All posts by desflurane

It’s Done!

After months of work: 


I still need to put a handle on it and some kind of latch to hold it shut, but it is a jen-yoo-wine, pitcher-takin’ camry!


I’m having way too much fun!

I did in fact develop four of the six rolls of film I shot a few weeks ago. The negatives look great, but I’ve been having such a blast working on my view camera project that I haven’t gotten them onto the scanner yet!

Soon, very soon…

I have successfully obtained the mini-lathe I mentioned before. And I’ve been perfecting my knob-making technique. It’s not as simple as it might seem to produce a set of knobs that feel good in the hand, look good on the camera, meet the dimensions required and all appear to be part of a matched set (my camera requires ten knobs all told – twelve if you want to be nit-picky). I’m closing in on it rapidly though! The final units will look truly splendid!

Here is an early version, the final ones will look very similar but with much better knurling and a bit sleeker profile:


I have also been dabbling in electrochemistry once again! My anodizing process is well sorted, but I just had to come up with a solution for all the unsightly brass speckling my lovely creation. I was planning to take a whole heap if little metal doo-dads to a professional metal finisher to have them done up with a matte chrome look. But – being me – I ended up doing it myself…

Turns out that NICKEL plating can be done quite easily at home. I watched a few YouTube videos on the subject which were helpful, but once I ran across a write-up on detailing the whole process I knew I had a winner. 

As an added bonus, no special or expensive equipment or chemicals are required. 

I made a nickel acetate solution out of vinegar, some strips of pure nickel I got off eBay for a few dollars, a pinch of salt and some electricity provided by the same car-battery charger I use for anodizing amuninum. 


Dissolving the nickel metal requires a bit more juice than does anodizing, so I shifted the charger into high-gear (12V – 12Amps) and let things percolate for a few hours. 


As you can see, the strips of nickel at the positive terminal are beginning to dissolve, producing a nice green nickel acetate solution. 

Once you have a suitable solution of nickel salt, the plating is really simple. Everywhere I read I was told that the key to a nice, shiny and durable nickel plate is LOW voltage and LOW amps. In fact, the recommended power source is two D-cell batteries in series producing 3V and just a few amps. 


In the above picture I’m plating the bail I made to aid in loading film. It is bent up from 1/8″ steel rod. I had to plate it in three sections since I can’t fit the whole thing into my plating bath. 

It takes 15-30 minutes to get each part plated (depending on the size) and this slow, gentle approach seems to work fantastically! And my total investment is around ten dollars!



I think these pictures make the finished parts look like they are still a little “brassy”. They aren’t. They have a very nice pewter-like appearance in person. 

Anodizing (Again…)

Ok, humor me!

I’m going to show the anodizing process once more, but in a little more detail this time. I just completed the base piece for the front standard and before I scratch the crap out of it putting everything together, I’m going to try to anodize it first. Hopefully preserving some of my efforts to make it look nice. 

Here it is after machining and careful buffing with red scotch brite. 

Now it gets washed thoroughly. 

Next I put gloves on to avoid fingerprints and degrease it. I used Simple Green.  Then it gets rinsed in distilled water. 

From there it goes into the NaOH bath. I went with five minutes this time to see if it would give me more of a matte finish. As you can see, lots of bubbles evolve. It’s some nasty gas that you don’t want to breathe. I find myself coughing if I get too close – open a window!

It gets rinsed again in distilled water, then goes into the tank full of dilute Sulfuric Acid. 

Leads from the car charger are attached (red to the part to be anodized) and power turned on: 12V at 2 Amps.  Lots of bubbles form at the cathode almost instantly. You can’t really tell from a photo but bubbles are just billowing up from its surface. A few form on the part, but not many. 

You wait around for an hour…

And out it comes! It gets rinsed off again and the acid is secured… I think you can see that the surface is less shiny bright. It has more of a satin look to it. 

Now the finish is hydrothermally sealed. In plain English, it gets boiled in water… This is actually how it is done by professional metal finishers – ya boil it!

Find something else to do for another hour and…

I think you can see that it now has a more gray-appearing surface, and it is definitely a more dull finish than I started with. Perfect!

