Introduction: A Simpler Tripod
As a Youtuber I have found a small, sturdy tripod to be indispensable. While my Joby Gorillapod has served well in this role, over time it has become quite unstable and the legs even fall off. One day it occurred to me that I could easily create a small collapsable tripod using little more than a piece of aluminum angle.
Step 1: What I Used
The main structure of my tripod was made from a 1" x 1" x 3' section of 1/16" thick aluminum angle. The following hardware was used to hold everything together:
(x2) #10-24 x 1/2" Cap Screws
(x2) #10-24 Lock Nuts
(x4) Washers (3/16" ID, 3/4" OD)
(x2) 3/16" ID, 3/8" OD x 1/4" Nylon Spacers
(x4) 1/2" Wood Screws
(x1) 1/4"-20 x 3/4" Cap Screw
(x1) Washer (1/4" ID, 5/8" OD)
(x1) 1/4"-20 4-Claw Furniture Nut
I also used a piece of 3/4" PVC Board. I would recommend using hardwood if you don't have any scrap PVC board laying around like I did.
Step 2: Cut the Aluminum Angle
First, I cut two 10" lengths from the aluminum angle. These 10" long angles will serve as two of the legs of the tripod, while the remaining longer section of angle will form the third leg. Once the 10" long pieces were cut, 45° cuts were made at the one end of each angle as shown in the picture above. Note that the cuts at the end of one of the aluminum angles are mirrored when applied to the other one. This is important and the reason will become apparent in the following steps. A file was used to clean up the cut ends of the 10" sections of angle.
Step 3: Drill Holes in Long Angle
Turning our focus to the longer section of aluminum angle, a square was used to mark a line across the angle at a distance of 10" from the one end. A second line was drawn across the angle at a distance of 3/8" from this line - in the direction toward the end from which 10" was originally measured. 3/8" holes were drilled through the center of both legs of the angle using this second line as a reference. Note that the holes were first made using a smaller bit. This small hole was then enlarged with a 3/8" bit. This method allows me to make slight adjustments to the final hole position if the original, small hole isn't positioned exactly right.
Step 4: Drill Holes in 10" Angles
With the 3/8" holes drilled in the longer angle, the 10" angles were positioned inside the long angle at an angle of 90°. The edge of each 10" angle was aligned with the previously-drawn line (at 10" from the one end) on the longer angle and the position of the holes was marked onto the 10" angles. Using these marks, 3/8" holes were drilled through the ends of the 10" sections of angle. Note that these holes were made in the ends of the angles with the 45° cuts.
Step 5: Trim the Sides of the 10" Angles
In order for the 10" angles to fold cleanly inside of the longer angle, 1/8" was trimmed from the end of each of their legs. These long cuts were made with the hacksaw; working in from each end of the angle to complete the cuts. Since the hacksaw doesn't make a perfectly straight cut, these cuts were filed smooth.
Step 6: The Nylon Spacers
I decided to use nylon spacers in the pivots of the tripod. The nylon creates a tighter fit than a steel spacer would, and also provides for a smooth motion when the tripod is opened and closed. Since the spacers I bought were too long, I cut them to length using a small saw and my knife. The spacers were made just slightly longer than the combined thickness of the two angles joined together by the spacers (just over 1/8").
Step 7: Assemble the Pivots
With the nylon spacers cut to length, they were slipped into the 3/8" holes prepared with them in the longer angle. Next, the 10" angles were slid over these spacers as shown in the picture above. After slipping a washer over each of the two #10 cap screws, these screws were slid through the spacers from the inside of the tripod. Another washer and lock nut were tightened onto these cap screws on the outside of the tripod. With the three legs of the tripod assembled, the logic behind the 45° cuts and pivot positions becomes apparent (see picture above). When the two 10" angles (legs) are unfolded, they rest against the inside of the longer angle creating a perfect tripod shape.
Step 8: Cut Longer Angle
Next, the longer angle was trimmed to length such that its top was parallel to the surface on which the tripod rested. After standing the tripod on a level surface, a level was used to mark the position of this cut. This cut was made slightly above (around 1") the junction point of the three legs of the tripod.
Step 9: The Wooden Block
Perhaps the trickiest part of this build was the small wooden block, which was used to attach the ball head to the top of the tripod. This block needed to perfectly rest inside of the newly cut top of the longer angle. I began by cutting an angle across a 3/4" thick board until the acute angle at the corner of the board perfectly fit the angle at the top of the tripod - with the board parallel to the top of the tripod. This angle came to 29.5°. Next, I experimented with the bevel angle on both sides of this corner until the board rested perfectly inside the top of the tripod. The correct bevel angle was 33.9°. With the angle and bevel cut, the point of the corner was trimmed back to prevent interference with the folding action of the tripod. Finally, this corner of the board was trimmed into a small beveled block, which nicely fit into the top of the tripod.
Step 10: Attach the Block
Four small, countersunk holes were drilled at a distance of 3/8" from the cut end of the longer angle. After pre-drilling the beveled, wooden block, small wood screws were placed through these holes and into the block. However, despite pre-drilling the small pine block, it split along the grain. I remade the block using some 3/4" PVC board I had laying around. Since most people don't have scrap 3/4" PVC board laying around, I would recommend using a hardwood, which should work just fine.
Step 11: The Ball Head Screw
The 1/4" cap screw was used to attach the Joby ball head to the top of the tripod. After marking the position where the 4-claw nut would rest on the top of the beveled block, I drilled a small pilot hole through the block using this mark. Flipping the tripod upside down, a 5/8" forstner bit was used to create a 1/4" deep recess for the washer and head of the cap screw. The previously-drilled pilot hole was used to guide the forstner bit. With this recess drilled, the remainder of the pilot hole was enlarged so that the 4-claw nut would fit inside of it. After positioning the 4-claw nut into the top of this hole, the washer was slipped over the cap screw, which was then threaded into the 4-claw nut from the bottom of the tripod. Once tightened into the 4-claw nut, around 1/4" of the cap screw protrudes from the top of the tripod. This is perfect for attaching any camera, or in my case a Joby ball head.
Step 12: Cut Legs
It is important to finish up the bottoms of the tripod legs so that they sit flat on ground (or whatever surface they rest on). I used a piece of aluminum to mark a line parallel to the ground on the sides of each leg of the tripod. If I were to cut the legs along this line, the contact patch between the tripod and ground would be quite large. This could introduce some issues if the ground isn't perfectly flat. To minimize this contact patch, I marked a second angled cut along the sides of each leg as shown in the picture above. After making these cuts in the end of each leg, everything was filed smooth and each of the legs was sanded with 100 grit sandpaper to remove any small surface imperfections.
Step 13: Assemble and Dip Legs
Since the tripod was disassembled to cut the legs, it was reassembled and the Joby ball head was threaded onto the 1/4" bolt protruding from the block. As a final step, each of the legs was dipped in Plasti Dip brand rubberized coating. This coating provides a non-slip grip to the ends of the legs and it also prevents the tripod from scratching surfaces it is set on.
Step 14: The Finished Tripod
I am very pleased with how this tripod came out. It folds up nicely allowing for easy transport and yet still provides a very stable platform for my camera when unfolded. I am sure this basic design could be easily adapted for numerous uses and camera platforms.