C-Stands or Century Stands are a staple of just about any photo studio. These heavy duty light stands are more stable and able to support more weight than the usual tripod type light stand. Of course, this also means that they cost much more than light weight tripod type light stands. The following project explains how to make your own C Stand like light stands from common plumbing parts found at your home center for a fraction of the cost of buying commercially made C-Stands.
The C-Stands as described here have some limitations. If you can live with the limitations as listed below, then these stands might be just the ticket for you.
- They’re not very portable. As described, they don’t fold like most light stands and as such, they’re best used in a permanent studio.
- They’re not quite as adjustable as most C-Stands. Although you can put longer upper stems in them for added height, there’s a certain point where they’re just plain going to become unstable and the usable range of height might limit you in some setups. (the maximum height you can use in your studio is of course determined by your ceiling height , minus 1/2 the distance of any soft box you might hang on the stand.) I’ve found that an adjustment of a couple of feet is the most that I ever move my commercial c-stands anyway when used in a lower ceiling studio.
- They’re not the prettiest things in the world. If you’re worried that light stands made from plumbing parts might turn your clients off, you’re probably better off not making these. I have found that you can paint them flat black, wrap the whole thing in insulating pipe wrap or other covering and nobody will ever know they’re made of plumbing fittings. Even if you don’t use these as your primary stands, they make great ‘backdrop’ stands or extra light stands for holding flags, gobos and reflectors.
Cost – Even on eBay, the cheapest I’ve seen a c-stand go for is $35.00 or so (which is a steal if you can get them for that) but they’re so heavy that you’re going to pay an additional $35.00 or so to get it shipped. At $70.00, that’s still a great deal on a c-stand as most pro studio retailers sell them from $125.00 to $200.00 plus shipping. But what if you could build one for $30.00 (or less if you’ve already got some of the parts)? You could certainly build several for the cost of just one from the retailers.
Read all the way through the article before you go out and buy this stuff. Also, be sure to read the ‘Mods’ section if you ‘re looking to save even more money before shopping for parts.
The parts as listed:
- (3) Casters with 5/16″ thread studs (optional, you can save a little cash if you don’t want casters but trust me, they’re worth it)
- (3) 3/4″ x 12″ Pipe Nipple
- (1) 3/4″ x 8″ Pipe Nipple
- (1) 3/4″ x 6″ Pipe Nipple
- (2) 3/4″ x Close Pipe Nipple
- (2) 3/4″ Tee
- (1) 3/4″ Street 90 Elbow
- (3) 3/4″ Street 45 Elbow (read Mods section at the end first)
- (3) 3/4″ 45 Elbow
- (3) 3/4″ Cap
- (1) 3/4″ x 36″ Pipe Nipple (you may have to have it cut if store doesn’t have it)
- (1) 1/2″ x 36″ EMT Conduit (Comes in 10′ lengths, cut with hacksaw (it’s real cheap))
- (1) 3/4″ x 1/2″ Bell Coupling
- (1) 1/2″ x 1/4″ Bell Coupling
- (1) 5/16″ x 3″ eye bolt (or 5/16 x 18 knob if you have one)
- (1) 1/2″ EMT Conduit Set Screw Male Adapter
- (1) 1/4″ x 3″ Nipple
All pipe is galvanized as shown but ‘black’ pipe will work also and is better if you plan to paint your light stand.
You’ll need some sort of tools to tighten the pipe. A couple pipe wrenches like the red one above work good. A bench vise and a pipe wrench is even better. In a pinch, a water pump pliers like the blue handled one will work but you won’t get the joints as tight. The pipe will likely be greasy and wiping it all down with a rag and some alcohol or degreaser will make the whole thing less messy.
You’ll also need some sort of drill, preferably a drill press but a hand drill will do if you take your time.
You’ll also need a 5/16 x 18nc tap. I bought a new one with the right size drill bit for $4.50, if you make more than one of these you’ll use it over and over again. Don’t bother buying a wrench for the tap if you’ve got vise grips or a crescent wrench, they work just as well. We use 5/16 x 18nc because that’s a standard size for handles and such used on commercial light stands.
Assemble the leg parts as shown above. The uppermost leg is a 12 inch nipple lower and an 8 inch nipple upper. The middle is a 6 inch nipple lower and a 12 inch nipple upper. The lowest leg is a close nipple lower and a 12 inch nipple upper. Each leg has a 45 elbow in the middle and a 45 street elbow on the end. You need to tighten all the joints as tight as you can get them and still keep them lined up (laying them flat on the floor as shown above will show you if all the elbows are lining up).
