Time Lapse Dolly




Introduction: Time Lapse Dolly

This is how I built my time lapse dolly, it was made with a whole bunch of trial and error, hopefully this will help you build yours.

A lot of the stuff I used I had on hand, don't know where I got it, or have no idea what it worth but I'll do my best at giving you a complete list of what I used and where you might get it.

This is very much a "prototype" build and posses very little polish, I would approach this Instructable as a very rough guide of what you should do, do not be afraid to substitute the parts I used for parts that you have or can get easily.

This is my first Instructable so I apologize for any shortcomings.

Step 1: Doin' Rails

I will start with the rails because I found it super simple to set the width of the dolly cart if you already have the rail made.

Parts and Tools (all costs are an estimate, I didn't pay close attention to costs because it scares me)

2 x 8ft 1" square aluminum tubing $30 each here in Canada probably much cheaper down south.
1 x 4ft 1/4 20 threaded rod $2
6 x 1/4 20 sex bolts...yeah (aka barrel nuts or Chicago bolts) $1 each.
6 x 1" steel hinges $2-3 a pair.

Drill bits and a drill and a 1/4 20 tap/ thread cutter, preferably a drill press to keep things straight.
Some thing to cut the aluminum tubing, I used my compound miter saw.
Hack saw
Allen wrenches

Step 1 Cut the rails to length

I originally used the full 8ft but found it a pain to move around and handle in general so I cut mine down to six feet leaving me with two 2ft pieces to use for other parts.

Step 2 Cut the cross members.

The overall width of my rails is 6.5 inches so my cross members are 4.5 inches long and I used 3 of them.. You make these any size you want, remember the width of your rails determines the size of your cart. This is also a good time to drill the holes where you will attach the tripods. Measure out the center of the cross pieces and drill a hole, I used a no. 2 drill bit then ran the 1/4 20 thread cutter bit into the hole. This will be the bottom of your cross members. test this on a piece of scrap first.

Step 3 Attach the cross members to the rails with the hinges.

I clamped it all together and then put the hinges in place to mark where to drill the holes. This is very important to get right so take your time and make sure everything is square and the hinges are flush and your holes are marked out correctly. After you have marked the holes for the hinges go ahead and drill your holes. You are going to want to drill the right size hole for the screws that came with the hinges. test it out on a scrap piece of aluminum, if the hole is too big the screws won't bite enough to hold it all together and the hole is too small you will strip the screw head or break the screw trying to get it in.

Step 4 drill the holes for the "clamp bolts"

These bolts are what make the rails rigid. You have to drill a hole big enough for the shaft of the barrel nuts to fit in. Mark the center of your cross members and transfer that mark to the side of the rails.

*IMPORTANT* DO NOT DRILL YOUR HOLE FOR THE BARREL NUT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RAIL!!!!! make the hole as low as you can with out the lip of the barrel nut going below the bottom of the rail, you need the top of the rail to be clear for the bearing to roll on. See image.

Now you cut a length of the 1/4 20 threaded rod that will reach in between the two barrel nuts. You may have to trim it down or cut a new piece if it's too short, no worries this stuff is cheap. Make sure you get a good fit and you can tighten good, you don't have to tighten too much but you don't want any movement in the rail. You want to do this for all three cross members.

There you go! You now have a foldable rail!

Step 2: Laying Tracks

This is the part that you will need to figure out for yourself. I will show you what I did but the parts I used I don't know what they are or where they came from.

The good news is that there are cheap parts made for this purpose but I wasn't going to spend $20 to ship a $3 chunk of plastic to Canada.


1" square aluminum tubing. I used the bits cut off of the rails when I shortened them.

1 1/2 inch 1/4 20 bolts x 4 $.50 each

Timing belt clamps. I used some mystery things but you can get real one here. http://www.sdp-si.com/web/html/newprdbelts5.htm Just make sure you get the right one for your belt.

Timing belt. I used a HTD 5m 9mm belt. It cost me about $15 You can get one here https://sdp-si.com/eStore/PartDetail.asp?Opener=Group&PartID=30471&GroupID=343

As you can see from the pictures I used the chunks of aluminum to attach the clamp to the rail. The trick here is to make sure the belt is level with the pulley on your cart, That above all will determine how you mount your clamp, this is just how I did mine.