Ok, I’ll be developing about six rolls of film very soon. I went on a few outings and haven’t taken the time to process. That should be my next posting. 

My Mind Wanders

I haven’t done much actual photography of late, but I have been messing around with photo-related stuff. As I mentioned in my last post I’ve been putting in some hours on my view camera. It is turning out quite well! Better than I ever expected it to. 

One problem I have run into is finding appropriate knobs and threaded rods for the controls . I’ve been able to make things work with hardware-store bolts and knobs I have cobbled together from nuts and brass soldered together, but it would be really nice to be able to MAKE exactly what I need. Thus, I have been daydreaming about a mini-lathe to go with my mill. 

Then I could turn knobs, screws and bolts to my heart’s content. I’ve even been thinking about machining my own focusing screw/bolt pair so I can get an even coarser pitch that the 8 tpi I’m currently limited to.

Of course nothing is cheap, especially if it’s nice… And funding this little project is my present dilemma. It’s not that much money, really – less that $1000 – but marital discord would be a likely “unintended consequence” if I don’t handle this carefully. I spent at least a grand getting my milling machine up and running, and it wasn’t all that long ago. My lovely wife has a great memory!

More Home Alchemy!

I’ve been putting in some more time on the 4×5 project. It’s getting very close to being done!

I’ve even started thinking about the metal finishes. To that end I have started experimenting with anodizing my aluminum.

I suppose I could pay to have this done professionally, but where is the fun in that? Instead I bought a liter of battery electrolyte (Sulfuric Acid) for $8 from the auto parts store, and borrowed an old car charger from a buddy (mine is too new-fangled and clever to work for this) and I was off to the races.

The process is remarkably simple. The battery acid is mixed 1:1 with distilled water and placed in the anodizing tank – in my case this was a glass flower vase of convenient dimensions which I discovered beneath the sink. A cathode is inserted into the solution. I used a 10″ length of aluminum angle I have left over and connected it to the black clip of the car charger.

The part to be anodized is cleaned up via sanding, buffing or what-have-you. I deburred all the edges and buffed liberally with red scotch brite. It then gets thoroughly washed, degreased and plunked into distilled water. Wearing gloves to avoid finger prints I degreased again, rinsed and put it into a stiff Sodium Hydroxide solution (conveniently, I have this readily available). The ultra-clean aluminum begins fizzing vigorously as the lye etches its surface, removing old aluminum oxide. Another quick rinse in distilled and into the tank it goes, connected to the charger’s red clip.

Power it up to its 2 ampere setting and billions of hydrogen bubbles start billowing up from the surface of the cathode – if your connections are good, that is. As I mentioned, my charger doesn’t work for this, it is electronically controlled and can tell that it isn’t attached to a battery and does nothing. You need a good old-fashioned one that just does what you tell it.

The water looks gray and cloudy from all the tiny bubbles evolving.



It fizzes away for an hour and it’s anodized! The surface changes from bright silver to a nice matte appearance.

The final step (once the part is rinsed off and all the acid is put away) is to seal the finish. This is accomplished by boiling the part for an hour in water. This coverts some of the Aluminum Oxide you just created into a hydrated form which “swells” and closes up the pores which occur naturally.

If desired some dye can be added to color the part. I squirted in some yellow and red food coloring and this is what I got:


I’m going to leave all my camera parts undyed but I wanted to prove to myself that anodizing had actually taken place. I think it looks pretty cool!

I Made It To The Bottom of the Barrel!

I don’t think I had mentioned here that at the beginning of my Caffenol experiments I bought a 100 ft roll of Ilford FP4+ and popped it into a Watson loader I got off eBay a few years ago.


Well tonite I finally loaded the last canister. I’ve used up the entire 100 feet.

I think FP4+ has been an excellent film to begin with, but I’m definitely itching to try some different emulsions out.

The timing is quite perfect, as I’ve been able to more or less accomplish what I was hoping to with Caffenol C-B while keeping the emulsion consistent the whole time.

Here is what I am going to try next:



I hope that I find one that I like more than FP4+. If I do I’ll buy another 100 foot roll and keep shooting!

