Skate Wheel Dollies

Dolly moves make a scenic shot and any shot without action much more interesting. Zooms and pans look amateur. Making dolly moves in the field can be easy if you build some fairly simple dollies. For many situations the camera alone can be on the dolly. Set up the shot by eye and shoot it blind.

Skate wheel dollies evolved from ball bearing dollies and made shooting sound possible. It is amazing the number of people who are the "original designers" of these dollies. I stole the bearing dolly idea from RKO Fox effects cameramen, Jim Gordon and Cecil Love in about 1964 for my first field model. Some have been made to take Fisher and Chapman dollies with 8 wheel trucks on 4 corners. The best will swivel around bends and are strong enough so that pressure is equal on every wheel. Losmandy makes a great medium weight model. Some "suitcase" models are pricey. The simpler ones with 2 and 4 wheel trucks are easy to make. Stagger the wheels on each side on 4 wheel trucks so that bumps at track joints are reduced because two wheels don't hit the joint at the same time.

Example Skate Wheel Dollies
Bearing Dolly

To make 5 trucks, you need a piece of 2-1/2" x 2-1/2" x 1/4" aluminum angle at least 25 inches long. Don't cut until all layout, drilling and taping is done. Stagger the wheel holes on the other side by 1/4" wider. This helps reduce bumps. You have to file a flat on the 90 degree area where the 3/8" x 16 taped hole goes that attaches the truck to the dolly. .

Lubrication can be spray starch? for noisy wheels. The most common cause for noise is a wheel not traveling exactly straight on the track and wheels deformed because of overloading a wheel or wheels that are too soft. Using the correct spacers between the bearings in the wheels is very important. Cheap bearings are also a cause for noise.

Skateboard wheels are designed to ride on a flat surface and we are limiting their contact to a curved surface with round track. I haven't tried roller blade wheels that are harder.

Skate wheel trucks can be used to make dolly moves on extension ladder sections, hand railings, railroad tracks and architectural shapes. Speed Rail (c) can help rig these applications. A single wheel or one truck can work if there are two trucks on a pipe or a square shape on the other side. Removing two wheels can modify trucks for flat floors and surfaces.
1-1/4 Speed Rail Skate Wheel Dolly on pipe

Consider two captive dollies with a cable between and pulley in the middle on two sections of an extension ladder that has been separated and rejoined at the top. Set it up in a stepladder position and on a dolly if needed. This will work with a remote head and fit in a very limited space where a crane arm wouldn‚t fit. On curved track it could be faced toward the center radius of the track making the moves easier for the operator. Use a ladder clean of paint and plaster for smooth surfaces. Prototype with weights before attaching cameras to avoid expensive mistakes.

We recently built the "elevator". Two captive dollies that ride up and down on 4 ea. 2"IPS aluminum pipe with two pulleys and a cable between the dollies. One dolly supports the camera and tripod head and the other is the weight box.

Dollies can be motorized with DC gear motors and portable electric drills. The new Makita 14-volt drill has excellent speed control. All you have to do is mount a skate wheel on a shaft, chuck it up and make a device to hold the trigger down at different speeds. It can be started and stopped by inserting the battery.

Makita and Drive Wheel (you supply structure)

Another motorized model is with a small DC gearhead motor with about a 100-RPM speed. You can vary the speed with battery voltage or a rheostat. The track ends can be shipped and you can buy EMT conduit on location. The ends could be made all wood on a table saw. Make sure the tracks are parallel, if not the camera tilt will change in the shot.
100 rpm DC Gear Motor Dolly on 3/4" EMT Electrical Conduit Track

Here is a back packable dolly for DV cameras. One leg of a Bogan Manfrotto tripod is removed and the bipod becomes the second support. The tripod you already carry supports the other end of the track. The bearings are skate wheel bearings. The head adjusts pan and tilt and accepts the Bogan quick release shoe. You don't want to have to adjust the legs to align the camera. Make the track joiner on a table saw out of hard wood or plastic to fit tight. (See Rig Materials for ideas about leveling heads.) Don't use leveling heads that are too lightweight.
Modified Bogan Tripod and 1" Square Break Down Track

Here is a larger version that will go almost all the way to the ground. A larger version could be made for 35-mm cameras that two people could handle. The legs are old tripod legs.

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