Monday, September 22, 2008

DIY Video Light Stand

In a previous video tutorial, I went to the trouble of making a U-bracket to replace the spring clamp on our el cheapo video lights.

In this segment, we’ll construct an inexpensive stand for those lights, getting maximum benefit from that U-bracket. To make our stand, we’ll use inexpensive plastic plumbing pipes and fittings. So, let’s get going.

Plastic plumbing parts are some of the most versatile materials in our handyman arsenal. They’re cheap, readily available, and easy to work with. They come in a variety of sizes and even a few variations in thickness and exact type of plastic.

The type of material we’ll be using is called PVC, which stands for Poly Vinyl Chloride. PVC is white in color. Don’t confuse PVC with Chlorinated PolyVinyl Chloride, which is referred to as CPVC. CPVC is used in situation where higher temperature water is being transported, like hot water lines on your house. CPVC is slightly yellow compared to PVC, so it’s easy to tell them apart.

There are also two types of PVC plumbing materials. We’ll be using what is called "Schedule 40" PVC, and it is engineered to handle higher pressures. The other common type of PVC is called "DWV" for Drain-Waste-Vent, and they have thinner walls since they don’t carry water under pressure.

But, enough about PVC. I only mention these varieties so that you won’t pick up the wrong materials by mistake. We’ll be using Schedule 40 PVC for this project.

Our light stand will consist of an H-shaped base, the base riser, and an adjustable upper section, which will let us position our light wherever we need it.

The base and riser will be made from 1" pipe. We’ll use ½" pipe for the upper section. Consult the list of materials below for a complete shopping list.

The base is pretty simple. We have four short sections of pipe, about 1½ to 2 feet in length, with a cross-tee in the center. A regular tee in one leg provides a place to insert the riser. Each leg ends in a cap. While it might seem that the end caps are optional, in fact they are needed to keep the base from wobbling.

We cut our 1” pipes to length using either a saw, or a special PVC pipe cutter like this one. If you are doing a lot of work with PVC pipe, these cutters save a lot of time and effort. One leg of the base will be cut about 2-3 inches from the end for the tee that accepts the riser.

One option to consider is weighting the base section with something heavy to add to the stability of the stand. One option is filling the base with sand. That’s easy enough, but if you need to transport your stand and lay it on its side, the sand could spill. Another option is to insert lengths of cast iron pipe inside the legs. I’m going to leave the caps unglued so that I can do this later. A third possibility is to simply place sandbags or some other weight on top of the legs. Sandbags are favored by professional photographers who shoot on location because they can be filled with materials found on site, reducing the weight they have to transport. You might want to experiment to see what works best for you.

We prepare the three legs and the short section of the fourth leg for gluing by lightly sanding the outside of both ends, about an inch and a half. I’m using emery cloth, which you can find in the plumbing section of your local home improvement center. Regular medium grit sandpaper works fine too. Like the PVC pipe cutter, emery cloth is handy if you’re doing a lot of plumbing work. We also sand the insides of our fittings. The sanding roughens up the plastic and allows the glue to get a better bite into it.

Dry fit all of your parts before gluing. The only part that requires careful alignment is that regular Tee that takes the riser. If it’s crooked, your stand will lean, so take a minute to line that up right and then mark the parts so you can quickly position the pieces during gluing.

Now, a word about using PVC cement. It stinks. You don’t want to get it on your skin or especially not in your eyes. And it’s not healthy to breathe those fumes, so you’ll need to either do this outdoors, or have good ventilation if you work indoors. These fumes can actually make you pretty dizzy if you get too much exposure.

As fun as that may initially sound, this stuff can render you unconscious and even kill you. Even moderate doses have been linked to cancer, so play it safe and ventilate. Oh, as if that wasn’t enough, it’s highly flammable, so don’t use it near an open flame like the pilot light on a hot water heater. (Why do they call it a hot water heater? If the water is already hot, why do you need to heat it?)

Oh, and normally I’d be using a PVC primer before applying the glue, but since these pipes won’t be holding any water, I’ll skip that step.

I’ll start with that one connection where alignment is important and then work my way out from there. First, I’ll glue the short section (called a nipple, in plumbing lingo) into the cross tee. I use the little brush that is built in to the cap to smear a little glue inside the fitting, and then a little more on the end of the pipe. Don’t use too much or you’ll make a mess.

Now, we just push the two parts together, and then give them a little twist, no more than a quarter of a turn. That distributes the glue evenly and assures a good, solid joint. Hold the parts together for a few second so that it can begin to set.

A couple of tips about gluing: Keep the brush in the can between uses. Work quickly so the glue doesn’t start drying on you. Make sure you push the pipe all the way into the fitting so that it bottoms out.

Once the glue has firmed up, usually within a minute, you can move on to the next joint. This is the one where the alignment counts, so plan ahead for that little twist by initially inserting slightly off and then twisting into the align marks. Again, hold the parts while the glue sets enough that things don’t move.

Repeat with the rest of the leg sections.

