Introduction: How to Make a Cell Phone / IPhone Camera Boom and Tripod
Building projects is fun, but it is even more fun when you can share them with other people. I was looking for a way to use my iPhone camera to videotape some of my craft projects but couldn’t find what I needed, so I just decided to build it and document the process as my first Instructable. I wanted to record overhead looking down at the table with my hands free to work with my project. I first thought about a tripod but after trying it out I realized that wasn’t going to work. The solution I came up with is the basis of this Instructable. This boom allows you to securely mount a cell phone and adjust it horizontally and vertically directly over your project without another person. As a bonus, the boom adapter plate will allow you to mount your cell phone on top of a regular tripod just like any other camera. This project is built custom sized to your phone while still in its case, so it does not require you to remove the case each time you want to use the boom.
Step 1: Overview of Construction...
The boom is quite simple. I’ve tried to use as inexpensive materials as possible and I figure it shouldn’t cost more than $10. I’ve written this assuming that a person has no experience with woodworking or basic tools; more skilled individuals can easily determine its construction from the photographs. Make sure to click on the pictures for details of how it is put together.
The boom uses hose clamps to hold two wooden dowels at a 90 degree angle to each other. The vertical dowel sits in a hole drilled in a piece of common 2" x 4" dimensional lumber that is used as the base. At one end of the horizontal dowel is an ‘adapter plate’ that holds the camera phone. In the photograph above you can see the boom is arranged over the workspace (the white paper towel with scissors and cordage). The base of the boom is secured with a heavy box on it and the camera can be adjusted to just the correct field of view by sliding the horizontal dowel up and down the vertical dowel and tightening the hose clamp. At the other end of the horizontal dowel is a cord tied to the base to balance the camera and keep it parallel to the table top.
The second photograph is the view as if sitting in a chair looking down through the camera at the top of the table below. In the third picture you can see the camera recording my hands working with the project. The adapter plate and camera is easily slipped off the end of the horizontal dowel by loosening the adapter plate hose clamps. Some “scrunchie” elastic hair bands allow the phone to be quickly and easily held in the adapter plate.
What you will need:
I picked the ½” inch size dowels for two reasons; first they are slightly cheaper and lighter than the next size up, but also because the largest common size drill bit is ½” inch. Therefore the easiest size hole to drill in the base will be ½” inch, and the dowel will need to be that size to fit the hole. You can probably substitute some of these items according to what you have available but here is what I used:
- Two 1/2” inch hardwood dowels, 36” inches (3 feet) long (any hobby or home improvement/hardware store)
- One 15” inch or so piece of 2” x 4” lumber or something suitable for the vertical dowel to use as a base (home improvement/hardware store, etc.)
- One screw eye to tie the stabilizing cord to the end of the horizontal dowel (home improvement/hardware store)
- Approximately 3 feet of cord to counterbalance the camera weight (any hobby or home improvement/hardware store)
- Five 1/2” inch hose clamps - 2 to connect the dowels, 2 to attach the adapter plate to the horizontal dowel on one end and 1 clamp at the other end to attach the cord to (home improvement/hardware store)
- About 3” inches of ¾” x ¾” inch of square wood trim to mount the hex nut in (home improvement/hardware store)
- About 10” inches of ¼” by ¼” inch square wood dowel to frame the phone and hold it in place (any hobby or home improvement/hardware store)
- One common plastic grocery bag (must be a grocery bag because epoxy will not stick to this type of plastic)
- One common ¼” hex nut, coarse – 20 threads per inch (TPI) (home improvement/hardware store)
- 5 Minute epoxy to glue the wood pieces to the adapter plate and the hex nut into the adapter plate (any hobby or home improvement/hardware store)
- A flat piece of wood or plywood approximately ¼” inch thick and a few inches wider and taller than your cell phone to use as an adapter plate (any hobby or home improvement/hardware store)
- Very thin wire to make an easy way of fastening everything together (any hobby or home improvement/hardware store)
- Two hair “scrunchies” or suitable rubber/elastic band (wherever hair products are sold such as discount stores and drugstores)
The following tools may be necessary or helpful, if you do not have them, perhaps you can borrow them:
- A jigsaw or table saw is helpful for cutting the adapter plate down to final size; if you do not know how to use a table saw then don’t use it
- Sandpaper or a file/rasp
- Flat headed screwdriver to tighten hose clamps
- A drill and bits sized ½” inch and the smallest size bit you can find to make the holes for the wire. Also a ¾” inch spade bit for making the camera eye hole (bits available from a home improvement/hardware store)
- A miter box and handsaw if you don’t have a way to cut the wood trim to size (home improvement/hardware store)
- Wire snip or pliers (needle nose preferably) to cut the wire and help twist the ends
Step 2: Building the Base...
