We are often asked this question. So, I've put together my recommendations for a basic Black & White Darkroom. I chose not to cover a color darkroom, because color can be expensive and frustrating. Not to say it shouldn't be done, but lets start with the basics. Black & White is fun and easy.
Film Developing Equipment
Developing Tank and Reel - Your choices are stainless steel or plastic.
Plastic reels are easier to load than stainless steel. I recommend a tank and reel system compatible with Patterson reels. I personally think stainless steel reels are easier to load once you learn how. Stainless steel is also easier to keep clean. The more expensive reels are usually made of a heavier gage steel so they don't bend as easy.
Chemical Storage Bottles - These are for storing your chemicals. Brown bottles are best, but clean milk bottles or water bottles will work. If you use these, you should store the developer in a dark place, like under the sink. Also look for ones with a screw on cap.
Thermometer - A stainless steel dial thermometer is what I like best. I haven't broken one yet... Your developing temperature will be between 65 and 78 degrees. Developing times will vary depending on the temperature of the developer. Be sure all chemicals are as close to the same temperature as possible. A difference of over 5 to 10 degrees may cause problems.
Film Squeegee - Use this to carefully remove the excess water from your film when you hang it up to dry. A clean sponge or even your fingers will work, just be sure they are clean. Be careful not to scratch your negatives. The emulsion is very soft when wet.
Timer - Used to time your film development. I like the Graylab 300, but a kitchen timer or watch with a second hand will work.
Negative Sleeves - Once you film is dry cut the negatives in strips and slip them into negative sleeves. These sleeves will protect you negatives from scratches and dust.
Film Developing Chemicals
Developer - This is the chemical that changes the exposed parts of the film to metallic silver (the dark parts of the negative). There are hundreds to choose from. I suggest Kodak D-76 a powder that does have to be mixed before use. I pour the used developer back in the storage bottle and re-use it. I think it is better after about 5 to 10 rolls have been run through a gallon. Kodak T-MAX developer is easy, because it is a liquid and you only have to dilute it before using it. Be sure to store it in an air tight dark brown bottle or in a dark place.
Stop Bath - This chemical stops the action of the developer. Kodak Indicator Stop Bath is my preference. It is a diluted acetic acid with an indicator that turns blue when it is exhausted. It can be reused and has a very long shelf life. A stop bath will extend the life of your fixer. A water rinse may be used if you do not have stop bath.
Fixer - This chemical removes all of the unexposed silver halides from the film. Kodak Fixer (a powder) is the old stand by. Liquid fixers are also available. Fixers can be used over and over, until it is exhausted. Check the package for the recommended number of rolls. After your film is fixed, you can do the rest of the steps in the light. It is no longer light sensitive. Your next step is washing in running water.
Wetting Agent - After your film is washed, use a wetting agent such as Kodak Photo Flo. This will help reduce the chance of water spots forming while the film is drying. Hang the film to dry. Film clips are nice, but cloths pins work almost as well. Be sure to let you film dry in a dust free place.
Print Making Equipment
Enlarger with Lens - The enlarger projects the image from you negative on to the enlarging paper. There are many types and brands of enlargers ranging from under two hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. The Beseler Cadet II is a very good enlarger for making B&W prints up to 8"x10" from 35mm negatives.
Enlarging Timer - This is used to time the exposure. Exposure times will normally run somewhere between two seconds and one minute depending on the size of your prints and the density of your negatives. One of the keys to making good prints is consistency and a good repeating timer that turns your enlarger on and off will help with this. You can use any kind of timer you can see under the safelight and turn the enlarger on and off manually, but you will not have the consistency.
Safelight - In order to navigate in the darkroom during paper exposure and processing you need to use a light that the paper cannot "see." Most popular papers are safe with a dark amber colored light. This is called an "OC" safelight filter. Safelights are available in a variety of types and sizes from a colored bulb to safelight fixtures.
Enlarging Easel - This holds the enlarging paper flat and in the right place during exposure. I like the Premier 4-in-1 easel. It can be used to make wallet size, 3.5x5", 5x7" or 8x10" prints with a border.
Variable Contrast Filters - Can be used with variable contrast paper to adjust the contrast of your print. Without these filters most variable contrast papers are considered normal contrast grade (#2). Acetate filters are made to be used above the negative in your enlarger. There are also filters made to be used under the lens.
Grain Focusing Aid - This is not a necessity, but it's nice to have. You can be sure you have focused the enlarger properly - It's fast and easy.
Negative Brush - Dust off your negative before printing. Blower Brushes are good, but a Staticmaster Brush is better. This brush neutralizes the static on the negative so it doesn't attract dust. Canned air is also very useful. Be sure to read "Dust Dust" at the end if this article.
Developing Trays - You need three of them... One for Developer, one for Rinse (Stop Bath) and one for Fixer. Trays one size lager than the prints you are making make the process much easier.
Print Washer - Since RC (Resin Coated) papers do not need a lot of washing time, washing the prints in an another tray will work fine.
Print Tongs - These are used to handle the prints during processing. Tongs are made of plastic, stainless steel or Bamboo. I prefer the bamboo tongs, because there is less chance of scratching the prints. You need three sets of tongs. One for each chemical.
Print Squeegee - Used to squeegee the excess water from the prints after washing. Clean paper towels will also work.
Chemical Storage Bottles - (see Storage Bottles for Film Developing above) - You need three bottles unless you are using the same Stop Bath and Fixer for your film.
Print Making Chemicals and Paper
Developer - This is the chemical that changes the exposed parts of the paper to metallic silver (the dark parts of the print). I like Kodak Dektol (a powder) and makes a stock solution which is diluted when you are ready to use it. Dilute only enough for what you will use in an evenings printing. Once it is diluted and used in a tray it is only good for a few hours. Be sure to store the stock solution in an air tight dark brown bottle or in a dark place.
Stop Bath - (This can be the same as you use for film developing.) This chemical stops the action of the developer. Kodak Indicator Stop Bath is my preference. It is a diluted acetic acid with an indicator that turns blue when it is exhausted. It can be re-used and has a very long shelf life. A water rinse can be used if you do not have stop bath. If you use water - change it often.
Fixer - (This can be the same as you use for film developing.) This chemical removes all of the unexposed silver halides from the paper. Kodak Fixer (a powder) is the old stand by. Liquid fixers are also available. Fixers can be used over and over, until it is exhausted. Check the package for the recommended number of prints. After your print is fixed, you can do the rest of the steps in the light. It is no longer light sensitive. Your next step is washing in running water.
Enlarging Paper - Start out with an RC (resin coated) variable contrast paper like Kodak Polycontrast or PolyMax. I recommend Kodak, because it is the easiest to find. Many photographers and Photo instructors prefer Ilford, because they feel it give a nicer tonal range. This is just a personal choice. These papers are considered to be "normal contrast" papers. If you need to increase (or decrease) the contrast of your print use the Variable contrast Filters.
This may seem like a long and complicated list, but it really isn't... As a mater of fact you can get all of the basic equipment (except for the paper and chemicals) with the Beseler Cadet II Enlarger and Beseler Developing Outfit.