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Homemade Dolly - It works, I made it, here's my story


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#1 Rod Blackhurst

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 08:28 PM

So after reading around the net for the past few months, looking at those bad PDF plans that you see online, and squinting at photographs I decided to tackle the project.

I set out with just a few parameters. I decided that the dolly would only need to hold a tripod and camera, maybe an operator. Since financially being able to secure my existence as a filmmaker four years ago I've been a one man operation. In those four years I've had to create all of my own projects from scratch and usually end up DPing, Directing, Producing, Editing, Gripping, etc. So, needing a camera op wasn't going to in my dolly building equation. I would of course, be shooting and pushing the dolly at the same time. This dolly does support a camera operator space and weight wise. I also wanted the dolly to be cheap but sturdy and highly portable.

The construction:

The platform is made out of multiple sheets of plywood, measuring 1 inch in thickness all together. There are rails/curbs on three sides of the top of the platform which function as a bumper for my tripod legs. I chose this method over PVC cups or specific wells because I knew that depending on the height of my tripod that the tripod base would need to grow or shrink accordingly. The handle is made out of steel, simple precut pieces, with a flange connecting it to the platform. I used 1 1/2" steel.

The wheel systems were constructed out of 12 skateboard wheels, steel, bolts, nuts, and washers. I decided on the "triangular" sets of wheels for three reason. One, it would save me money not having to purchase 4 more wheels. Two, the wheels function like old railroad train wheels, with the most surface area and points of contact being on the inside pushing out, for stability. And three, so that if I want to dolly in a semi circle of full round I could rotate the entire wheel housing just enough to send it into a natural arch.

The diameter of bearings for skateboard wheels are 5/16". Each wheel is made up of a 2 1/2" hex bolt, followed by one 3/8" nut for spacing, one skateboard wheel with bearings inserted, one 3/8" nut for spacing, one 5/16" nut for locking (then on the inside of the L shaped piece of steel) one 5/16" washer, one locking washer, and finally a 5/16" nut.

The tracks are made out of 1 1/2" PVC pipe with thick scheduling. The ends are additional pieces of pipe attached to 90 degree PVC corners. These are removable so that I can add more track for a much longer dolly.

To level the system I purchased a cheap level and made a number of wooden wedges, then level the platform in both directions every two feet of the way on the tracks.

I posted a video in the directory of my website. Shot just two shots. You'll notice a slight leveling issue. That is because I got overzealous and just decided to shoot away before fully leveling.

Dolly Tests Shots 1 & 2

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Hopefully this helps someone out there like myself. I'm kind of tired of being the only one I know who does what I do. Hoping maybe that some of you will check out some of my work here - Director's Website

I'd love to get some feedback on anything!

Cheers,

Rod
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#2 Michael Collier

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 10:08 PM

Great design, I am actually building one myself. I have a set of 8 wheels lying around, just waiting until this weekend when I can buy the rest of the stuff. last time I built this dolly (which got stolen by the guy I trained in digital shooting and editting....jerk) I just had two parallell tracks of PVC free. Your idea to have endcaps to true up the spacing is a good idea. Also I like the idea of having a lip around the dolly. Is there a structeral reason for the nut being before the wheel or is it to keep from cutting the bolt to length?

I will post mine up here when I get mine done. It will be a little different (partly because for the movie in question not only will it have to support a camera, but at one point it needs to hold a door freestanding with the ability to move out of frame quickly.

good work though. and no, your not the only one who does most everything. Half of my films are working for others as DP and sometimes editor, half the time I go out and produce the movie (I have a group of friends that help me, so I guess its not all alone)

BTW, i like the music. Almost makes it seems like the clip was more than a test. you may want to think about shimming the track equally on both sides. PVC flexes a bit, and in slow you can't see it, but I scrubbed the clip and in faster motion you can see a side to side rocking, probably because on one side it had the support of a shim, and no support on the other.

Edited by Michael Collier, 14 September 2006 - 10:10 PM.

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#3 G McMahon

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 11:27 PM

Good effort,

I hate to rain on your parade, but you will find out that the pipe dolly can be such a pain.

