To compare treatment success of large- and small-bore chest drains in the treatment of spontaneous pneumothoraces the case-notes were reviewed of those admitted to our hospital with a total of 73 pneumothoraces and who were treated by trainee doctors of varying experience. Both a large- and a small-bore intercostal tube drain system were in use during the two-year period reviewed. Similar pneumothorax profile and numbers treated with both drains were recorded, resulting in a similar drain time and numbers of successful and failed re-expansion of pneumothoraces. Successful pneumothorax resolution was the same for both drain types and the negligible tube drain complications observed with the small-bore drain reflected previously reported experiences. However the large-bore drain was associated with a high complication rate (32%) with more infectious complications (24%). The small-bore drain was prone to displacement (21%). There was generally no evidence of an increased failure and morbidity, reflecting poorer expertise, in the non-specialist trainees managing the pneumothoraces. A practical finding however was that in those large pneumothoraces where re-expansion failed, the tip of the drain had not been sited at the apex of the pleural cavity irrespective of the drain type inserted.