Never Say Never – My Approach to Spiral Modification for 110 Film

After my first, recent experience of the 110 format I concluded that I wasn’t won over to the it despite the camera being so good to use. In fact, it made me more interested than I expected after subsequently reading and re-reading various articles on the subject here and elsewhere. Bob Janes’ posts (such as this one) and others sparked my interest, especially regarding fabricating 110 reels for film development.

They reminded me that I had an orphan half of a development tank spiral that came from some forgotten source and which is almost identical to the Paterson System 4 spiral I use regularly. The inner core half of my System 4 spiral fits into it dimensionally, only the mating grooves have different mouldings at the end which prevent the two parts from sliding together. It is marked ‘Paterson’ though so is probably from one of their three earlier systems. It set me wondering if I could modify it to allow me to develop the 16mm wide 110 films myself and explore the format a little further.

Only tool needed is a razor saw or similar fine tooth saw.
Only tool needed is a razor saw or similar fine tooth saw.
Components after cutting. Off-cut discarded.
Components after cutting. Off-cut discarded.

The surgery

I really needed it to fit without requiring any modification to my solitary System 4 spiral so that I could continue to use the latter for larger film sizes. I was happy to cut down the orphaned half spiral to fit the film, however, which I did with the help of a razor saw. The surgery on the orphan half removed the projecting mouldings that were preventing mating and allowed it to slip snuggly over the System 4 half. The spiral grooves are about 2mm deep so I cut the core down to 13mm to give a 1mm tolerance to the fit of the film.

Usual film loading arrangement retained.
Usual film loading arrangement retained.

Another fortunate coincidence was that the inner System 4 half is the one that rotates back and forth for loading so I felt that holding them together with the loading slots and ball-bearings in alignment should keep this function working. Testing with a developed film confirmed that it was and the grooves and ball bearings all worked well together. So if you have the choice, cut down the outer core half to retain this feature.

Putting it together

If you have a spare spiral pair to dedicate to the job you could now fix them together permanently. Gluing the two haves together would be a simple task with a gap filling adhesive like one of the Gorilla products. Job done.

My need was for a non-permanent solution, however, and my first idea for holding the two halves together was a dead end. I planned to use an O-ring but I couldn’t find one the right size.

Pop-up waste washer.
Pop-up waste washer.
Loading grooves and ball-bearings aligned.
Loading grooves and ball-bearings aligned.

Then I came across a 32mm Pop-up Waste washer while browsing the local DIY store plumbing section, a snug fit to the diameter of the inner, System 4 core. The shape of the rubbery material grips nicely too, holding things in position well and the 5-year warranty suggests it would cope with the chemicals. I think inversion would be risky with this set-up though, the repeated sloshing and knocking might work it apart and allow the film to come out of the spiral.

Smallest size jubilee clip.
Smallest size jubilee clip.

My next option was a small jubilee clip, giving a positive, secure fixing and being made from stainless steel would survive the chemical environment. It should also be strong enough for inversion agitation when required but it didn’t hold the two spiral halves in alignment to help with loading.

In the end I used the washer and the jubilee clip together which gave me positive alignment of the loading arrangement as well as secure connection between the two spiral sections for inversion agitation, which I would need to be tested out of course.

So with the arrival of some more film I was set to try developing C41 in Rodinal, something I felt would suit the format, to take advantage of the fine grain of C41 film, and be economical too to sit well with my Yorkshire up-bringing.

The proof of the pudding

After shooting off a Lomography Tiger colour print film, I teased out the end of the film and backing paper ready to load the spiral in the dark. This went surprisingly smoothly, pulling the backing paper brings the end of the film out enough to grip it and pull both out fully. Connections between film, backing and reel are not tightly secured so gentle tugs easily free things. Once I had managed to control the madly curling strip of film, the ball-bearing loading mechanism worked well and the film slid smoothly into the grooves.

I used “tri-stand” development (i.e. three agitations – 30 sec. at the start plus two more for 5 secs. 20 minutes apart) to maybe boost contrast a little to help overcome the base colour. Development was in 1:100 Rodinal for 1 hour at 20ºC after a 2 minute pre-soak. Not having tested out inversion I agitated with the rod.

After fixing, again agitating with the rod, I used inversion for the Ilford style wash stage which left the spiral firmly in position. So inversion should be safe for the other stages too.

The curling eased out after processing and drying I am pleased to say leaving the film nicely flat.


I haven’t seen this arrangement proposed elsewhere but there is nothing new under the sun as they say. It does provide another, mechanical way to convert spirals without connecting them permanently for occasional use if that is what you need like me. And, apart from needing some care when cutting down the spiral, is also easy to do and can be taken apart again after use.

Example from a thin negative.
Example from a thin negative.
Better grain but contrast could be improved.
Better grain but contrast could be improved.

Some of the results weren’t too bad though the grain was less fine than expected, noticeably in the thinner negatives. I have always found that exposure on the generous side always benefits colour negative emulsions anyway. There was some tramline scratching in places suggesting drawing the film out through the gate may be the cause so that needs looking at. And I still need to work on development times and exposure a bit more, contrast was a bit too heavy, so it looks like the 460 Tx will be getting a bit more action sooner than expected.

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8 thoughts on “Never Say Never – My Approach to Spiral Modification for 110 Film”

  1. Tony, I must be slightly older than you! When I started developing my Brownie Model E 620 films in 1948, I couldn’t afford a developing tank.
    The standard recommended method back then was to hold each end of the film forming a U with the developer etc in 3 trays. Yo Yo the film up and down a second or so each up and each down. It worked very well. The film didn’t scratch but it’s best to have the emulsion side in. These days with health and safety etc, you’d wear rubber gloves of course. That’s the low tech method I’d use. PS I live at the other end of NZ.

    1. If you are over 84 Graham then you are older than me but I have been there, done that as they say. Though I can black out my shower room at night OK, it is too cramped to work as a darkroom so the daylight tank is unavoidable I am afraid. But you are correct of course. Smoothly moving the film through the processing solution with a yo-yo action is a long established method. The one drawback if you are a fan of compensating development is that it is effectively continuous agitation and will increase contrast slightly and not give the edge effects so helpful with small negatives and a feature of many developers. I made my first contact prints around the same time as your first forays into film development so maybe you do have a year or two on me. Glad to hear there are other survivors out there. Regards.

      1. Thanks for your reply Tony. Yes I am slightly over 84 and living in an apartment now, I understand the difficulty of processing film, no longer having a dark room. But a bathroom or laundry can easily be used at night. Although yo yoing film through trays using 1:100 Rodinal for an hour would be quite tedious. One of the advantages of using the old fashioned and forgotten method of tray processing is the small amount of chemicals required

        Have you compared Rodinal with D76 for processing 16mm size film?

        I read about someone processing 16 mm film by taping ( or stapling might be better ) it emulsion side out to the centre of a blank already processed 35mm film and loading that combination into a standard spiral and tank which seems a good idea. If you’re not sure in the dark which side is the emulsion, simply kiss the end of the film and the emulsion side will stick to your lips.
        But it was ingenious of you to modify a spiral. If I could find a working Minox camera I would snap it up

        1. The piggy-back on 35mm film is a very good idea if nothing else is available. Very ingenious. And Rodinal has been my sole developer for many years because it is so durable and economical. I used to use ID 11, similar to D76, but it didn’t keep very long at all at a time when I was still in the thrall of digital and not using as much film. I find Rodinal gives nice grain at most dilutions, not too noticeable and very even. My last bottle is nearly finished, however, so I might try an alternative or two with these small negs. Couldn’t even contemplate yo-yoing a film for even 6 minutes these days. Regards.

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