The Darkroom
Wall Mounting Enlargers

If you have a medium format or a 35mm format enlarger, then you probably do not need to wall mount your enlarger. However, if you have a 4x5 enlarger, you might want to consider the benefits of wall mounting.

Most baseboard-mounted 4x5 enlargers operate just fine when making small and medium-sized prints. But, as you raise the head of the enlarger higher and higher from the easel, the physical stability of the mechanism becomes less and less. This results in the head of the enlarger becoming vulnerable to slight vibrations that will result in slightly non-sharp images. Something as common as someone walking across the floor can set up a harmonic vibration that will shake the head enough to ruin a 16x20 size print.

One way to deal with the vibration problem is to stabilize the top of the enlarger's column. Of course, you don't have to actually wall mount the chassis in order to stabilize the top of the column. Just attach some sort of support structure to the top of the column and secure it to the wall behind the enlarger. It really doesn't take much to stop harmonic vibrations.

You might want to wall mount your enlarger so that you can establish a shelf-like easel support that can be lowered to facilitate larger size magnifications. See the Beseler MXT sketch.

Lowering the easel support for large magnification prints is far more desirable than trying to use a mirror to project the image on a distant wall, trying to rotate the head for wall projection, or trying to turn the enlarger around and project on the floor. Lowering the easel support does not require making a change in the enlarger's optical alignment. Once an enlarger has been precisely aligned, don't ever do anything to put it out of alignment.

Using mirrors for wall projection is very difficult due to the precision alignment requirements of the mirror. And, of course the mirror itself must be of top quality if the resulting image is to maintain its quality. Using mirrors was difficult enough in the old days of black and white. Today, with color images, mirrors are almost impossible to use and maintain color quality, since different color wavelengths tend to scatter differently whenever they are bent (as with a mirror).

You might want to wall mount your enlarger so that you can cope with a low ceiling. By wall mounting the enlarger, you can drop part of the column below the normal easel support level. See sketch of the Beseler 45V-XL chassis. I have a very low ceiling in my darkroom, so I have wall mounted my 45V-XL chassis in a manner similar to that shown in the sketch.

Wall mounting should be a technique that improves the stability of the enlarger. Therefore, you need to mount it on a wall that is, itself, stable.

The best type of wall to use is an outside, load-bearing, wall. A nice concrete wall in a basement is almost ideal.

Try to avoid using inside, non-load-bearing, walls, which are commonly constructed inside buildings to divide one room from another. They do not bear any of the weight of the building that is above them. They are constructed from lightweight materials; typically 2x4 lumber with wallboard (or plasterboard) covering. Such a wall can actually act much like a bass drum and amplify noises and vibrations that occur within the room.

The wall-mounting hardware that Beseler offers uses heavy-duty screws designed to be screwed into wood. If you are going to mount your enlarger on a concrete wall, you might want to consider mounting a sheet of 3/4" or 7/8" plywood to the wall first. Then attach the enlarger to the sheet of plywood.

I wouldn't bother using plywood that is any thinner than 3/4". It simply won't be rugged enough to handle the stresses and weight of the enlarger. Remember, you're doing all of this to increase stability. Common plywood sheets are 4x8' in size. You might have to cut it down a bit in order to fit it into the room, but I'd suggest that you leave it as large as possible and securely attach it to the existing wall by the best means possible. If you have wooden studs in the wall, you can attach the plywood to them with 1/4" lag screws. Lag screws are much stronger than common wood screws and with their square or hex head you can use a wrench to draw them down really tight. Drill a large pilot hole through the plywood first so that all the forces of tightening the lag screw are exerted on pulling the plywood against the wall, not fighting with the plywood itself. Be sure to use a large, flat washer under the head of each lag screw. Drill pilot holes in the wall studs to prevent the lag screws from splitting them.

If you are attaching the plywood to a concrete wall, use lead anchors and lag screws. You'll have to get a special masonry drill bit (carbide tipped) from the hardware store and drill pilot holes in the concrete for the lead anchors. If you are attaching to a concrete block wall, be careful to place the lead anchor holes in the mortar between the concrete blocks. Do not try to place a lead anchor in the side of a concrete block. It won't hold.

Always drill the holes a little deeper than you think you should, and always seat the lead anchors as deeply as possible to avoid breakout. If you aren't familiar with all of this, talk to the folks at your local hardware store. They will be able to show you just what is needed. It isn't difficult to make a very solid connection to a concrete wall. Just take your time and do it right. If you think you might have a little trouble with drilling holes and lead anchors and all, get a 15-year-old to help you.

