Recently I had the need to digitize a few banker boxes worth of old documents. I usually would use a Canon Lide scanner to scan a few pages but this project required the capture of a few thousand pages of paper and would take forever with a normal document scanner. After looking around on the internet to see what other people have done to solve this type of problem I decided to build my own document imager.
I converted an old overhead projector into a copy stand by taking off the projector head and adapted the arm and bracket to have a 1/4 inch camera thread mount. Then I spray painted a plywood board matte black for the imager table surface. The overhead projector is useful because the table and arm are aligned and the camera is held centered above the document. The arm is easily adjustable with a large knob and can be racked-in to focus on something small like a post-it note or pulled back to capture a full newspaper page. I made a few registration marks on the table surface to keep documents aligned. You can quite often find an old overhead projector out on garbage day or at a yard sale.
Two old desk lamps were mounted next to the table for illumination. I hooked a Canon Powershot camera to a TV for previewing the document imager output using the camera’s NTSC video output. To enable constant focus and brightness during a capture session I used AEL (Auto Exposure Lock) and AFL (Auto Focus Lock) modes. The digital camera was powered off a wall power adapter using a Canon ACK-DC10 AC Adapter Kit.
I have been extremely happy with the results and it takes a fraction of the time a normal scanner would take to capture a few hundred pages at a time.
Here is a sample page that captured using this homemade document imager and was cropped in Photoshop. It is from an old 1995 era Apple Computer Macintosh Performa 580CD sales flyer.
After about 2 weeks in my spare time I managed to capture 8 bankers boxes worth of documents totaling 13084 pages of paper. Weighing in around 154 pounds. The average weight per box was 19.25 pounds / box. The pile of boxes stacked vertically would come in around 9 feet high.
I sorted the documents by year and categorized the content with searchable meta data. I used Carbon Copy Cloner on my Mac to clone the data onto 3 hard disks for redundancy and keep one drive at an off-site location for safe storage.
After the digitization project was over I decided to incinerate the old paper in a wood stove because my paper shredder couldn’t handle that volume of paper. It generated an incredible about of heat. I figure burning the paper roughly put out around 976,937 BTUs of heat. While incinerating the paper I had to put a screen mesh over the stove pipe to reduce the risk of fly ash.