Now we’re ready for the riser. It’s pretty simple, just a few parts. There’s just one teensy little tricky part…

At the point where the ½” extension meets the 1” riser, we have a 1” x ½” bushing to make that transition in diameter. But this bushing is designed to mate two parts together permanently and firmly. There’s a lip to keep the smaller pipe from going too far, and the fit is quite tight.

However, we want our ½” pipe to slip all the way inside the larger riser pipe, past the stop. Plus, we need a looser fit or else we’ll have a fight on our hands to adjust the height of the stand. This part will just need a bit of surgery to work smoothly.

To adapt this part to our purpose, we just need to file out some of the inside. That will get rid of that lip and create some more room for the ½” pipe to move more freely. I’m using a round or “rat tail” file to do this. A small half-round file would also work, but finding one to fit might be problematic.

I start by removing the stop lip. Then I remove just a little bit of material evenly all the way around. Test fit a piece of ½” pipe from time to time to see when you can stop. The pipe should slide easily but not wobble about. Once you have it right, lightly sand to smooth the surface.

Now that our bushing has recovered from surgery, we’re ready to assemble the riser. Strictly speaking, none of these joints require gluing. A friction fit will work just fine, plus you can disassemble the stand for easier transport.

Just insert the 1” pipe into the base, add the coupler to the top, and then insert the bushing into the coupler.

Now we’re ready for our final piece - the extension. The only halfway trick part here is that we need to add a screw base to attach to the light bracket. You do remember the light bracket, right?

For that we’ll just drill a ¼” hole in the middle of this ½” PVC plug. Once that’s done, just insert a ¾ inch ¼-20 hex head bolt from the inside. Depending on the plug, you may have to do a little filing to fit the bolt head fully into the plug. Secure the bolt with a little Gorilla glue or epoxy.

After the glue is cured, insert the plug into the ½” coupler and add the coupler to the end of the ½” pipe.

Last but not least, place the #8 hose clamp around the ½” pipe, but don’t tighten it too much - Just enough so that it doesn’t slide easily. Now insert the completed extension into the bushing hold on the stand and we’re done.

To adjust the height of the stand just loosen the hose clamp, adjust the extension, and re-tighten the hose clamp to keep the extension from sliding down.

So, there you have it – An inexpensive light stand for our inexpensive light.

Materials (all pipes/fittings are Sch.40)
• 4 – 1” Slip Caps
• 1 – 1” Slip Tee Fitting
• 1 – 1” Slip Cross Tee Fitting
• 1 – 1” Slip Connector
• 1 – 1” x ½” Slip Bushing
• 1 – ½” Slip Connector
• 1 – ½” Plug
• 5’ of ½” Pipe
• 10’ of 1” Pipe
• 1 – ½” Hose Clamp
• 1 – ¼” x ¾” Hex Bolt
• PVC Cement
• Gorilla Glue or Epoxy Cement

• Saw or PVC Pipe Cutter
• Round or small half-round file or rasp
• Medium grit sandpaper

Friday, September 19, 2008

Repair: Boat Lift Cables

Today I'm taking time out from my usual posts to give y'all a look at a typical day for me. You see, I'm the family handyman. Not just for my own little familial unit, but also for my extended family - parents, in-laws, etc. When something's broken, or needs to be installed - I'm their go-to guy.

My mother-in-law has a nice little house on a lake down in middle Georgia, complete with a covered dock and boathouse. The dock holds her pontoon boat, and has a boat lift. Well, about three weeks ago during a big storm, one of the cables snapped and dropped the boat. No serious damage, but since then the boat has been taking some abuse from the wind and waves. My mother-in-law called her usual dock/boat maintenance guy, who promised to get to it as soon as possible. Fast-forward three weeks. My wife and I are visiting and point out that there's still no progress on repairing the boat lift. After we head back to Atlanta, Mom-in-law calls and it turns out that her maintenance guy got busy and just forgot. While she has him on the phone, she asks how much he thinks this will cost. He estimates around $400. And this is the part where my mouth starts writing checks that my body has to make good... "$400! It can't possibly cost that much. I know I can do it for less."

Have I ever repaired a boat lift? Well, no. But, you know, it's just a mechanical doololly. How hard can it be? Yeah, that's my stupid mouth again...

So, I run down to the hardware store and pick up 150 feet (guesstimating) of 1/4 inch (again, guesstimating) galvanized steel cable for $60. Sweet. We're saving 85% of the cost. I then pack up my tools, a folding ladder and some odds & ends and off I go for a two-hour drive to the lake.

The first thing I discover is that I've bought the wrong diameter cable - The old cable is 5/16" instead of 1/4". I also bought too much - 100 feet is all I need. So, I'm off to town (a 20 minute drive each way, BTW) to buy some 5/16" cable... Lowes doesn't have any. They have accessories and parts for 5/16" cable, but no cable. The salesperson suggests a new place down the road - Tractor Supply Co. Sure enough, they have 5/16" cable, but it is .99 a foot. I know I could have gotten it cheaper in Atlanta, but that was then and this is now. Still, we're saving 75% off the alternative. Cable bought and back to the lake.

