Making a Tripod

Part One: Making the Ball Head

I have a cheap tripod with a pan head:

It is OK for jobs like the one above, holding a small point-and-shoot camera for long exposures or time-lapse experiments. The cheap plastic pan head allows movement in three directions but it doesn't lock in exactly the right position. This makes it difficult to lock onto distant objects when using my Canon SX20 at long zoom.

So I looked into better tripods. I have a little clamp camera mount with a small ball head on it:

I could buy a ball head tripod or I could use this little ball head as a model to make one.

Inside the ball head is an indented shaft with a scooped top to hold the ball:

The set screw pushes on the angled portion of the shaft thus clamping the ball and locking the angular motion of the ball assembly.

So... I need a tube to hold the ball, I need a ball with a 1/4-20 threaded post, and I need a center shaft like the one in the picture above. I went to my various junk drawers and bins of stuff. I found a nice piece of iron pipe and a bin of big ball bearings. I cut off a piece of the pipe and put it in the lathe to clean it up. This picture shows that the threaded end is already cupped to receive a ball:

I reversed the pipe in the lathe and cleaned up the other end, tried a ball bearing, the smallest one I have:

I have to bore out the pipe so the ball will slide in. This is a boring bar designed to scrape out the inside of a cylinder:


I did several passes, checking periodically until:

For the center shaft, I found a big piece of cylindrical iron bar left over from electric car experiments. I started cutting it down, then tested it periodically for fit:

I used cutting oil to make it easier to cut away lots of metal. Fits:

I scooped out the top of the bar by first drilling out some metal with a 1/2" drill bit mounted on the tail stock of the lathe, then I scooped out more with a cutting bit:

Trying various cutting bits, I started carving into the shaft:

I stopped when it looked right:

The ball needs a 1/4-20 threaded post to screw into the camera body. I used a magnet to line the post up with the ball. Here they are ready to weld, with the welder ground clamp on the ball:


Here are all the pieces. I drilled and threaded a hole in the pipe to accept a set screw. I welded a piece of a nail to the set screw to give me something to turn:

The assembled ball head:

I cleaned up the assembly with a wire brush. I yanked the plastic pan head off the tripod, welded an extension to the bottom of the ball head assembly (not shown) and attached the ball head to the tripod with a metal band and hose clamp:

This is not a permanent solution, but the head is firm and secure and it works better than the pan head. That is, the camera points where I want and it stays there after I tighten the set screw. When I put the SX20 on it at longest zoom, camera jitter lasts about 1 second. With the pan head, it took at least 5 seconds for the camera to settle down. Next I'll make a tripod base for the ball head.

November 2010

Part Two: Making the Tripod Base

Looking in the junk bin for scraps for a base for the ball head, I found this piece, a motor shaft coupler:

The ball head fits tightly if I add a shim around the ball head shaft:

I have pieces of square tube alumiunum and steel pipe for legs. I inverted the coupler and drew lines using a piece of square tube aluminum as a guide:

I cut a piece of scrap bedframe on the monster hacksaw, opened up the 90 degree angle by bashing it on the vise, and I drilled two 1/4" bolt holes:

I cut and drilled two more angles and tack welded the pieces:

I checked for fit, then I welded them on more securely (welds not shown):

My metal shaping techniques are crude. I used the vise to straighten the angles, cracked a couple welds, rewelded until I was able to fit square tube legs tightly in their channels. Here they are bolted in with 1/4-20 bolts and nylock nuts. The 3/8th inch bolts are used as pins here to keep the legs from going in too far:

The square tube aluminum legs are not very long so I want to extend them with scrap galvanized steel pipe. I hammered out a square iron strap using the vise:

I drilled a hole in the strap and put a 1/4-20 nut over the hole. Ready to weld:

The nut is welded on here. This is imaginatively called a weldnut:

Ugly but functional.

The strap goes around a leg through which a hole has been drilled. Here is a homemade thumbscrew to hold the pipe extension:

December 26, 2010. The tripod in use, holding a Canon SD400 camera in time-lapse mode. See results on my bird page: