Those of you who follow Adam Savage on the Tested Youtube channel will know that when the pandemic started, he transitioned quite quickly from working with the small Tested camera team to shooting all his own videos on his phone. And characteristically, he quickly devised some gadgets and gear modifications to make the process as easy and streamlined as possible.
One of these was to adapt an earlier build – poseable LED lights made out of “Loc-Line” coolant tubes – to make himself an infinitely poseable arm which would hold his phone and allow him to film from any angle – most of the time he clamps it to a stand on the floor, but it can really go anywhere.
I’d been looking for a rig that would allow me to shoot photos and video for the blog and promotional material – in particular to let me take hands-free shots from any angle as I’m always struggling to take in-progress shots of what I’m doing – and this seemed like an excellent solution.
Adam only gives a brief overview of how he put the things together – it’s not a complex mechanism but there are a few tricky engineering problems to solve in attaching the phone holder and clamp – so it’s been a bit of a journey figuring it out. I’ve learned a lot, and I’d like to share the process with you so you can build your own or at least learn from my mistakes! You will need some specific parts but no special tools, and the techniques are very simple.
Price Warning: Just to let you know, this isn’t going to be a “Build yourself an amazing camera arm for £5!” type of guide. Loc-Line and its fittings aren’t cheap (it’s really designed for a specific industrial use and is priced accordingly), and by the time all the bits were together this rig cost me roughly £70. What it will give you is a professional-standard, long reach, completely poseable camera mount for your phone which is vastly more flexible than either a tripod or a Gorilla Pod (which is the next nearest thing).
- 1 x phone mount (must have a standard 1/4″ UNC thread used to mount on a tripod) £8
- 2 x Loc-Line 3/4″ Hose Kit (part 60513) £26.38
- 2 x (sold as a pair) Loc-Line 3/4″ Fixed Mounts (part 60533) £7.29
- 1 x Spring clamp – £9.37 for 6
- 1 x Loc-Line 3/4″ Double Socket (part 61514) £7.48
- 2 x 1/4″-20 UNC fully threaded bolts (Allan socketed head) – £2.52 for 4
- 1 x 1/4″ UNC nut – £1.78 for 10
- 3 x 1/4″ UNC pronged T-nuts – £5.06 for 5
- 2 x washers, about M8 – must fit over the tube on the pronged threaded insert – £2.89 for 5
Total cost: £70.07
Working with Loc-Line
Loc-Line is designed as a flexible coolant hose for machining, so that you can position a spray of cooling/lubricating fluid precisely on a piece of metal you are cutting on a lathe or mill for example. But because it is flexible, stiff and well-engineered, it can be posed in lots of positions while holding quite a decent amount of weight, even cantilevered out a long way.
The tricky part of working with Loc-Line is that it is snapped together from ball and socket joints, which are very tight (hence how it can hold so much weight). Technically you are supposed to use these special pliers to snap it together – you will notice, if you follow that link, that they cost over £30. But fortunately for the few joins we are going to have to make there is a simple alternative I found on the forums – put the ball half in the freezer for about a half hour, then run hot water over the socket half for a minute or so, and you can snap them together with your hands quite easily.
If you do need to separate the Loc-Line at any point, it’s easier still – you can do it by just bending a joint firmly until it pops apart.
Adding the fixed mounts
These fixed mounts allow you to add the phone mount to one end and the clamp to the other, and they snap to the Loc-Line in the same way it snaps together.
As they are both “ball” style fittings, this is where you will need the double socket to turn the ball end of the Loc-Line into a socket.
Adding the phone mount
This is where the build started to get challenging. I had assumed (because I didn’t read the description properly – learn from my mistakes kids!) that the fixed mounts were threaded, and had intended to fit them with these double ended tripod screws:
But when they arrived I realised that they are just blank holes designed to run a 1/4″ bolt through. I tried epoxying one of the tripod screws in place:
But it just came loose when I tried to screw the phone mount on. The same problem occurred when I tried just running a bolt through from inside and fixing it with a nut; because the bolt wasn’t actually fixed to the plastic in any way, the torque on it was just too great when moving the phone mount around, and it worked loose.
The solution I finally hit on was to use these pronged T-nuts which are often used to attach legs to furniture. This would provide a thread which was secured to the plastic of the fixed mount.
Of course, since it has a 1/4″ thread, the outside of the tube which goes into the material is a little larger, so the hole in the fixed mounts has to be enlarged slightly. In imperial I think it’s about 5/16, but an M8 drillbit will fit it fine.
To keep the drill on track as there wasn’t much leeway in the plastic plug around the hole (partly because I only had a wood drill bit in that size), I bevelled it a little first with a countersink bit to guide the drill in, drilled it to M7, then bevelled and drilled again at M8 – you could probably do without this if you’ve got a regular all purpose drill bit.
The end result is quite nice and neat!
Now all that remains is to run the bolt through from the inside, thread the pronged T-nut onto it and tighten down with an Allen key; the prongs sit in the slots in the fixed mount and nicely hold it in place.
And the phone mount can be screwed on securely – I added an extra nut on top just to hold it all in place.
Adding the spring clamp
This part will be quite dependent on the type of clamp you get hold of. I’d already spent over my budget on the other parts, and I couldn’t find a really good thick plastic or metal clamp at anything I could afford, so I went with these fairly hollow but sturdy plastic clamps because they at least had a relatively flat face I could attach to.
My first attempt was quick and dirty – drilling a quick hole through the casing (which wandered a bit due to the webbing inside) and screwing it onto the camera mount which I still had epoxied to the other end of the Loc-Line.
It worked okay (because there wasn’t much as much torque on this end), but it felt flimsy and I wanted to do better.
The solution was to add another pronged T-nut to the clamp; drilling as before, going very slowly to avoid cracking the plastic, threading a bolt through from the inside then using the Allen key to pull the pronged T-nut down to embed into the plastic.
At first I couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t tighten all the way down, but then I realised that the plastic of the clamp was much thinner than the length of the threaded tube on the T-nut, so I added a couple of washers below the head of the bolt and it tightened down nicely.
(and after a couple of rounds of slow and painful fumbling with the Allen key, I drilled an access hole in the opposite jaw of the clamp!)
Of course, I now had the bolt on the clamp instead of on the Loc-Line, the opposite of the other end, so I had to add thread to the fixed mount instead. Fortunately this was easier than I’d feared – I just drilled out the fixed mount as before, put a T-nut on the inside and screwed another bolt into it from the outside, pulling the prongs into the plastic.
You can just see here where the tips emerge, holding it securely in place:
And the clamp can then be screwed firmly on.
As I say, it’s been a bit of a journey and I’m sure there are much better solutions to some of these issues that somebody with specific knowledge would be able to come up with, but I’m very pleased with the final result and my work on this, and I hope somebody else can use this to build their own awesome camera arm (or light, or helping hands…the basic design has a lot of potential!).
Thanks for reading this far, and thanks to Adam Savage for entertaining, educating and inspiring me for many years – he’s my biggest inspiration as a maker and I still get excited about his videos on an almost daily basis.
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