Introduction: A Custom 3D Printed Adjustable Tripod Adapter for Your Smartphone
I’ve been wanting an adapter that lets me use my phone camera for cool things like stop motion photography and timelapses, so I decided to design and 3D print one. I'm really happy with what I ended up with- it's really small and light, but it works just as well as a commercial tripod adapter.
If you just want to print one with my files and need instructions for assembly, download the attached model and skip to step 11.
Step 1: Determining Design Requirements
I started by determining my design requirements. With functional 3D prints the design requirements will inform your decisions for the entire project, so it's really important to decide them early on. Yours might be different, but here were mine:
- I wanted it to be as small as reasonably possible, but still very strong.
- I wanted it to fit my iPhone 6, and also the iPhone 6 Plus.
- I hoped it would fit many other smartphones too.
- I wanted it to adjust with a screw mechanism.
- I wanted it to have a base large enough that I could rest the adapter on a flat surface to hold up the phone.
Once I had determined what I wanted my tripod adapter to do, I started working out some of my ideas in CAD.
Step 2: Designing for Your Printer
It's really helpful to design parts specifically for your printer as well. If you create your design with your printer's requirements and limitations in mind, it will improve the finished object quality.
I’m using an Ultimaker2, which has a 0.4mm nozzle and a heated bed. I know from previous projects that 4 walls is about as thin as I can print for "strong" walls. That means my default wall thickness as I design will be 1.6mm.
I used this as my “minimum” thickness, so all holes had at least this much wall beside them, the tubes had walls this thick, etc.
Step 3: Using CAD to Work Out the Design
I usually use CAD rather than sketching to flesh out my ideas- for me, CAD is faster and it’s more precise.
I started my model very rough, with just simple shapes to work out most of my overall sizes. As I worked out the overall shape and size I started to refine my model and add details to it.
I used the same model the whole time and edited it as I went along, but sometimes it's a good idea to start a new model after all the rough sizes are figured out.
From my rough model, I determined an overall height of 60mm for my base piece. I used the rough model to determine the angle and size of the clamps as well. I was using my iPhone 6 to determine the sizes I wanted. I also looked up the width of an iPhone 6 Plus to make sure this mount would work for that model too.
If I were building this for a galaxy phone or you like really thick cases, I'd probably increase the 13mm dimension to about 17 or 20. 13mm is perfect for thin phones and thin cases though.
Step 4: Print Orientation
After you have some rough ideas about the general size the tripod adapter needs to be to fit your phone, it’s time to make a more detailed model. Before you get started on it however, you need to think about your part orientation. Fused Filament printers (the kind that squirt out filament from a roll or spool) need support material for any overhangs, so try to design your adapter in multiple pieces that have a nice flat bottom so you don't have to use support material. I decided to printed mine as an upright column, so that influenced a lot of my design choices.
I ended up with a four-piece design in order to avoid having to use support material. I find it's simpler to break the parts up and then glue them together rather than trying to make the whole part in one piece most of the time.
Step 5: Fitting the Two Halves Together
The bottom piece has an outside wall for looks, and a center column to hold up the brass insert for the adjustment mechanism. The upper piece has a single hollow square tube that fits in the small gap in the lower piece, and a shoulder at the top to match the lower outside wall.
You'll also notice that I have added fillets to any inside corner that it was feasible. This reduces stress at the corner and makes the part stronger overall.
Step 6: Making the Adapter Stand on Its Own One Foot
I've added a wider "foot" on the lower piece. This isn't strictly necessary, but it makes the adapter stable enough to hold up my iPhone 6 on a flat surface like a desk or table without a tripod.
Step 7: The Core Adjustment Mechanism
The core mechanism of the adapter is that it uses a screw to push apart and pull back together two separate pieces as the screw threads in and out of the nut. I used a captured screw in one side of the adapter and a brass insert “nut” in the other side of the adapter to accomplish this adjustment.
Step 8: Design Details for the Adjustment Mechanism
A lot of the adjustable smartphone tripod adapters I've seen need a screwdriver or allen wrench for turning the adjustment screw. I don’t like that because I don’t always have one of those in my pockets. So I needed to figure out some kind of thumb wheel to turn the screw instead. I also wanted thumb wheel somewhat hidden so it couldn't be accidentally bumped loose, toppling my expensive smartphone to the ground.
Eventually I settled on this multi-piece design that left a pocket for a thumb wheel to sit on a hex-head screw. Once the surrounding pieces are superglued together, the thumb wheel is trapped in the pocket and can’t come out anymore, as is the hex head of the screw.
