If you've ever had need to make a product look sleek and dynamic or just wanted to lend a bit of movement to a low-angle shot, you've probably found the table-top dolly to be the best tool for the job. Table-top dollies are great for adding more emotion to your scenes, are compact enough to carry in a small bag, and best of all don't require a second mortgage to own.
This video will show you how to build the body, the axles, the wheels, and the camera mount for a table top dolly
that can add both character and dimension to your next production.
We can all agree that whether you've spent one hundred or one thousand dollars on camera equipment, it's worthless if you can't produce jaw-dropping shots. Before we get into building our own version of a table-top dolly, it's important to see what kind of results the dolly can give you. We put a wide angle lens on a DSLR camcorder and filmed some shots both on the surface of a table and on the floor. Here are the results.
Believe it or not, all of that footage was shot using this simple device. And it's quite easy to make one of your own. Making your own gear allows you to practice with equipment that may be too expensive for you to buy at the moment, while allowing you to design equipment that meets your specific needs. Knowing that, let's look at what we'll need to make the first part of our table top dolly: the body.
For this build you need the following parts and tools:
2 ¾ inch PVC elbows.
1 ¾ inch PVC Ts with a threaded top.
4 2 ½ inch PVC Sections
4 ¾ inch PVC Ts (unthreaded)
2 3 inch threaded PVC sections
1 ¾ inch threaded cap
1 ¼ 21 ½ inch bolt
4 ¼ washers
1 5/8 inch washer
1 ¼ 20 flat nut
4 rollerblade wheels with bearings and axles
4 ¼ 22 inch hex bolts
4 ¼ 20 lock nuts
12 ¼ inch washers
4 ¾ inch threaded PVC caps
A rubber mallet
A small bottle of PVC Primer
And some PVC Cement
The body of the dolly will connect both axles together while also serving as a mounting point for our camcorder on the top. To make it, we'll need 2 three-quarter inch PVC elbows, 1 three-quarter inch PVC tee with a threaded top where our camera will eventually mount, and four 2 and a half inch PVC sections to connect each of the pieces together. Some local hardware stores might not carry PVC sections this short. If that's the case, you can easily pick up two foot sections of three-quarter inch PVC from the plumbing section of any hardware store and cut it into four 2 and a half inch sections. You'll want to cut each PVC section as straight as possible so that one set of wheels won't end up higher than the other. In order to make sure these parts stay together snugly, we'll be using a small bottle of PVC primer along with some PVC cement.
Before you crack open the PVC primer or cement though, it's important to move to a well-ventilated room since the fumes can be hazardous to your health. PVC cement is also an irritant to the eyes and skin, so I'm putting on some clear glasses and gloves. Since we're in a large and well-ventilated studio, we're going to go ahead and open our can of primer. Like any good plumber, we'll lightly wet our brush and coat the inside of both ends of the elbow, the left and right stems of the tee, and all four of our PVC connectors with a thin layer of primer. This will clean the surfaces of the PVC that we're gluing. Then, let your PVC pieces dry on some newspaper, paper towel, or sheets of paper for 15 minutes.
After the pieces are dry, it's time to glue them together using the PVC cement. We'll start with the tee. Make sure to lightly coat the entire surface that was primed with a thin layer of cement along with one side of our 2 and a half inch connector, then quickly connect and hold the pieces together for 30 seconds or so. The cement dries quickly, so the faster you can coat the two pieces and put them together, the better. Do this for the other side.
The next two pieces are the most important ones to get right. We'll want to make sure when we attach the elbows to the tee that they make a perfect right angle to the top of the tee. The best way to do this is to cement both elbows to the tee, then before it sets quickly place the tee on its side and adjust the elbows so that they also lay flat against the table. Next, stand the body up to see if both elbows touch the table evenly, then glue the remaining two connectors to the elbows and let everything dry for 15 minutes.
While the body dries, we'll move on to the axles. As you can see, the axles are made up of a PVC tee and 2 three inch threaded PVC sections. Just like the body, each of these parts are three-quarters of an inch wide. We'll glue one end of the threaded section into each side of our tee. Before we do, though, we'll cut off the threaded portion of one side of our PVC so that it can bond better to the inside of our tee. To do this, you can either use a PVC cutter or a hacksaw and a vise in order to tighten the PVC section down. Once you've cut the threaded section off one end, it's time to put the primer and cement on both the tee and the threaded PVC section. Then set them aside for 15 minutes to dry.