The central stem is made up of 2 tees separated by a close nipple and a street 90 on the bottom.
Adjust the central stem so that the tees and elbow are approximately 120 degrees apart.
Insert and tighten the assembled legs in the central stem. The caps go on the bottom of the legs and will be drilled and tapped to accept the casters. If you’ve tightened the joints as tight as you can get them and they try to turn on their own, you might have to drill a hole through the offending joint and put a screw in the hole to keep it from turning. You might also try some ‘thread locking’ compound on the threads to help lock them. It’s VERY IMPORTANT that the joints not turn. If you push this with a light and softbox on it and one of the legs twists, IT MAY TIP OVER. Take the time to drill holes and screw the joints if needed. If you’ve got a drill press, you can drill a hole in each fitting and tap it for a small machine screw before ever assembling the stand. It’s like having ‘set screws’ in each fitting.
Drill a hole in the flattest part of the 3/4″ x 1/2″ bell coupling. Use a smaller bit than the one that comes with the tap if you have one and then re-drill it with the correct bit. It’ll make the drilling easier. This job is easiest in a drill press but a hand drill will do if you’re patient. Note the wood stick holding the part perpendicular to the bit. Also note the pliers holding the part. Be safe first and wear eye protection too.
Repeat the hole drilling procedure on the 3 caps also. Try to get the hole in the center.
Once the hole is drilled out with the correct size bit, insert the tap and slowly turn it, making sure to keep it perpendicular to the fitting. Small vise grips work great for this. If you’ve never tapped a hole before, you’re going to be amazed at how easy it is!!! A nice sharp tap will go right through the fitting and leave you a perfect threaded hole.
Repeat the procedure on each of the 3 caps.
Put a 5/16 hex nut on the caster to use as a leveling device and thread the caster onto the cap.
By adjusting the hex nuts on each of the casters you can level the central stem of the stand. Eyeball it against a door jamb behind the stand and rotate each leg around, leveling it to match the edge of a door jamb (close one eye and ‘sight’ along the stand/door jamb). Depending on the brand of the fittings you use, you might be able to leave the hex nut off of the longest leg and adjust the other 2 legs to make it level.
Insert the 3/4″ x 36″ nipple in the top of the central stem. Thread the drilled and tapped 3/4″ x 1/2″ bell coupling on top of that.
Fasten the 1/2″ EMT set screw male adpater onto the 1/2″ EMT Conduit. Thread the 1/2″ x 1/4″ bell coupling onto the 1/2″ male adapter. Thread the 1/4″ x 3″ nipple into the top of the 1/2″ x 1/4″ bell coupling and drop this upper stem assembly into the lower stem assembly.
Thread the 5/16″ x 3″ eyebolt into the hole in the 3/4 x 1/2 bell adapter to use as a knob and tighten to lock the upper shaft. If you’ve got an old knob from another light stand, all the better.
Mount your strobe onto the 1/4″ nipple that forms the spigot at the top of the stand and you’re done!
Here’s a shot of the finished stand with an Alien Bees monolight. With 3′ nipples top and bottom, the adjustment ends up being around 52″ minimum to 84″ maximum. It’s nice and heavy (that’s a good thing for stability) and from a distance, looks amazingly like a commercial c-stand.
If the 1/2″ EMT Conduit doesn’t slide well in to the lower stem: File the threads inside the 3/4 x 1/2 bell on the side that the knob hole is on. That will preserve the threads on the back side to ‘bite’ into the upper stem when tightened, but give you a little breathing room for sliding.
If you can find a spring that fits inside the 3/4″ lower stem, you can drill a hole through the lower stem, put a bolt through it and drop the spring inside the stem. That will give you a bit of a cushion for the upper stem if it drops down to quickly. Another alternative is a spring that fits just around the 1/2″ upper stem and have it exposed on the outside of the stand.
If you decide not to use casters, you can omit the 3/4″ caps and the casters and instead, put 3 ‘crutch tips’ on the bottom of the 3/4 street 90’s to prevent scratching the floor. To save even more cash, eliminate the 3/4 street 45’s on the legs and put the crutch tips right on the lower nipples. You might have a tough time leveling the stand this way though and end up putting leveling feet on them. If you’re going to do that you’re probably just as well putting casters on.
If you don’t like the ‘art noveu plumbing supply house’ look, get some 1 1/4″ foam pipe insulation and wrap the leg assemblies. It gives the stand a rubber cushion so it doesn’t scratch floor surfaces.