How to load a 35mm developing tank

No unusual dexterity is required for this though it is as well to practice with a scrap film, first in daylight, then in the dark. The only person we know who finds it really difficult to load a spiral is Frances, who has very shaky hands: a 'benign essential tremor' in medical terms. This is why Roger always loads our spirals. Whether you find it easier to use a plastic reel or a stainless reel is very much a matter of personal preference: there is a free 'How do I...?' module on choosing developing tanks for 35mm and 120.

changing bag

open casette

If you do not have a darkroom, or a room that you can black out, you will need a changing bag. This has two elasticated arm-holes and a zipped-and-Velcro'd loading aperture. At the least you will need the tank and the film. Useful accessories are a pair of scissors and a bottle-opener.

The easiest way to get the end off a modern staked-end cassette is with a bottle opener, but with some Eastern European manufacturers you can just pop the cap off by pressing the protruding end of the spool on the table: see the free module on reloadable cassettes.

cut off leader

insert in spiral

Trim the leader off the film. Try to avoid cutting through sprocket holes, but this is difficult in the dark. Of course if you have rewound 'leader out' you can do this before opening the cassette. If you can feel sharp corners, trim them off diagonally.

Push the end of the film into the open end of the spiral. Make sure the spiral is lined up properly, i.e. that the two halves are not twisted relative to one another. A Paterson spiral is shown here but it is exactly the same if you are using Jobo spirals.

twist onto spiral

cut off spool

Twist the two halves of the spiral relative to one another. Paterson spirals (as shown here) have "serpents' teeth" (actually ballbearing ratchets) that wind the film in automatically; with Jobo spirals you have to grip the film with your fingers, as seen in the free module on handling 120 film.

Cut off the spool. Some films are slotted in like this; some are taped. With a little practice you can tear the spool off, which is quicker and easier. Tearing off the leader (above left) is riskier, but the film may load OK if you get it right. Put the spool in the tank, not forgetting the centre core if there is one.

tear end

hook through perfs.

With stainless steel spirals, cut or tear off the leader. Scissors are far from essential, which is another reason why stainless is often preferred in professional usage.

The best stainless spirals usually engage the film via the sprocket holes, but there are numerous variations on methods for securing the film in the middle of the spiral.

spiral spring clip

loading stainless

Spring clips and even spikes are quite common. Obviously you need to make sure that the spiral is pointing the right way -- open side towards you, in this picture, or you will 'cross thread' the film as you try to wind it into the reel.

Keeping the film very slightly bowed between your fingers, feed it gently into the spiral from the centre outwards. When the film is fully loaded onto the spiral, tear off the spool, as described above: again, you don't need scissors.

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© 2007 Roger W. Hicks