You will also notice that there are a bunch of bolts occupying a small space, keep this in mind when you are making your holes.

This step is simple. Attach clamp to chunk of aluminum, attach that to the rail, DONE! just make sure it is level with the pulley.

Step 3: Pickup Truck for Your Camera

The title of this step is accurate, you need to build this like a truck, it starts with a frame, you put on some wheels and a motor, add some electronics then load up your gear.

I didn't take pictures while I build this because this is the part that evolved the most of the six months I spent building this set up. I will do my best to walk you through it. If you are unclear about anything please ask in the comments and I will tell you everything I know.


3/8 threaded rod $3-4 bucks for 3-4 feet

3/8 lock nuts

3/8 nuts

3/4 aluminum angle $10? for 4 feet

10x30x9 Bearings $1 each you will need 10 of them. I have no idea what those numbers mean, it is what was on the box.

3/8x1/2 x1 bronze bearings $4 for the pair of them. These are oil impregnated sleeve bearings that the belt slides past by the pulley

Pulley $17 I used one of these. https://sdp-si.com/eStore/PartDetail.asp?Opener=Group&PartID=59827&GroupID=346

1 1/2 inch 1/4 20 bolts I used a bunch, buy a bunch, they are handy

Wire rope clamp I used 4 of these, I'm not sure what size I used just make sure that the 3/8 threaded rod fits nicely in it. http://www.homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1v/R-100299148/h_d2/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10051&catalogId=10053

Washers that fit the 1/4 20 bolts, you can never have too many

1/4 20 nuts

1/4 20 lock nuts

Shoulder bolts? I lucked out and found these bolts at home depot and the sleeve bearings fit perfectly on them there is a picture below.

1/4 plastic pluming pipe, the whitish flexible stuff used on sinks? 12" is more than enough

Motor $50-60 PLUS SHIPPING. I used a .45 rpm Dayton gear motor. * notice that it is (point).45 rpm not 45 rpm* I got it from http://www.servocity.com

Ball head. I used a Benro BH00  it's cheap and works great, use what ever you want just make sure is has a quick release plate.

Some sort of metal to use as a base, I used a steel electrical box cover, make sure whatever you use that it is big enough to mount everything on.

I will deal with the electronics on the next step.

I'm not going to go oven every little step in this build, there are too many, the pictures should help on what I leave out. However don't be afraid to ask questions.

Step 1

Cut the 3/8 threaded rod to length, 7.5 inches or so should do

Step 2

Cut your 3/4 aluminum angle to length. This can match the length of whatever you use as a base plate

Step 3

Drill the holes for the 3/8 rod in the angle. Now the placement of these holes is very important. I had mine centered but there was no way to make the motor to fit like that so I had to off set them. The measurement in between the rods was arbitrary, I just chose a stable looking width, you may want to put some more thought into it.

make sure you make your holes in the exact same spot on both pieces of angle, this must be straight so it can be square.

Step 4

Add the bearings. It doesn't really matter where you place these just put them in the same place on both sides, don't worry about the "outrigger" bearings yet, we will get to those.

There is a picture below showing the bearing assembly. the nut on the bolt is used as a spacer. The plastic piece is a chunk of the 1/4 pluming, you will have to drill it out with a 1/4 drill bit , at least I did anyway.

So on the bolt it goes washer, plastic spacer, bearing, washer, locknut.  Now this you might want to play around with to fine tune the placement of the bearing on the rails add washers or nuts as spacers as needed, remember that the bearings that go on the outside of the rails have to track above the flange of the barrel nuts.

Step 5

Put the frame together. this is where the threaded rod shines. Place some nuts on the rods then slide on the angle pieces and adjust the nuts so the bearing sit flat on the rails and the frame is square. It is a good idea to use lock nuts here because you don't want this to move after you have it set up.

