Introduction: Overhead Camera Dolly System
Welcome to my build! This was a huge undertaking for me from concept to design to execution. Below is the three part video series of the entire build followed by a detailed breakdown of how it is buildt, a free SketchUp model, and design breakdowns for each section.
Part 1 - Design, Prep, Track, and Roof Mounts
Part 2 - Dolly + Track Stabilization
Part 3 - Articulating Arm / Dolly Stabilization / Camera Mount
Step 1: Gather Materials and Supplies
Here is a breakdown of everything I used for the build:
- 1 x 4’ x 8’ x 3/4” Plywood
- 1 x 2’ x 4’ x 3/4” Plywood
- 8 x Rollerblade Wheels
- 1/4" Lag Bolts + Screws + Washers (for wheels)
- 24 x Flat Large Washers
- 2 x 3/8” x #16 Lag Bolts (4” long)
- 2' x 3/4" All Thread
- 2 x Screw Nuts for 3/4" All Thread
- 1.25", 1", and 3" Wood Screws (just get a big pack of each!)
- 2 x Door Hinges w/hardware
- 2 3/8” x #16 Wing Nuts
- 1/4" Steel Plate (enough for welding to base of dolly)
- 20-25 Pounds of weight plates
- SAWSTOP Table Saw: https://amzn.to/2Luh91q
- Miter Saw: https://amzn.to/2YXsyRi
- Combo Power Took Kit: http://amzn.to/2q1l5wn
- Brad Nailer: https://amzn.to/2Uz6tCI
- Router: http://amzn.to/2p15eiC + Router Table + Rockler Router Bits
- Metal Chop Saw: https://amzn.to/2HNowU4
- PowerMig 210 https://amzn.to/33cDCs3
- 4.5” Angle Grinder: https://amzn.to/2FhtDLe
- Tape Measure, Speed Square, T Square
- Drill Press (mine is an old Delta model)
- 12 Inch Disc Sander: https://amzn.to/2UgTdFC
- Magnetic Drill Press: https://amzn.to/2WHQAyf
Step 2: Design Overview + Free SketchUp Model
Here is the free SketchUp file for my design; you can use it exactly as is or for your own inspiration.
I spent about a week brainstorming and designing this system based specifically on the layout and size of my shop. I wanted my camera gantry system to do a few things:
- Raise up out of the way when not in use but lower down enough so that the arm could get low to the ground if needed
- Be mounted so it could sit out of the way of the garage when at it's highest, and rest out of the way at it's lowest; I'm in SoCal and having the garage open for my shop is a constant
- Have a dolly that could ride freely along the entirety of a track (I chose 8 feet as it was about half the length of my shop and practical when it comes to plywood sizes
- Have a 360° swiveling arm that could move freely but stay in place when it's not being touched
- Have a set of easily adjustable articulating arms for the camera to pretty much move whenever I want. My thought was this system could replace 80-90% of my standard needs for a shop tripod
- Have a ball mount system where the camera could also be articulate at the end for ease; I tried to find a ball mount that had the same quick release set up as my current tripod so I could move them back and forth seamlessly and quickly
- Overall, be rigid and secure - the system shouldn't have a lot of flex, feel cheap, or be more of a burden than a solution ultimately for me. I adjusted a lot of things along the way - small tweaks you learn as the system gets actually build that you otherwise wouldn't have known when just designing. I highly suggest watching all videos and reading the full written article to soak up all those nuggets
Step 3: Preparing the Space
My garage has about a 4.5 feet of vertical space above my shop. A lot of that space is used for storage, and the rest is currently wasted/unused.
It took a lot of prep for me to figure out exactly where I wanted my track and roof mounted system to go. The best place was next to the garage but it needed some prep.
To get it ready, I move the electrical outlet over below the storage, removed the garage door opener electrical line, added my support to the garage door opener, and then removed the useless 2x4 that was crowding the space. Took about an hour overall and then my space was opened up and ready to go!
Step 4: Breaking Down Material
There are a lot of cuts for this build (obviously) - I don't have a cut list for this; instead I just referenced my SketchUp model each step of the way to break down the large sheet of plywood (for the beam, swivel arm, and roof mounts) and the small sheet (for the dolly). I did all of this at the table saw, followed by the miter saw when cutting to length.