It may seem simple enough, but you want a base that is wide and capable of being drilled for a ½” inch hole. Also there must be some way of resting a heavy object on it securely enough to prevent it from tipping over. I used a drill guide to make sure I got a perfect 90 degree hole. Put some masking tape over both sides of the wood you are drilling into as well as a scrap of waste wood underneath to reduce splintering when the bit breaks through the other side of the work.
Drill a small pilot hole at one end of the block for a screw eye. You probably want to smooth the underside of the base with sandpaper to prevent it from scratching up any surfaces. You might consider gluing the vertical dowel into the base, but the boom is more portable if you can slide it out to take down the setup.
Step 3: Setup the Dowels...
Connecting the dowels is simple. First you need to interlock two hose clamps. Unscrew one hose clamp all the way until the free end is loose and pops out, then pass it through the other clamp and insert the loose end back into the screw mechanism and retighten it. Slide the dowels through the clamps and tighten them at the positions you want.
You probably won’t use the full 3 feet of vertical height for overhead recording, so you could cut down the vertical dowel if you wanted. The same for the horizontal dowel, but don’t cut them before you’ve actually used the boom. The hose clamp on the horizontal dowel at the end opposite the camera is an easy way to attach the cord without any more drilling. I used a knot called a “rolling hitch” (or sometimes called a Taut-Line hitch) which can slide up and down the cord taking up a lot of slack as the boom is adjusted. The knot is not critical, but make sure to have the base weighted down as the boom can easily tip over and damage your camera or tabletop.
Step 4: Making the Camera Adapter Plate...
This is the hard part. Choose a piece of ¼” inch wood or plywood a few inches wider and taller than your camera phone to use as the adapter baseplate. Cut the trim pieces and arrange them around the camera on the baseplate to get a feel for how they fit. You want to drill the hole for the camera first, and then glue the square trim on once the camera is centered over the hole. Although you might be able to barely get away with a ½” inch hole for the camera eye, it is much easier to use a ¾” inch hole if you have a ¾” inch spade drill bit. You could probably enlarge a ½” inch hole if you needed to with a file or some sandpaper.
I used a paper template to approximately locate the center camera eye hole on the wooden adapter plate. Make sure that the camera eye hole is in the top left hand corner as you look down on it. If you turn the camera around and put it in the bottom right hand side your videos might record upside down. (Though I suppose you could just rotate the adapter plate 180 degrees in that case.) Since I have a table saw I could easily trim the excess wood around the adapter plate edges so I didn’t worry about how much extra space was left on the sides.
The side trim pieces are square ¼” dowel. They do not run the entire length of the phone so that the elastic bands could be secured at each end of the phone without interference from the trim. This also makes it easier for your fingers to grip the phone when moving it in and out of the adapter frame. Small holes were drilled so that wire could be used to fix the hose clamps to the bottom of the adapter and to anchor the elastic bands (see pictures).
In order to position the wood trim on each side, I used a plastic grocery bag to wrap my phone so I didn’t have to worry about getting glue on my phone. The glue will not stick to the grocery bag, not even epoxy. Then I held each wooden trim piece snug up against my phone while the epoxy hardened. I used 5 minute two-part epoxy and glued each piece in place one at a time. If I had to do it over I probably could have used the larger ¾” inch square trim with the hex bolt to replace the fourth piece of smaller trim directly above it.
Step 5: Using the Boom/tripod....
The boom can be used overhead to record craft projects as detailed in the photos or as a tripod with the ¼” inch hex nut in the bottom of the adapter plate. The boom is portable and will break down into component parts for storage or travel. Other ideas for the boom include using it as a copy stand to photograph books or magazines. I’m sure people could think of many other uses for it too. Try it and see!
Step 6: Improvements...
I've made a few improvements to the original design. This improvement trades the simplicity of the previous base for a more permanent and comprehensive solution. Instead of trying to locate heavy objects to anchor the base every time I want to set up the boom, I've re-designed the base with the weight built into it. The new base uses a box design with two concrete paving stones inside for ballast, and holes at the front for the dowels to stand in. I've upgraded the dowels to 3/4" inch and I used a mouse pad to make a soft, non-slip surface on the bottom. There's also enough room inside the base stand for the camera adapter plate and cords. I used some old yellow nylon straps to make handles and attached them by tying a knot on the inside of the box so they can't pull through the side holes. Two sets of smaller holes on top at the front and back of the box allow a cord to tie the dowels for carrying, and the whole system can be stored out of the way by standing the dowels upright in the base when not in use. I epoxied an old hex socket into a large wire nut to make it easier to adjust the hose clamps, so no more looking for a screwdriver. I used Weldbond glue to attach the mouse pad to the bottom of the stand.