How to Build a Film Slate for Under $15

How to Build a Film Slate for Under $15

The cheapest slate on Filmtools is $50. Fifty bucks won't break the bank, but beginners may want to use that money for smaller, more necessary tools. So I went out to the store to see if you could make a clapperboard on a budget of $15 that you wouldn't be embarrassed to bring to set.

Walking on a set and looking around at the crew, you’d be hard pressed to find a camera assistant without a slate somewhere nearby.

The slate (or clapperboard) is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic pieces of film gear.

But the slate does serve a very real purpose by helping keep track of the deluge of shots running through the camera everyday and sync the sound with the moving image in post-production.

Unfortunately, they aren’t always accessible to beginners. The cheapest slate on Filmtools, for example, is $50. Fifty bucks won’t break the bank, but you may want to use that money for smaller, more necessary tools.

So I went out to the store to see if you could make a clapperboard on a budget of $15 that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to bring to set.

The results may surprise you…

Before I show you what the finished clapperboard looks like, know this:

The total cost to build this was $13.08

That’s it! Check out the screenshot of my bank statement on the right.

DIY Slate Bank Statement Total of $13.08

The receipt was lost in construction, this will have to do for proof!

I spent hours scouring the aisles of Wal-Mart finding supplies and even more time figuring out the best way to put them together.

I’ve done plenty of do-it-yourself projects before — on set and off — but this was, by far, the most ambitious project of them all.

The goal was to make the slate as cheap as possible while aiming for around $15. I figured there are so many cheap imitation slates for around $30 that to make something any more expensive than $15 was just a waste of time.

But, ok, I’ll admit it: I cheated a little bit.

I already owned some black and white paint, but the prices for those tubes at Wal-Mart was 97 cents each, meaning the total would still be only $15.68.

The other goal for this project was to make a slate that looked decent. One that if I needed to use it on a set, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to step in front of the camera with.

You can let me know in the comments what you think, but I’m pretty pleased with it.

How to Build a DIY Clapperboard for Less Than $15

DIY Slate Finished Product

As you can see, the finished slate turned out quite good for a $15 budget and a few hours of time.

So how do you build this yourself?

It’s not as hard as you might imagine. I spent an entire night doing mine, but most of that time was waiting for paint to dry or sealant to coat on.

And all things considered, one night to save $50 is not a bad deal. So let’s dive into this tutorial.

Feel free to leave any questions in the comments and upload pictures of your DIY slate to The Black and Blue Facebook page.

Tools and Supplies

I chose Wal-Mart to find supplies because I know products there are produced on a massive scale and I wanted this project to be accessible to anybody. Even if you don’t live near a Wal-Mart, most stores will carry similar products or online retailers like Amazon will ship them.

With that said, here are the supplies you need:

DIY Film Slate Supplies Needed

  • Wooden Craft Picture Frame
  • Clear Clipboard
  • 90 Degree Bracket
  • Screws/Bolts
  • Rubber Cement
  • Clear Packing Tape
  • White Acrylic Paint
  • Black Acrylic Paint
  • Sealant (optional)

You can substitute many of the items on the list for other supplies depending on the availability near you. For instance, the clipboard could be a similarly sized piece of plexi-glass or the acrylic paint could be simple spray paint.

It’s not essential to use the exact same supplies that I bought. In many cases, I went with a cheaper option over a better option, so shop at your own discretion and budget.

Adapt the list to what you want to use and what you have available. You may have some stuff lying around your house that will get that price tag down even further.

You are also going to need some basic tools to construct this thing. I guarantee you already have these in your toolbag somewhere or know a friend that will let you borrow them.

  • Screwdriver (Phillips and Flathead)
  • Tape Measure
  • Handsaw
  • Paint Brush
  • Sandpaper

Remember, this tutorial is all about making this the easiest, least costly project you could take on. I didn’t want to spend much money nor time making this and so I don’t want you to have to either.