Calibrating A Cheap pH Meter

I mentioned before that I got an inexpensive pH meter on Amazon for $14 delivered. It works, and it provides a reading to one decimal place. That’s probably as much accuracy as I really need for my Caffenol experiments. I have looked at other units that come highly recommended (by the cannabis-reeking guys at the local hydroponic supply store) but cost $100 or more. So I’m going to try to just make due with the El Cheepo.

I did drop a few bucks on bottled reference solutions to calibrate the meter with. I picked up a 7.0 and a 10.0 so I can calibrate the meter for more or less the range I’ll be actually testing.

The 8 oz bottles should last a year or so.

I discovered today that a plastic container for 35mm film works perfectly to hold about 10cc of the test solution and allow the tip of the meter to be submerged. When I’m done I can pop the cap on and save it for next time – though it isn’t a good idea to keep it for very long as dipping the meter in one solution then into the other leads to contamination which alters the pH and sidesteps the whole purpose of the exercise.

Here it is in the 10.0 solution calibrated quite carefully:


I took the meter out, rinsed it off in fresh, distilled water then plopped it into the 7.0 solution:


Hmmm… Not too impressive.

If I calibrate to a perfect 7.0 reading then I’m a bit low when I go back to the 10.0 (I think it read 9.6).

Bottom line: cheap meter gives cheap results.

If I continue measuring pH regularly, I may invest in a better meter. I think this one is giving me “ballpark” accuracy and nothing more. That may be good enough for what I’m doing though, as the really important result is how the pictures look and not the exact chemical properties of the developer I used. I just want to be able to tell if my mixes are alkaline “enough” so they have a reasonable shot at actually developing film.

Anything beyond that is just window dressing.

The Shootout

So as I promised, here is a head to head comparison between my Caffenol C-L and Caffenol C-B (my own Borax recipe) test films. It isn’t as satisfying as I would have liked. Comparison is made rather difficult due to big differences in negative density. Studying the histograms of the various negatives I believe that my recipe reduces film speed by at least a full stop, maybe even a stop-and-a-half. As a result, the C-B images are much darker appearing. It makes it hard to compare the grain objectively because the grain in the C-B image is so much much blacker – making it appear more prominent. Considering just the AMOUNT of apparent grain, I don’t think there is much difference. Evaluating the “quality” or aesthetics of the grain, I think C-B might have a slight edge – things appear to be a bit creamier to me, but it depends on where you look. In the end, no vast differences can be appreciated. I do think that the C-H shows more prominent grain than the other two, however. No surprise there, since C-L is billed as a somewhat finer-grain developer compared to C-H.

Caffenol C-H 12 min @ 20ºC

Caffenol C-H 12min 20C Small

Caffenol C-H 12min 20C Crop

Caffenol C-L 60 min @ 20ºC

As an indicator of my haphazard organization (from which I am now reformed) I failed to adequately label the developed film strips from my previous experiments. As a result I’m nearly certain that this strip was developed with 50g/L Sodium Sulfite added to the Caffenol C-L. It wasn’t my intent to scan this negative again, but there it is…
Caffenol C-L 60min 20C Small

Caffenol C-L 60min 20C Crop

Caffenol C-B 60 min @ 20ºC (Agitation every 5 min)

Caffenol C-B 60min 20C (NaOH) 1 Small

Caffenol C-B 60min 20C (NaOH) 1 Crop

In the end I think that yet another head-to-head comparison will have to be made. I’m going to try and sort out the effective film speed of Ilford FP4+ developed in Caffenol C-B. I think it ends up right around ISO 50 rather than box speed of ISO 125. Once I can make a negative with more or less equivalent exposure to ones developed in C-L, a more useful comparison can be made.

The Current Recipe

I haven’t had time to sit down at the scanner yet, but the side-by-side Caffenol C-L vs. Caffenol C-B will be forthcoming. In the mean time, I had a request for the recipe – so here it is. It is heavily based on Caffenol C-L and is definitely still a work in progress:

Caffenol C-B (10% Metaborate)

And here is the same thing as a PDF:

Caffenol C-B (10% Metaborate)

It is a bit labor intensive at the moment. I develop for 60 min at 20ºC with agitation for the first 15 sec then 3 gentle inversions every 5 min for the remainder of the time. I’m hoping to adjust things a little to make it easier, but this is what I have right now.