Fellow NASA racer and 25 Hours of Thunderhill E2 class winner Peter Hopelain has a cool podcast called The Technik Podcast. If you haven’t had the opportunity to check it out, I suggest you give it a listen the next time you are on a nice long road trip. The show is very specific to NASA racing and provides some great insight to our sport as well as some good laughs. When Peter invited me to be a guest on the show, I was honored and elated to have the opportunity to do some bench racing on his program. Not only is the show an audio podcast (where ever Podcasts are found, Spotify, iTunes, etc.) but Peter also does a video of the podcast as well.

The fact that the podcast would also include video meant that I needed to comb my hair and brush my teeth. Then I realized that a video of me sitting in a messy room filled with car parts, car magazines and fast food containers probably wouldn’t represent my racing team, Double Nickel Nine Motorsports, very well. So, I decided it was time for a quick Toolshed Engineer project: Build Your Own Podcast Background. Here we go!

I was able to score just about everything I needed from my local Ace Hardware. I grabbed some half-inch sprinkler pipe and a few fittings. The whole thing set me back around $8 in parts for the frame.

I didn’t need anything super fancy behind me, but I wanted something that would look professional on the video podcast. I decided to take all of my sponsor logos and create an image that I could put on a vinyl background. This background could be put up and then taken down quickly to be stored somewhere for future marketing use. This would be a win-win since nobody would see my messy house and my sponsors would get some media love on the podcast. I knew I could use the team’s sticker cutter to cut each sponsor logo out and apply it to some vinyl stock, but I realized I would need to source the vinyl and the process would take more time than I had available.

I decided to hit the easy button and outsourced the vinyl portion of the background to FedEx/Kinkos. I e-mailed them the jpeg file I created of the background I wanted and gave them the dimensions I was looking for. Eight hours later I picked up a perfect vinyl background with all of my sponsor’s logos displayed and it even had grommets already installed to help me hold the background to my DIY frame.

Fed Ex/Kinkos came through big time. They were fast — same day — and the background came out better than I imagined, and it even had grommets installed. Total cost for their service $80. Money well spent since it meant I didn’t have to cut and weed 26 separate intricate sponsor logos on our sticker maker and then try to get all 26 logos evenly spaced and straight on the background. I saved myself hours of labor.

Originally I was planning on just zip-tying the background to my sprinkler pipe frame, but after I saw how nice the vinyl background came out I sourced some reusable bungee-ball straps, which worked really well. I took the time to measure the right tension length of the bungee-ball straps in conjunction with the vinyl background length to determine how long each piece of sprinkler pipe should be. Remember kids, measure twice and cut once. If you go too short, you are on another road trip to the hardware store for two bucks worth of sprinkler pipe.

A measuring tape, a Sharpie and a sharp blade on a hacksaw and the frame was coming together quickly. A good hacksaw cuts through sprinkler pipe like butter.

I had an idea in my head of what the frame should look like when I went to the hardware store for supplies. It just needed a couple of legs, two feet for support and a rectangular frame. Purchasing a few sprinkler pipe joints, tees and unions made this project go together with ease

As I made each cut, I built each component ensuring the lengths were coming out equal distances with the joints attached. I did this because math is hard.

Once I had the frame built, I needed to create feet to hold the frame up. I did this with simple tee fittings and two shorter pieces of sprinkler pipe. Once I put it together, I realized the diameter of the tee fitting is larger than the sprinkler pipe creating a frame that wanted to rock back and forth. I fixed this by later adding end caps to the sprinkler pipes. That meant one more trip to the hardware store, which I was determined not to have to do during this particular project.

Here are the feet for the frame, you can see the original error in my design by not including end caps to the end pieces to ensure the feet were flat and the background wouldn’t rock back and forth.
Four end caps fixed the rocking issue for the feet of our podcast background frame.

I chose not to glue any of the sprinkler pipe together because I wanted the frame to be able to be taken down and stored. Nobody has stayed married with a huge podcast background in the middle of their wife’s living room.

Extremely simple in its design: four tees, two elbows and some sprinkler pipe and suddenly there is a frame.

Once the frame was mocked up, it was time to use my little bungees to hold the vinyl background in place. This was a good test but, unfortunately, it proved to me that this half-inch sprinkler pipe doesn’t have much strength and the tension from the bungee straps were warping my frame. That meant another trip to the hardware store for two more tees to add a center support for the frame. For those of you keeping track, that would be my third trip to the hardware store, which I swore would not happen on this project.

These bungee balls were the perfect reusable attachment for the podcast background. They simply threaded through the grommet, wrapped around the sprinkler pipe and then over the ball to stay in place. Easy. But, they did show some short comings of my frame design warping things. Back to the drawing board.

I shortened the lateral supports for the frame and added a center support beam made out of two more tees and another length of sprinkler pipe. This did the trick and created a sturdier frame that could withstand the tension from the bungee straps. This also had a secondary benefit by shortening the longest portions of the frame, meaning when the frame was dismantled for storage, the whole bunch of parts would be smaller and easier to store.

Here you can see the new center support beam and how it fixed the frame warping problem. The size of the frame was built just right creating enough tension for the bungee straps to create a nice tight background for the podcast.

After a little trial and error I finally got the frame just right, and looking at the printed vinyl background on it, I was extremely happy with the final result. Not bad for something built out of sprinkler pipe and bungee cords.

Here it is: $80 to Fed/Ex Kinkos, $20 to Ace Hardware, after three trips, and we have ourselves a legit podcast background.

Once the background was completed, all that was left to do was to connect with Peter Hopelain and shoot the next episode of The Technik Podcast.

The DIY podcast background worked flawlessly and nobody had to see my messy living room. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do to block the viewers from seeing my double chin.

During the podcast Peter immediately commented on my professional looking background, which I greatly appreciated after three separate trips the hardware store to make it happen. I’m sure my sponsors appreciate it, too, since I was able to use another opportunity to give them a much appreciated shout out for their support.

Once the podcast was over I took down the frame, rolled up the vinyl background and stuffed it all in a folding chair bag for safe keeping. If the opportunity comes up again, I’ll be ready.

To enjoy Peter’s The Technik Podcast episode

And once you do one podcast, and you already built a super cool podcast background, then why not do another one? I was invited to be a guest on Episode 101 of Garage Heroes In Training (GHIT) where I had the chance to talk about SpeedNews, NASA,The 25 Hours of Thunderhill, and Honda Challenge.

Image courtesy of Rob Krider


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