Here’s the full story on how to build your own portable, collapsible darkbox/ darkroom. And a stand for it.
It may not be the best looking thing around and it did take a fair amount of effort, but it seems to work. If you cannot be bothered and would just like to buy one, check these guys out for some fantastic examples: Blackartwoodcraft.com
I’ll tell you what I did, and what I would now do differently.
In theory (and hopefully in practise) the darkbox will have the following advantages:
Small, not too heavy to carry
Sturdy (being made of wood) (this was actually unintentionally tested as it tumbled to the ground from 1,20m high – and it’s still intact)
collapsible on itself, everything folds away into 1 box
cheap(ish) to build
height adjustable as the lid of the box will be your working surface
use standing or sitting
It will take some time and effort to build this thing – it will be a lot easier buying a tent and lightproofing it.
You will have to be a little creative, especially it you cannot source all the materials you’d ideally like to have.
Not a lot of space to move around in.
If something breaks (hopefully not) it will be a pain replacing it!
Because of the height – and if not secured into place or set up sheltered – it can blow over. And it did! (I started building darkbox no 2)
At this point I’m fairly proud of myself of how far I’ve taken this project, as I’m not a greatly skilled woodworker – on the other side I could have saved myself some trouble and just buy a tent! (next time I will!)
The dimensions of the box will be roughly 63 x 43 x 29 cm when closed.
The inside working space is about 56 cm wide x 48 cm deep (worktop) x 83 cm (tabletop – tent overhead). It is around 100 cm deep.
What you’ll need:
- Wood, I used MDF board as it was on offer and perfect for a test run on this project of 1.2 cm thickness
- Asparagus-foil, 6 meters (or similar, this is black/ white plastic, fairly sturdy but not too light-weight, whilst still cheap – I would advise anyone to get a bit more as 6m is cutting it close). The width was 2,7 m
- a baby-tent or similar, to use the folding sides and supports
- Ruby-lith foil or similar
- Hinges (I used piano hinge strips on the top ( x 2), and normal flat hinges on the front( x 2), and on the ‘window shutter’ ( x 1))
- Tool chest locks ( x 2) sold in the Netherlands as ‘eggbox locks’
- White tape, 10 m roll
- Carpenter tacks (round headed tacks)
- Self-adhesive hook and hook strips/ dots
- Glue, bisonkit woodglue
- Drill + bits
- Screwdriver (for those hard to reach places)
- Saw (jigsaw, electrical or a plaster saw)
- File or sanding paper or electrical
- Paint, base coating and blackboard paint (In hindsight probably not necessary as it only complicated things by not drying properly and sticking to itself)
Cut the wood into the required sizes (Or have someone do it for you at the DIY shop where you are buying the materials)
Bottom plate (tabletop): 63 cm x (25 cm + 2 x thickness of the wood)
Sides x 2: 40 cm x 25 cm
Back plate: 63 cm x 40 cm
The front (tabletop = lower bit): 63 cm x 25 cm – Measure how long you want your ‘table’ to be and cut a width accordingly. I chose to make it 25 cm so my total working surface depth is about 48 cm.
The front (top part); 63 cm x 15 cm – The top: holds away completely. You’ll need hinges for this and I used a wind hook to support the lid and keep it from crashing onto my tent. In hindsight I should’ve used just two screws and a piece of string on the outside.
The top; 63 cm x 25 cm
Window shutter: depends on if you want one, and how big you want your window to be.
Cut the window in the back plate
Drill a hole near a corner, then use a (electrical) figure saw to get the window out. This will cut the wood in the window in several bits, so make sure you get a spare piece of wood to cover this hole if you want to be able to shut it. I chose to do so, to protect the rubylith foil from outside impact when carrying this box around.
(optional) Paint the parts in ground paint
Assemble the wooden parts to the box, starting with the bottom, sides and back plate
Using the drill to pre-dill holes for the screws, and the wood glue to keep the plates firmly in place. Use supports (like a cardboard box for instance) to support the bottom whilst you screw in the sides, or the backplate.
Using a nail and hammer, punture small holes in the other wooden parts to show where the screws of the hinges will be.
(optional) paint the wood in the desired colour. I painted the insides a matted black – but there is no proof that this will be more functional than a white / different coloured inside.
Put in the window ‘shutter’ and the rubylith foil whilst you have open access to them
I was not clever enough to do this at this stage, but it will save you some trouble (and dust!) later on if you do it now. I used a couple of screws to attach the foil and 1 central hinge + 2 violin case hooks to keep the window shutter in place.