Step 5: I-Beam Track Construction
The track design is a simple I-Beam that is build from four pieces of 8 foot long plywood. There is a top and bottom piece that are identical, and two other pieces that are laminated together in the middle. I chose to do this to add vertical and horizontal rigidity as well as give more space for the various screws to drive into.
After making all of my cuts on the table saw, I could assemble using glue and brad nails. This just helped secure things in place while the glue dried. To connect to the top and bottom supports, I marked and drilled out pilot holes down the center of the tops and bottom supports and secured using 1.5" screws. The beam was really strong and rigid from this point and good to go.
Step 6: Roof Hinge | Part 1
Note - before reading the next step, just know that I did end up remaking these pieces sos that they were wider at their base and had three vertical pieces that attached to the two vertical mounted pieces rather than just the single piece - this just felt more secure (even though I think one was fine) - it provided more connection to the beam, and it provided three times the support to the track. I figured since this was a critical part of the system and one that could be considered keystone, it was better to redo and make beefier.
The beam would mount to the roof using two hinges that were built using just two pieces of plywood. If I could redo this, I would make the vertical piece double the thickness for extra support, but what I have is fine too.
For the first piece, I broke it down the table saw, then cut to length on the miter saw. I then added a small 45 chamfer to each piece to make them more aesthetically pleasing.
Step 7: Roof Hinge | Part 2
For the vertical piece, I adde a 20 degree angle to both sides of the piece at the miter saw.
I then sanded/cleaned up the edges, and marked out the center point to add 1/2" holes that would later accept carriage bolts. I drilled those out at the drill press, then used glue and three wood screws to secure to the piece I made in the previous step. And I made two of those.
Make sure you use plenty of glue here and pre drill the wood screws as these will be a critical point of contact from the roof mount to the beam. They'll hold a lot of weight so pre drilling will prevent the wood from splitting, and the long screws will add the support you need.
Do not secure them to the beam until later when you're ready to hang.
Step 8: Adjustable Roof Mounts | Part 1
Time to make the roof mounts. Everyone's garage roof will be different, so I designed these both to be adjustable in height but also specific to my space (They could extend from 3.5' to 6'). I broke down these strips to length at the miter saw.
To make it so they could adjust in height, I needed to route out a groove own the middle of the two outside pieces. To do this, I found the center of the piece and set up the router table so that I could route this half inch groove down the center. I did this in two passes, routing out about half the height of the plywood, then doing a second pass all the way through to get the full channel. This method worked out great. Take your time, do your measurements properly, and be safe.
A lot of the pieces were going to have rounded ends for aesthetics. I use my protractor and disc sander to create these each time. I then marked and found the center and drilled out another half inch hole to accept a carriage bolt - this would be the matching hole for the roof mounted piece we just built.
Step 9: Adjustable Roof Mounts | Part 2
Here is how the adjustable roof mounts work. You'll have two of the outside pieces we just built with the grooves down the center and a separate pilot hole at the end. You'll sandwich a piece in between those two that just has the single pilot hole.
Using carriage bolts, washers, and a star knob (bought a pack on Amazon), you can loosen and tighten to extend. Once they are roof mounted, gravity will help you in adjusting these easily.
Step 10: Final Assembly I-Beam / Roof Mount Assembly
I move the beam into the final position below where it would sit. I did this so I could then figure out exactly where I should put the roof mounted hinges. The goal for me was to center the beam but place the hinges and mounts where the garage could still fully open with no issues. I also designed it so it could raise and lower with enough clearance to go above OR below the garage. Lots of planning but it worked perfectly in the end.
I secure the roof hinges to the I beam with about 10 screws. Again - this needed to be really secure as it would be holding a lot of weight.
Step 11: Mounting to the Ceiling!
Step 12: I-Beam Stabilization Design
Once the track was hung and in place, I had a hunch that because it was so low hanging, it would need a lateral stabilizer to prevent too much movement. I designed a simple sliding system that could mount to the rafters of my garage and expand/contract as needed depending on how high or low I raised the beam. Simple in design, but took some effort to figure out the exact measurements and methods.
