Easy reel loading
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Warning: Only load film in total darkness. These pictures were taken as demonstrations.
I have always promoted plastic reels and tanks as the easiest way to load and process the film but I also recommend a small modification.
Jammed film as I try to get it moving smoothly on the reel
The way round this of course, is to remove these ball bearings and use our fingers to grip the film as we twist the reel. This efficiently pulls the film on without any fear of damaging it.
So, not only is this quicker, but it’s safer too!
Follow these simple instructions.
Ball bearing designed for pulling the film on to the reel
Cover behind bearing, it's only glued
I carefully cut this off with a modeling knife and remove the bearing from each side. Here it is with the ball bearing out
Now that we have removed the bearings the film will slip onto the reel very easily with no fear of damaging the film edges.
To load the film (in the dark of course!)
Before you start, make sure that the reel is absolutely clean and dry. I use a toothbrush to clean the reel with warm soapy water between uses and a hair drier to warm and dry any slight dampness immediately before use - even if you think it is dry already! You can also wash reels in the dishwasher but beware, dishwashers can be abrasive and cause the reel to become stickier as the film tries to glide by course grooves.
Push it into the slot as normal but continue to push (or pull it) at least half way round the reel. Now grip the film with your fingers placed lightly on the outer face as you twist the reel to pull the film on. Alternate which side grips the film as you twist. Don't worry, you will not scratch it.
Pull the film half way round the reel when first inserted. It will pull on easily now
With 35mm, when you get to the end of the cassette, do not tear the film off but cut it carefully with safety scissors. With 120 medium format carefully tear it from the sticky tape that holds it to the backing paper and fold the tape over to stick to the other side of the film - it will not effect processing. Then finish off loading the reel a full turn to get the film away from the sides of the tank when inserted.
After removing the bearings it's a good idea to use an old film for practice.