Instructables

Photo studio compression pole MK1

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A cheap and easy way to support backdrops, lightweight lighting gear, and generally add an extra hand anywhere you need it in your DIY home photo studio.

Update Note: I found a few better parts at the Depot last night that eliminate metal on metal contact and increase the extension range. The price goes to $9.43 mostly because the longer threaded rod is more expensive. Changes to the process are noted in bold

Strobist is having a week of Home Depot based postings. The photo studio compression pole is my contribution.

This device uses light spring pressure to hold a pole between your ceiling and the floor. This pole can hold up a backdrop or be used to mount other lightweight devices like flashes and reflectors.

To move the pole you simply push down and the tip comes away from the ceiling allowing you to reposition the pole.

This version is only adjustable within about a 2 inch range. If you need a different length you'll need another $1.79 length of metal electrical conduit (EMT).

The parts to build one cost me $11.24 but that leaves lots of parts for more. The unit cost is $6.86 each.

Here is a video of the compression pole in use.

 
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Step 1: The parts

Parts List
Galvanized electrical conduit 1/2 inch X 10ft (EMT)
Compression springs package 16084
1/2 X 12" threaded rod
1/2" EMT Bushings
1/2" wing nut
1/2" SAE washers
3/4" rubber leg tips
A few feet of Permacel or duct tape
A few feet of parachute cord

The updated version uses a 1/2 X 24" rod, a pair of "1/2 Adapter SxMPT" (item 436-005) and does not use the EMT bushings

There are a number of different spring packages at the Depot. I used the one marked 16084 in the lower left corner of the package.

Step 2: Step 1: The spring rod

Picture of Step 1: The spring rod
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Warning: The spring rod can bite if you play with it! I have a blood blister where the washer caught the tip of my finger. This is not much of an issue when the unit is completed, but please use caution.

What you need:
1 treaded rod
2 washers
1 spring (or two of the short springs)
1 wing nut

What to do:
Assemble onto the rod: Wing nut > washer > spring (or two springs) > washer

What you need for the updated version:
1 treaded rod
1 washer
1 short spring
1 long spring
1 wing nut

What to do:
Watch the video or see the photo.

Step 3: Step 2:. The foot

Picture of Step 2:. The foot
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What you need:
Cut a 1¾ piece of the electrical conduit. A tubing cutter works best.
Cut a 18" piece of parachute cord
1 EMT bushing
1 rubber tip

What to do:
Run the parachute cord through the short piece of electrical conduit then put the rubber tip on the conduit so it captures the parachute cord. Do this in such a way that the long bit of the parachute cord is to the outside. Add the EMT bushing to the end of the conduit.

The updated version does without the EMT bushing

Step 4: Step 3: The works

Picture of Step 3: The works
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What you need:
The foot assembly from step 2
Some tape. Permacell gaffers tape is recommended.
The spring rod assembly from step 1

What to do:
Tape the foot assembly capturing the EMT bushing and the parachute cord (I used 2 inch permacell cut into a 1” strip).

Add a 1” strip of tape to the end of the spring rod assembly on the wing nut end. This is only a few wraps that serve to take some of the wiggle out of the system between the threaded rod and the inside of the conduit. It also retains the foot.

Press the foot assembly onto the wing nut end of the rod assembly.

Step 5: Step 4: Meeting the pole

Picture of Step 4: Meeting the pole
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What you need:
The rest of your conduit
The foot/spring rod assembly from step 3
Some tape
1 EMT bushing

What to do:
Add the EMT bushing to the foot/spring rod assembly on the end opposite the foot. The EMT bushing should have the cup end facing away from the foot since it will accept the long piece of conduit.

The updated version omits the EMT bushing

Roll a few layers of tape around the end of the foot/spring rod assembly. You should use just enough so that the assembly fits nicely in the end of the conduit. It should not be tight or you are likely to roll the tape and make the extension action unworkable. I recommend using permacel not electrical tape as the electrical tape is more likely to roll or gum up.

