Overhead Camera Tripod





Introduction: Overhead Camera Tripod

About: I'm an Engineer. I like hiking, flea markets, and electronics.

If you ever need to take good quality photos of anything small, such as jewelry or surface mount components, you're likely to experience the pain of trying to use the "zoom" feature of your digital camera. If you're lucky, you've got a camera with a really good zoom that takes care of shaky hands. If not, you might be in luck using the highest ISO setting and being okay with grainy photos. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a tripod that could make your life easier by taking photos overhead?

Well... now there is! Here's an instructable on how to build it. Granted, this tripod is more of a unipod.

Step 1: Saw Pieces & Make Template

  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Index Card
  • Miter Saw / Box
  • Sand Paper
  • Ruler
  • Hardwood (30" x 3/4" x 3/4")
  1. Using the ruler, measure, cut and lightly sand the follow lengths:
    • 1 of 1 1/2"
    • 3 of 3"
    • 2 of 10"
  2. Trace a 3" piece onto an index card.
  3. Segment traced rectangle into 4 parts.
  4. Put crosses from coner to corner of each new rectangle.
  5. Put a cross between the first and last rectangle.
  6. Label each cross from left to right (A,B,C,D,E).
  7. Erase any markings on the pieces.

Step 2: Marking Tool

A marking tool is a sturdy metal rod ending in a point. It's used in conjuction with a drill press to center bits onto a template and to mark wooden work pieces. This step shows how to construct and use a marking tool.

  • Drill Press
  • Sanding Wheel
  • Straight Rigid Metal Rod
  • Fine Sandpaper
Making the Tool:
  1. Sand the tip of the metal rod with a sanding wheel attached to the drill press.
  2. Insert the roughly sharpened metal rod into the drill press.
  3. Sand the tip of the rod to a fine point using rough and then soft sandpaper.
Using the Tool:
  1. Insert the marking tool into the drill press.
  2. Line up the tool point with crosshair on the template.
  3. Insert a work piece over the template.
  4. With the drill press spinning, lower it slowly onto the work piece.
  5. Raise the marking tool when there is charring.

Step 3: Hole for Wood Screw

This step adds a screw to the upper half of the desk clamp used to secure the tripod to a workdesk.

  • Drill Press
  • Marking Tool
  • Drill Bit Assortment
  • Template
  • Masking Tape
  • 1 of Wood Screw
  • 2 of 3" Hardwood Pieces
  1. Tape two 3" segments together on all sides lengthwise using masking tape.
  2. Position template / marking tool / taped segments over template cross 'A'.
  3. Mark & drill a hole (ex. 1/16" drill bit) so that it does NOT come out the other side.
  4. Countersink the hole with a larger drill bit (ex. 13/64" drill bit).
  5. Screw in an appropriately sized screw.

Step 4: Holes for Machine Screws

This step adds machine screw holes to all parts of the desk clamp.

  • Drill Press
  • Marking Tool
  • Drill Bit Assortment
  • Template
  • Masking Tape
  • 1 of Wood Screw
  • 3 of 3" Hardwood Pieces
  1. Rotate the previous workpiece around the vertical axis 180° so that the wood screw is over 'D'
  2. Tape another 3" segment onto the newly rotated workpiece.
  3. Mark a hole over 'A' and 'B' using the marking tool & enlarge with a step-drill to the final drill-bit size (ex. 5/32 drill bit).
  4. Drill a hole over 'A' such that it goes all the way through.
  5. Drill a hole over 'B' such that it goes through the two top-most pieces and 1/4 through the bottom-most piece.

Step 5: Top Piece Drilling

This step finalizes the drilling for the top piece of the clamp.