While the axles are drying, the next step will be assembling the mount for our camera. For this, we'll need a three-quarter inch threaded cap, a quarter-twenty 1 and a half inch bolt, four quarter inch washers, one five-eighths inch washer, one quarter-twenty flat nut and some epoxy to make sure it all stays together.
As you can see, the camera will mount to the quarter-twenty inch bolt that we've drilled through the PVC cap. In addition, the bolt is held in place by our quarter-twenty inch nut and this five-eighths inch washer which we've glued to the bottom of the PVC cap. A word of warning: we used a five-eighths inch washer because it fit perfectly along the edges of the cap's bottom without being so wide as to block the threads from catching on the inside of the threaded tee. When buying the parts for the camera mount section, it may be a good idea to check the size of your washer against the threaded cap before you leave the hardware store.
With that out of the way, let's go ahead and assemble the camera mount.
The first thing we'll do is drill a hole in the exact center of our threaded tee. So we'll measure across the threaded cap, which reveals our threaded tee to be an inch and a quarter wide, so we'll make a mark at five-eighths of an inch from opposite sides of the cap. Where the two marks intersect, we'll drill a quarter inch hole. We're using a drill bit to do this since it will keep our hole perfectly straight, however a simple cordless drill should do the trick as well. It might be a good idea to drill this hole slowly so that the PVC doesn't end up cracking or moving while you drill. With that done, you'll want to take your bolt and place three of the quarter-inch washers on the end, then your five-eighths inch washer, then another quarter-inch washer, and finally a quarter inch nut to tighten the whole contraption down.
We placed three washers on the other end of the big washer so that our bolt will stick up no more than three quarters of an inch through the hole in the center of the threaded PVC cap. This way our camcorder can fully attach onto our bolt and cap.
Finally, mix up some epoxy on some scrap paper and dip the open end of the threaded cap into it. Make sure it's well coated. Then place your bolt and washers on the end of the cap and screw another flat quarter inch nut to the top of the cap in order to put pressure against the cap and the five-eighths inch washer. Set the whole thing aside to dry for 30 minutes.
While the epoxy is drying, the next step will be assembling our wheels. For this, we'll need 4 rollerblade wheels, bearings, and axles, 4 quarter-twenty 2 inch hex bolts, 4 quarter-twenty lock nuts, 12 quarter inch washers, and 4 three-quarter inch threaded PVC caps. All of these parts will end up assembling into what you see here: a smooth rolling wheel assembly that can be quickly attached to our axles.
Much like our camera mount, we'll want to drill holes in the exact center of each of our threaded caps. Once you've done that make sure that your rollerblade wheels have both the bearings and axles attached. This task can be made easier by lightly tapping the center of the wheel with a rubber mallet. Once you've got one bearing in place, you'll want to insert the plastic axle and then the bearing for the other side. Using the rubber mallet, make sure the second bearing is also firmly in place.
Now repeat this process for all four of the wheels then fom here, things get pretty easy.
Take your bolt and place a quarter-inch washer over the end. Then put the bolt through the hole you made in your threaded PVC cap, place two more washers in order to keep some space between the cap and the wheel, then put the wheel on the end of the bolt and finally your quarter-inch lock nut. The wheel assembly will still be rather loose so we're going to use two socket wrenches to place the lock nut up against the bearing in our wheel. You'll want to be careful to not make this part too tight or the wheels won't be able to move freely.
Once you've gotten the wheels set the way you want them, the last thing to do is to put our dolly together. To do so, take the wheels and thread them on to both ends of the axle assembly. Now you should have a part that looks like this. Next, attach both axle assemblies to the connector in the elbow of the body. This connection should be loose so that you can smoothly rotate the wheels in and out. This will allow you to make predictable turns around an object. finally, screw the camera mount to the bottom of a light-weight camcorder or DSLR and thread it into the top of the tee on the dolly's body.
Here's what your table-top dolly should look like when it's all said and done. Now you can paint it black to give it a clean pro finish and start using it to make your next product shot look interesting and professional!