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How to Build A $100 Crane

by Joren Clark

I built it out of need. I had a shot I wanted to do for a music video and needed a jib arm or crane. Since then, I've used it for a dozen or so projects, including professionally for a commercial and promotional video. I designed it by heavily researching on the Internet. I looked at all the other designs or pictures available for free. There are jib arm designs for sale, but I feel no one should buy those because there are so many great free web sites with people sharing information with others. Then I looked at the pro models to see how they are designed. Then I sat down and created my own design, stealing from everything I learned from the designs available online. Don't take my design as the end all in DIY jib arms. It was the best for me within my means. Hopefully you can learn something that will help you make your jib the best for you within your means.

Here it is in all its glory. I don't know if the proper name is jib arm, boom, or crane. Like everything else in the world, there's at least three names for this. The basis for this design is a four-link system so no matter what the angle of the actual arm is at, the camera "basket," as I call it, is always parallel with the ground. However, I designed a way to tilt the camera up and down, so you can get bird's eye shots that change to be low angle shots, etc. Basically, I tried to anticipate any need I might have of a jib arm and make it as versatile as possible. The one think my design doesn't have is a pan feature at the camera. My next design will.

I've separated the main components into the tripod, the basket, the arm with pivots and the counter weight. We'll start with the basket and work our way back.

This is the basket with a gl-1 in it. It's all welded together. If you don't weld and don't know anyone who can (or don't want to pay someone), you could just as easily make it out of wood or another building material that you are more comfortable in. I prefer the durability of mild steel and welding. But there are other options. I used 2-inch flat bar as the main piece and half-inch angle iron to build the basket that extends off the main bar. The triangle support piece is to make sure it didn't sag with the weight of the camera–probably a little overkill, but who cares. I bought a piece of plumber's gasket material (at any hardware store) to seat the camera to the metal plate so it wouldn't slide around. This is the cork-looking stuff that tripods used before rubber. Then I drilled holes in the plate and gasket and put a quarter-20 thumbscrew up through the bottom of the plate to secure the camera.

I love theses cheap digital cameras. It's always properly exposed and in focus. Here you can see the thumbscrew I use to fasten the camera. You can also see the main bearings and bolt (overexposed on the left). I chose to go overkill and use the largest bearing I could get that would fit in the box tubing. My reason for this is that it'd have less angular play, which might be a concern since all the weight will be on one side of the bearing set. Remember, you need bearings on both sides of the box tubing. Don't buy expensive bearings, but also don't buy cheap bearings that have stamped steel casings–It's gotta be cast. The wire going back to the left is for the field video monitor. More on this later.

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