Step 6

Mount the other two bearings on some sort of material, I used some aluminum plate I had. drill some holes on the angle to mount the outriggers. Place the frame on the rails, make sure the the bearings are tight to the bottom of the rails and tighten down the bolts to hold them in place. Now the frame is locked on to the rails. you can slide it off of one of the ends or collapse the rails to remove it.

Step 7

Add the top plate. Place the top plate on top of the frame and mark the location of the rods, then get your wire rope clamps and figure out where to drill the holes. I should mention that I had to add nuts on the clamps below the top plate to lift the plate over the bearings. After you mark your holes go ahead and drill your holes. It is a pain to clamp this together but if you are taking on this project then I'm quite sure you can figure it out.

Step 8

Mount the motor and sleeve bearings. You want to place the bearings as wide as you can to lower the angle to the pulley.
pick your spot for your motor, drill your holes. very straight forward.

Step 9

Blast a hole to mount your ball head. Remember to leave room for your electronics.

Step 4: Kill the PWM

This is how you control the speed of the dolly and stop it from tearing itself apart.


Bidirectional PWM. I bought this one.  http://cgi.ebay.ca/DC-Motor-Speed-Controller-Forward-Backward-Switchable-/140357279325?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item20adf21e5d   This PWM came with the directional switch and the POT.

Enclosure  I used the 1591SFLBK from Hammond Manufacturing.

Hook up wire. 20' will be lots

4 switched DC power jacks

4 DC barrel plugs

2 micro switches

* REMEMBER TO CHANGE DIRECTIONS BEFORE YOU UNPLUG THE SWITCHES*  When the micro switches are unplugged the system will be live with no safety.

Basically the goal here is to shut off the power to the system when the cart is out of track. Before the positive from the battery reaches the PWM I ran it through some switched jacks and micro switches. The reason for the switched jacks is that once one of the micro switch is tripped there is no longer and power to the system so you can't move the cart, I have it set up so that if you diconect the switches they will be by passed and the power will go straight to the PWM. see the schematic below for a better idea of how I wired this up.


Find a place on each side of your cart to place a micro switch so that it will contact something at the end of the run. Connect your wires to the common and normally open pins. once the lever contacts something the positive to the PWM will be cut off and your cart will stop moving. When you are adding the barrel plug to the wires going to the micro switch it doesn't matter what post you connect them to.


Step 5: Extras

Here are a few extras you might want for your dolly system.

Stubby little legs.

I made these for simple low, level shots, my cheap tripods wobbled too much in the wind , these are solid.

I used two 8" chunks of left over aluminum tubing and some fiberglass pole I had lying around. I would recommend using aluminum pipe instead but I'm broke and already had these.

Drill two holes about and 1 1/2" in from each edge with a #2 drill bit and thread with the 1/4 20 bit, this is where the legs attach. Next mark the center of the top the square tube and drill a 1/4" hole straight through.  I added a 3/8 piece of  HMWP (high molecular weight polyethylene, hockey boards) as a spacer for two reasons. 1 i needed to raise the track a bit so that the top of the legs would clear the rails. 2. The HMWP keeps the bolt from falling out when not attached to the rails. I simply drilled a 1/4" hole in the center of a 4"x3/4" strip and drill and counter sunk two hole for screws to attach it to the tubing.

Now the bolt. Cut 2 3" pieces of 1/4 20 threaded rod. What I did was sandwich a wing nut in between two lock nuts to "lock" the wing nut in place to act as a handle. what I do is I give the bolt assembly a couple of turns into the bottom of the rail then tighten the second wing nut for a very snug bond.

Lastly I added some wood into the ends of the legs to stop the fiberglass from getting crushed when tightening the adjustment bolts.(this is why I would recommend you use aluminum.) by loosening these bolt you can adjust the legs in order to level the system, I am impressed with how well these work.

PVC container

This is very simple. I used the white drainage PVC for two reasons, it is lighter and cheaper than the black stuff. Cut the lenghth a bit longer than your rail, it gets longer when it is folded and i added some Styrofoam at each end for some padding. after its cut glue on a solid cap on one side and a screw cap on the other, Dry fit everything first to make sure your cuts are good.

