.

Stainless on stainless, mounted with ABS and polyurethane = massive overkill!

I Go Mad With Plumbing

Since the water feed-pipes are going to come down the walls, instead of up from the floor, I needed to make the connections at the backs of the sinks able to be flexible. On each sink I had a main faucet and an auxiliary (Why? Because I can!) which meant a much more complicated feed system for the cold water.

The Back of The Black Sink

On the black sink, I had the brilliant idea of mounting a turret-style feed right next to the main faucet. Sure enough, it looks really spiffy except that it made the plumbing tricky in a very cramped space. I had to make an oak bracket (with an ABS plastic face) for the turret, which had a 1/4" threaded inlet, so I could mount it using a nipple with a reversed hex-head 1/4"-to-1/2" adapter that the water hose could screw onto. Getting this just right consumed about 2 hours. Everything is absurdly solid; there's a stainless steel lag-screw from the sink stand (tube steel) into the oak turret-mount. At a certain point it gets easy to say "well, I've overdone everything else so I may as well overdo this, too!"

I did all the plumbing for the sinks in the assembly hall (a good place to assemble sinks, too!) because it was a lot easier to work on the back while I could just walk around it. I stubbed together the drain-pipe as well, so I wouldn't have to crawl around the darkroom floor measuring and fitting stuff. It was all just going to fit perfectly right? Right.

The Stainless Sink

The stainless sink is made of some incredibly tough and heavy alloy and weighs about 400 pounds. Drilling through the top deck is not fun; it's loud and time-consuming. But I did it anyway; I mounted a gas-valve turret off to the side of the main faucet, because - apparently - I didn't have enough work to do, and needed more opportunity to do fiddly plumbing. Fortunately, CPVC pipe is a dream to work with (so easy, even a plumber can do it) and there was plenty of room in the back of the stainless sink. The tricky part was keeping all the feeds from coming too close to the wall, because the back of the main faucet's valves come straight out; I had to shave down some of the edges of the pipe elbows and adapters with my table-saw. Then I attached the feeds and zip-tied them in place - once the sink is mounted to the wall there will be no way to reach around behind it. I have one chance to get it right. To test the plumbing I poured water up the feeds and blew as hard as I could into them to see if any leaked.

How does one guy move a 12 foot long 400 pound sink through a narrow hallway, around a corner, and into a little room?


With a dolly under each end of the sink, it wasn't too hard to move it - just awkward. I took it slow and kept stopping to check and make sure everything was lined up right and that the legs didn't slip off the dollies.

Takes Corners unLike a Ferrari

Getting the sink into the darkroom required fitting it around a tight corner. I was afraid I'd have to take the door off, but it got through with about 1/64 of an inch to spare. I had to keep switching from pulling to pushing, which entailed crawling under or climbing over the sink. At one point, it was so tight getting through that I had to take my wallet out of my back pocket so I'd have enough clearance.

Wall Mounts

To support the stainless sink, I made a set of wall brackets out of 2"x2" oak boards, lag-screwed into the cinderblocks. The edge of the sink fits along the top of the oak boards, and I installed three additional screw-mounts in the cinderblock to hold the sink itself through holes drilled in the front frame and side. I figured that "more mounting points are better than fewer" even if it took a couple extra minutes to install them. The hard part was getting the sink moved into position to measure for the brackets, and then back out - that was just a straight-up bitch. When I got it in position to measure for the brackets, I noticed that the drop from the drain to the wall was almost straight, which was worrisome. So I decided to raise the sink a few inches (for a darkroom, not having to bend over is nice anyway) using PVC pipe "stilts" consisting of a larger piece of PVC with a smaller piece slid down inside. As it happens, there's not a lot of weight on the legs; most of the sink is supported by the bolts into the wall.

Wall Mount Brackets

Once the sink was snugged up and slid onto the brackets, then it was a simple matter of screwing and tightening and cursing a bit.

Then, I did the same for the black sink. On the black sink, I didn't have as much of a weight problem to worry about, so I used two L-beams of stainless steel recycled from the kitchen's milk dispensing machine, mounted to the wall and then bolted to the sink. It's very stable.

To finish my day, I glued and fitted together the drain drops, which went surprisingly easily thanks to my carefully measuring everything when I had the chance, earlier. By the end of the day I was cold and tired and my brain wasn't working very well, so it's a good thing I didn't have to do any more pipe-fitting and could just glue things together. I had some fun with the drains, making the trap on the black sink go at a sort of funky angle (really, I planned it that way!) just for fun.

Three Days of Work Doesn't Look Like Much

The Stainless Sink, Completed

The Black Sink, Completed

I did a little extra decoration-work on the stainless sink, adding an old gas-pressure gauge and bolting it to the wall (it's not even attached to the sink) and attached, then removed, a 1940's US-Navy issue pantographic draftman's light. I'm planning to use the draftman's light as a print assessment light, with a foot-switch. Initially I had it mounted on the stainless steel sink, but I realized that if anything went wrong with its wiring I'd be unable to get to the bolts attaching it and then I'd really be hating life. So I unmounted it and will re-add it later, mounting it directly to the wall when I figure out where the electricity will run. I think I avoided a major headache with that decision.

Next Up!

The rest of the project is going to be fairly straightforward and it's all stuff I'm good at: woodworking, electrical, plumbing. Tomorrow I was going to shoot a model but it's supposed to be horribly cold and we decided to reschedule. So I think I'll assemble the cabinets and start figuring out where they'll go. If I feel ambitious I may mount the wall cabinets. After that, I'll need to make a counter-top (plywood!) and brackets for it, then assemble it in place. I'm toying with the idea of making the counter-top funky-shaped, or putting an oak rail along the edge with "rivets". A lot will depend on how the cabinets fit and, while I could calculate it all and visualize it, it seems a lot easier to just assemble the cabinets, push them around, and see what they look like. If I have lots of room I may make a space under the counter-top for a garbage can (as my friend Andrew says: "the most important tool in any darkroom")


I was thinking it is going to be cold in the darkroom, so I was looking on for polartec bathrobes (that's what I wear around the house all winter) and suddenly realized that I should have something suitably funky to wear. So I contacted my friends at Kambriel ( [link] ) and asked them if they'd be interested in making me a custom "mad doctor's darkroom smoking jacket" that would match the glorious black velour skull-and-crossbones fez I got from fez-o-rama ( [link] ). They were thrilled, of course. And then I commented "of course, it'll get ruined with darkroom chemicals and ...." and I realized that the obvious answer would be to have them design it to get ruined with darkroom chemicals. So Kambriel is in the process of designing a mega frock-coat smoking jacket mad scientist darkroom coat made out of towels and covered with pockets and extra patches of towel so that I can wipe my hands on it. On Ebay I found a victorian pocket watch voltmeter, and a modern replica of a 3-minute brass sand-timer; they'll make pockets for those, as well as hand-warming pockets and a snot rag pocket or two. I can't wait to see what Kambriel comes up with.

Today was a big step forward! Now it's bedtime.

(Chapter 9)