Now, about the repair itself...

The boat lift itself consists of a motor which turns a drum (a long steel pipe, actually), and four cables that wrap around the drum as it turns. Each cable then passes through a pulley and attaches to eye bolts at the ends of two steel I-beams, on which the boat rests. As the drum turns, the I-Beams come up under the boat and lift it out of the water. Simple.

As I said, the problem with this lift was that one of the cables (aft starboard side) had snapped. As this picture shows, it parted at the point where it attaches to the eye bolt on the I-beam.

Since all of the cables are the same age, I decide right off to replace all of them. The drum, beams and eye bolts all appear to be in good condition, so I won't bother with them.

Here we see that the cable passes through the pipe/drum, which means that there are actually only two cables, not four as I originally thought. That is good, since it means less cable cutting, and attachment to the drum is super easy.

I cut the old cables, careful not to lose the ends into the lake so that I could pull up the I-beams. At this point, the I-beams are resting on the bottom and I'd really rather not have to get wet to fetch them. I removed the old cables and thread the new cables through the pulleys and the drum. I had originally though that it would be easier to climb up in the rafters of the boathouse and work from above. However, that plan had one major flaw - it made my wife and her mom extremely nervous. Fortunately, it was a beautiful calm day, so I was able to set up a folding ladder on the pontoon boat and work from below. I wouldn't have been able to do that it either the wind was blowing or there were more boats around making waves.

Now it was time to work on the I-beams. For starters, these things are great heavy beasts weighing 200 pounds each, possibly more. Did I mention that I'm doing all of this solo? Yeah. Heavy. I started to pull up the beam near the bow and the starboard cable snapped, exactly the same way that the aft cable on the same side had. Good thing I decided to replace all of the cables, huh? Luckily, the port side cable was in good enough shape to get the beam out of the water and onto the dock. Likewise for the aft beam. Whew. Time for a break to catch my breath. Feel free to examine the surviving cable (port side) on the bow beam while I rest up...

Okie doke. I'm much better after my rest. I also moved the pontoon boat out of the slip for the next steps. I cut away the old cables and thimbles from the beams. The thimble is that curved metal shield that goes between the cable and the eye bolt. It creates a less stressful curve around the eye and keeps the eye bolt from rubbing against the cable itself. Since the bow beam and cables are close to the dock, I was able to attach both cable ends to that beam and toss it back in the drink. Made an impressive splash, I'll tell you!

Rigging the aft beam was a little trickier. I attached one end of the new cable, and used a piece of old cable as a temporary attachment on the other end. Then that one went into the water as well. Next, I just ran the lift to raise both beams. Of course, the aft beam only came up on one side (port), so I manually lifted the starboard side and swung it over to rest on the side of the dock. From there I was able to attach the other end of the new cable securely. I slid the beam back off the dock and ran the lift back down so both beams rested on the bottom again.

Next, I tweaked the amount of cable on each side of the drum to level the beams side-to-side. All I had to do was lower the beams until the cables were completely payed out. Then I could pull on the cable, sliding it through the hole on the pipe/drum until each beam was level when the beams were raised. How did I know they were level? Simple: The water level served as my guide. I just raised the beams until they just broke the surface and then noted which end needed to be raised, and by how much. Because I was shifting the center of the cable through the drum, I had to divide the adjustment by two. That's because for every inch I raised one end, the opposite end lowered by the same amount.

I was luck in that the bow and aft cables were already level front-to-back. I guess that is because I was careful to cut each cable to the same length. If that hadn't been the case, then I would have had to make adjustments to the lengths of the cables themselves. As I said, I was lucky.

Anyway, here's the pontoon boat safely back up on it's lift, ready to be covered and stored for the winter.

So, now you have a taste of what my life is like. Challenging, but rewarding. The truth is, I can't imagine having the ability - skills, talent, know-how, whatever - to help other people and not using them whenever the need arises. What's the fun in that? My mother-in-law is extremely happy and grateful and my wife is treating me like a returning conqueror. Life is good, and that's definitely...

(wait for it...)

The WrightStuff.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Costuming: Genevieve's "Blink" Angel

Continuing my visit with Genevieve at DragonCon 2008...

This time we talk about her masterful "weeping angel" costume from the Doctor Who episode, "Blink".

You can read more about Genevieve on her web site. She offers up several tutorials on crafting and costuming.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Costuming: Genevieve's Steampunk Fairy

One of my yearly traditions is attending DragonCon here in Atlanta every Labor day weekend. I absolutely love seeing all of the wild costumes that are on display there.

This year, I met an incredibly talented costume crafter named Genevieve. I first saw her on Saturday when she wore a stunning costume depicting one of the "weeping angels" from the Doctor Who episode, "Blink". Unfortunately, it was too late in the day to do any filming. I made arrangements to meet up with her the next day and, when we did, I was amazed at the costume she had on that day as well, an original Steampunk Fairy. This video is all about that costume and how Genevieve created it.

You can read more about Genevieve on her web site. She offers up several tutorials on crafting and costuming.