Camera Dolly (tech Shop)




Introduction: Camera Dolly (tech Shop)

  Our high school has a digital media production course and did not have a dolly.   With the tools and expertise of tech shop ( i put together a basic camera dolly in a couple of weekends.

There is a large variety in commercial pro-styles.   This design was made from some steel and wood that was laying around.    This dolly holds a tripod.  It has 12 wheels (from inline skates) and runs on 3/4" schedule 20 PVC pipe.

This photo shows the dolly in use - without the top.   We pulled some slats from a bed to create a more even surface for the PVC to lay on.   Also, grass getting into the wheels is a mess and causes vibration.  Also seen in the picture are additional weights - in the form of rail road ties.  Two 2.5 gallon water bottles should work just as well (at 7 pounds a gallon that's 35 pounds). 

Although there are a number of areas that could be improved on the result is more than adequate for high-school use. 

Step 1: Materials

These materials manifested themselves in the course of the project
qty 2 ) 24" x 2" angle 1/8" angle iron (cold rolled)
qty 3) 30" x 1.5" steel straps (1/8" thick)
qty 1) 4x4 piece of 1/2" ply
qty 12) inline roller wheel
qty 12) 3/8" NC bolt, spacers, nuts
qty 4) 3/8" NC bolts to hold deck (i tried standard, over-sized, nylox, and jam nuts).
*) wood sealant - rattle can
*) blue lock tight
*) black spray paint (with rust inhibitor) for frame

Step 2: Using PVC for Rails

Schedule 40 white PVC is available at landscaping supply stores and a 20' length is generally around $5.00.   If you need more than 20' get a dowel to join two or more sections together.  We used slats from a bed to stabilize our rail for the shoot. 

Again - this is all made from used stuffs - the wheels, the plywood, the metal for the frame just happened to be laying around.  Getting the top to fit was almost as difficult as welding the frame and the whole project took two weekends.

Check out the gap between the top of the wheels and the angle iron.  It's about 3/16" of an inch.     Getting the holes drilled a the right offset in the angle iron is critical.

In this finished results view - please note the 3/8" NC bolt, the outer spacer, the wheel, the angle iron, the inner shim, and the nuts.  You can only view one of the nuts - but i have stacked two locknuts on top of one another.  Notice the grass on the wheels (this is after the shoot).

Step 3: Wheel Selection

If I were to do this again I would use a larger softer wheel.  I'm not a professional videographer and I don't know what equipment is out there but pneumatic would seem just fine.  The main consideration here is vibration.

We chose to use twelve white wheels (2" dia) to run on .75" PVC because they fit the 2" angle iron.  The larger wheels are softer (and newer) and had better bearings.  At the last minute we popped out the 3/8" ID bearings from the larger wheels to put in the whiter wheels. 

Bearings are either 5/16" ID or 3/8" and have the same OD and are interchangeable. 

Step 4: Drilling Bolt Holes in the Angle Iron.

It's critical that  the bolt holes are within 1/32" of an inch in alignment on the angle iron or the wheels will run unevenly on the PVC track or may scrape on the deck.  What I did was to make a simple jig, and start with a 1/16" pilot drill.

Don't just guess at where the wheels will go - do the math .  Our 2" wheels have an axle at exactly 1" centered.  We measured the desired wheel distance at 3/16 of an inch from the angle iron edge. 

After the pilot hole was drilled I went back with a 3/8" and drilled to clearance.

Step 5: Frame

The metal frame is built from two pieces 2" angle iron with three cross bars and wound up being 30"x27".  The size is not because  of any specific planning but based on what happened to be laying around.  I jigged this up on some metal stock to make it level and squre and welded on the Lincoln 180A MIG with power set to full and wire feed set to 6. 

In jigging it up I cut the cross bars the horizontal band saw at 45 degrees.  I tacked the whole thing and then checked for alignment - and did the final welds.   I then welded on tabs (1.5" x 3" or so) to allow me to hook the deck on.  It was great that tech shop has the tools to make this happen.   I decided to drill the holes in the tabs from the deck side. 

Step 6: Making Hoops

We needed some way to bungee the tripod to the dolly.  There just happend to be some  12" long 1/4" bolts in one of the tech shop bins.  I used tech shops two pin roller to bend the bolts into hoops. This was a bit tricky because the roller is not designed for 180 degree bends.  So i fudged a bit and bent by hand.

advise: if you want two nice hoops, make three or four and take the best of the lot!

second picture shows hoops welded to frame.  i cut the remainder of the hoop off with a sawz-all.

third picture shows the painted frame with hoops and the pads to hold the deck screws. 