That’s why these lists are basic and the steps are simple, but the result is fantastic.

Building the Sticks

Now we’re going to start building by constructing the sticks portion of the slate.

Step 1 - Measure and Mark the Wood

Measuring and Marking the Wood for the Sticks

Depending on the raw material you’re working with, you need to measure out the size of the sticks. With the picture frame that I bought, it was already the correct length and width, so all I had to do was measure the sticks to be 1 inches tall.

While you can make the sticks as large or small as you want, the sticks should run the full length of your clipboard — that’s the only measurement I recommend you do not change.

Step 2 – Cut the Wood into Two Pieces

Cut the Wood into Two Pieces

I advise you now to not use a handsaw if you have access to a buzzsaw or circular saw. Those tools will be more precise than the handsaw which caused my sticks to come out a little crooked.

Though they still work, I would’ve enjoyed the precision cut of a circular saw. Instead, I had to use sandpaper to make up for the imprecise cuts.

Step 3 – Round the Corner of the Top Stick

Round the Corner of the Top Stick

One of the more difficult parts of building the sticks was figuring out the correct angle to cut in the top stick so that it would properly raise up and come back down in the same position.

If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, try holding your two pieces of wood and making a clapper motion without them shifting positions.

Luckily for you, I traced the final angle I went with and you can download it here, print it full size, and use it to match your wood stick to.

Do not skip this step!

It is essential that your top stick have this rounded corner or else it won’t properly execute the clap function — i.e. the main function of a slate.

Step 4 – Sand the Pieces Smooth

No matter what wood or material you used, it’s going to be rough. Using whatever grade of sandpaper available to you, sand it down so it’s smooth enough to run your finger on without being uncomfortable.

When you’re rushing around with a slate on set, the last thing you want is for it to give you splinters.

Step 5 – Paint the Sticks

Paint the Sticks of the Slate with Several Coats

Use paper tape or some other kind of tape to make the stripes that are iconic to the slate. The 1 inch width of camera tape is perfect for this purpose.

Run them along the slate and make sure to have the two ends of the sticks that clap together are the same color. If they aren’t, it will be harder for an editor to sync the clap with the audio.

To keep costs down, I used only black and white acrylic paint on my sticks, but if you are feeling adventurous you can try to make colored sticks or use a brighter color like yellow for increased visibility.

After about three coats of each color around the entire surface of the sticks, I felt they looked good enough to apply sealant. This was not included in the original supplies list — I had some lying around — so if you want to save some money, feel free to skip this. But if you want a more glossy and smooth feel to your sticks, apply several coats of clear sealant and let it dry.

Building the Slate Board

While you let the sticks dry, you can move on to building the slate board, the part of the clapperboard you actually write on. Before moving forward, however, take a dry erase marker and confirm the material you bought can be written and erased on.

Step 6 – Create and Print a Slate Template

Click to enlarge & download

Using whatever program you want on your computer, create a template that contains the kind of information usually engraved into a slate. This includes things like scene, take, shot, director, camera, etc.

Or, download the template I created.

Once you have done that, print it out on a piece of white paper at full-size or 100% (in your printer settings).

Step 7 – Remove the Metal Clip of the Clipboard

Brute strength and a steady hand is what you’ll have to use to remove the clip part of the clipboard. I had to wedge a small flathead screwdriver underneath the metal and shimmy it to finally pop out the clip.

Be careful though not to crack the clipboard. On a few occasions, I came close to compromising the entire clipboard when I got too antsy with the process.

Step 8 – Use Packing Tape to Apply the Template

Use Clear Packing Tape to Apply Template to Back of Clipboard

Once you have your plain clear clipboard or plexiglass, use clear packing tape to apply the template to the board.

Make sure the piece of paper is on the back of where you will write so you are writing on the board itself and not on the paper.

Completely cover it with the tape and be careful to align the template with the bottom instead of the top, since that’s where the sticks go and you don’t want to cover up writing space when you glue them on.