  • Drill Press
  • Marking Tool
  • Drill Bit Assortment
  • Template
  • 1 of Wood Screw
  • 3 of 3" Hardwood Pieces
  1. Dissassemble the workpiece. Lay it out as pictured. From top-most image to bottom-most:
    • Top Piece: wood screw termination, 1/4 way hole, through hole
    • Middle Piece: wood screw countersink, through hole, through hole
    • Bottom Piece: through hole, through hole
  2. Using a large step-bit, enlarge the 1/4 way hole of the top piece to accomodate a much larger bit.
  3. Use a large drill bit to create a cavity for a machine screw & washer (ex. 1/2" drill bit).
  4. Rotate workpiece about the horizontal axis 90° over 'C', mark & drill (ex. 5/32" drill bit).

Step 6: Clamp Holes

This step finalizes holes for the clamp.

  • Drill Press
  • Drill Bit Assortment
  • 10NC24 Tap
  • 3 of 3" Hardwood Pieces
  1. For the bottom piece with 2 holes, use a larger drill bit (ex. 3/16") to enlarge the holes for free movement of machine screws.
  2. With no power applied, manually rotate a tap into the smaller holes of the top and middle work pieces.

Step 7: Clamp Top

This step involves assembling the top portion of the desk clamp.

  • Top Workpiece
  • Middle Workpiece
  • 4 of #10 Washers
  • 2 of 3" #10-24 Machine Screws
  • 2 of #10-24 Hex Nuts
  • 1 of Wood Screw
  • Screwdriver
  • Wrench
  1. Insert a washer onto the 3" screw.
  2. Insert the screw into the middle hole of the middle workpiece and tighten.
  3. Insert a washer onto the end coming through the middle workpiece.
  4. Tighten with a hex nut.
  5. Cover the middle workpiece / screw cap with the top workpiece.
  6. Screw in the wood screw.
  7. Insert a washer onto a 3" screw.
  8. Insert the screw into the top hole of the top workpiece and out through the middle workpiece and tighten.
  9. Insert a washer onto the end coming out.
  10. Tighten with a hex nut.

Step 8: Finish Clamp

This step adds felt to the clamp and assembles it for drying. To operate the clamp, set the outermost wingnut so that its space is approximately the size of the clamping surface, then tighten the centermost wingnut.

  • Rubber Cement
  • Felt (Scrapbooking / Thin Type)
  • Top Assembly
  • Bottom Workpiece
  • 2 of #10 Washers
  • 2 of #10-24 Wingnuts
  1. Cut out two felt pads for the clamp.
  2. Attach felt pads to clamp using a coat of rubber cement applied to wood.
  3. Attach a wingnut followed by a washer to the outermost screw of the top assembly.
  4. Slide the bottom workpiece onto the top assembly.
  5. Attach a washer followed by a wingnut to the centermost screw of the top assembly.
  6. Attach the clamp onto a spare piece for drying.

Step 9: Camera Attachment

This step creates the camera attachment point. To operate it, screw the camera on, then move the plastic wingnut up to meet the camera. The tension between the two holds the camera in place.

  • Drill Press
  • Drill Bit Assortment
  • Marking Tool
  • Dremel
  • Cutoff Wheel
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • 1 1/2" Workpiece
  • 1/4"-20 Screw
  • 1/4"-20 Plastic Wingnut
  1. Stand the workpiece such that the square portion faces upward.
  2. Pencil a crosshair from corner to corner.
  3. Mark & drill a hole at the center of the crosshair (ex. < 1/4").
  4. Cut the top off the 1/4" screw.
  5. Screw in / glue the threaded portion into the newly made hole.

Step 10: Arms & Hinges

This step involves the preparation of the tripod arms & hindges. Rosin is used to increase the friction / hold between the hinges. Rosin can be purchased as 'rosin bags' from sports stores or can be made by boiling pine sap.

