Just last week I placed a bid on a lovely camera: a Pentax Auto 110. This small but very well built camera is the cutest and tiniest SLR I have ever seen. When I won the auction I started preparing for its arrival: buy some batteries, order some film, find a developing reel… And that’s where I ran into trouble! As hard as I tried, I couldn’t find a reel to develop 110 film, anywhere! So I had to pull up my sleeves and get dirty.
When I bought the Pentax Auto 110 I didn’t realize it would be so hard to find a developing reel for this small format film. But since I had been developing all my own film for the last two months, B&W, color, 35mm, and 120, I had no intention to return to my old ways and drop it off at the lab. Surely there was a solution out there.
Truth is, there are a couple of options, but none turned out in my favor. First, there is the Yankee Clipper II tank. This tank comes with an adjustable reel that will take 110 film. Problem: it is out of stock. By a stroke of luck I found a second hand tank in the US, but the incredulous shipping fee didn’t make it a feasible option. Second, I was told the older version of the Paterson system, the Paterson Universal 3, also comes with a reel for 110. Problem: they have been out of production for decades, and waiting for a used one to pass by on an auction site would take forever, so again, not an option. Third possibility: it appears there are some stainless steel reels out there. Problem: this reel wouldn’t work with any of my developing tanks. So I got left with the least desirable option: if you can’t buy it, you make it!
Looking for online instructions on how I would best approach this led me to this tutorial. Though the basic idea was good, start from a normal Paterson reel and cut it down to fit 110, the outcome presented looked a bit like a brutal hack job.
On top of the ragged look it had also lost all functionality:
- The ball bearings were taken out, so no more automatic film feeding
- The reel was glued shut, fixed, no more possibility to open it up and carefully remove your freshly developed film.
Both are features that I didn’t want to lose in my version of a 110 reel. The ball bearings are what makes spooling your film in a dark bag so much easier, and being able to open the reel helps prevent unnecessary scratching of your wet film. Somehow I managed to produce a 110 reel that remained fully functional and the best thing is it took me less than 10 minutes. Here is how in 3 simple steps:
Step 1: resize the center tube with the biggest diameter
You have to size down the tube to 12mm (or as close to that as possible). To make things easier I put some red tape around the tube at the correct distance and used a fine metal saw to do the cutting. When it’s done, you can sand down any sharp edges. Don’t throw away the piece of tube you just cut off, you’ll need it!
Step 2: remove a very small but very specific piece from the center tube with smallest diameter
The piece you need to remove is the small triangular shape that serves as a stop when closing the reel. Look closely to the before and after pics below.
Step 3: resize the piece of tube you just cut of
The idea is to keep the reel so that it can be opened and closed, therefore no glue can be used. Instead we’ll use the small tube we just cut off. If you look it the inside you’ll see the structures used for locking and unlocking the reel. Those can still be used, just on a different position on the tube. The smallest diameter tube has 3 positions for these structures to lock in to: close to the base, somewhere halfway up, and at the very top. That’s where we want them to be. So flip the tube so that the locking structures are up and slide it down the smaller tube (this will only be possible if step 2 was done right, if it doesn’t slide over the thinner tube locate the obstruction and cut it away with a knife). In my case, the tube was 2mm too high for the locking mechanism to take. So I sliced away thin slivers of plastic until it did take. A good sanding might also do the trick. If you have trouble understanding what I just explained, take a good look at the pictures below and it will become clear.
That’s it, you’re all done! Just put the pieces together and your good to start developing 110 film!
To prove to you all that it works well, I did a little functionality test. Check out the video!