Step 9: Designing for Brass Inserts
I knew from the start that I wanted to use heat-set brass inserts. I love using these in projects because they really help finish off a 3D print project, plus it’s a natural fit for something that needs a ¼-20 thread mount on it.
I got mine from McMaster Carr, because they have good drawings and a good selection. I also used the special soldering iron installation tips they offer.
One of the reasons I bought from McMaster-Carr is that they have good drawings and models for most things they sell. These gave me the diameter and depth of the hole that I would need for the insert to hold tight. I used a #6-32 SAE thread (McMaster part no. 93365A130) for the adjustment mechanism and a ¼”-20 SAE thread (McMaster part no. 93365A160) for the tripod thread.
Even though I had a drawing that told me the size that the hole needed to be, I always like to check new designs with a small test piece. That way I can tweak the hole size a little larger or smaller to my liking without ruining a whole print.
Step 10: Tolerances
Most 3D printers are pretty good at making things the size you tell them to, but when you're working with parts that have to fit well together it’s good to make sure. It made some 1/4" tall test models that had the sizes I wanted to use, so I could see how well they fit together. I wanted it as tight as it could be while still sliding smoothly. It took me 4 tries to get the right fit that I wanted between the two tubes.
I also made a quick mockup of the thumb wheel to make sure my hex head screw head would fit. It's generally a good idea to do these types of small test pieces while designing to speed up the process, rather than waiting hours for a full part to print, only to find it's just a little too tight.
Step 11: Printing
Welcome to those wanting printing and assembly instructions!
You'll need 1 each of the following (McMaster Carr Part numbers)
- #6-32 brass threaded insert, .150" length (93365A130)
- 1/4-20 brass threaded insert, .300" length (93365A160)
- #6-32 x 1 1/2" Hex head machine screw (93075A546)
I designed all the parts to have a completely flat bottom to adhere to the print bed, and none of them need any support. They do need to be printed at high quality though. The top clamp is printed upside down, as is the top tube and the thumb wheel. The bottom piece (jaw and tube) is printed upright.
I couldn't avoid an overhang with the ¼”-20 brass insert hole, so I designed extra space at the top of the hole for the printer to work with. The Ultimaker 2 spans small straight gaps over air pretty well so I could get away with it. If your printer doesn't, you could use support or add a chamfer at the top edge of the hole so there would be surface for each layer to build upon.
Step 12: Assembly- 1: Melting Plastic With Brass.
I started by pressing in the small #6 insert. I just rest the insert in its hole, and then touch it with a hot soldering iron. The insert heats up pretty quickly and then it's just a matter of pushing it into the hole.
The tricky part when you use these is making sure to get them straight and flush with the top edge so the screw can turn freely in the narrow space provided.
Then I put in the larger ¼”-20 insert in the bottom. For the larger insert use a large soldering tip or one of the special installation tips to make sure you get it perfectly straight. Let them both cool for a few minutes, then test both of them with a screw to make sure the screw turns freely. You can tweak the insert after it's installed to straighten it if you have to, but it's tricky so take your time and get it right the first time.
Step 13: Assembly- 2: Fun With Superglue
There is some delicate super-gluing required for the top pieces. I highly recommend a gel-type superglue for this as it doesn't spread as much.
First place the hex head screw into the upper column Place the thumb wheel onto the hex head screw. You can glue them together, but it isn't necessary. I put 4 very small dabs of super glue on the corners of the top column. Make note of the beveled edge too- this needs to line up with the opening on the top jaw. Finally, very carefully place the top jaw onto the top column and apply pressure to help them bond. You can hold it together for a few minutes with your fingers or use a small clamp. It’s very important that you don’t use too much glue as it could squeeze into to the thumb wheel and freeze it from turning. This would be very bad. Let it sit for quite a while. Gel superglue doesn’t set as quickly as regular superglue and you don’t want to compromise the joint. I waited about 3 hours for mine. You wouldn't have to hold it that long, but don’t test the joint for strength for a couple of hours.
Step 14: Putting It Together and Using It
After your tripod adapter has had plenty of time for all of the glue to dry, it's time to put it together and try it out.
Hold both parts upright, and slide the upper assembly into the lower piece. Start tightening the screw with the thumb wheel to get it to thread into the insert on the lower piece. If it doesn't thread, try to hold the pieces perfectly vertical and give them a little jiggle to try again.
To adjust the adapter, just tighten or loosen the screw with the thumb wheel to open or close the jaws. Make sure to give it a good tighten once it feel snug against your phone. Mount a tripod in the bottom threads, and enjoy!
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