#1. Tracks are only useful over a hard standing area
#2. Panning and pushing at the same time is harder than patting your head and rubbing your stomach.
#3. Being pushed, your body weight is centered at the wrong at you get a concertina affect.
#4. Problems are very noticeable at the long end of the lens

I guess that?s why we pay big money for higher end gripping gear.

To get the most out of it, use allot of shot bags on the dolly. Get the operator to sit on a couple of milk crates that are strapped down to the dolly bed.

If you join a couple of lengths together to make the track longer the "bump" will be noticed as you only have 3 wheels at every corner.

Enjoy, just keep the moves simple, that?s what I have painstakingly learned from not using high end gear.
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#4 Josh Bass

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 11:27 PM

This looks like it might be something even I could build. Do you have more detailed instructions/diagrams somewhere? I'm really really unknowledgable about this stuff. . .so as basic as it is, if you have something more, regarding the specifics of how it's put together, I'd be interested. Also, my friend was going to try to build one of these, but could never find the wheels. Where'd you get yours?
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#5 Scott Bullock

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 11:46 PM

I like it, I like it a lot! And NO, you are not the only person out there doing everything on your own. It's a pain in the ass at times and the pay sucks, but it certainly is rewarding in a way that the high dollar stuff, by its very nature, could never be. A good one-man-band is better than a crappy orchestra, in my opinion.
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#6 Michael Collier

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 12:10 AM

I had a bit of inspiration to alleviate the side to side motion, and to address McMahon's point 1. If you took the PVC and drilled holes say every 2 feet and bolted the PVC to a 2x4 (ideally bolted to the skinny side of the board, to take advantage of the woods grain, but you could drill holes on both sides and bolt as needed, given the location) you can get the same strengthening effect that laminating wood gives. The holes being centered at the top of PVC would keep the wheels from hitting them, and you would be able to fit a socket on an extension with a boxend wrench on the bottom. May help a bit (and would be a 20 dollar upgrade. Then shim as needed.
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#7 Matt Butler

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 12:17 AM

Good work.

A small suggestion - you may find that your tripod head could be a little unstable because of its high *centre of gravity* effect at your tripods' legs maximum extension.

On my dolly I have a removable tie down ring bolted into the wooden base below the position where the tripod is normally centred.

Just rope off from underneath your pan and tilt head without interfering with your pan and tilt functions, and your camera and head won't necessarily tip over.

Edited by Matt Butler, 15 September 2006 - 12:18 AM.

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#8 Rod Blackhurst

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 08:30 AM

Thanks so much to everyone for taking a look at this.

Is there a structeral reason for the nut being before the wheel or is it to keep from cutting the bolt to length?


Michael - I placed the 3/8" nut before the wheel because I needed to use a long enough bolt where the bearing would be riding on smooth steel, and not threaded steel. This allowed me to use a 2 1/2" bolt and keep the bearings running free.

Funny you mention the music. The song is by a band, 28N, and the guy in my test is the singer/songwriter of that band. We are trying to shoot a very abstract simple music video this weekend and so I was testing on him for that reason.

I guess that?s why we pay big money for higher end gripping gear.


G - Man I wish I could pay for higher end gear all the time. I filmed a making of a band's new music video for a special edition DVD release (on my website, the making of How to Save A Life) and they had this wonderful piece of equipment that functioned both as a dolly, jimmy jib, steadicam, everything. I don't know the name of it but I would love to find out.

Josh - I purchased the wheels at Zumiez skate shop in a mall. You can find all sorts of bulk skateboard wheels on Ebay for cheap but I wanted instant gratification. They very in width, I used 53mm ones.

Scott - Thanks for the encouragement! We are in the same boat my brotha!

If you took the PVC and drilled holes say every 2 feet and bolted the PVC to a 2x4 (ideally bolted to the skinny side of the board, to take advantage of the woods grain, but you could drill holes on both sides and bolt as needed, given the location) you can get the same strengthening effect that laminating wood gives. The holes being centered at the top of PVC would keep the wheels from hitting them, and you would be able to fit a socket on an extension with a boxend wrench on the bottom. May help a bit (and would be a 20 dollar upgrade. Then shim as needed.


