Tuesday, May 17, 2011

TCB - Tylenol, Vitamin C and Borax revamped.

Michel published a version of this, early on when he joined the team here.

I was most interested, but had no access to borax at the time

(my secret stash of borax, utilized when I took class with one of the country's top blacksmiths, learning how to make knife-blades in the 1000 year old tradition from viking ages simply had vanished. Borax is used in blade-smithing to protect the steel and iron from oxygen and faciliate removal of scales, we vikings make blades in a 3-layer process, fuzing two layers of iron to one layer of hardening steel in the middle, giving rize to a hard, sharp edge, protected by two layers of nonharedned iron, som the blade is flexible and durable). 

I finally got hold of a 1000 gram box, and is ready to give this a spin, while I'm waithing for my box of phenidone to show up.

Looking over Michel's recipe, I still find it too hard to understandt to be popular.  I feel we need to make it simpler, while keeping to good bits.

I ahve a set of objerctives here :

  • I want to get rid of coffe entirely, as its the least understood and controllabel ingredient.
  • I want to use as many easy-to-get ingredients as possible, since everyone can seet that commercial suppliers are fast vinishing.
  • I want to refine MM's recipe, so that anyone can follow this easily.

Discussing the original recipe.

Have a look at MM's instalment back in march, "tylenol and ascorbate - it works!"
There he gives his formula and explanation. My gut-feeling at the time was that this was too imnvolved, too hard to do, and too hard to copy, even for mee, with a chemistry background and many years of labor in a laboratory in my earlier days.

So I set myself the task to refine it, while keeping all the good parts, I still think this has great potential, even if it was placed on the backburner at the time by other and more pressing stuff.

Hopefully Michael will take part in this and offer his advice,  currently I've seen few if any with a deeper understanding of Patric Gainer's writings....

Looing at the original recipe for TCB a few things strikes me :
  • The idea of mixing ascorbic acid with sodium bicarbonate FIRST, then adding tylenol, to protect the tylenol from unwanted oxidation is very good, I thnk that was what sunk my SALS project.
  • The idea of using a little NaOH (0.2M) to convert the Tylenol is splendid.
  • ph is lowered at a later stage by adding massive amounts of Borax, this gives longer, more controllable development times: good idea.

However there are flies in the ointment :

In the description unnecessary uncertainity rises because we talk of several things in a disorderly fashion :
  • we talk about borax saturate solution
  • we talk about tylenol solution
  • we talk about part A, part B
  • what we need is a simple, easy to follow recipe, much like when my grandma baked bread, and passed her secrets on to my mother, my wife and ultimately me....
I will try to correct this and offer a simple, easy to follow recipe, with development times advice and later examples of work done with this.  The rules are simple :

  • the chemicals shall be easy to get, everday chemicals, save for one, borax.
  • the result will be two simple storage bottles, the chemicals used in a mix-before-use and discard fashion.
  • we use realively little of the expensive chemicals, so this will be a cheap developer to use
  • we offer an easy explanation on how to do this, so that anyone can do it


We start by mixing part A, then mix part B. Part A needs a little time to finish, in involves a few chemical reactions to take place, this needs time to be controllable and reliable. Therefore we start with part A a few days before we need it. Part B can be mixed the day its needed.

We offer a balanced mix, so that when part A is spent, so is part B, simple and easy to understand.
The objective of part B is mainly to dilute part A, to control fogging and make the developer controllable as far as times goes. A short development time will mean that differences in pour times, might give uneven results from time to time. 15 seconds in and 15 seconds out means more if the time is 5 minutes vs 15 minutes..... if one has a very old develoing tank, like me, I have many and uses many, in-out times easily can reach close to a minute altogether.

Part A is mixed with part B: 1 part A, 2 parts B.

I have lowered the initial concentration for longer development times, from Michels 7 minutes with TriX to about 10 - 11 minutes with TriX, and 14 - 16 minutes with C41 films.

Caution!  These recipes involves working with lye, NaOH at a strong concentration.

Lye is a very dangerous substance, be extremely cautios using this, wear safety glasses, the concentration will initially be 1 molar, which will take out the eyesight in minutes, if one is unlucky.  Also when mixing out lye add just alittle at a time, wix well, and most importantly stand thw mixing bottle in a container of as cold water as possible and have more cooling water AT HAND. If this boils, and fumes are expelled, leave the area immediately, this is very toxic, and make sure the area is ventilated before returning, and discard the boiled stuff after diluting it at least 1:10 with cold water.

Part A

Water     ........................              75 ml
Sodium bicarbonate   .............       2 gram
Ascorbic Acid      ...................       6 gram
Tylenol tablets      tbl @500 mg    4 gram
Water     .....................       fill to  100 ml
NaOH, lye pearls  ................         4 gram

Add the ingredients in the exact order given - there will be two distict chemical reactions, give time for them to take place.

Sodium bicarbonate should dissolve easily, ascrobic acid bubbles and gives microbubbles in solution, let this clear.
Tylenol tablets need to be crushed and dissolved, it reacts with the lye thats added after, and will give a vine-red solution, the idea here is that ascorbic acid protects the tylenol, so its not all oxidised by air (ascorbates will continue to protect the tylenol in solution).

