This tutorial will introduce you to basic techniques for handling, inspecting, repairing, cleaning, storing, and identifying small gauge film. "Small" gauges most often include 16mm, Regular 8mm, and Super 8mm film.


Materials and supplies that may be useful for inspecting and caring for film include:    


Plastic canisters, cores, split reels, metal spools, also called supply reels and take-up reels, film ruler, rewinds, light table, lupe, film cleaning cloth, film cleaner, cotton gloves, film marking pen, paper tape, scissors, press tape, splicer, film leader, and A-D strips


In order to inspect, clean, and rewind your film, you must load it onto a set of rewinds. In order to do this, locate the tab on your film reel and the corresponding tab on the rewind peg. Insert the reel onto the peg so that the tabs meet and the reel is secure.


Once this is done, pull the end of the film around to the take up reel. Locate the slit in the take up reel and insert the end of the film into it, taking care to handle the film gently. Once your film is loaded on the rewinds, you can begin to inspect it for tears and splices, which can be destructive to the film if it is projected or handled.


Using a pair of cotton gloves, hold the film in one hand and turn the rewind crank with the other. You will notice when you encounter a tear or a splice this way. A lupe can also be used to further inspect the image on the film.


Over time, film begins to shrink and it is necessary to properly measure the extent of this shrinkage. If a film shrinks or contracts too much it may be impossible to project. One method of measuring the change in length can be accomplished by counting out 100 sprocket holes

on a new piece of film.  Then, by laying the new film next to a section of older film, the difference can be established and a percentage calculated.  If, for example, an older piece of film measures two sprocket holes off from the new film, then the older film has been reduced in length by 2 percent. 


When inspecting film it may be necessary to determine how many feet (or meters) are on a spool.  Some larger spools of 16mm film have measurement indicators printed right on them.  Transferring these measurements onto a piece of card stock will effectively create a film ruler to use on larger 16mm spools.  


Breaks in the film (or torn sprocket holes) can be repaired with a splicer. First lay one side of the break on the splicer to trim jagged edges. Press the sprocket holes onto the splicer's pegs until the film is flat. Close the handle to cut the film. Now trim the edge of the other side of the break the same way, but from the opposite side. To fasten the two sides together, lay them both on the splicer against the line. Use press tape to secure the ends together. Peel the backing of the tape off like a band-aid and press it onto the film around the splicer's tabs. Once this is done, flip the film and add tape to the other side.


In order to clean your film, spray a piece of cotton cleaning cloth with film cleaner and fold it around the film. Use one hand to slowly crank the side of the rewind with the reel onto which the film is being transferred. Alternate positions or replace the cloth when it becomes saturated with dirt and oil.  Depending upon the type of film cleaner used, ensure that the cleaning solution has dried adequately before storing film.


Once your film is wound around the take up reel, you may want to transfer it to a plastic core for storage. A split reel allows you to use a rewind to put film on a core. Separate the two sides of the split reel from one another by unscrewing them. Place the core onto the metal   peg in the middle and screw the pieces back together. Insert the split reel onto the rewinds as you would any other reel. Now pull the film around from the take-up reel and turn the crank.  Lightly place your other hand on the supply reel to tension the film, thus ensuring a snug and even film pack. The safest way to remove the core from the split reel is to lay the reel on a flat surface, unscrew the pieces, and use a plastic canister to secure the roll.


When preparing your reel for storage, it may be necessary to label the film with an inventory number or short title. Use a permanent marker to apply the label to paper tape, which can be adhered to the film's leader.


Larger collections of film may be found shelved in a vertical position.  The weight of these larger spools can cause stress to the film pack and create compressed openings and eventual deformation of the film.  For preservation, it is better to store film horizontally, stacked up to about eight cans high for larger spools and up to about twelve cans for smaller spools.


The ideal storage environment for film surrounds the 50/50 rule; 50ľ F/10ľ C and 50% Relative Humidity.  While these conditions are optimal, storing film in a location that is dry, cool, and experiences small fluctuations in temperature will help to prolong the life of film. 


Every type or size of film has certain identifiable characteristics. Three of the most common sizes of small gauge films are; Regular 8mm, Super 8mm, and 16mm.


Taking a closer look, here are a number of possible 16mm film elements.

Black & white film, bi-lateral variable area optical sound; color film, double bi-lateral variable area optical sound; multiple bi-lateral variable area optical sound; variable density optical sound; and magnetic sound.


Most film contains edge codes indicating such things as; brand, date of manufacture, place of manufacture, and type of film.  Here is an example of Eastman Kodak Safety film.


Taking a closer look, here are a few Super 8mm film elements. Sprocket hole position and size, larger frame size compared to regular 8mm film, edge code, and possible magnetic sound.


Here are a few Regular 8mm film elements.  Sprocket hole position and size, frame size, edge code, and as with Super 8mm film possible magnetic sound.


A large number of small gauge films are cellulose triacetate based; exposure to heat and humidity speeds up the deterioration of the film in a chemical reaction known as hydrolysis. As acetate ions react to moisture within the base, acetic acid is produced.  Because of the acetic acid smell given off in the reaction, the condition has been dubbed “vinegar syndrome.” 


Cellulose acetate film can be identified by its translucence. It can also be identified, as mentioned, by the smell of vinegar.   In such cases where the film is in an advanced stage of deterioration, wear a respirator in order to inspect the film.  This deterioration will also cause the film to shrink and to curl.


Acid detecting strips are a useful way of determining the level of chemical deterioration in cellulose triacetate.


Begin by placing a new (blue) strip into a film can and then closing the lid.  Replace the film on the shelf and leave for at least twenty four hours.  After the allotted time, remove the can from the shelf, open the lid and remove the now exposed acid detecting strip.


The color of the indicator strip is then compared to an indicator pencil to determine the stage of deterioration.  In this example, the acid detecting strip has turned yellow, and as indicated on the pencil, the film is at an advanced level.  In this case, the film needs to be reformatted either onto to new film stock or digitized.   


Small samples of film can also be burned to assist in the identification of cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate, and polyester based films.  Note: this method is only to be conducted using small samples of film, in a controlled environment, and by a trained technician. 


Begin by securing a small piece of film into a pair of metal forceps.

Strike a match and apply to the end of the film sample. Nitrate film will burn extremely fast, and give off a strong yellow flame. Repeat the procedure with cellulose acetate. Cellulose acetate typically will not burn down, will smell of burning grass or paper, and leave a powdery ash.  Last, repeat the procedure with polyester.  Polyester will smell of burning plastic, and leave a sticky residue.


This concludes the tutorial on Small Gauge Film: The Basics