Michael - I've thought about this, specifically for when I'd be shooting on a hill that is very unlevel. My solution was to essentially place 2x6 under the PVC essentially creating a platform for the PVC to sit on, thus reducing flex and bend in the pipe. Then I could "shim" with concrete blocks if necessary.

A small suggestion - you may find that your tripod head could be a little unstable because of its high *centre of gravity* effect at your tripods' legs maximum extension.


Matt - Great idea. I'll probably rig something like that up. For right now I'm going to be pushing the dolly straight or side to side not using the head. I developed a music video concept that keeps it as simple as possible for this reason. I can ride the dolly if need be, but then I have to find someone to push it. In my world that seems to be tough.

Thanks everyone, I really appreciate it. I'd be happy to send a parts list to anyone should they want it. I remember all rough dimensions so I could provide those as well.

Cheers,

Rod
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#9 Josh Bass

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 10:18 AM

Thanks. What about the dimensions of the wood? I know you said an inch thick, but as far as length/width? Also, the triangular piece of metal the wheels attach to--is that a custom made/shaped thing, or something simply purchased?

Again, I have no know-how about handyman stuff. Arty crafty stuff, maybe a little, but even basic woodworking, not so much.

Edited by Josh Bass, 15 September 2006 - 10:19 AM.

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#10 Rod Blackhurst

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 03:59 PM

Josh,

I used several pieces of plywood that varried in size. They were 1/2" to start so I had to screw two pieces together to get my inch of thickness. I made my platform 42 inches by 30 inches, rather arbitrary but I wanted it to be a rectangle. If you are going to make it so that it can hold an operator and monitor I would suggest 4 feet by 3 feet.

The metal L shaped pieces is available at HOME Depot as a garage door item, or if you bring in a picture they can direct you to the piece. I did have to cut the steel and drill a hole to bolt the pieces to the platform. This would require a hack saw and a steel drill bit & drill. As far as plywood goes at Home Depot they will cut pieces for you. And if you get a nice employee they'll cut as specific as you want (as long as there isn't a huge line).

Tools: Drill, Saw (table saw or other to make platform), Hack Saw (for metal) and a hand saw for PVC. You'll probably want to sand down some of the wood so you don't get splinters and also the metal so you don't get burrs which hurt.

Hope this helps a little more,

Rod
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#11 Josh Bass

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 09:01 PM

I think that'd about do it. If I go ahead, I think I can glean the rest from pics and your earlier posts. Thanks.
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#12 Alex Wuijts

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Posted 16 September 2006 - 09:18 AM

This does indeed look like somethig i could build. Thanks for posting, good luck with it.
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#13 Rod Blackhurst

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Posted 16 September 2006 - 03:17 PM

I say have at it. I'm in the process of trying to shoot a project entirely with the dolly right now and so far so good.

The key aspect is leveling it so that you don't get wobbles or tilts, or drops in the pipe. I rode the dolly today while my friends girlfriend pushed it, and it worked great.

More to come as I get a real edit up here.

Cheers,

Rod
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#14 Josh Bass

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Posted 25 September 2006 - 11:13 AM

Do you have the measurements for how you placed the. . .er. . .triangular piece of metal that the wheels are mounted to? What I mean is, how far inward from the long side of the dolly, and how far inward from the shorter length?

Can an older drill pierce through metal? My pappy has one (I'd prefer to borrow and not buy when I can), but it's somewhat ancient. Not one of them newfangled fancy drills.
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#15 Michael Campanella

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Posted 14 October 2006 - 10:54 AM

Well done, I'm planning on making a ladder dolly sooner or later.
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#16 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 15 October 2006 - 09:31 AM

Do you have the measurements for how you placed the. . .er. . .triangular piece of metal that the wheels are mounted to? What I mean is, how far inward from the long side of the dolly, and how far inward from the shorter length?

Can an older drill pierce through metal? My pappy has one (I'd prefer to borrow and not buy when I can), but it's somewhat ancient. Not one of them newfangled fancy drills.


There is a product known as Dexian in the UK which is very similar to the angled metal Rod used. It's used for constructing shelving units.

With the right Bit, even an old drill will pierce metal.
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