Step 13: I-Beam Stabilization Build | Part 1
I broke down the material on the table saw and miter saw against the design measurements I had. For the box piece, I added the same half inch groove that I had added to the roof mounts to allow carriage bolts to slide and tighten based on how long I needed the mount to be. I did this with two passes at the router table.
I then assembled the box using glue, brad nails, and then screws. The center part where the other piece would slide was left oversize so there wasn't too much friction.
Step 15: I-Beam Stabilization Build | Part 2
I then tested the sliding feature - worked great!
I added two holes in the single piece that could accept two carriage bolts. I noticed there was just a little bit too much play in the gap where the piece slid, so I added a few thing strips of wood to the piece that helped eliminate that play. I figured since this was supposed to stabilize the beam, it should be mostly a tight fit.
I then added paste wax to the sliding piece to help reduce friction. This worked really well. I then inserted the carriage bolts - I used two washers, a carriage bolt, and a wing nut for each of the pieces - this made it stable but allowed me to quickly loosen and tighten when necessary.
To mount the system, I use two door hinges and their hardware to mount to the top of the beam and to the rafters. I use some longer screws for the rafters asa it just felt more secure. I might end up going back and either using a larger hinge for the beam mount or using lag screws and nuts to help create an even more stable connection. But, for now, it seems pretty secure.
Step 16: Dolly Build | Part 1
Next up was the dolly build. The design is rather simple - it has 8 wheels - four on each side, that are secured using washers, lag bolts, and screws - to the inside of the dolly so that i can be mounted onto the I beam and ride along. The wheels on the top and bottom are there to help secure it to the top and bottom tracks so that when the extendable arm is rotated perpendicular to the track, meaning that the most amount of lateral weight is being put on the system, that the dolly itself won't twist on the beam too much and damage over time.
Using the table saw, miter saw, and router table, I could break down my pieces and round over the side edges before getting to assembly.
Step 17: Dolly Build | Part 2
The camera arm was to mount to the dolly via a 3/4" piece of all-thread. To secure it all together, the plan was to recess a set of hex nuts into the dolly and eventually into the arm so that the all thread could be twisted through each component, secured by the nut, and not damage the wood.
To accomplish this for the dolly, I drilled out pilot holes with a forsner bit at the drill press - I would advise using a drill press here to make sure you're getting a 90 degree hole. I then twisted in the all thread and used it to line up where the hex nuts would be recessed.
Using my router and a straight bit, I then cleared out the rest fo the material and could then hammer in each nut to both sides. Originally, I was going to use epoxy to hold in place, but it was so secure I ended up not doing it. I then used the first hex nut and all thread to line up the other hex nut on the other side and repeated the same steps. Using this method, in this order, helped make sure everything lined up and was perpendicular. If it's not - you won't be able to thread the all thread through.
Step 18: Dolly Build | Part 3
I then could assemble the final dolly.
Using a 3/4" scrap of plywood + a thin spacer, I could figure out where my bottom wheels could go. I then marked out and measured the holes where the screws would go and drilled out on the drill press for each hole - again - this just helped keep things perpendicular.
The walls of the dolly would be secured to the side pieces using 3.5" screws (5 on each side). The dolly would hold quite a bit of weight so this needed to be secure. I drilled out pilot holes for the base of the dolly at the drill press, then used those holes to mark and predrill holes for the side walls, then I could secure it all together.
Once the four wheels that would ride on the bottom track were secure, I then could test it out and make sure it rode well (it did!). I then could figure out where the other set of four top wheels would go and went through the same set of steps to add them. I took quite a bit of time on this overall dolly build - it needed to be fairly precise and secured together very well for the system to operate efficiently and not be damaged over time, etc.
In the end, the dolly came out great and it rode on the track well. I had a gut I'd need to modify it further once I built and attached the arm to it, but more on that later!
Step 19: Articulating Arm | Part 1
The last major step of this build was to build the arm that would mount the camera. The arm could twist around 360° below the dolly as well as articulate in three places. This series of steps is me building the top mounted part. I laminated together strips of 3/4" plywood and brad nailed them together. I then drilled holes to accept the all thread, and routed in grooves to accept hex nuts - the hex nuts would accept the all thread and prevent the wood from being damaged.
