Introduction: Grow Your Own Folding Bamboo Monopod

About: I love to design and make things; and am currently developing a variety of small consumer products.

This is a collapsible, 3-segment bamboo monopod for use with lightweight cameras, small spotting scopes and whatever else you might want to hold steady without having to carry a tripod.

It's a simple product, a hollow stick held together with a bike innertube; a screw on one end to hold your camera, and a rubber foot on the other, holding steady so you can get that just after sunset shot without a flash or a blurred image.

It does take quite a few steps to make, but that's where the fun is, yes?

If you want to get right to the making part, skip to Step 1. Otherwise, read on and comment at will.

Note that these instructions are what I did to make this one. I would not necessarily do it the same way again, so I've added comments in steps where I might do it differently if I make another one.

Some comments will seem obvious to experienced makers. Since most of my projects are very simple, I sometimes add comments to help the newbies avoid disaster. ;-)

The Story

Eric W. says the story is important to the Instructable. I have always secretly, and somewhat unconciously agreed, yet have felt a little over-indulgent when going on at length about what prompted me to put together yet another set of instructions for making some low-tech object out of mostly found materials. Further discussion of those ideas are probably better suited to a forum post, which I'll get around to later. Meanwhile, here's a longish story about how this project came about.
How does it happen that fully formed ideas spring into my head unbidden? I doubt I'm the only one to have this happen. No doubt it has to do with the seemingly unrelated jumble (?) of images, ideas and things that interest me combining at the right moment, creating what may well become a compulsion that will not rest until it takes three-dimensional form. This bamboo monopod is one of them.

Why a bamboo monopod? Beyond the obvious answers of, "Because I can; I'm too broke/cheap to buy a commercially made one; I want to win a laser cutter ;-), I suppose it gets back to the compulsion to create and make things.

The Environmental Bamboo Foundation has done a great job explaining"why bamboo?" in this link.

The short answer is that bamboo grows about 10 times faster than many trees (as much as four feet in 1 day!), provides food, fiber, and "lumber" and material for thousands of other products. It soaks up carbon, provides great watershed, and is beautiful too. You can make a global difference yourself right now. Help get some bamboo planted in Bali, and it will start reducing your carbon footprint very soon, while helping the locals help themselves earn more money, build earthquake resistant houses and create many other local and global benefits.

This project is inspired and informed by conventional monopods and modern tent poles, which were no doubt inspired by the folding white canes that blind and vision-impaired people use.

I love bamboo, as a plant, as a material to make things with. My first walk through a bamboo forest in Maui was enchanting, more so than many forests I've walked through in California. Perhaps it's that those 50-60 foot tall culms (that's the term for bamboo stalks) was entirely new, though the small backyard patch of yellow bamboo I played in as a five year old had its magic too.

What an amazing material, two and a half times harder than oak (remember this when you're sawing in the steps to come), tensile strength said to be equal to mild steel, and the larger varieties grow to maturity withing 4-5 years, vs. 30+ for trees. Just about anything can be made with it, and it's a food crop for both pandas and humans. It's dimensionally stable when dry, which is probably why architectural and engineering scales are made from it. Or at least they used to be. Slide rules too. Take a look at the end of a better one, and you'll see the the distinctive dots of the "end grain." Some of the best fishing poles available today are hand-made by master craftsmen who final step in the painstaking process is adding their signature to every one.

I won't be signing this first-edition monopod, but I hope you'll enjoy reading about it, commenting, and hopefully, making your own.


Step 1: Materials

There is plenty of latitude in what you use, I'll make note of what I think that [variations] might be in each step as appropriate. See the notes below the list for tips and details.

- Bamboo: 1"-1 1/4" dia. 5-6 feet long (~2 metres) preferably black, or another variety with thick walls.

- 5/8" electrical conduit; or whatever size fits your bamboo.

- 1 inner tube from a road bike (skinny tires, ~ 27" rims)
Get a new-ish one, as my old and cracked on failed right away.
Most bike shops will give you some punctured innertubes if you ask nicely.
If you insist, a piece of bungy cord will work too. Bonus points for salvaged material.

- Durham's Rock Hard water putty, [or epoxy]

- Petroleum jelly, or other release agent.

- 2 small corks, slightly bigger in diameter than your conduit; for temporary plugs.

- 4 washers (see below for optional end-tie mat'ls)

- 1 1/4-20 self-tapping screw (length does not matter, not needed if you have a tap.)

- A rubber tip or cap that will fit over the bottom end.

Optional: - Use these instead of the washers and a knot on the bottom end of the innertube.

- 2 small cable (zip) ties instead of washers.

- 1"x2" strip of inntertube rubber.

