The Camera Track and Boom System




Introduction: The Camera Track and Boom System

About: I build drums, make costumes, work on house projects/repairs, dabble in Genealogy, eat tacos, and try to avoid a "real" job.

The bulk of work in my shop is custom drum building with Calderwood Percussion, which includes making build videos for our Youtube channel. My shop is roughly 10' x 25' with one central pathway and the tools arranged along the perimeter. Adding an obstacle like a tripod is hindering because it's always in the way. It's either in front of the tool I need, has to be re-positioned for every shot, someone walks past it and ruins a shot, or I end up blocking my own shot. Then there's always the risk of knocking it over and damaging my camera, which would be devastating to say the least.

I wanted a solution which would not only keep the camera out of my work area by eliminating the tripod, but would also allow unlimited angle options (beside tools, behind tools, above tools, etc). It just so happened that I had a huge unused area above my head ... the ceiling.

Step 1: Fabricating the Track

My solution, as the name implies, is a track within which a carriage travels. It is basically a sliding dovetail and lends itself very well to a low profile design, which was ideal because I didn't want to block any of my already precious lighting.

For the tracks, I used 1/2" plywood. I broke the sheet down into more manageable sections with a circular saw and track, and then ripped my final dimensions on the table saw. The base layer was 7" wide and the mitered side layers were 2" on the wide side.

To attach the sides to the base, I used glue, brad nails, and a plethora of clamps. I also used the table saw fence to keep a straight alignment, which is important for a smooth running carriage. In order to keep the opposite site parallel, I used the actual carriage as a spacer.

Step 2: Fabricating the Carriage

For the carriage, I used two layers. A dovetail to run inside the track and wider layer to ride the rails. It'll make sense when you see it assembled.

I snuck up on the dovetail cut so that it would run smooth, but without slop so as to eliminate any binding. It is roughly 4" on the wide side and 8" in length. The second board is 7" x 8".

I didn't follow this order, but my now experienced suggestion would be as follows:
1. Laminate the two layers with seen orientation above. You want them centered as much as possible. I used glue and pin nails.
2. Find the center of the dovetail board.
3. Drill a hole large and deep enough for a 3/8" lock nut and washer.
4. Switch to a smaller bit (1/8" or less) and drill the hole through.
5. Flip the lamination over and use this started hole to drill a 1 1/4" diameter hole about 1/4" deep.

Step 3: Fabricating the Hub

The swiveling hub is made from 3/4" plywood. Since I used scrap, I went with a 4 3/4" square for the base. A space of 1 1/2" is left in the middle for the boom arm and then 3/4" grooves are made to accept the side mounts. You could make this part without the grooves, but I felt this would add some rigidity and make alignment easier. I nipped off all the corners using the miter saw to eliminate sharp corners.

The side of the base with no grooves, gets a center hole of 1 1/4" diameter and 1/2" deep. The hole is then drilled through at 3/8". The sides get a 5/16" hole 1" up from the bottom and center of the overall width.

Lastly, cut a 1 1/4" dowel to a length of 3/4", find the center, and drill a 3/8" hole through it.

Base: 4 3/4" x 4 3/4"
Side Mounts: 4 3/4" x 2 1/2"
Dowel: 1 1/4" x 3/4"

Step 4: Assembling the Carriage and the Hub

Connecting these two parts is simply done with a 3/8" Hex bolt, two washers, and a lock nut. The 1 1/4" dowel acts as a bushing for the bolt, as well as the axis between the parts. Tighten so there is no slop, but the hub can freely rotate.

Step 5: Fabricating the Camera Mount

The camera mount uses the same construction method as the hub, but just with different dimensions. Mine is built to hold a DSLR and the dimensions are below. The only critical aspect is to keep the 1 1/2" spacing between the rails, which will accept the boom arms.

For the threaded camera mount, I cut the head off of a 1/4-20 bolt (threaded rod is another option) and used a lock nut to set the depth for my camera's insert. That will keep me from cranking it too tight, but also makes me comfortable hanging my camera from the ceiling because I know I have a solid connection. The handle is a section of 1 1/4" dowel with a hole drilled down the center for gluing in the bolt.

Assembly is pretty simple. After finding center, I used a forstner bit to drill a hole large enough in diameter for the lock nut and just deep enough so that it sits just below the surface. The hole is then drilled through with a 1/4" bit. The bolt is dropped in from the top, washer added on to bottom, and then the handle attached to the bolt with epoxy.

Camera Mount Base: 6 5/8" x 5"
Rails: 8 3/4" x 2 1/2"
Dowel: 1 1/4" x length comfortable for your hand

Step 6: Fabricating the Boom Arms

The booms arms are a two layer lamination of 3/4" plywood. Any bowing in the wood was faced toward the inside, glued, and clamped. Once dry, they were ripped to 2" wide and cut to desired length. A mark is made at each end ... 1" in from each side ... and an arc is made using a compass. Drill a 5/16" through hole at your mark and then cut/sand your arc.

I currently have a 24" and a 40" boom. When I end up with more scrap plywood, I'll make a 32" boom.

Step 7: Camera Mount Glamour Shots

I quickly sanded all the parts by hand .. mostly the edges of the plywood and easing over all the sharp edges. For finish, I went with one coat of boiled linseed oil.

The joints/pivot points (hub to boom and boom to camera mount) are secured with 5/16" x 3 1/2" carriage bolts from the home center and star knobs from Woodcraft. You could make your own knobs out of plywood and a T-nut, but I like these star knobs, so I just buy them in bulk for use on all of my jigs.

The camera is fully supported by the mount base and easily positioned for different shots. The one thing I didn't like is that the actual camera has to be rotated on the base in order to get overhead shots, but I solved that problem with my multi-axis camera mount.

Step 8: Camera Track System Glamour Shots

By joining two of the 8' tracks, I created a 16' run down the center of my shop. The third track, which was just short of 7' since some of that wood was used for the carriages, was cut into three sections. A 5' section mounted above the lathe and then two 8" sections for fixed positions ... one between the drill press and bandsaw ... one by my lumber rack to get different angles of the table saw and miter saw.

The tracks were mounted with screws to the ceiling/floor joists. The 16' run required some shimming in the middle for smooth running, but that was a quick fix. I also coated the carriage dovetail with paste wax to further improve the travel.

The system works great, can easily be configured to fit any space, and is very inexpensive to make.

Step 9: The Build Video

Wood Contest

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MAKE ENERGY: A US-Mexico Innovation Challenge

Participated in the
MAKE ENERGY: A US-Mexico Innovation Challenge

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    This is a great idea, thanks for sharing this. I'm moving to a new shop in a few weeks, and this will be on my to do list.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    How easily does the carriage slide in the track? If it is a little sticky, then maybe pulling closer to the carriage might help. Perhaps a string attached to the carriage base to give you a good place to pull?


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    It slides very freely. Since I used the carriage to space the actual track, the rails are pretty parallel - so no binding issues there. I then trimmed the width of the carriage slightly so it sat a bit lower in the track - that way most of the contact is on the mitered edges and not rubbing against the top plywood constantly. Sanding smooth and slathering on paste wax helped even more.

    I just move it by pushing the carriage instead of putting unnecessary stress on the joints. It's a basement, so the ceiling isn't out of reach.


    8 years ago

    Good idea and implementation!