The Final Assembly

Now that you have the two parts of the slate built, it’s time to put them together and make them a fully functional clapperboard!

Step 9 – Mount the Bracket to the Sticks

Mount the L or 90 Degree Bracket to the Wooden Sticks

With your 90 degree bracket in hand, attach it to the left side of the sticks using screws like I did above.

The bottom two screws should be short enough that they don’t come through the other side otherwise you won’t be able to glue the sticks on the board correctly. These will also always remain as tight as possible.

The top screw should go all the way through the wood and be secured by a nut on the other end. When you tighten and loosen this screw, it will dictate how “sticky” the two pieces of wood are on top.

You want the sticks to be loose enough that they will fall with little effort, but not so loose that it is cumbersome to deal with them. Personal preference is a big factor here.

Step 10 – Glue the Sticks to the Slate Board

Pick a strong adhesive to attach the sticks to the slate board. The last thing you want is to call for “Loud sticks!” and slam them down to have the slate part fall off.

For my slate, I used rubber cement liberally on the sticks then placed them on the board. In the few moments before the cement managed to dry, I did a quick alignment then held them down strong for 10 seconds. Of course, follow the instructions on the adhesive for the strongest possible bond.

After you’ve applied pressure, wait about 10 minutes for the bond to seal. When the time is up, pick it up, shake it a bit and mark that sucker!

Evan with Finished DIY Slate/Clapperboard

Customize to Your Heart’s Desire

One of the greatest advantages of do-it-yourself projects is the ability to customize whatever it is you build — including a clapperboard.

Do you want to drill a hole to run a rope through? Do you want to attach velcro early on so you can eventually add a tagboard? Maybe you can find a way to throw a handle on the thing.

The point is that since you’re building it from scratch, it’s your chance to own the thing — to adapt it to the way you work and help make life on set a bit easier.  So take the opportunity before you build it to think about how you might improve on the traditional slate design.

And once you’ve got your clapperboard built, you can finally learn the subtleties of the slate.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=560237219 Richard Lacey

    Any experience with the eBay clappers?
    Been thinking of picking one up for a while since they’re only 20€.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Haven’t heard of em. Do you have a link?

    • http://twitter.com/Tom_C_Hall Tom C. Hall

      plastic is brittle, the edges are rough and they don’t make a very sharp snap (the closing magnets are very weak) but they work fine. I keep one with me most of the time. Don’t trust the code patches on the sticks though

      • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

        Thanks for the review on that Tom

    • jolo2

      There is this one too http://suntekstore.com/Clapper-Board-Slate-For-TV-Film-Movie-__-White-%5E_%5E-Black.html , but there is no magnet, and there is a little play.

      • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

        Hm doesn’t look too bad. I always shudder when I see the ones that have “HOLLYWOOD” written in large letters on them

      • http://www.jolo2.eu jolo2

        So I’m adding some more informations :D
        So I bought it a few month ago, shipping was pretty fast to France, bought on the 15/05 shipped the 18/05 and if I remember right I received it the 20/05, but if you look at it close, the letters and line looks weird, and the one I received had a scratch but nothing too distracting.

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  • http://www.diyfilmschool.net/ DIYFilmSchool.net

    This was a really cool read. You didn’t need to show your bank balance, though; I believed you when you said it only cost you $13.

    A question: does the thickness of the wood add to the weight of the clap? I was thinking while reading, “why not use paint stirrers?”

    I would imagine it adds weight, plus we’d have to bolt it somehow, but I’m just curious.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      The type of wood would definitely add to the clap more than the thickness. The problem with using paint stirrers would be the lack of audible sound. You want something not too heavy, but something robust enough that it will make a loud enough *smack*

      • http://www.diyfilmschool.net/ DIYFilmSchool.net

        Yeah, that’s the conclusion I came to immediately after I hit “post”. Not bad for a brainstorm, though.