The $10 PVC C-stand

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Introduction: The $10 PVC C-stand

A C-stand is an important part of any photography studio. C-stands are high-quality adjustable stands used to mount lights, reflectors, hold up backgrounds, etc. The problem is that real professional c-stands get expensive. If you want to buy one new on the internet, expect to pay at least $200, not including shipping. Even used ones on Ebay are pricy and are expensive to ship because of their weight.

In this instructable, I will demonstrate how to make your own c-stand out of plumbing pieces for under $10! The C-stand i made in the picture below is pretty sturdy, and looks a lot like the real thing.

On the next page we'll discuss the materials for this project...

Please vote for this project in the Digital Days Photo contest going on right now!

Step 1: Supplies

Like I mentioned before, everything you need can be bought at your hardware store.

The things you will need are:

  • 3/4 inch PVC pipe - This stuff is usually sold in lengths of 10ft. Buy ten feet of this pipe. You will not have much leftover
  • 1/2 inch PVC pipe - Just like above, buy a 10 foot piece. This pipe will form the riser, or the part that goes up and down to adjust the height.
  • 2 3/4 tee junctions
  • 4 3/4 elbow junctions - These are those 90-degree connectors
  • 3 3/4 caps - These will be put on the legs to cover them.
  • 1 3/4 straight connector
  • 1 3/4 to 1/2 adapter - This adapter will make sure the 1/2" pipe will slide smoothly
  • Drill tap - You will need a tap to make screw threads in the adapter.
  • Screw - This eye-bolt screw should match the size of the tap above.

You will also need a saw to cut the pipe

Step 2: Making the Stem

We are going to start building the base of the C-stand first.

Using a saw, cut two 1-1/2 inch pieces of the 3/4 inch pipe.

You should also get together one elbow and two tee junctions.

Insert the small piece of pipe into the elbow, and stuff the other end into a tee junction. Then get the second piece of pipe and use it to attach the last tee junction.

Now, look at the stem from the top and try your best to position the parts at equally spaced 120 degree angles

Step 3: Build the Rest of the Base

We will now finish building the base.

Before we can assemble it, we must cut the appropriate lengths of 3/4 inch PVC pipe.

You will need:

  • One section 10 inches long
  • One section 4 inches long
  • One section 6 inches long
  • Three 8 inch pieces.

To make a leg, take one of the 8 in pieces and stick it into an elbow junction. On the other end of the elbow, stick in one of the other length sections and put on a cap to close it.

Repeat this process three times until you have made all three legs.

Now, take the legs and attach them into the stem, with the 8 inch pipe at the top.

A couple of notes:
  • Do not use glue in this project. You may have to adjust the C-stand a few times or swap parts if something ever brakes
  • Also, you might have to trim some of the pipes used above to make them fit perfectly.

Step 4: Make the Riser

We will now, over the next few steps, build the riser -the section that slides up and down to adjust the height of the stand.

You should have a few feet of pipe leftover. I recommend using about 4 feet of pipe for the riser. Using the saw again, trim this pipe down to four feet.

Then, take the piece of pipe you just cut and press it down into the base.

Step 5: Making the Adapter

This adapter will go on to of the stand. It will make sure the 1/2 inch pipe will slide up and down smoothly. It will also let you tighten the stand to hold the riser in place.

Take the straight adapter and the 3/4 to 1/2 adapter. Stick them into eachother.

Using a drill, drill a hole into the side of the adapter. Then, take the tapper and go through the hole again. You know have a hole for the eye bolt.

The last step is to file down the inside of the 3/4 to 1/2 adapter because the 1/2 inch pipe cannot slide though it easily unless you widen the adapter.

Step 6: Finishing Up

The last thing to do is to drop in the 1/2 inch pipe. Once you have done so, try it out! See if you can slide it up and down and tighten the bolt to lock it in place.

While this project is not as sturdy as a real c-stand, it will do a good job holding reflectors or cameras, maybe even lights. If you make a second one, you can use them to hold backdrops or green screens.

You may also find it useful to make attachments like clamps. A great trick a saw is to use electrical pipe conduit holders to grab onto the riser. You can see some examples below.

Please vote for this instructable in the Digital Days contest.

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18 Comments

This is quite an old post but I cannot seem to understand how to can get your 1/2" pipe to slide instead of the 3/4" pipe. The outer diameter is bigger than the internal diameter of the 3/4" pipe. Could you please provide some detail on this? It looks like you have to cut different sizes of 1/2" pipe and just stick in the top and bolt it down.

This seems fine for holding a flag, a silk or mounting a light on top of the vertical shaft (assuming you make some sort of adapter for the pin), but the real thing that makes a c-stand so useful is the gobo arm.  I don't think making a pvc gobo arm would be difficult, but I'm concerned about if it would be able to support the weight of a light or big piece of duvetyne when fully extended, especially to the side.  Have you made a gobo arm and if so, how much weight are you comfortable putting on it?

I was also wondering about the potential of a sturdier base. How about something like this - the only problem I can see is stopping the middle t-connector spinning around. Involves a lot less precise measurements for lengths of pipes though. I might go get some pipe from B&Q and give it a go!

Let me know how it goes! The base of my c-stand is designed to spread out the weight as much as possible to create a low center of gravity to prevent it from tipping and to allow multiple stands to placed in a tight space, but your design looks like it will work. If you use PVC, you will probably have to glue the middle T-junction!!!

It'd be great if you would show close up videos of the C Stand in action, like the pipe sliding up and down.  I don't see how an 3/4 to 1/2 adapter allows for this.

I'm struggling to see where the 1/2" pipe goes - can you add some more detailed photos of that bit? Would also love to see this in action!

thanks :)

Wouldn't it be more sturdy if made from metal pipe? No less customizable, just a little harder to build, and a little more expensive. But you'd end up with something much sturdier, wouldn't you?

I don't much like PVC as a construction-kit, you'd think someone would develop a better system? Wood would be my choice. L

Thanks for all the great ideas about using other materials... The reason I chose PVC is because it very easy to buy and work with. Metal pipes are also a great choice if you have a larger budget (like $50). For the design I built, I don't think wood would be practical. Believe it or not, I have actually built a c-stand out of wood, but it looked nothing like what I wrote about in my instructable. Instead of legs, I just used a flat board. And instead of making a sliding riser out of wood (don't know how you could), I used a piece of wood that is about 1" by 2" by 5 feet tall and a u-bolt to fasten attachments in place. I can post a picture if you are interested.

My thoughts were that with quite a lot of people using PVC pipe and fittings as construction kits, someone might see a gap in the market and develop an "adult KNEX/Lego/Mecanno" to fill that gap. If people are being innovative with materials that aren't quite the best, there's potential for something better? L