Building A Wooden Gantry Crane For Video Workshop Projects

First off, I want to say thanks to Nick Ferry for the inspiration to do this. I had seen other, more simple versions before, but it was his recent video talking about how he will build his that really got me enthusiastic about doing it.
While his will be made mostly from metal, using unistrut, I wanted mine to be made from wood. That way, I could use what I have on hand, rather than buy a bunch of fairly costly material. Even with frugality in mind, I didn’t skimp on effort and put a lot of thought into the design. I also took a couple of wrong turns along the way, but worked through them and ended up with a system that really works better than I expected.

Since my ceiling is suspended and not structured to carry any kind of a load, I decided to mount simple “L” tracks (made from plywood) at the top of the long walls in my shop for the gantry. The gantry itself stretches across the shop, wall to wall, and would need to be very stiff to resist bending and twisting. It would also have to be as lightweight as possible to reduce the load on the tracks. With all that in mind, I built a wooden “I” beam from 3/8″ plywood (planed smooth to 5/16″) and solid spruce:

How To Build A Gantry Crane For Video
How To Build A Gantry Crane For Video

I made a simple carriage that would ride under it to attach an articulating arm for the camera and a few other accessories.
This beam is actually the second attempt, the first ended up on my burn pile due to the near impossibility of assembling it. The shop is nearly 14′ wide, so this beam was made that long and trimmed to the exact length after the tracks were made and installed.

The tracks are very simple, just two strips of plywood glued and nailed together to form an “L”. The trick was to assemble it in one piece and then mount it on the wall without it breaking. My shop is 27′ long, and I made the tracks 24′, since I have a built in cabinet in the front corner that limits how far it can go:

How To Build A Gantry Crane For Video

the roller track installed

The tracks are screwed in place very close to the ceiling, with just enough space for 3″ roller-blade wheels to fit. I put a 2″ screw into each stud along the wall for maximum support.

Next, I made two brackets from 1/2″ plywood that will fasten to the ends of the wooden beam. The brackets have wheels that ride on the tracks that are attached at each end of the 25″ long bracket with 1/4″ carriage bolts and lock nuts to make sure these don’t come undone:

How To Build A Gantry Crane For Video

To keep the bracket from rubbing on the track and rolling smoothly, I added wheels that project through the bracket that mounts on the south end of the gantry. These space the bracket just 1/4″ away from the track:

drilling holes for the wheels

the wheels mounted on the bracket

Here I’m holding it up for a better look. The tracking wheels line up with the edge of the track:

How To Build A Gantry Crane For Video

At the north end of the gantry, I needed to do something different. Since the walls in my shop are not even close to 100% straight or parallel, and I only had one wheel left, I figured a single roller on that end that is spring loaded to conform to the variation in width would work:

spring loading the wheel

showing how the spring works

The idea was that the single wheel would push the gantry against the opposite track. Certainly logical, but in reality it did not work as well as I expected.
The “spring” is a piece of PVC sewer pipe cut into a strip and screwed on. I doubled it later to put even more tension on the roller.

Here’s the gantry in place on the tracks:

the gantry installed

the north side roller bracket

I have the north end bracket held on with clamps temporarily for testing. It does work well at this point, but will rack sideways and stop if it’s pulled along from one end of the gantry. Pulling it from the middle of the gantry works great, but is not always convenient.

With the gantry more or less working, I started on the articulating arm that will hold the camera. Once again, a wrong turn. The bearing was another idea that is good in theory, but not so good in practice. It allows the arm to swivel a bit too freely, so something with a bit more friction was needed.

the bearing swivel for the arm

Less sophisticated, but much easier (and cheaper, no bearing needed) to make is an all plywood swivel that starts with a 3/4″ thick plywood ring attached to the carriage:

How To Build A Gantry Crane For Video

A disk is cut to fit into the ring and sanded a bit thinner. I coated the inside edge of the ring and all of the disk with petroleum jelly for lubricant, then screwed on a cover plate made from 1/2″ plywood:

the plywood disk for the swivel mount

the swivel finished

The arm that’s attached to the disk is just a piece of spruce cut 1-1/2″ square and about 30″ long. The arm turns easily, but has enough friction to stay put after it has been moved.

The rest of the arm is made from more spruce that is slotted for adjustment. The range of the arm goes from tight to the ceiling, right down to about 15″ from the floor:

the high arm position

the low arm position

This range coupled with the nearly unlimited mobility of the gantry means I can very quickly set up for shots that would be nearly impossible to do with a tripod:

over the work bench

over the table saw

There is also the option to add movement in either direction for some really interesting video.

How To Build A Gantry Crane For Video

The extreme limits of the setup:

the far front position near the door

the far front away from the door
the rear position near the workbench

the rear position near the drill press cabinet

With the last location beside my drill press cabinet the “parking” spot for the arm, out of the way when it’s not needed.

Since the only problem area for the system was how the gantry could rack and jam, I bought another pair of used roller-blades to get a second wheel for the north end bracket. This is a great example of doing it the hard way, leading to a much more complex solution than was needed. On the left was my first try, all hinged and spring loaded like I figured it should be. On the right is what I changed it to after the complex one still didn’t work. The wheels are mounted rigidly, spacing the bracket away from the track by 1/4″:

the wrong way

the right way

Keep it simple, stupid! With this change, the gantry rides like a Rolls Royce with no effort at all.
For those that are wondering, the bottom of the gantry is exactly 96″ from the floor, so there’s tons of headroom under it. When it’s rolled back into its parking position, it’s hardly noticable and doesn’t block any light.

I have some other things to add, including a short boom arm for the microphone and a DIY LED softlight that is powered by my 18 volt Makita tool bateries, and will follow up on those in the forum topic for this build. There is more detail there and I will be posting on any problems that come up, and any improvements I make.

Recently (January, 2017), I made a video showing how it works, new additions to the gantry and talking about it and the camera gear I use to make my videos: