Tuesday, October 28, 2014

DIY Lightstand Table


As a product photographer, shooting tables are a necessity. I have several DIY tables that I have built over the years that have served their purpose and been quite adequate for their needs. However, as an instructor I needed a very small elevated table for holding up a screen projector. It seems that not every venue I lecture at has presentation equipment. What to do... well, time for a do-it-yourself project.

Analyzing my needs was easy. I needed something small enough to be unobtrusive but large enough to hold my projector. It had to be stable enough so it doesn't come crashing down during my lectures yet light enough to transport. It also had to be high enough for a proper projection angle. Building a table that small and that tall wasn't so much the issue, but how do you transport such a beast? There had to be a way of utilizing or re-purposing some of the more transportable equipment I already had. Then it hit me. Make a small platform for something that's already designed to be small but stable, a light stand. This is the result of my brain storm.

Some quick sketches on a napkin and soon I had a concept I felt would work. The beauty of this project was that the total cost was less than $20. The illustration at left shows both the assembly and the items needed; (1) wooden cutting board (or a small piece of plywood), (1) 1/2" dia. pipe floor flange with suitably sized wood screws, (1) 1/2" dia. x 4" metal pipe, (1) 1/4-20 screw knob.

In addition to the above material list you will also need the following; drill, drill bit and 1/4-20 tap for tapping a threaded hole for the tightening knob, round or half round file, flat or Phillips head screwdriver (depending on type of screws used).

While I recommend a 1/4-20 knob it is only because that is the standard for many photographic pieces of equipment (camera mounting screw for example). It is not critical and if all you can find is something similar, use that. As long as it fits and can secure the table to the light stand it doesn't really matter.

Also, while the above illustration looks simple enough to replicate I'll share a few tips I discovered in my project. First, you should bring a spigot with you to the hardware store. Either buy or borrow a loose one or see if  you can disassemble one from one of your light stands. You'll want to dry fit the spigot to the pipe at the store. I found that there is little quality control on metal pipes and the interiors tend to have variances that can bind on a spigot. Which leads me to tip number two.

You will want to take a file to the interior of the pipe in order to ensure the final assembly will be able to fit on a variety of light stands. Just because it fits your test spigot doesn't mean it will fit all of them. I also found that some pipes have a seam that needs to be filed down as well.

One final bit of advice. If your table is small and you want to use it to hold an expensive piece of gear, consider attaching some safety straps to the board. Use nylon straps with hook and loop fasteners attached to the underside of the board to secure the load.

The most difficult part of this project is the threaded hole for the tightening knob. Not everyone has a 1/4-20 tap but the fortunate thing is that they are not expensive. If possible, see if you can find someone who has one and borrow theirs. To figure out where to drill, slide the pipe onto the spigot and note where the pipe comes to rest. Remove the pipe and then hold it up against the side of it at the same level as where  you noted. Find the mid point of the indent on the spigot as that indent is designed to accept the tightening knob. Mark that spot on the pipe and use that for your drilling location. After you drill the hole run the file over it on the inside to remove any metal burrs.

On completion you will have a nice small, transportable utility table that you can have access to any time you need that extra table space. It's great for product or still life shots, as an arm rest for posing, a small platform space for a laptop or other gear and so on. Who knows, maybe this will give you some ideas for alternative uses for a light stand. If you have any ideas, feel free to share them here.

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