In this tutorial you will learn how to fabricate a hands free webcam tripod with a durable and professional looking telescopic boom arm and universal camera mount. The boom arm can be easily removed from the base tripod, collapsed to a tiny size, and stored when not in use. This project is designed for easy use at nearly any angle, from almost anywhere in the room or even outdoors, without requiring the user to move the tripod much, allowing for rapid changes with good camera stability. The tripod we have selected gives us a carrying handle and sand spikes for rough terrain. We can also hang a sandbag or similar weight from the bottom center post on the tripod to keep it stable in wind. The original base tripod will not be harmed in the making of this project, as all of the parts we add can be removed, and your webcam can even be recovered if attached using rare earth magnets for example. These are great ideas to keep in mind as we build it, but our main goals are simple, inexpensive construction, with no exotic parts, using basic tools and household items.
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Step 1: Project Outline
Time to Complete: About 2 Hours for a Beginner
- Drill, even a hand drill
- 1/4 inch bit
- 3/16 inch bit
- 5 mm bit
- Small narrow pliers
- Pen or Marker
- Hot glue gun and sturdy glue sticks or other removable adhesives such as double sided tape
- Several velcro cable ties or similar soft fasteners to secure cables
- Miscellaneous tools like screwdrivers, and scrap items to construct parts as needed.
- Webcam with swivel base
- Stable and functional tripod to serve as the base
- Broken or expendable tripod which will donate a leg
- USB 2.0 Type A (normal usb), male to female extension
- Powered USB 2.0 hub with enough power for your webcam.
Step 2: Remove a Leg, or a Crash Course in Field Surgery
Remove a leg from your donor tripod and remove any foot or covering on the end. A cheap junk tripod is ideal for a donor, as they will be made with very light materials and simple parts, it must be light enough for the sturdier base tripod to support without tipping. You'll find that the leg itself, when removed, weighs very little but remember the weight of your webcam on the end of it, and the cable.
Step 3: Prepare the Leg
In our case, the donor's leg was easy to remove and required only the removal of a rivet and a bolt. The bolt could be loosened with a simple phillips screwdriver to release the top of the leg and the rivet holding the bottom was drilled on one side and pushed out like a hinge pin. The far end had a rubber cap on it removed by hand, and the near end was capped with a plastic piece which allowed it to swivel in the tripod. The cap came off easily with pliers after removing a screw, leaving the aluminum tube exposed now at both ends.
Step 4: Marking Drill Points
Use the screw hole as a guide like we did, or mark a spot to drill with an awl a little ways in from the end of the tube. It will help you to have a depression or hole here for the drill bit to set into when you begin to drill later, so the bit won't slide away from the mark. This is where the 1/4 inch bolt on the base tripod's head will screw into this arm and fasten it so make sure to leave a small distance between the end of the tube and your hole. You will also need to mark a spot 15mm away from the center of that mark. Your base tripod's head should have a button which sits 15 mm off center of the main bolt, in the forward direction. This fits into a second hole on the bottom of some video cameras and DSLR bodies to prevent the camera from yawing (rotating along the horizon) and slipping on top of the tripod head. If your base tripod does not have such a feature you will need to improvise a way to keep the arm from slipping.
Step 5: Drill Those Holes
Using the pilot hole you found or marked earlier as a center point, drill a hole with a 3/16 inch bit for the main screw on the base tripod to fit into. This will be a little smaller than the 1/4 inch bolt, but that's okay, we are going to modify it in the next step. At the point you marked 15mm from the center of this one, drill another hole using a 5mm bit. This is the hole into which the stabilizing pin we mentioned will fit.
Step 6: Stretching the Hole, or Cramming It in There Part 1
Next, we need to take this 3/16 inch and make it fit a 1/4 inch bolt. With a small, narrow set of pliers, bend the metal on the end of the tube near the hole inward 90 degrees so that it forms a flap which will provide metal for the bolt to grab onto when you screw it in. Work slowly and carefully, the aluminum may be brittle and if you twist it to suddenly it can tear. If you do tear the flap, you can always drill a hole at another point, or cut off a piece of the tube with a pipe cutter and start over. When you're done the hole should look like the following image. You may need to widen the hole just a bit to get the bolt threaded in, if so then try using a file or a 1/4 inch drill bit to barely widen it a bit at a time until the threats can catch. Tighten the bolt into this hole until it is tight, if it won't tighten then you've made your hole too wide or the threads have nothing to hold onto. Check your flap. If your bolt won't seem to go in, try working at it from slight angles while firmly pushing and twisting until it catches and screws in, or widen it a little. Be patient with it and make small adjustments. If you have the skill and material, you could also skip the flap, flatten the tube at the hole, maybe J-B Weld a 1/4 inch nut in place inside and inline with the hole, allow to cure overnight, and then proceed. Get creative.
