Wood choice for strength: building a camera crane.

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Forum topic by m88k posted 06-25-2010 04:31 PM 1666 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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83 posts in 3151 days

06-25-2010 04:31 PM

Hey guys, my current side project is designing and building a low budget camera jib/crane. I’ll post pictures or drawings of what exactly I’m up to later, but I could use some input on lumber choice. The crane will have about a six foot span after it’s axis, which needs to stay fairly rigid with up to a 10 pound load on the end.

Because of design considerations, I need to keep beam thickness (in the vertical direction) to a minimum, but there will be four of them interconnected in pairs.

My first two thoughts were Ash (for reduced weight while maintaining strength) or baltic birch (for the extreme dimensional stability), but I’d really appreciate any input on the best material to choose.

-- ~Mark

9 replies so far

View PurpLev's profile


8547 posts in 3847 days

#1 posted 06-25-2010 04:38 PM

hard to tell without having a more detailed plan as to limitation of dimensions, but another option would be BB plywood in the form of either an I-beam (3 ‘boards’), or square beam (4 ‘boards) – from my experience these are superbly lightweight, but extremely strong. I personally used the 4 boards square beam to create some columns. in my case I mitered the corners so it looks like a large uniformed beam (no edge grain, no joints showing) with a hollow center. I used it as speaker stands, and actually used the center hollow to pass the cables through.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

11062 posts in 3627 days

#2 posted 06-25-2010 04:56 PM

I’ll second Purplev’s recommendation for BB Ply.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Greedo's profile


473 posts in 3159 days

#3 posted 06-25-2010 05:29 PM

i agree with the above,

but otherwise don’t underestimate pine, it has an exellent strength/weight ratio, more advantageous than most hardwoods i believe.

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3185 days

#4 posted 06-25-2010 05:59 PM

Any reason why it needs to be wood? We built a camera crane out of aluminum.. got a tube for the shaft from a metal supply store extremely cheap (it was a cut-off)

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View Ger21's profile


1075 posts in 3330 days

#5 posted 06-26-2010 05:09 AM

View fussy's profile


980 posts in 3250 days

#6 posted 06-26-2010 06:18 AM

Think about what Lis said. Light, strong, cheap; hmmm.

-- Steve in KY. 44 years so far with my lovely bride. Think I'll keep her.

View m88k's profile


83 posts in 3151 days

#7 posted 06-26-2010 09:12 AM

Purp, thanks, that’s what I meant when I referred to baltic birch. I was planning to build I beams of sorts, with two parallel “boards” separated by inter-spaced mini-boards. Like I beams, but with trusses instead of a solid center. My concern is that the I beam geometry will produce incredible strength perpendicular to the surface of the beams, which are horizontal in my design. Maybe I need to make mini I beams along those surfaces…

Greedo, I’m actually prototyping in pine, but I feel like a a consistant, engineered product is more appropriate for the final version. Who knows, maybe maybe the client will think the pine is more than enough.

Lis, I’ll talk to my favorite metal supplier next week, but I chose wood for a couple reasons. First I’m more comfortable with and better equipped to work in wood. Second, this thing will be used in loud environments and I feel like wood will transmit vibrations less than metal tube. Finally, when I looked at the metals available at the local hardware stores, they all seemed too flimsy and expensive, but I was ready to dismiss metal anyway, so maybe I was too quick.

I would appreciate any input you have from your experience Lis. How big of a camera are you placing on the end of the jib? The wishbook unit they’d like to put out there could be as much as 8 pounds, which is massive by modern standards. Also, did you do anything to dampen the movement? None of the units I’ve seen online seem to concern themselves with it. I’ve got brass axles and rulon bearings for them to ride in, so I feel like I’ll need to add resistance. My current thoughts are for an eddy-brake system….

Here are some shots of the lego model made. Sorry, visiting my sister means they’re camera phone quality.

-- ~Mark

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3185 days

#8 posted 06-26-2010 12:54 PM


I just “watched” this subject so I will come back to it later this weekend with photos and maybe a video for you. I KNOW we shot a video on it I just can’t find it on the internet right now.. (What on earth and I doing on the internet at this hour of the morning anyway…)

Ours is made to hold fairly large camera – certainly over 10 pounds. When it is used it usually gets a 3-4 pound camera but it has been regularly used in the past with those big late 80s pro cams. Our is also significantly longer (20 feet I think).. so I feel that shorter, it would still be just fine.

So yes – will return back with more information for you after I find it.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View antmjr's profile


262 posts in 3382 days

#9 posted 06-26-2010 02:20 PM

I like black locust, and I always suggest it because is very strong – even difficult to work sometimes – and relatively cheap. I don’t understand why you are thinking of plywood for a beam, sorry PurpLev. The stresses in a beam are essentially longitudinal, hence – general speaking – the most rational disposition of the grain in a simple beam is longitudinal, as in solid wood. Moreover I guess that in this design the critical points are the hinges; I guess it’s better to have a large full section of wood there, not a thin or hollow section (as for I or O beam) because the stresses in the wood will be great near the hinges

-- Antonio

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