Step 2: Tools

- Pruning saw; for harvesting bamboo. Don't use loppers, they'll crush the bamboo.

- Crosscut saw. (If you use a power saw, use extra care when cutting round stock.)

- Ramrod: 1/4 or 1/2" diameter. to knock out the internodes inside the bamboo.
I used a long length of threaded rod, since it's what I had. Re-bar would work fine too.

- Crosscut file.

- Length of stiff wire, longer than your longest bamboo segment.

- Measuring tape

- Pliers and/or Vise Grips

- Metal nibblers

- Tubing cutter or hacksaw

- Hatchet or a strong knife; for splitting bamboo.

- Sharpie or other marker

- a scrap block of wood

Step 3: The Harvest

If you're lucky enough to be able to choose your own material, here are some tips:

- In general, bamboo is harvested during the dry season, as it contains less starch, so is less attractive to bugs.

- If you don't have the luxury of waiting for the seasons, choose the culm that have lost most of their leaves and branches. They are the most mature, and will be stronger. You'll also be kinder to the plant, as it's almost finished with the older culms.

- Again, black bamboo tends to have thicker walls than some other varieties. The culms in the second image have even thicker walls. I'm not sure what variety they are, though they could also be black, but still partially green.

- Open up your pruning saw, and cut the culm 1 section above the ground.
Make the cut just above the node, so it won't fill up with water and rot.

- It's best to use dry bamboo. (Due to time constraints, I used green stuff.) There is disagreement about whether it dries faster standing vertically or lying horizontal. If it dries too fast, and stay in hot sun and weather, it will eventually crack lengthwise. I've had good luck with mine drying inside my garage.

- Bamboo used for construction is usually treated with a solution of borax and other chemicals. A quick web search on that topic will tell you more than you wanted to know about it.

Step 4: Clearing Culm

Since the segments will be held together by the bike innertube, you'll need to knock out the internodes, the thin(er) solid membrane that seals each section of the bamboo. It's easy to do with a little muscle and a ramrod.

- To get started, use a short punch to break out the first internode. Then you'll have enough room to get the ramrod inside the culm. If your ramrod is long enough, you can knock out all of the internodes before you cut your segments. It does not matter either way, just make openings large enough to get the innertube through to the other end.

- Dump the chips out of the end, and you're ready to measure for cutting.

I used a long length of threaded rod that I happened to find in the same dumpster where I found the electrical conduit.

The scavenger gods were smiling on me that night, as both rod and conduit were brand new, and on the top of the pile. It never ceases to amaze me at how much money is wasted on construction sites because excess materials are often discarded.

Step 5: Cutting It Down to Size

I chose my stock for color and approximate size, accepting that I would need to fill the gap between the conduit and the inside diameter of the bamboo.

- Hold the culm vertically in front of you and decide how tall you'd like your monopod to be. This is an important step, as it's height won't be adjustable. Eye level for most people is about 5 feet.

- Allowing for the dimensions of your camera, mark your length for cutting.

- Once you have your overall length cut, decide how many segments you want.
More segments will give you a shorter, and slightly bulkier folded monopod.

I used 3 sections. If you want yours to fit into a daypack, consider using 4 segments.

- Before you cut your sections, put a numbered label on either side of the cut.

- Do as I say, and not as I did, and make accurate alignment marks on the tape.
You'll be glad you did when it's time to glue in the connectors. The bamboo is not perfectly round, so misalignment will be visible!

The segments are cut to uneven lengths so the remaining circumference of the internodes would help hold the conduit in position. This wasn't really necessary, so cut them all the same length if you like; especially if you are using epoxy, which is stronger than water putty.

Step 6: Cut the Connectors

I arbitrarily decided that I wanted the connectors to extend into the bamboo by 1 1/2."
It seemed about right for good strength and rigidity.

Cut enough material so that you have a 3" piece for every segment.

3 segment monopod: 3 connectors.
4 segment monopod, 4 connectors.

- Clean them up with a file if necessary. You don't want any sharp edges cutting your hands, or your innertube.

Step 7: Cutting the Barbs (optional)

This step is only necessary if you have more than about 1/32" gap between your bamboo and the connectors.

- Using the nibblers, cut about a quarter of an inch in, raising a curl.

- Cut 2 more just like it, 120 degrees apart.

- adjust with pliers if needed.

These barbs will help you keep the connector centered in the hole while you apply the putty.

Step 8: Installing the Connectors- 1

If you're lucky, your bamboo fits the conduit almost exactly. If not, there is a putty knife in your future.

Get your petroleum jelly, and corks, Sharpie and tape measure.

- Measure to the center of each connector and mark it all the way around.
This will help know when the connector is far enough into the joint.

