Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

I was literally screaming with joy when Derek Mellott (you know Derek, he likes Barbeque and time lapse movies) showed me his latest Time Lapse Slider Dolly. Then, I literally fell from my chair when he suggested to share the build with DIYP readers.

Now, every once in a while we have a “dare” tutorial, one that will kill an entire month of weekends (and then some). Those are not for the faint of heart, but the results and satisfaction from completing one of those projects in unbelievable. (see the battlefield pinhole camera for example). It is the same with this project – it is not an easy task, it takes woodmenship, electronics know-how, and plenty of time, but the results are stunning.

(But hey, you know what, even if you just pick up one of the ideas in this post, it would rock. For example, building the collapsible rails idea to be used with the cheapo motor slider puller)

The movie comes first – this should get you motivated – then the instructions. Embrace yourselves.

This is how I built my time lapse dolly, it was made with a whole bunch of trial and error, hopefully this will help you build yours.

A lot of the stuff I used I had on hand, don’t know where I got it, or have no idea what it worth but I’ll do my best at giving you a complete list of what I used and where you might get it.

This is very much a “prototype” build and posses very little polish, I would approach this post as a very rough guide of what you should do, do not be afraid to substitute the parts I used for parts that you have or can get easily

Building The Rails

I will start with the rails because I found it super simple to set the width of the dolly cart if you already have the rail made.

Parts and Tools

(all costs are an estimate, I didn’t pay close attention to costs because it scares me)

  • 2 x 8ft 1″ square aluminum tubing $30 each here in Canada probably much cheaper down south.
  • 1 x 4ft 1/4 20 threaded rod $2
  • 6 x 1/4 20 hex bolts…yeah (aka barrel nuts or Chicago bolts) $1 each.
  • 6 x 1″ steel hinges $2-3 a pair.
  • Drill bits and a drill and a 1/4 20 tap/ thread cutter, preferably a drill press to keep things straight.
  • Something to cut the aluminum tubing, I used my compound miter saw.
  • Hack saw
  • Allen wrenches

Step 1  – Cut the rails to length

I originally used the full 8ft but found it a pain to move around and handle in general so I cut mine down to six feet leaving me with two 2ft pieces to use for other parts.

Step 2 – Cut the cross members.

The overall width of my rails is 6.5 inches so my cross members are 4.5 inches long and I used 3 of them. You can make these any size you want, remember the width of your rails determines the size of your cart.

This is also a good time to drill the holes where you will attach the tripods. Measure out the center of the cross pieces and drill a hole, I used a no. 2 drill bit then ran the 1/4 20 thread cutter bit into the hole. This will be the bottom of your cross members. test this on a piece of scrap first.

Step 3 – Attach the cross members to the rails with the hinges.

I clamped it all together and then put the hinges in place to mark where to drill the holes.

This is very important to get right so take your time and make sure everything is square and the hinges are flush and your holes are marked out correctly. After you have marked the holes for the hinges go ahead and drill your holes.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

You are going to want to drill the right size hole for the screws that came with the hinges. test it out on a scrap piece of aluminum, if the hole is too big the screws won’t bite enough to hold it all together and the hole is too small you will strip the screw head or break the screw trying to get it in.

Step 4 – drill the holes for the “clamp bolts”

These bolts are what make the rails rigid. You have to drill a hole big enough for the shaft of the barrel nuts to fit in. Mark the center of your cross members and transfer that mark to the side of the rails.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Do not drill your hole for the barrel nut in the middle of the rail!

Make the hole as low as you can without the lip of the barrel nut going below the bottom of the rail, you need the top of the rail to be clear for the bearing to roll on. See image.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Now you cut a length of the 1/4 20 threaded rod that will reach in between the two barrel nuts. You may have to trim it down or cut a new piece if it’s too short, no worries this stuff is cheap. Make sure you get a good fit and you can tighten good, you don’t have to tighten too much but you don’t want any movement in the rail. You want to do this for all three cross members.

There you go! You now have a fold able rail!

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Adding a Pulling System

This is the part that you will need to figure out for yourself. I will show you what I did but the parts I used I don’t know what they are or where they came from.

The good news is that there are cheap parts made for this purpose but I wasn’t going to spend $20 to ship a $3 chunk of plastic to Canada.


  • 1″ square aluminum tubing. I used the bits cut off of the rails when I shortened them.
  • 1 1/2 inch 1/4 20 bolts x 4 $.50 each
  • Timing belt clamps. I used some mystery things but you can get real one here. Just make sure you get the right one for your belt.
  • Timing belt. I used a HTD 5m 9mm belt. It cost me about $15 You can get one here. (Or on amazon)

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

As you can see from the pictures I used the chunks of aluminum to attach the clamp to the rail.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

The trick here is to make sure the belt is level with the pulley on your cart, That above all will determine how you mount your clamp, this is just how I did mine.

You will also notice that there are a bunch of bolts occupying a small space, keep this in mind when you are making your holes.

This step is simple. Attach clamp to chunk of aluminum, attach that to the rail, DONE! just make sure it is level with the pulley.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Pick Up Truck For Your Camera

The title of this step is accurate, you need to build this like a truck, it starts with a frame, you put on some wheels and a motor, add some electronics then load up your gear.

I didn’t take pictures while I build this because this is the part that evolved the most of the six months I spent building this set up. I will do my best to walk you through it. If you are unclear about anything please ask in the comments and I will tell you everything I know.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly


  • 3/8 threaded rod $3-4 bucks for 3-4 feet
  • 3/8 lock nuts
  • 3/8 nuts
  • 3/4 aluminum angle $10? for 4 feet
  • 10x30x9 Bearings $1 each you will need 10 of them. I have no idea what those numbers mean, it is what was on the box.
  • 3/8×1/2 x1 bronze bearings $4 for the pair of them. These are oil impregnated sleeve bearings that the belt slides past by the pulley
  • Pulley $17 I used one of these.
  • 1 1/2 inch 1/4 20 bolts I used a bunch, buy a bunch, they are handy
  • Wire rope clamp – I used 4 of these, I’m not sure what size I used just make sure that the 3/8 threaded rod fits nicely in it.
  • Washers that fit the 1/4 20 bolts, you can never have too many
  • 1/4 20 nuts
  • 1/4 20 lock nuts
  • Shoulder bolts? I lucked out and found these bolts at home depot and the sleeve bearings fit perfectly on them there is a picture below.
  • 1/4 plastic pluming pipe, the whitish flexible stuff used on sinks? 12″ is more than enough
  • Motor $50-60 PLUS SHIPPING. I used a .45 rpm Dayton gear motor. * notice that it is (point).45 rpm not 45 rpm* I got it from Servocity.
  • Ball head. I used a Benro BH00 it’s cheap and works great, use whatever you want just make sure is has a quick release plate.
  • Some sort of metal to use as a base, I used a steel electrical box cover, make sure whatever you use that it is big enough to mount everything on.

I will deal with the electronics on the next step.

I’m not going to go oven every little step in this build, there are too many, the pictures should help on what I leave out. However don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Step 1 – Cut the 3/8 threaded rod to length

7.5 inches or so should do

Step 2 – Cut your 3/4 aluminum angle to length.

This can match the length of whatever you use as a base plate

Step 3 – Drill the holes for the 3/8 rod in the angle.

Now the placement of these holes is very important. I had mine centered but there was no way to make the motor to fit like that so I had to offset them. The measurement in between the rods was arbitrary, I just chose a stable looking width, you may want to put some more thought into it.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Make sure you make your holes in the exact same spot on both pieces of angle, this must be straight so it can be square.

Step 4 – Add The Bearings

It doesn’t really matter where you place these just put them in the same place on both sides, don’t worry about the “outrigger” bearings yet, we will get to those.

There is a picture below showing the bearing assembly. the nut on the bolt is used as a spacer. The plastic piece is a chunk of the 1/4 pluming, you will have to drill it out with a 1/4 drill bit , at least I did anyway.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

So on the bolt it goes washer, plastic spacer, bearing, washer, locknut. Now this you might want to play around with to fine tune the placement of the bearing on the rails add washers or nuts as spacers as needed, remember that the bearings that go on the outside of the rails have to track above the flange of the barrel nuts.

Step 5 – Put the frame together.

This is where the threaded rod shines. Place some nuts on the rods then slide on the angle pieces and adjust the nuts so the bearing sit flat on the rails and the frame is square. It is a good idea to use lock nuts here because you don’t want this to move after you have it set up.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Step 6 – Mounting the frame

Mount the other two bearings on some sort of material, I used some aluminum plate I had. drill some holes on the angle to mount the outriggers. Place the frame on the rails, make sure the bearings are tight to the bottom of the rails and tighten down the bolts to hold them in place. Now the frame is locked on to the rails. you can slide it off of one of the ends or collapse the rails to remove it.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Step 7 – Adding the top plate

Place the top plate on top of the frame and mark the location of the rods, then get your wire rope clamps and figure out where to drill the holes.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

I should mention that I had to add nuts on the clamps below the top plate to lift the plate over the bearings. After you mark your holes go ahead and drill your holes. It is a pain to clamp this together but if you are taking on this project then I’m quite sure you can figure it out.

Step 8 – Mount the motor and sleeve bearings.

You want to place the bearings as wide as you can to lower the angle to the pulley.

pick your spot for your motor, drill your holes. very straight forward.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Step 9 – Blast a hole to mount your ball head.

Remember to leave room for your electronics.

Control The Speed Of The Dolly And Stop It From Tearing Itself Apart

If you got this far, hats off! Just one more little bit o work and you are done. This is also where we deal with electronics :)


  • Bidirectional PWM. I bought this one. This PWM came with the directional switch and the POT.
  • Enclosure I used the 1591SFLBK from Hammond Manufacturing.
  • Hook up wire. 20′ will be lots
  • 4 switched DC power jacks
  • 4 DC barrel plugs
  • 2 micro switches

Remember to change directions before you unplug the switches – you need to unplug the micro switches in order to move the cart after it has been stopped. If you do not change the direction on the PWM the cart will start to move in the direction it was traveling  possibly damaging the cart and rails

Basically the goal here is to shut off the power to the system when the cart is out of track. Before the positive from the battery reaches the PWM I ran it through some switched jacks and micro switches. The reason for the switched jacks is that once one of the micro switch is tripped there is no longer and power to the system so you can’t move the cart, I have it set up so that if you disconnected the switches they will be by passed and the power will go straight to the PWM. see the schematic below for a better idea of how I wired this up.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

And we are saying it again: Remember to change directions before you unplug the switches.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

Find a place on each side of your cart to place a micro switch so that it will contact something at the end of the run. Connect your wires to the common and normally open pins. Once the lever contacts something the positive to the PWM will be cut off and your cart will stop moving. When you are adding the barrel plug to the wires going to the micro switch it doesn’t matter what post you connect them to.

Build An Amazing Super Versatile DIY Time Lapse Dolly

You are a super hero!

Congrats and please do share your work on the comments below. And give a shout to Derek on Twitter (@DerekMellott) just for brags.