I do not recommend that you try to avoid mounting the plywood sheet by attaching the hardware directly to the concrete wall. The problem is that you can't always position the lead anchors exactly where you want them because the hole that you have to drill in the concrete (for the lead anchor) sometimes drifts a little off-center while you're drilling it. Such "off-center" holes would not align up with the holes in the mounting hardware.

When mounting the plywood sheet to the wall, take advantage of the opportunity to correct for any vertical misalignment that might exist in the wall. Most walls are fairly true vertical, but, what the heck. Check it out. And, if it's a little out of true, put some shims under the plywood to draw it up to a true vertical position. It will make it a little easier later when you align the enlarger.

Paint the plywood flat black. It will help to reduce reflected light (from enlarger leaks) and the resulting fog that can occur. I like a nice cheery, brightly painted darkroom. I have my darkroom painted mostly white. But, in the immediate area of the enlarger, always use flat black paint. There is no such thing as an enlarger that doesn't leak a little light around the negative carrier. That being the case, accept it and deal with it.

If you are making a shelf-like easel support, be sure to use heavy, 2x4, lumber for construction. Depending on how the easel support is sustained, and how big you decide to make it, depends on how thick it should be. When in doubt, make it a little thicker than you think it needs to be. You don't want it to warp after a few years. If you really want to do it up proud, go to your local handyman store and buy a section of Formica-laminated kitchen counter top. It is available in different lengths, and endless colors of Formica. There are types of it that are perfectly flat (without the splash panel that is on the back of some styles). You can also get an interior door (blank) and laminate it yourself with your choice of Formica color/pattern. Unfinished doors come in several different widths and can be cut down to shorter lengths if you want. I've laminated them with Formica and made tabletops, work benches, etc. They tend to remain fairly flat and resist warping.

I suppose real butcher block makes the best easel support if you can find it in a size big enough for your purpose. If you can get butcher block, instead of laminating it, try coating it with casting acrylic. The acrylic will set up and form a super smooth, hard, glassy surface that will preserve the beauty of the wood underneath. Casting acrylic is a two-part liquid compound that sets up rock-hard when you mix the two parts together. You will have about 15 minutes to pour it and smooth it out before it starts to harden. It will take about 10-12 hours for it to harden to the touch, and about 48 hours for it to fully cure. But, then, it's beautiful. The natural wood colors and textures will show through the glassy coating. Do not try to paint the underneath surface white. The acrylic has a slight amber tint to it that will give a slight color caste to the white paint. A light wood stain and/or a single coat of clear varnish is the best undercoat. Do not put the acrylic on raw wood. Doing so will result in lots of tiny air bubbles that will seep out of the wood and become trapped in the acrylic as it sets up.

Try to mount the easel support as level as possible. The more true level you can mount it, the easier it will be for you to later align the enlarger.

Obviously, the sketches only show the parts of each enlarger chassis that are relevant to the wall-mounting process. The wall-mounting hardware kits that Beseler sells are not shown in the sketches. The instructions that come with the kits are perfectly adequate and self-explanatory.

The sketches show a typical setup for wall mounting and using a shelf-like easel support. The measurements shown indicate the ap-
proximate sizes for your planning purposes. If a particular dimension isn't shown, it's because it isn't particularly critical and you can make it anything that you want it to be. Be sure to double check exact hardware measurements before cutting any lumber. Measure twice. Cut once.

If you have a low ceiling in your darkroom, you might want to plan on wall mounting at a height designed for being seated while you work. Personally, I prefer to be seated when I'm working at my enlarger. I frequently spend long workdays in the darkroom. By placing the easel support about 30" from the floor, you will have a nice, comfortable working height from a seated position. However, depending on your particular body size, you might want to modify the measurement slightly for your own, personal preference.

For more information, contact Charles Beseler Co., 1600 Lower Rd., Linden, NJ 07036; (800) 237-3537, (908) 862-7999; fax: (908) 862-2464;

Wall Mounting Tips
· Wall mounting enlargers can improve their stability and help to make sharper prints.
· Attach a support bracket to the top of the enlarger to reduce vibration.
· Attach a thick sheet of plywood to the wall and then mount the enlarger onto the plywood.
· Wall mounting the enlarger helps to deal with low ceilings in basement darkrooms.

polmarhollan's picture

Thanks for this instructive presentation. By reading this allocation I've gained quite handy lessons about the darkroom wall mounting enlargers, and such lessons will be helpful to fit any wall mount in my home.
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multimediatech's picture

darkroom wall mounting enlargers are very helpful. Very informative article, thanks.