In this Instructable, I'm going to give an overview of how I made two different monopods for my DSLR, and give a comparison of the two. While both Monopods turned out great, I only needed one, so I gave the other away at random.
I had never thought I'd be the monopod sort, but recently I had the chance to see the Sandhill Crane migration near Hastings, Nebraska. Half-a-million cranes pour into one river valley area in rural Nebraska each year from early March through early April. I'm super excited!
The Audubon Society, friend to our feathered brethren, has a tight hold on the best watching spots. I'm not bitter. They do great work. But they have specific rules about photography, one of them banning tripods in the blinds (due to space limitations). So I found myself in need of a monopod for the first time.
Being the maker I am, I decided not to buy one but to construct or re-purpose something into one. I accidentally did both. Like I said, I'm excited. After rummaging through a thrift store and finding an old aluminum pool cue I thought might work, I also hit up a home improvement store for a dowel rod in case it didn't work. I bought the hardware for both and constructed both on the same day. It actually didn’t take that long.
I’ll split this I’ble into the following categories: Step one will describe how I repurposed the cue stick.
Step two will describe how I built the monopod from a dowel rod.
Step three will compare the performance between the two.
Step four will discuss various ideas for improvement (though I’d love to hear more from the community on that).
And Step five will go over the giveaway.
Step 1: The Pool Cue Into Monopod
Repurposing the cue stick was quick, and once I had my fastener genius on
the case (Trevor at my local Ace) relatively painless.
I removed the plug from the cue which was a 3/8ths fine. This factor is what made everything harder than it had to be. I could find hanger bolts and post bolts that fit the camera screw, but none of the bolts had a fine threading. The guy at Ace set me right with a metal wall anchor that, when set, anchored itself to the sides of the cue a treat!
After we added the post, the assembly was stuck in there for good.
Then I added a bushing and some fender washers to both build up to the height of the 1/4"-20 post (1/4-20 will fit almost all cameras. I realize that, technically, cams have a slightly different threading than the standard English unit 1/4"-20, called a Whitworth 1/4"-20, but the ever-so-slight difference in thread attitude has never affected my equipment one jot, and I've built tons of stuff with the English 1'4"-20) and to provide a nice pad for the camera.
I sealed and united the bushings and washers with metal epoxy. This epoxy is only meant to hold the disks in place. When the camera is mounted, the force of the camera will keep the disks in place. I only used the epoxy to make everything more convenient. I topped the washers with a bit of paper foam.
Then I hit the bright orange pool stick with two coats of flat black metal paint for the first two thirds of the stick, and wrapped a camouflage duct-tape around the bottom 1/3.
Easy Peezy. Under $10. Stealthy (I photograph wildlife).
Step 2: The Dowel Rod Monopod
The Dowel Rod Monopod is also super easy and cheep to make. After getting the materials together, the whole thing took less than 30 minutes (I put both monopods together at the same time, so 15 minutes?)
a 6 foot (2 meter) one inch (2.5cm) dowel rod (pine)
a 1/4"-20 hanger bolt
a 7/8" cane tip
some paper foam
That's what you need. Optionally, I have so far added:
A camo skin (from duct tape)
a paracord harness
two eye bolts
an angle bracket (90 degrees)
a bubble level
a wrist strap
an additional hanger bolt and bolt anchor
So first, the necessary bits:
Cut the dowel to the height of your shoulder. Drill a hole for and install your hanger bolt. Leave at least a half inch of your bolt. Use the fender washers to build up a platform until there is only 1/8-3/16" (3-5mm) left of the bolt protruding. Add a circle of paper foam or felt to the platform to keep from scratching up your camera. I did the same thing with this monopod as I did with the pool cue monopod in that I glued all the fenders together for ease of use. This is not a necessary step, but it makes everything easier and I recommend it.
Then I painted the metal parts flat black and covered the dowel in camo-patterned duct-tape.
At first, I chose the 7/8" cane tip because that's what I had on hand (bought a 4-pack when I needed two to fix the rattle on my Jeep's back gate as the original rubber spacers had worn out).
Since I used the 7/8" on a one inch dowel, however, I found it hasn't split or stretched too much and the rubber is nice and rounded at the bottom instead of squared. I recommend this mistake.
Additional, optional things:
I drilled a hole straight through and put an eye-bolt through each side. I tied a small paracord loop through each one. Then I made a harness out of paracord that runs across my shoulders and around each arm. When I attach the harness to the monopod with caribiners, it helps stabilize the monopod. It's almost as if I become the other two-legs of a tripod.
I also decided to saw this monopod in half and install another hanger into an anchor so that I could unscrew it and screw it back together for easy transport.
I mounted a bubble-level on an angle bracket.
Finally, I drilled a hole the aproximate height of my heart so that I could run another length of paracord through and have a nice wrist-strap. Now it doubles as a walking stick.
Step 3: Comparrison
I spent a few hours working first with one, and then with the other monopod.
Pool Cue-pros and cons: What I really like about the pool cue is that it is super quick and easy to make. If you have one of these aluminum cues lying around not serving any good purpose, I recommend this re-purposing. It's sleek, and the result looks almost professional. It splits in half and can stow in a cue bag if one it handy. It's made of metal and has a nice heft to it. Plus, you can pretend to shoot pool when bored, so there's that.
What I didn't care for as much was the slight strain it put on my neck. I'm 5'9", 5'10" in shoes, and I had to bend a little bit to get the shots I wanted. If you use the screen more than the viewfinder and have a remote shutter release, this shouldn't be a problem. I have the release, but I still prefer the viewfinder.
It was also, like I insinuated, a tad heavier than the dowel. If you try to pack as lightly as possible, this will add a few more precious ounces to your gear than the dowel. However, one feels as if it might be more useful in a self-defense against a slightly agitated bear situation than the dowel. Though it might attract the stray bolt of lightning, I'm not sure.
The dowel-pros and cons: The dowel rod's main weaknesses are probably the build material (untreated wood may not hold up over time under various environmental stresses) and weight. It is lighter, and thus I fear not as sturdy as the aluminum pole.
That said, the lightness is something I prefer, and I have a sense that it will last well into the next decade, at which point I could easily build another, salvaging all the hardware I use for this one (presuming one's politicians do not green-light logging companies to cut down all the trees for a tidy few years' profit). Anyway, I feel I could make it again quickly and easily if needed.
Also, this dowel monopod is the perfect height for me. It is customizeable, and I keep adding things to it. I'm not sure if that's a pro or a con. I do like the harness, and I feel I could more easily convert it to house a ball head mount than the pool cue.
Final thoughts: I think if you are a sturdy person who stands about 5'6", the pool cue is 100% perfect. Or if you use your LCD screen instead of your viewfinder.
While I love the professional look of the cue stick conversion, I don't need a professional monopod for nature photography. If I'm lucky, my "clients" don't notice my gear or me at all. But if you plan to use the monopod for something more conspicuous, go with the cue.
Alternatively, I'll bet you could make one from PVC or another material that would blow these away. If you do so, please share what you find in the comments below.
Step 4: Improvements
I think the biggest area for improvement on both designs is the head. Currently, these are manual tilt monopods. If I needed to rely on a monopod regularly, I would probably mount a ball head on it.
I doubt I'll use a monopod all that much after the cranes, but maybe I'll surprise myself.
In any case, adding a bubble-level to the pool cue would be nice.
What would you add to yours?
Step 5: The Giveaway Winner
The Winner of the Giveaway is IamGutter. Thanks to the three entrants.