How To Build A Camera Cart For Under $250
I love working with a camera cart on set. It is the easiest and quickest way to keep all of the camera equipment organized, provide a working space, as well as move the gear around at a location. My regular 1st AC, Jerry Turner, has one of the better camera carts out there. (And he even has a place to put my coffee cup. Although I'm sure that is more for self-preservation and sanity than it is for me :) ). Nothing can replace the well built cart he has. However, there are times when I'm working on a smaller production, and I have to work solo. It is exactly for these situations that I came up with my $250 solution. Here is how you can do the same ...
I'll be the first to admit that this cart doesn't replace Jerry's cart. It is not as robust, or fully featured as the real thing. But the budget levels that this cart gets used on are not as robust or full-featured either. So you get what you pay for. :)
As with all the projects I set out to accomplish, I start by defining my goals:
- Fits in my van without having to be disassembled
- Able to supply power to monitors, charge batteries, etc.
- Able to carry camera gear, and anything else I may have to transport at a location
- Able to be maneuvered on pavement and grass/dirt
- Affordable (Something I can bring with me on the small jobs, and at the same time can sit in the garage on the big jobs.)
The Supply List:
- 24" x 40" Utility Cart (I got mine at Harbor Freight - one of the few reliable pieces of kit you can buy there. They also offer 20% off Coupons which make this cart about $100)
- 2x 10" Caster ($17 each)
- 2x 10" Swivel Caster ($17 each)
- 16x Bolts (Size and length will depend on the cart & wheels you get) $8
- 16x Nuts (Size will depend on the bolts you get) $4
- 2.5 yards of shop carpet (Rubber on the bottom, carpet on top) $25
- Power Strip ($10)
- Velcro ($10) (One side should be adhesive)
- Gorilla Glue ($5)
- Wrench (Same size as the nuts)
- Drill & Bits the same size, or slightly smaller then the bolts
- Rubber Mallet/Hammer
- Assemble the cart per the included instructions. (You'll need the rubber mallet to pound the pieces together securely). However, DO NOT install the included caster wheels. As you are assembling it, I recommend using gorilla glue at all of the joints. This will ensure that everything is snug and doesn't come undone as the cart gets put to use. (It also means you cannot disassemble it either ...)
- Once you have the cart assembled, minus the wheels, flip it upside down and place the Casters at the front of the cart. When I placed my caster on the cart, two of the holes lined up with the original caster holes. I had to mark and drill holes for the other two bolts.
|Front Caster Wheel|
|Back Swivel Caster Wheel|
|Bolts in existing holes & new holes.|
- Now that the bolts are the proper length, with the wheels mounted, secure them to the cart. To provide extra strength, you can even use Loctite on the bolts. (I have not done this to my cart yet, and it has been fine so far).
- Flip the cart right side up, and measure the top shelf. Using these dimensions, cut the carpet to size. The top and bottom shelf should be the same size, so you'll do this twice. (Remember to measure twice, and cut once :) ). The rubber underside of the carpet prevents it from sliding around on the cart.
|Top shelf without carpet|
|Top shelf with carpet|
- The last step, is to use the adhesive side of the velcro to apply the "hook" part to the underside of the power strip. (The hook side is the rough/hard side). With the velcro in place, the power strip can now live on the cart, and it can easily be removed from the cart if needed.
|Back of the power strip|
|Velcroed in place|
- Enjoy! You've got an affordable camera cart. Now when you put the hook side of velcro on other accessories, you can securely attach them to the carpet on your cart, and they will not roll around as you transport them.
- And what I really like about this cart, is that it comes with the all important cup holder for my coffee! (Yes, I have an addiction ... ;) )
|The "most important" feature - the cup holder.|
So how does it look/work with my van? It fits "like a glove" ... (A Plymouth Grand Voyager)
|Side view of cart in my van.|
|Interior view of cart in my van.|
This setup has a lot of miles racked up on it, and it has been working well for me. However, I do have two additions that I want to make:
- Camera Mount: I want to bolt on a hi-hat onto the back (towards the handle). This would allow me to take the camera off of the tripod (with the head) and put it in a safe secure place while I move it around on set, or to the next location. This is a lot more efficient and convenient then having to break the camera down, and put it back into its case. This does raise the cost, and I am also concerned about it fitting in the van, as the hi-hat may hit the ceiling. So I'm still researching this option.
- Tripod Rack: If you take a look at the real camera carts you can see two hooks at the front of the cart. These hooks are to hang tripod from as you roll the cart around. The head of the tripod goes on the hi-hat at the back of the cart (or the Mitchell mount as seen in the picture), and the legs go on the front of the cart. I am still researching and testing this out, as so far I have not been happy with the hooks that I have found to use with this cart.
If you find yourself working regularly as a 1st AC, then you'll want to get a real cart. It will last you a lifetime, and it has all the features you need or could want. (You will make your money back on rentals). However, if you are looking for a more affordable solution to use on projects with limited funds, this cart will save you from having to break your back lugging all that gear around. Regardless of the budget level of the project I'm working on, my motto is "Work Smarter, Not Harder" :)
Until Next Time - Get Out There And Shoot!
Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer