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Cigar Box Pinhole Camera

This article outlines a few creative ways to fabricate a camera from a common cigar box. The compact and sturdy box is an inexpensive container. With a few creative ideas, you can make a work of art and a functional workhorse simultaneously. Our cigar box camera will be designed to accept a paper negative, approximately the same size as the box (although other creative ideas will be introduced at the end of the article). Cigar box
paper negative

Any existing experience with tools or camera building is going to be helpful. For example this article does not outline the basic methods for creating a pinhole, determining proper focal length, or loading a paper negative; however, there are plenty of references online and all of that advanced content is covered in my book.

Disclaimer: If you do not derive enjoyment from building your own cameras, stop here. This article assumes that the reader enjoys the design, planning, and execution of a creative idea and he or she is willing to allocate a few hours to a meaningless and fun activity.

 

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
This camera is created from an ordinary wooden cigar box.
Material List
So if you are ready, let's walk through the process of creating the camera. Prepare a clean, flat work surface such as a dining room table and grab a cigar box. Your material list will vary depending on your camera design. I will address specific supplies, related to individual processes, in the text below.

Companion Book Chapters
Consult these chapters of The Pinhole Camera for additional tricks, tips, and help: Chapter 1 (Beginner and Advanced Track), Chapter 2 (Beginner and Advanced Track), and Chapter 4.
Selecting a Cigar Box
Cigar boxes are pretty common and you should be able to find one easily at a second-hand store, garage sale, or flea market. One of the most reliable places to find a cigar box is the tobacco store. Many tobacco stores will sell empty cigar boxes for a few dollars. I have received free boxes as well, you just have to ask!

Cigar boxes are either cardboard or wood, but I personally prefer the wooden variety. The wood is more durable and easier to drill through, offering a cleaner drill hole than cardboard. When selecting a box, inspect the joints and ensure that it will be light-tight. In addition, you will need to ensure that no light enters through the lid of the box. For this reason, I try to select a cigar box that has a tongue and groove joint or some similar overlapping lid. In general, cigar boxes are a great stock material from which to create a camera as they are inexpensive and of quality construction.
 

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
my stock box is 8" x 7" x 3" in dimension. i have selected a wooden box from a local tobacco shop.
Preparing Your Box
The most important task is that of light-proofing. Ensure that any seams in the box are light-tight. You will need to ensure that the seam, where the lid meets the body of the box, blocks light as well. You can create a cardboard ledge within your camera to block light through the lid seam.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
inside my finished camera, you can see that i've painted all interior surfaces flat black. in addition, i had to create a cardboard ledge around the lid to block light from leaking inside.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
inspect your latch and hinges. ensure that they are strong enough to hold your camera together. the last thing that you want is your box to pop open during an exposure.
Assembling a Tripod Socket
A tripod socket is a great accessory to add to your camera. It will allow you to get your camera vertical with a tripod for another point of view. This will require a little extra work, but if you are interested just keep on reading.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
locate a suitable position on the bottom of your camera and drill a hole.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
select a t-nut from your local hardware store. a t-nut is a threaded piece of hardware (1/4" for standard tripod mounts, 3/8" for european mounts) that can be inserted into your box. consult Chapter 2 (advanced track) for a detailed explanation.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
stop by your hardware store and look for a few simple supplies. from left to right, I have collected the following items for this project: t-nut barrel, 3/8" washer, nylon spacer, 1/4" washer, and a 1/4" bolt.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
this is what the stacked assembly looks like. the gap at the bottom of the assembly represents the area of your cigar box wall.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
here is the final assembly mounted in place within the camera. the purpose of the nylon spacer is to allow enough threaded space within the t-nut barrel (to accept your tripod). The 1/4" bolt on the top of that assembly closes off the barrel to prevent light from entering the camera.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
viewing the tripod socket from below, the t-nut barrel accepts a standard threaded tripod. the larger washer holds the t-nut barrel in place and also provides a larger surface for your tripod foot to grab hold of your camera.
Decoupage 101
The creative part of this camera project is decoupaging the exterior with magazine clippings. The decoupage process is simple: cut paper, glue to box, cover with protective coat. That's about it!

For my project, I started with a theme— "Backpacker". I found a box of my old Backpacker magazines in the garage from several years ago. I recruited some help from my two little girls and we began to cut pieces out of the magazine. Their choices were mostly photos of animals, while I selected more humorous lines of text and illustrations. It was a wonderful project to spend some time with my kids and hopefully you will try the same if your circumstances are similar. This process is purely creative. It does not add anything functional to the camera, although the act of decorating the box can be argued as important by many artists.

The product Mod Podge works great for guling your pieces in place and you can find it online or in any craft store. Mod Podge is a milky glue that dries clear and offers a protective surface to your project. You will need a paint brush to apply the glue.

With a pile of clippings, I began to plan the layout. I wanted to keep in mind the areas for the pinhole and tripod socket so that I didn't place anything clipping of significance in those spots. I prefer to just start placing clippings on the box and glue them in place, almost in a random fashion, but bearing in mind that I do not overlap important design elements.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
The supplies for this step are minimal and inexpensive to obtain.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
view of front.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
view of reverse.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
view of side

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
view of side

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
view of top

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
view of bottom
Finishing Touches & Creative Ideas
Since this is a pinhole camera, you will need to provide that element! Simply drill a hole in your box lid. Fabricate a simple pinhole and mount it under a fender washer. I have added a magnet to the front, serving as the shutter.

This camera is designed to accept a paper negative, although you could always accommodate film. A 4" x 5" back, Polaroid back, or 120/220 roll film back could be mounted to your box so that you could shoot with film.
 

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
There are endless ways to finish your pinhole. choose any method that you prefer. you could use a piece of black tape as well.
Conclusion
The Cigar Box camera is fun to create, offers an opportunity for creativity, and is an inexpensive project. This article is just a primer on the possibilities available and you should add this project to your list of things to try. Many of the topics covered within this article, such as fabricating a pinhole or loading a paper negative, are covered in further detail within my book. Best of luck!
 
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