Step 7: Deck

The video shooting was done without a deck; the tripod legs fit in the back side of the angle iron.  But having a deck is cleaner.

After constructing the frame I started looking around for a top.  I wound up cutting some plywood from a bunk bed down to 33"x30".  But as I started to work the piece I realized it was warped by 1/4".  It really doesn't have to be flat for this application, and it turns out that the deck screws pulled it down.

In the next rev of this i would use HDPE (seaboard)  But that is going to cost about $90 for this size.  (tap plastics).  It works just like wood but you can't glue it.  But it is clean in appearance and strong.

I used an aluminum guide to cut the plywood.  Set it back 1.5" using the small side of a framer's square.  Followed up with a skill saw.

Step 8: Making Clean Edges on the Deck With Skill Saw

when cutting across grain - you may get something ugly like this.  What I did was recut and  use a second piece of 1/2" ply on top as a sacrificial board - and that kept this to a minimum.

Step 9: Cutting the Holes in the Deck

I decided to cut holes in the deck and have hoops protrude from the top so that we could bungee the tripod.   When ever possible - put your work in a drill press.  It not only keeps the cut straight - but also is safer.

The third picture shows keeping the blade of the hold saw clean using a stick of  wood workers wax. 

Step 10: Aligning the Deck to the Frame

I drilled the holes through the deck into the metal tabs that i had welded on the frame.  i figured it would look cleaner if the holes were aligned with the deck - rather than the frame.

To do this i started by clamping the frame to the table, and then clamping the deck to the frame.  I used an 1/8" drill as a pilot.   each time i drilled a hole i left the pilot drill in the hole to maintain the board alignment.  This is a nice trick if you have extra drill bits lying around.

The other approach would be to swap bits out, drill to 3/8" clearance and drop a bolt in. 

Step 11: Finishing the Plywood

I used a 1/2" coving router bit to round the edges of the ply.  This ply had been treated with Deft before and so I used it again.  Prepare with fine steel wool. 

When using Deft - or other spray products be careful with the fumes.  I sprayed out doors, wore a mask, and took breathing breaks. 
Shown here is a dirty mask - all that dirt wound up on the mask and not in my lungs.   Deft is clear and won't leave signs like this.

Plenty of ventilation is important.  Don't spray around open flames, heaters or in a closed area. 

Step 12: Bolting on Wheels

Using the 2" wheels made the most sense for us.  Because I was foraging for parts I wound up with some nice brass bolts - that were about 1/4" too short.  Sometimes when working with bearings one needs to adjust the bolt tightness until the bearing turns optimally.    The thing about the inline scate wheels is that they have a spacer inside.  That means that when bolting the wheels to the angle iron they can be torqued down to around 20 ft lbs (6" crescent wrench tight). 

First off -  bolt sizing.  We found skateboard axles (bolts)  to be either 7/16" NC or 3/8" NC.  Garden variety bolts are generally National Course - written 3/8" NC.  These have 16 threads per inch.  Also available are 3/8" National Fine written 3/8" NF.   In addition there are different grade strengths for bolts in both course and fine.    Here is a chart

But there are quite a few types of nuts that can be used.  To the left are nylox nuts. Next is an over-sized nut which is handy because you can use two different wrench sizes.  Third from right is a standard 3/8" nut.  All the way to the right is a half-height jam nut. 

The issue here is keeping the nut tight.  As this is not an adjustment nut, a spring washer would have worked fine. I would have used these if the bolts were long enough.  I wound up with two jam nuts and blue loctite thread locker.  There is also a red loctite - which you don't want to use here as it is seriously difficult to take apart.  Like some no foolin around bolt glue!

Step 13: The Finished Frame

Here you can see the finished frame - bottom view, and top view.    Third shot shows the deck.  Note the wing nuts used to hold the deck on.  I chose a flat head number three Phillips screw for the top.

Step 14: Bolts, Bearings and Fabbing Spacers

This will seem obvious to skateboarders but i'll repeat it anyhow.  A short spacer is required to keep the bearing from scraping on the bolt or nut.  You almost can't see the spacers in this picture; they are about 1/16" thick   From left to right - short spacer, bearing, wide spacer, bearing, short spacer, and shaft washer.   The wide spacer is critical.