For the straps I used some shoulder straps from some old camera bags and used 4" hose clamps to attach the straps. Find the balance center and go from there making sure the straps are long enough to use as a back pack, I left one strap a bit longer than the other, this tilts the pipe at a bit of an angle so it's not dragging on the ground.

Carry case for the cart 

Here I lucked out big time, I found a $10 tool box at WalMart that the cart fit in perfectly.  It is made by Plano and is Model 761 http://www.planomolding.com  I simply cut wood to raise the "outrigger" bearing off the bottom drilled some holes for the bearing bolts to fit in and all done. I know the case protects well because the handle came off once and the case went crashing to the ground, the cart was 100% fine. P.S. I discovered that the handle can come off so watch for that.

Step 6: Just Some Notes

I know this wasn't as thorough as it could have been but I have very little free time. Like I have mentioned before I am happy to answer and questions you have and will edit this instructable to put in anything I may have missed.

I hope you enjoy your time lapse dolly, go ahead and link any videos you make with it in the comments here! 

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    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I really like this, and I realized that I have a motorized Meade telescope tripod lying around I could use for the same thing. Thanks for the inspiration!


    10 years ago on Step 3

    How did you come to choose this motor. It clearly works great and there is a reason you picked it. but Im just curious on what makes this motor more suitable over less expensive motors


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Power, This motor has enough of it to lift anything you will need to mount on the dolly and then some.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I'm going to hook this up to my rig at some point. It cost me about $30 (without 18v battery) and has variable speed and LOTS of torque.  The push rod in the caulking gun was the same size and TPI (teeth per inch) as a scrap timing belt I had.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    could you show us a link to where you would find this?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Sweet, thats some serious Caulk action. Let us know how that little motor works with your setup. It is way smaller and less expensive so it could be a good alternative.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    a few more points,
    -it has a planetary gear drive.
    -can go VERY slow & the acceleration gets faster on the higher end.
    -could run on a $10 harbor Freight 18v battery
    -has a cut off switch already wired to it. (originally to stop the gun when the caulking was out)


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I used some of your designs with a slider I had and it works great. I am trying to mount the speed controller in a project box but cant get the dam knob off the potentiometer that came with the pwm. I think I'll just have to go get a new one at radio shack.

    Stephan Flaming
    Stephan Flaming

    10 years ago on Step 3

    I like the interesting article very much. Basically I love to learn some thing new. And this article inspires me to do som ething new through my side also.
    Antique truck


    10 years ago on Step 6


    Excellent! I just finished building our dolly from your instructable. It works almost perfectly. I have one question. I am not too familiar with using a PWM and am not sure if I just have a bad one. I purchased the the motor and the PWM you linked too, however, the motor does not work until the dial is turned up to about 20%. From all the way turned down to about the 20% mark, nothing happens. With the size of the belt pulley and an 8' track, it takes about 5.5 hrs to make the whole thing, however I was hoping that I might be able to get it slower. Again, thanks so much for putting this out there. I've been wanting one of these for a long time.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    My PWM does the same thing, just a sloppy Pot. I have never run mine at it's slowest speed for the whole time to see how long it takes but after running it for 5min and measuring the distance traveled it should take almost 10 hours to travel my six feet. I have no idea why there is such a big difference. Possibly inconsistencies in the Chinese electronics. I have a different PWM I got from a different guy, when I get a chance I'll try that one and see what I get.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    thanks for the instructions. Im building my own right now, its similar to http://forum.timescapes.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=4172 design. I was wondering what size dc power plug and jack do you use... 2.5mm or 2.1mm or something else?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    awesome build! i will be trying to make one of my own... quick question... why did you go with a .45rpm motor instead of something bigger like a 1.5rpm motor? Would it be to fast? is the .45rpm fast enough to do non-timelapse video?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I went with the .45 because I am only using it for time lapse and I wanted to use it at night and have it move slow enough to not cause blur. the speed varies from 40mins to 8.5hrs to travel the 6 feet. If you don't want the super slow you can go with faster motor. just keep in mind the faster you move the faster you need to shoot for it to look smooth.

    Good luck with your build!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    this is the most amazing set-up ever. i can't belive you made the whole rig yourself.