- Mix your putty. Durham's recommends a 3:1 powder to water mixture. I start with less, adding tiny amounts until I get a stiff putty. Add the water to the powder, you're less likely to end up with soup and end up wasting powder just to get it to the right consistency.

Step 9: Installing the Connectors- 2

- Wait for the first batch of putty to cure to at least firm. You can make the camera mount while you wait.

- Check your labels to make sure you have the right segments.

- Make sure you've greased the conduit and cork, then press the putty around it, about 1/8-1/4" thick.

- Put a similar amount inside the female half of the joint.

- Paying attention to your label alignment, gently push the two pieces together until they meet.

- Be patient and let it cure long enough. I pulled one joint apart too soon, and some of the putty came out, leaving a wobbly joint that I'll need to re-do.

- if using liquid epoxy, add cabosil or other filler. I'm going to try using epoxy putty if I make another one.

Step 10: Fitting the Camera Mount

This one took a lot of agonizing to figure out how to add a solid screw mount for the camera, and still have it be removable in case the inner tube needs to be replaced.

Another conduit with barbs? No. A machine screw with lots of nuts and washers on it to keep it centered? Nope. The answer turned out to be more bamboo. It never hurts to be reminded that if a proposed solution begins to be difficult and complicated, it may be exactly that; and a different solution may be the better one.

In this case, I took the top foot or so of the culm that had been clipped off earlier, and looked for a node that had about the same outside diameter as the inside of the top segment.

- I made an internal plug, but next time will look at using a cap that goes over then end instead. Then the mounting surface will be a little thicker, with more material to tap for the mounting screw.

- Find a likely piece and cut it so that you can work the end that mates to the monopod, but still have 6" or so to hold onto it with.

- Cut it to fit, either inside or outside the end of the top segment.

Step 11: Threading the Camera Mount

- Drill a hole in the cap, one drill size smaller than 1/4".

If you drill a 1/4" hole for the same size screw, it will just slip through the hole!

- Use your tap, or self-tapping screw to thread the bamboo. That's right, this stuff is very hard, and threads easily!

- Screw in your threaded rod, leaving about 1/4" visible. Put 2 nuts on the end and turn it with a wrench if necessary.

- If you're using a screw, put a nut on it, move the nut 1/4" + the thickness of your end cap
(poke a wire into the hole and measure it)

- Put the screw in from the inside, and making sure you have the correct amount of thread protruding, snug it up against the nut on the inside. This will probably take some trial and error.

If anyone has ideas for a more elegant solution, please comment and illustrate. I'd like to be able to re-create something like commercial mono and tripods have.

Step 12: Making the Camera Mount Pin

- Once your plug fits properly, push it it firmly.

- Choose a drill bit the same size you want the pin to be, 1/4" is about right.

- Drill a hole through the bamboo and the plug when the plug is in place.

- Drill a hole all the way through a scrap of conduit (or use one of your connectors, before you install it),
If you have a set of bits with small increments, choose a bit just slightly larger than the hole in the bamboo. Your pin will fit more snugly this way.

- Split a scrap of bamboo larger than the diameter of the drill bit.

- Pound the bamboo through the conduit to make a dowel that will fit the hole in the camera mount exactly.

- Trim the length of the pin so that it will stick out enough so it can be removed if necessary.

- Push the pin through the hole in the bamboo and top cap. It should take some effort to push it in.

- You might want to put a string on the pin and tie it to the monopod so it does not get lost. Stay tuned for the refinements step to see what I do.

Step 13: Installing the Innertube

What I did:

- Roll the innertube tightly so you can push it through the holes in the washers.

- Slit the innertube on either side as shown, then tie a square knot in the end.

What I'll do next time: See the second photo.

- Put a cable tie on the tube about 2" from the end. (to protect the tube, put a small strip of innertube cut from a scrap, or a wide rubber band, underneath the cable tie before you tighten it.


- The tube broke this afternoon while I was showing the monopod to friends. The tube is years old, so maybe it's not as tough as a newer one would be. That, combined with the slits weakening the area just above the washer must have caused it to break right at that point.

  • Cable ties can be released and used again if you slip a small blade under the blade of the ratchet and pull the loop out. This has saved the day for me several times when I had no more ties handy.

Step 14: Final Touches

- Slip the rubber cap on the bottom end.

Future versions may have a pointed foot option like the commercial ones do, if I can be convinced that it's necessary for shooting anywhere but on ice.

- For want of a prettier solution close at hand, I used a scrap of innertube as a rubber band to hold the 3 segments together when it's folded.

Step 15: Try It Out!

This monopod is intended for small, lightweight cameras. Don't put your SLR with a big lens on this!

Future versions, if any, may be sturdier, but meanwhile, let's stick to small point and shoot cameras that will fit in one hand.

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