In the end I did not use the (standard) shaft washers.

I went to a skateboard shop to find the short spacers - nothing in 3/8.  So instead I cut them out of a 1/2" OD aluminum pipe (which has 3/8" OD).

Aluminum can be cut using wood tools. - it's that soft.  So I jigged up the bandsaw to mark the cut at the correct length.  I put a pencil in the end of the tube to catch the spacer as I finished the cut - so it didn't disappear in the room.  I then finished them on sand paper to take the edge off.

The fourth picture shows the parts on their sides.

Step 15: Bolt the Wheels On

Finally.  I bolted the wheels on. Here is what the two wheels look like with jam nuts.  Again - the wheels were used and running them in the grass makes them look a bit icky.

Step 16: Deck - Top View With Hoops Visible - Complete

Here is the finished deck.  It's a decent prototype.  The metal frame is fine but I would have preferred something cleaner for the deck (like the 1/2" thick HDPE)

Step 17: Finished Dolly With Tripod Strapped On

I'm using an adjustable nylon strap here.  A bungee might work better.    The over all functionality is fine - and it's probably just going to get beat up and tossed around at high school (i'm donating it to the digital media group).   The actual shots came out great, in this case someone walking next to a fence with the dolly traversing opposite the subject. 

I've still got some touch up to do.  One of the wheels is rubbing on the deck so I will pop the four wing nuts off and route along the path of the nuts.  The wheels tend to pick up debris - and that can make them stick.  But over all - the twelve wheel design seems fine.

Really - there are always things that we could add, but this is so much better than what we started with - nothing!  And that's about what it cost us to build.  Maybe $40 including the PVC. 

Step 18: 20 20 Hindsight

when you select the angle iron for the dolly give your self the benefit of some extra working room.  Go for 2.5" channel or 3" if you can.  I had to go back and route slots because one of the wheels dragged a bit when dirt got on it.  Too close.  So I routed little twelve wheel wells  ;-(

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    9 years ago on Introduction

    I really like that you used the nylon tightening straps to secure this to prvent tipping!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I think now that bungees will work better. But we will see what the kids do.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I vote for the tightening straps: Once they're in-place, there's no possibility to move the tripod. Bungees will tend to extend themselves a bit more, allowing tripod to balance and move on the base.
    Additionally, Alienjones comment is really relevant about bumps. Try that idea.
    Go on making it a bit better. It worths the effort. You'll have a true professional tool.
    (Next time don't forget to rotate your photos. :D )


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I've made a few of these in my time and I can see an immediate flaw in this one just like the first one I made. The "pipe saddles" holding the rails on the sleepers. My first effort saw me editing out the bumps every time the wheels went over them. Ouch!

    A smoother ride was found by screwing the pipe to the sleepers. Drill a larger hole on top so the screw head can fit through it. The wheels don't feel anything and the whole length is a smooth shoot.

    THe trade off benefit of doing this is when you transport it, you only need slide the rails in opposite directions and the rails & sleepers narrow down to a transportable affair you can put on a roof rack or show ski bars.


    9 years ago on Step 17

    Curious how it performed over jointed sections. Wondering if maybe offsettng the wheels woudl smooth things out if it was bumping or jumping at joints.


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 17

    i used two 20' pieces so there were no joints. good point though - for a longer track (say 30') one would want to make sure that the connection joints did not align.

    with 12 wheels it would probably smooth things out. should be able to get the joint within 1/64" -


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 17

    I wonder if having the cuts in joints sliced at say 45 degree angels and then put the slants so they run veritcal if that too could help in smoothing out the transition ? Not sure how much it would help, I haven't built one yet. It's minus 39 out and since I won't be building one for awhile, I'm just gathering ideas right now. Not sure I could transport 20 foot lengths very easily.Thank You. Happy New Year


    9 years ago on Step 7

    You might even want to consider using a larger nylon cutting board as a base instead of wood, no doubt cheaper than seaboard.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    that's exactly what HDPE is - nylon cutting boards. Note that i was quoting 1/2" and 1" thicknesses. also - it comes in black or white.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I have seen the same thing sell for far more just because it is related to fishing or the sea. Specialized if you will. I like the instructable, gave me more itdeas, thank you. Happy New Year.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    You should put harder wood if you are using
    an automatic cutter