For this reaction to complete, this solution needs to stand in a well closed bottle, as little air in it as possible, preferably in a cool, dark place, for 48 to 72 hours.  After this the part A is finished with further additives given below.

Part A  finished :

Preliminary mix .........................  100 ml
Water ..........................    to         300 ml
Ascorbic acid    ........................    10 gram
Borax      .................................    20 gram
Water ............................   to         500 ml

Part A is now finished and can be used as soon as it is tempered to 20 centigrade.

More ascorbic acid was added to give a 1:4 ratio between ascorbate and tylenol, give time for this to react - both the lye and the borax will convert the ascorbic acid. Borax dissolves slowly and is close to saturation here, if the mix temeperature is too low it might not all dissolve.

This the finished Part A, ready to be diluted for use with Part B.

Part B

Water .....................................   500 ml
Potassium bromide (KBr)    .....    1.5 gram
Borax   ...................................    20 gram
Water    ........................... to     1000 ml

The potassium bromide control chemical fogging, less will give a more active developler and shorter development times, but possibly fog. more works the opposite.
Borax con trol the pH in the mix, countering the lye in part A, keeping fogging at bay, controlling time.

Part B is finished and can be used at 20 centigrade.

  In use.

In use :

Single-shot use. This is what Michael suggested, as I understand him (!) but since concentration is a bit lower, we must adjust the times.

Mix 1 part A  with 2 parts B  use one time, discard the used developer.

This mixture will be enough for 1,5 litre developer, or enough for 5 films at 300 ml per tank, constant development times.  Since we use 16 grams of vitamine C and 4 grams of Tylenol, divide that with 5 and ascertain we are (still) frugal!

Times :  (still experimental, based on Micheals suggestions and plain guesstimates)
B/W film 100 - 200 ISO  11 - 13 minutes at 20 centigrade
B/W film  400 ISO and above   15 - 18 minutes at 20 centigrade
C41 colorfilms, developed to B/W   15 - 16 minutes at 20 centigrade

All times will be subject to cange with temperature.
All times based on staandard agitation regime, make sure the film is entirely covered by fluid!
All times based on no form of pre-wetting the film, I do NOT advocate pre-wetting of films!

Agitation regime:
Constant agitation (slow turns or slow rotation) fo theirs 3t 60 seonds.
Thereafter 3 to 4 slow turns once every minute for the duration of time.

I have no advice on stand development.

To be researched :

These solutions should keep well. One of the most interesting bits is to find out wether this developer can be mixed all up and stored like ordinary D76.

If that is possible, it could be used like D76, to develop ca 10 - 12 films from one bottle, its easy to find out, comparing with Cofenol CCM, that we  throw out ca 50% of the ascorbates here.....

If that is possible, if this developer will keep in a closed bottle, semi- or half-used like D76, we simly adjust developing times like this:

1. film 12 minutes
2. film 12 x 1.06 = 12:45 min
3 film  12 x 1.12 = 13:30 min

i.e. keep adding 6% time from start-time per film developed.

To takew this one notch further, compared to D76, 1:1 development.
D76 can be used as a one-shot developer, by diluting 1:1 with water, doubling development times.

If this developer keeps ready-mixed in a bottle, diluted 1:1 with double dev. times as a startpoint should be investigated.

WQhile waiting for my phenidone, this waht I'll be looking into.


  1. This looks good.

    I would be inclined to add ascorbic acid to part B as well so that when you dilute, you keep the preservative and pH levels constant.

    Regarding potassium bromide, I found that you don't need it so I would try without first.

    Regarding developer re-use, borax makes things interesting. It is a very good buffer and tends to keep activity levels constant. I found that when re-using developers with borax, you do not generally need to extend development times.

    I'm sure you will like this developer. I can make it with supplies from the local hardware store (borax and lye are sold there) and pharmacy (tylenol and ascorbic acid) so it's a good home-brew developer in the same spirit as Caffenol.

    Things get really interesting once you get phenidone. I've said enough about it already so I'll wait for your feedback ;-)

  2. Interesting that you can find borax at the local hardware store. What is it used for and sold for, other than for photo purposes (that might be a clue to unfortunate europeans, where to start looking).

    I only wish I could crack the code and find out who are selling sodium thiosulphate, finding fixer will be our biggest problem once this current digitalization has reached its endpoint....

    I will note your valuable advice, once my current test-run is complete, I will mix as outlined, and use half of it as "D76" and the other half as one-shot developer, so we get a lot of datapoints quickly.

    I have dusted off a Canon EOS 50e, this camera has the valuable asset, allowing me to set up 3-picture runs, 1 on-ISO, second +1 ISO, last -1 ISO.

    To test and put this in perspective I grab my stash of Kodak Gold 200. One 36 roll yeald 12 separate 3-picture runs, and compare results with the same film and camera developed in Cafenol CM.

    Comparing one-shot development and continued use from one mix will allow me to close in on correct development times, and allow me to switch to ordinary B/W very easily, I already have data from Cafenol......

