Modify a Paterson Film Reel to Process 110 Film




110 film is back and for the first time Black and White 110 film is readily available. It is really easy to process at home, if you have a reel that can fit it. There are some commercially available reels but I had a spare Paterson Auto-load Reel so I just decided to cut it down to size.

It was really easy to do, but I thought I would share how I did it. It is not perfect, it is ugly, but it works for me. Feel free to improve on it!

1) a spare patterson reel
2) some epoxy cement
3) a hacksaw or something to cut down the spools
4) a small screwdriver to pop out the ball bearings
5) some needlenose pliers (or something else to trim away some of the spiral on the spool)
6) some sandpaper to smooth down the trimmed down spirals
7) a strip of spare 35mm film to make a 110 test strip (so you do not wreck your negs when we are making this) and a 18mm spacer strip (that is wider than 110 film -- 16mm, so that real 110 film will have some wiggle room).

THIS IS A HACK JOB and is likely not as good as a purpose built spool for developing 110 film. If you want a 100% perfect solution you may want to get one of these purpose-made 110 spools. They exist. There are 16mm stainless steel spools available and also the Yankee Clipper II Tank (which gets mixed reviews). This is a hack job that worked for me and it may work for you. Read through it first and see if it makes sense for you, your mileage may vary, don't hurt yourself doing this, use a roll test roll of 110 film (that does not have any important images on it in case things do not work out), feel free to improve upon it, etc. If you are a perfectionist, you may want to do a better job than i did or buy a commercial product.

Step 1:

First of all you need 2 pieces of film which I suggest you make out of some spare 35mm film you have kicking around. I used some negatives that did not work out, but you could use anything.

Cut one strip of the film to be 16mm wide. This is the width of 110 film. I will call this the "test strip" and will use this to make sure our setup is correct before we actually use the reel, and to practice loading the reel before we really use it. It would be nice if this piece was a foot  or so (~30cm), but just make sure it is long enough to simulate loading some film. I suggest this versus using real 110 negatives because if you use real 110 negatives they could get scratched. Plus, you may not have any 110 negatives at this point -- this is kind of the reason we are making this danged thing in the first place ;-)

Cut a second piece of film that is a bit wider, lets say about 18mm wide. We will use this piece to space the reel halves in such a way that when the 110 film is inserted there will be some wiggle room. Make this piece long enough that it can spiral around the reel at least once. A foot (~30cm) should be more than fine.

For both pieces, you should round or notch the corners of the edge of one end of the film to help it slide into the reel.

Step 2:

Cut down the hubs of the 2 halves of the reel. I cut the 'inner half' (the one with the smaller diametre hub) down to about .75" (~20mm) and the other half of the spool I cut down to about .25" (6-7mm). You could probably leave hub of the inner half at its normal width and just cut down the hub for the outer half of the reel.

I also removed the ratchet mechanism on each reel half before I assembled it. I popped out the ball bearings on both sides with a screwdriver. I did this, as the spool will not ratchet any more and it will be loaded by merely pushing the negatives into the spiral.

Around the ball bearing mechanism there is a bit of a zigzag in the path for the negatives, so that the ball bearing can ratchet against the negatives. As we are not using this method to load the negatives, I trimmed back the first bit of the spiral so that the negatives would slide in earier.

Unfortunately I decided to trim this part of the spiral back after I had glued the two pieces together, so I was limited in how I could cut it away. I decided just to break it off with a set of needle nosed pliers and sand it down a bit. It is more than adequate (it is not pretty but it works!) but you can do a nicer job of trimming it back if you do this before assembling! Make sure you sand the area where the new lip is to the spiral -- see the rightmost note in either image below.

Step 3:

The last step is to glue the two pieces together. I positioned the reels in the more or less correct spot and then used the 18mm wide piece of film to space the reels correctly.

Slide the 18mm strip of film into the reel, holding the 2 halves together at the correct distance. As we made this strip a few mm wider than real 110 film, we can have if it is snug it should still have enough wiggle room when we slide in the real negatives.

With this strip loaded, carefully place the spool on the table in such a manner that the 18mm strip does not pop out. Place it with the opening of the centre of the reel facing as is shown in the second photo below.