Insert the end of the foot/spring rod assembly into the conduit.

Tape the end of the parachute cord to long part of the conduit. It should be short enough that you cannot pull the foot/spring rod assembly from the conduit but loose enough that you can pull it out of the way to work the wing nut.

Step 6: Step 5: Cut to length and finish

Picture of Step 5: Cut to length and finish
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What you need:
The pole assembly from step 4
1 rubber tip

Run the wing nut most of the way towards the foot. This will give you the greatest ability to lengthen the pole latter.

Measure from the floor to your ceiling where you will use the compression pole. Take this measurement and add 1 ½ to two inches.

Measure from the bottom of the foot up the pole and mark the pole.

Cut the conduit at this mark.

Add the rubber tip to the end of the conduit.

Step 7: Step 6: Test and use

Push the foot down on the floor against the spring pressure. Move the top tip across the ceiling until it is directly above the foot. Release. Does it feel right?

If it does not fit vertically between floor and ceiling, shorten the conduit. If it is loose, tighten the wing nut so the assembly gets longer. You probably have about 2 inches of adjustability. Do not go too far, buy another piece of conduit instead.

You can clamp, tape and wire tie to the pole or you can capture a backdrop between the top tip and the ceiling. Two compression poles and you have a backdrop holder.

You can see it in action in the video on the first page.
brupi896 years ago
Wonderful!!! This is a very useful gadget! But...if you "swap" top-down, the cord isn't necessary, because you press down directly the pole...isn't better? P.S. Excuse me for my bad English...I'm italian :-). And again compliments for your idea!
gnach brupi895 years ago
Usefulguy- great instructable! I had a hard time differentiating between 1st assebly and the update, the older photos threw me off. Very good work. Thanks. ~brupi89 - The cord keeps the assembly together.
enonorez5 years ago
I made 2 of these this past weekend. Worked out great. I was a little concerned that the conduit tubing might eventually wear through the rubber tips. To prevent that I just placed a penny in the rubber tips before inserting the conduit. I also agree with steventrotter above and subtracted 8" to get the pole to fix easily in a room with an 8' ceiling.
One could always search out old compression lights from the 1950's at thrift stores, etc. They worked on the same principle and actually had about 3 swivel lights attached. I don't think the lights would be good for photography or videos, so if they didn't work, it would not matter. You could still use the pole.
fredso6 years ago
Wow. Thanks for figuring this out. They sell a kit at paint stores which does this for plastic barriers...the poles are ridiculously expensive. I love this site. Your great construct has applications beyond photography. Well done!
Built 4 of these this past weekend. Worked perfectly. You can see photo of them in use here: http://flickr.com/photos/steventrotter/2324910109/

A couple of tips when going shopping at HD:

• I had never used gaffer's tape and don't bother asking the people at Home Depot, they just gave me the "I have no clue what you are talking about" face. I never did find any here where I live, so I used duct tape.
• On the "1/2 Adapter SxMPT" (item 436-005), look in the plumbing department (aisle 8 here in our store) or ask them to search for PART NUMBER (not item number) 436-005 in the plumbing department. All 1/2" plumbing adapters have red labels on the box. This might be helpful as well.
• On Step 5: Cut to Length, the instructions say to measure floor to ceiling and add 1.5 to 2 inches to this total. I had to measure floor to ceiling (8 foot in my case) and then *subtract* 7". Which left me with 7'5" pieces of conduit. And this is a VERY tight fit in an 8 foot room.
• Also, don't ask for parachute cord at Home Depot, again, you will get the long face from them. Just ask for poly rope. Here it was on aisle 14.

Excellent instructable!!! The videos and detailed instructions made this a VERY quick build. It took longer to find all the parts in HD than it did to put it all together. I'll be making a few more of these for sure.
udijw6 years ago
Great instructable, usefulguy.
It is featured in DIYPhotography.net.
keep on the great work.
- udi
leebryuk6 years ago
That was well done. I'll have to give it a go.
John Smith6 years ago
I get it! Great idea!