Remember that babytent? time to take it apart!
cut almost everything way, but keep the sides intact. Put any additional tent poles aside, and keep a bit of gauze if that was part of it as you’ll be able to use that for your ventilation gap later on.
Attach the babytent sides to the darkbox.
You will need a system that will be easy to assemble/ take apart. I opted for a non-elegant solution using electrical wire guides and some coated copper wire.
The copper wire is attached to the wood by a wire guide, and twisted to form a hook. The hook slots into a second wire guide. I cut a few small holes into the baby tent sides to let the hooks through.
It would possibly be easier to use clips of some kind.
Use the smaller tent poles to keep the tent sides at a distance from each other and to provide some support to the tent as a whole. I stuck sticky hook and loop dots on the end of the tent poles and on the sides of the baby tent to keep them in place. EDIT: I have removed these sticky dots as they kept falling off and have replaced them with longer strips of hook and look band, pulled over the top and taped to the pole.
Attach the black out foil to the box.
This is the tricky part as I have no pattern for this. I started by attaching the foil over the whole width of the top, black inside – white out, working from the center to the sides, and attaching them with round-headed nails to the backboard, on the inside. These nails were slightly long for the thickness of my wood, so I cut of the end of every single one of them!
Once the top was covered, I shaped the sides to fit around the baby tent sides – so I created a dome-shape with the white tape. *** EDIT: The white tape may look good, but will NOT help against light leaks. Use black tape if possible. *** Any knowledge of tailoring will help you with this part! Make sure to keep some extra material in the middle as you’ll need it later to create the doorway (I didn’t do this and it would have made my life a lot easier!). Then cover the sides with the additional asparagus foil, using the white tape to stick it to the already created dome, then make the circle full by putting a bit underneath – basically making a full tunnel out of the foil material. Tack the appropriate parts to the box.
Now create a doorway. Pull a scissor over the center seam at the back, till about 3/4 way up (not till the highest point at least). Fold the material over at the top and tape it down so it can’t tear – and attach either a zipper or self-adhesive hook and loop band to the doorway so you will be able to shut it. I chose the hook and loop band because it was available to me – but wish I would have taken the extra trouble and attach a zipper instead. *** EDIT: I have taped up part of the top of the opening as I have having trouble with light leaks and the doorway now only opens to about 70% of the size as before, so I have to duck into the tent every time I want to use it. *****
I didn’t describe how to create your air vent, as mine doesn’t have one yet >< but I’ll get to that soon!! ***EDIT: I have not found a good way to create a vent as of yet – so I’m using a gas mask until that time comes ***
And that’s it.
You still need a stand for it…. -_-
Mind you, I thought this would be the easy bit, but it turns out it’s not amazingly stable. Perhaps once I have made some improvements it will work a little better. If you have any suggestions, please comment on this page! 🙂
What you need:
- 4 x length of wood, approx 130 cm long (exact length varies due to height requirements), 4 cm wide, 2 cm thick
- 4 x length of wood approx 50 cm long, 3 cm wide, 1 cm thick
- 2 x length of wood approx 25 cm long, 2 cm x 2 cm
- 2 x length of wood approx 23 cm long, 2 cm x 2 cm
- 2 x bolts
- 4 screw-in hooks
- length of chain/ cord, string
- 2 x wooden plates, 50 x 20 cm
- various sized drills
- bits of screwdriver
- electrical figure saw
Attach 1 slat of thinner wood of 50 cm wide over the tops of 2 lengths of 130cm wood, attaching each to a far end side. Do this for both ends. Place these two made pieces next to eachother and decide where you need the hinge and therefore the bolt to be. Drill the holes and insert the bolt.
Now attach two of those shorter 50cm slats over the bottom halves, and (if needed – it was in my case) attach the 50 x 20 cm planks underneath those slats to provide it with some more stability.
Attach the screw-in rings to the sides. Measure out a piece of string/ chain and attach it to the rings. This will prevent the whole construction from falling all the way open and provide it with some additional stability.
Attach the 4 wooden bits of 2cm x 2 cm to the bottom and lower front of your darkbox. When opened and on the stand, it will prevent your box from sliding off the side.
Put the darkbox on the stand. Mark on the top at what angle to cut your wooden posts for it to lay flat. ***EDIT: I have only leveled the furthest two top corners to put the dark box on and kept the closer ones pointed. This way it’ll keep my tray slightly higher and prevents it from things rolling off.**** Do this, then mark on the bottom where to cut them in order to get the height you need. Either cut the legs at the right angle or round them off. I’ll need to go with the last one, I find them rather ‘sticky’ when on a slightly uneven tiled ground.