Mix up a little epoxy glue and dab a bit between the two halves of the reel. Don't use a lot as we will want to test it with the 16mm strip we made (which is the same width as real 110 film), to make sure it slides in and out easily. Make sure the two halves of the reel are parallel to each other.

When the glue has set (but maybe before it has reached its maximum hardness), carefully pull out the 18mm film and try sliding in the 16mm film. You will want to notch the corners of the film as shown in the first picture on this page.

When you are sure that the setup is correct, apply a bit more glue and let it harden.

To use this reel, carefully slide the negs in (with the front corners notched as in the last picture) and when everything is done carefully slide the wet negs out to hang and dry.

While this is a home-made affair I have found it works quite well.



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    8 Discussions


    2 months ago on Step 3

    What a great project. I have been developing my own C41 for a few years now and keep a dribbly old 1950's tank & universal spiral just for the 110. I have a brand new AP universal tank which is compatible with Paterson reels and is a dream to use. But it can't handle 110. This is the perfect solution. Thank you! By the way, why take out the ratchet? Won't it work?

    1 reply

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thanks! I forgot I posted this haha. The ratchet was not working and just getting in the way. Normally the 2 halves of the patterson reel are able to partially rotate against each other (letting you "zigzag" them back and forth) to create the motion which the ratchet mechanism uses to advance the film. But since I have just glued the pieces together, the ratchet has nothing to "ratchet" against and is therefore useless. But why get rid of it?

    Since I do not have the "back and forth" motion to "ratchet" the film in, I am loading it by gently sliding the 110 film in. This is not that hard to do since a) 110 film is not that long and fairly rigid (relative to its narrow width) and b) we spaced the 2 pieces of the reel so there is a bit of wiggle room to slide the film in. Since we are are loading the film by sliding it in, I want to remove as much friction as possible and that ratchet mechanism (which is not helping) is a source of potential friction that I wanted to eliminate.

    Disclaimer: Tiny negatives are this "rabbit hole" I go down now and then -- and then my friends have an "intervention" and I then I am free from my "tiny neg addiction" for a while! I am currently back to shooting 120 and 35 so I have not shot any 110 for a while. The main issue was that I found scanning to be a pain. I will never get rid of my cute little Pentax Auto 110 tho as it is just too damned cute!!!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Film? I seem to remember something about this from when I was much younger, but it's all a blur now. Isn't that when you couldn't hold over 1000 pictures on your camera, and didn't see which ones were bad and needed to be deleted right away? I think that's it.

    5 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Film allows you to have a fresh sensor for every shot with none of the heartbreak of "sensor dust."

    You can also change sensors to suit your subject: you have color sensors, black and white sensors, grainy ones, grainless ones, etc. I guess you can spend your time in photoshop approximating the look of film, but less time staring at a screen is better for your health.

    Best of all, you have a max of 36 exposures not thousands. When you have this few, you make them count! Who wants to wade through 3,000 images of Timmy's first grade play?

    Although it takes a little more skill and practice, even the most addicted digital photographer can graduate to film.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Nano, I tell my kids about the good old days of film, and how you only had 24 or 36 shots. And, how each shot cost you money. Not just the ones they charged you for because they came out, but the ones that didn't still cost you money in terms of the film. And duplicates were extra, so if your friend wanted a copy of that....

    That said, I will agree with you that for the purist, film is the way to go. But for me, when I'm shooting Timmy's first grade play, I'll take digital, and about 200 pictures.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    MM, Just ran across this article from Pedapixel:

    Interesting discussion on the cost of digital photography. Film is obviously not a panacea for all, but it still retains many advantages.

    The biggest joy for me is more intangible; the joy of working with mechanics, optics, electronics, chemistry, and fluid dynamics to bring about your artistic vision or just plain good snapshot. I also enjoy the risk of making mistakes that may or may not look cool as well. Risk may not be so good for financial institutions, but it does add interest to the photographic process.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Haha, if film 'is all a blur now' you should use a faster shutter speed, or some gnarly, grainy 3200 ISO film ;-)