  • Drill Press
  • Marking Tool
  • Drill Bit Assortment
  • Atomizer (Perfume Bottle)
  • Solvent (Denatured Alcohol)
  • Rosin Powder
  • Masking Tape
  • 2 of 10" Workpieces
  • Camera Attachment
  • Clamp Assembly
  1. Using 'A' mark opposite sides of the 10" workpieces and of the camera attachment.
  2. Drill and tap one 10" workpiece (ex. 5/32" drill bit).
  3. Drill the other workpiece (ex. 3/16" drill bit).
  4. Cover area surrouding the 3/4" x 3/4" square around each hinge hole with masking tape.
  5. Make a 50/50 mixture (by volume) of rosin powder and solvent.
  6. Spray mixture onto each hinge with an atomizer.
  7. Allow time for mixture to dry (30 minutes).

Step 11: Finish!

In this step, final assembly takes place. You can use the tripod for distant shots overhead, or for closeups by adjusting the angle.

  • Camera Attachment
  • 2 of 10" Workpieces
  • Clamp Assembly
  • 3 of 2" #10-24 Machine Screws
  • 6 of #10 Washers
  • 3 of #10-24 Wingnuts
  • Screwdriver
  1. Screw in a washer + screw into each end of the tapped 10" workpiece and the side of the clamp.
  2. Slide the other 10" workpiece onto the screws protruding from the clamp side and first 10" workpiece.
  3. Slide the camera attachment onto the other end of the tapped 10" workpiece.
  4. Add a washer + wingnut to each protruding screw.



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    Maybe modifying this lamp will be easy and might be cheaper.


    Several thoughts:

    1. I made this with pieces of 1x3 pine cut down to 1x1.5, which gave me more surface area between the pieces and thus more friction and a higher weight limit without the need for the rosin, or inserted sandpaper, etc.

    2. Similarly, I used 1/4-20 bolts and both a hex nut and a wing-nut to help me tighten things better. Using the two nuts together I get a very tight joint that stays tight, as the two nuts together bind on each other and do not loosen over time. Rather than loosening and tightening the joints for repositioning, I just leave them tight with a set amount of friction that holds my camera, but still allows me to reposition things.

    3. Instead of cutting a bolt to get threaded rod for the camera mount, there is a special bolt called a hanger-bolt with wood thread on one end and machine thread on the other, this will thread into the wood better and still give you the 1/4-20 you need for the camera (you screw this in using the same double nut binding concept, then you take those nuts off and put on the big wing-nut for tightening up on the camera)

    4. Rather than building in the clamping mechanism here I just use a large C-Clamp which seems to work fine for me (or really any other clamp you may have: spring clamp, bar clamp, etc.) I like the clamp design, I just didn't want to do the work and have lots of spare clamps around to use.

    5. Also, for added flexibility, I added an insert-nut into the bottom piece of the arm (that clamps to the table), so that I also have a 1/4-20 thread in the base that can accept the threaded mount from a tripod, so this can potentially be mounted to a tripod and add both height and flexibility to a tripod you may already have.

    6. Finally, I just want to say that this is a great design, so simple, and yet so useful, and portable too. I've built a couple of these for myself and others. One guy uses it for taking product shots of the stuff he sells on eBay, Rather than buy an expensive tripod he can just clamp this to a table and it serves the same purpose of steadying the camera as he takes pictures of small things in front of a simple backdrop. I use it for copying documents and just taking pictures of things where I don't want to, or can't take my tripod. I can clamp this to just about anything and still take great, clear, steady shots. Thanks for sharing this project and design on Instructables.

    If the number of photographs justifies the additional cost, it would probably be more effective to use the 'pantograph' system of an old 'anglepoise' lamp which is spring loaded as well as having tightening bolts. Additional counterweight springs could be added to accommodate heavier cameras.

    this is nice and simple.
    I'm thinking about some improvements:
    - adding a level bubble to keep horizontal the camera
    - using larger pieces for the clamp, this means a better grip on the table
    - use 3 of 10" , this can lighten the structure that means you can use more thin wood workpiece


    I'm thinking about building such "arm" for my digital camera Cannon A550.
    But for other purpose. My idea is to add light source, most probably monochrome LEDs around camera. Light source must provide uniform light intensity over A3 or A4 sheet of paper. Then i could use camera as scanning tool.