Step 20: Articulating Arm | Part 2
I used my large 12" disc sander to round over the back edges - aesthetically this looked nicer.
I used my speed square to to make sure the top and bottom pieces that were connected were parallel to each other - if they aren't then they won't rotate around the all thread very well. I then threaded the all thread through, and glued the two pieces together. When the glue cured, I could use my hand saw to flush up the pieces and secure the joints with a bunch of screws from each side.
Step 21: Articulating Arm | Part 3
Next, I made the first articulating arm component. This was relatively simple. I routed out half inch grooves in each strip, and then laminated them together with glue and brad nails, and then rounded over the ends. I'm going to end up redoing this particular piece soon - it needs to be a little thicker than 1.5" to really keep it's rigidity.
Step 22: Articulating Arm | Part 4
I then could assemble the last two articulating pieces. This again was as simple as gluing together strips together and using brad nails to tack in place. I then drilled holes over at the drill press and broke down all the edges. The holes would later accept carriage bolts.
Step 23: Articulating Arm | Part 5
The final step was bringing it all together. I assembled all components together using carriage bolts, washer, and start knobs. I threaded the all thread into the dolly and then did the first test mount to the track - it seemed to work!
Step 24: Stabilizing Dolly
The dolly needed stabilizing. The amount of weight put on on the all thread areas when the arm was extended out was putting too much stress on it. To stabilize it, I opted to use steel plates on each side of the wood that would be welded to the all thread and essentially disperse all the weight in a way that the all thread couldn't flex. I drilled big holes in each piece using my metal drill press, then added smaller holes to accept screws - I also counter sunk them. I then epoxied the steel to the wood, and then welded the all thread to the plates.
This ended up being incredibly secure - the all thread had no flex to it after this.
Step 25: Counterweight System | Part 1
The arm mount was rather heavy and needed a counter weight system on the back side - you can see how much the I beam was flexing when the arm was perpendicular. If I could redo this part of the build - I'd just make the arm that mounts to the all thread longer so I could add weights to it, rather than making this attachment piece.
Construction was rather simple - I made a system that would mount to the backside of the system and have a piece of all thread I could slide ~20 pounds on to and secure in place. This had the same construction steps as all the other components of the arm. I then drilled holes through the entire arm to thread big carriage bolts through.
Step 26: Counterweight System | Part 2
I threaded in the dolly again after mounting the attached weight system and made sure that the two pieces that were secure to the all thread were still parallel. I then made a little walnut screw that I could twist onto the all thread that mounts the weights and tighten them so nothing heavy was floating above my head and could be knocked loose. I made up this design and used the band saw and router table to make it. I then used a large nut like in previous aspects of the build so it could be threaded and tightened.
Step 27: Camera Mounting System
The camera would be mounted to the end of the arm using a pivoting square piece of wood and a ball mount.
The square piece of wood was secured to the end of the articulating arm using a 3/8" carriage bolt cut off and a wing nut. The square was just three pieces of wood laminated together that was shaped over at the disk sander. The carriage bolt allowed me to rotate the square 180 degrees so the camera never had to be upside down no matter which way you had the arm articulated.
The ball mount was secured to it using another piece of the same 3/8" carriage bolt. I added a pin (just a nail) that went through the camera mount all thread to prevent it from coming out, even though it and the other piece of all thread were secured permanently using 5 minute epoxy.
The ball mount has the same quick release clamp as my tripod, so I can always change between the two quickly if needed. If you watch the video, you can see how it all comes together quite simply (although I did spend quite a bit of time figuring this final part out!)
Step 28: Making Sure the Dolly Doesn't Fall Off the Track...
The last step was to secure semi-permanent pieces of plywood to the ends of the I Beam track so that the dolly couldn't fall off the tracks - it weighed about 40 pounds at that point and had my camera mounted to it - that would be bad!
I only secured with four screws on each side so that if I needed to remove the dolly, it could be one easily.
Step 29: Finished!
All done - make sure you check out the final video to see it in action - just a few quick test shots of how it can capture overhead shots and move and swing and articulate all about the shop!
Thanks for watching the vids and I hope this provides some DIY camera inspiration for your shop!