Step 7: Fabricating a Webcam Adapter
To attach your camera to far end of the arm and be able to use its swivel base to adjust it also, you will need to attach it with some sort of base, or fasten the base to the tube somehow. For the Logitech C510, which is a common over-the-monitor type with a swiveling base, we took a small aluminum plate, gave it a 90 degree bend with a surface large enough for the camera base. Using 3M's VHB (very high bond) tape, we adhered the camera base to this plate. We also drilled a hole for a machine screw which attaches the plate to the end hole on the tube. We used paper washers to allow friction controlled rotation without unscrewing. Adjust your screw tightness to allow the plate to turn if twisted firmly, but not rock on its own with the camera's weight. If your tube is too large on the end to simply screw into, you can fill the end with plumber's putty (a two part or binary epoxy which dries very hard and adheres solidly. Get help from a friend if you don't know how to use it safely and wear gloves to protect your hands. Once the epoxy hardens, usually overnight, you can drill a hole into it like wood and screw into that quite nicely. This plate came from a size small Radio Shack black project box, each comes with a plastic faceplate, and an aluminum one. They have 4 screw holes in them already which you could use to mount additional things like LED lights or an external microphone, perhaps a small thermal camera?
Step 8: Mounting the Pole, or Cramming It in There Part 2
Once with your camera is securely attached to the adapter plate, and the plate to the arm, fit the arm to the base tripod and screw it down tightly. The trick we mentioned with plumber's putty will work well here also if you have too much difficulty with stability.
Step 9: Getting Tied Up
To keep your camera's USB cable protected from harm, but allow it to slide and extend freely so you can extend and retract the arm, use velcro cable ties. Make sure you leave enough slack so that when it is fully extended and the camera is swiveled about, it does not stress the cable. Do not pinch or crimp the cable, let it flex gently or you may damage it. Check your work before proceeding and use something like duct tape to pad sharp edges which might damage the cable.
Step 10: Make It Longer
Your camera's cable is probably very short. At the point where it cannot reach further without stress, attach the female end of your USB A extension cable to the tripod using hot glue or other adhesive, or straps. Be sure to leave slack on the cable here too so that you can rotate the tripod around without pulling it. You will later plug your camera into the extension, and then into the powered USB 2.0 hub, which in turn connects to your computer. Anchor this cable with additional velcro ties. Consider using highly visible ones to help you see your tripod easier and avoid bumping into it or tripping. When you plug your USB hub's cable into the computer, plug it into an entire USB bus with no other devices on it if possible, but definitely not into a hub with a bunch of things on it and do not use the camera's hub for anything else. At even modest resolutions, the amount of data streaming from a webcam to your computer can use all of the available bandwidth on USB 2.0. When the camera has to wait for signals from other devices to pass before it can communicate, it causes your video frame rate to suffer and can cause other problems. You'll probably need some reach with this, but try to use the shortest cables you can to prevent loss of signal or poor performance.
Now you're done! From the floor to the ceiling, and everywhere in between, now your webcam can follow you and observe from wherever you like, and you can point it just about anywhere from the camera end of the arm, without adjusting the base tripod frequently. Simply adjust the base tripod's tension to allow the camera to "float" while being adjustable without loosening anything.
Now you can go out and shoot like the pros! You can now easily shoot live broadcasts, videos and stills, whatever you can imagine in almost any position. Do it better, faster, longer, with Guilty Pixel's DIY Ultimate Tripod!
Step 11: Bonus Points for Creativity
This is your very own creation now, get creative with it and modify it to your own needs. Whatever it is you're shooting, you can adapt your boom easily to accommodate LED lights (maybe IR for night vision, or UV), microphones, lasers, printed lines, notes, or even a teleprompter display. You can print and stick, or paint, logos or text onto the frame and make it all your own.
Whatever kind of filming you have in mind, have fun and don't forget to follow, favorite, and vote for this if you liked it. Thanks!
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