    I'm a student so often i have some hand written notes, sketches which i want to share with my colleagues. For now i use camera on my smart phone but it's not good enough for small handwritten details. Regular low cost digital camera with optical zoom has much better performance.
    When i have images, then it's easy to make pdf file from them. Even OCR.
    This could bee very cheap replacement for scanner and it wouldn't occupy much space on my desk. :-)

    I'm new here on Instructables. Can i post this idea as some sort of project and make a link to this project, but without actually building it?

    2 replies

    You probably could, but consider a copy stand first. It's a camera support with lights on either side. Also, as Wheatridge pointed out, a scanner might be a better option. You can get fully USB powered ones from Canon for about $50 (their LiDE series).

    However, I can see a trade off. If you use a camera, you can more quickly 'scan' in documents in a more compact format, but the resolution will be a lot lower than what can be had with a scanner.

    Here's an example:

    Assume an 8.5 x 11 in. Assume you can fit this into a 10 Megapixel image using your camera. This means that your DPI (dots per inch) is the square root of (10 000 000 / (8.5 x 11)), which is 327. Most scanners can easily do 600-1200 DPI.

    This Instructables project is excellent for a point and shoot camera, but certainly can not replace a flat bed scanner which is ideal for your needs. You can purchase a great scanner for less than making this project and adding an LED light source which would be complicated. You can get an Epson Perfection V300 scanner for less than $100.

    You could also use an anti slip paint on the hinge joints which is what l have done with the one that l have made

    3 replies

    Out of curiosity, what's the name / brand of this paint and where is it available?

    mix play sand into enamel paint , or glue sandpaper to the wood on one side of the joint.

    l live in the united kingdom but the paint is manufactured by 151 coatings and is called Non-slip clear paint it can be applied to most surfaces including concrete and wood l originally purchased it to paint my powerchair access ramp

    Awesome idea, thank you very much for sharing! It seems it's pretty simple to create.

    Thats very nice!

    I should also be noted that if someone is not that handy with wood, or cant get the material, one could get the Tertial IKEA lamp and easily mode it as a stand.


    3 replies

    I think that it's not such a good idea. This lamp has springs and needs a mas of her "head" to stand at some position. If mass of camera is lighter it won't stand still at position because springs will move it away. If camera is heavier than lamps head it will fall down on table. It may work if difference in mass is not big. Then because imperfection and friction it may stand still at wanted position.

    Allow me to disagree. I don't know how you came to those conclusions but I happen to have in this very room now 3 of those Tertial lamps and they keep their possition fine with or without the lamp-head. That been said, if one wants to mount a heavy DSL-like camera at the end it will not support it very well indeed. But as far as point-n-shoots go there will be no problem at all, trust me.

    Good to know.
    I have experience with very similar lamp and it was difficult to make it stand still. So i assumed that this lamp have similar problem. Especial after use of some time because metal becomes smooth and it's difficult to tighten screw on joint enough.

    Good find, I didn't know such things existed!

    What a great project for point and shoot cameras! I will build one right away. I am also going to try to find a comercial version for my Nikon 35mm, as this one doesn't appear to be able to handle the weight of a real camera. Your photography is excellent.

    1 reply

    Thanks. I use an older Canon A460. It has a nice close up zoom function, and with time delay / ISO 400, it reduces my chances of taking a blurry shot. Afterward, in Ubuntu / Linux and I crop / rotate / color adjust the photos in 'gThumb'. Then, I reduce them to size / quality using 'mogrify -resize 25% -quality 50% *.JPG' and remove extra information using 'jhead -purejpg *.JPG'. Lastly, I remove the timestamp via 'touch *.JPG'.

    You're right about the weight, Although the 3/4" x 3/4" hardwood is probably strong enough to support several pounds, the weight is actually held by the junction between two pieces of wood and the wingnuts, so it's key to make that rough / sticky as possible to support as much weight as possible.