  3. Regarding borax, in Canada we find it in the laundry section in either hardware or grocery stores but not all carry it.

    Regarding fixer, it is a challenge that I have struggled with for some time. I use a slightly easier to mix version of TF-3 as follows:

    Ammonium Thiosulfate - 480g
    Sodium Sulfite - 60g
    Borax - 3.46g
    Sodium Hydroxide - 0.73g
    Water to make 1L

    Dilute 1:4 for use with a water stop.

    It works out well for me as ammonium thiosulfate is the only additional ingredient I need to stock (I already have the others).

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  5. Hm, that is a rapid-fixer as well and not acid as well : i.e. a good fixer for Cafenol, since the soda isn't apt to produce CO2 bubbles in the emultion, like a traditional acid fixer....

    Should be cheap as well, if the ammonium isn't killing you.

    But this gives rise to another mystery : where do you find ammonium thiosulphate, and what is it ordinarily used for?

  6. I get ammonium thiosulfate from a local chemical supplier ... it's the same place I get my phenidone and sulfite. It's also used in fertilizer known as 12-0-0-26 or 15-0-0-20 or ATS (ammonium thiosulfate solution).

    I've been tempted to write a post, perhaps called "The Practical Darkroom - 2011 and Beyond", describing good alternatives to commercial chemicals, modern equipment, and generally how to get started in B&W quickly and inexpensively in this day and age. Not only are chemicals increasingly difficult to find but I believe that developers like Caffenol are not appropriate for first-time film users and can be misleading. Too many without prior B&W experience try Caffenol and claim absolute success despite grain, fog, or stain, as they have no reference. Just because you get "something" on the scanner doesn't mean it's good. I'm sure that many Caffenol users would be shocked at the look of a D-76 negative. My apologies for the mini rant.

  7. Thanx, I'll make a trip to the local farmers supply I think 12-0-0-26 rings a bell (but that might be the KC bombing 15 years ago.....)

    On to your rant, I agree - and disagree!
    A lot of the images seen on Flickr are absolutely catastrophes and get written up as "art"! And that is a shame and a disservice to those that has never seen a D76 or a Rodinal negative for that matter.

    BUT if you stay away from bad advice and sloppy work-methods you will get just as fiune negatives with Cafenol, sometimes better, since its a firgiving beast at its best.

    If one follows Reinholds advice - get a weight, measure everything and do the procedure as told, the results will be absolutely fine.

    However one more 2011 fly in the ointment: many of the fine film-factories have closed shop, more will follow. Enthusiasts have to make do with films that was never thought for amateur consumtion. I was reminded of that the other day, reading about yet another start-up, trying to make do with low-ISO, high-contrast copy film......

    That said, I think your suggestions is the way to go, phenidone/ascorbate will most likely be my go-to developer.....

  8. I'm not knocking Caffenol, it definitely works, for example I think it is great with Fuji Acros. Reinhold has done excellent work by improving the accuracy which should improve repeatability. That being said, I know first hand what Tri-X in D-76 looks like (very common materials) so I have a known quantity to compare to.

    Many are developing their first film with Caffenol and would not be able to determine if a negative is thick, thin, or has fog. The negative gets thrown on the scanner, levels adjusted, and they claim great success. This is the main reason why my own test samples are not processed at all ... just straight scans to show all the faults while at the same time showing all that's good. This is a problem with any home-brew developer and not just Caffenol. Somebody could just as easily severely over-develop negatives with D-76 or Rodinal and get "something" on the scanner and claim success despite it being a grainy foggy mess. The variable of coffee in Caffenol just makes this worse and actually increases the need for a good reference so someone new has an idea of what a "normal" negative should look like. I liken it to driving a car exclusively in second gear. It can be made to work and get you where you need to be claiming "success" but using all the gears make for a more "normal" driving experience.

    Regarding film, you have a very valid point and concern. Fortunately for the time being we should be able to satisfy most of our film requirements with products from Kodak, Fuji, Ilford, and others. We must be flexible and adjust as fewer products are available. It's definitely not a future I look forward to but it's reality.

  9. We're on the same page here MM.

    Same observations as far as both Cafenol and other alternative deevelopers goes, and as far as many that boasts over dysmal failures as far as development and picture quality goes.

    I originally started in this to try to establish some standards, my idea was that Cafenol was just another developer, to be treated like any other, and in need of some standardization.

    I did like what I found - Reinhold was my biggest inspiration here, but did also find a certain element of un-predictabilty.

    Like you I figgered coffee to be tha main culprit, especially in many of the failure reports. That and failure to find the right ingredients.

    I started to debate alternatives early on, and concentrated on tylenol, simce that is a known entity, you can buy it, the same in ever bottle, guaranteed by the government.

    You pointing in the direction of phenidone has been a great bonus. We are like MM, you are open to debate and not apt to jump into the trenches, starting a debate just for the debate, and just to win an argument.

    I'm looking for solutions, so are you, I think we will be able to show excellent results in a short while - you have already, and I'm eager to try your new brew!