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How to Build a Marble Machine


Marble Machines are Fun

There is something about building a Marble Machine that makes me feel like I could control the world. I have not built one yet, but I want to. Until then I will have to settle for the work of some of these Marble Machine Masters. They have great ideas and amazing wood working skills.

You can tell these guys have the skill to shape wood and wire into a fine oiled machine. They take their knowledge and build something that is artistic. They inspire me to build one of my own. I just think I should use coins rather than marbles. We will see. Enjoy the videos.

The Ball Lifter — You Must Defy Gravity First

There are endless ways to lift a ball high enough to get your marble machine running. If you can get it to the top, gravity will do the rest. Take a look at these awesome videos to get a few great ideas for lifting the balls of your own marble machine.

Take a sheet of paper and draw out some ideas. Think about how you can design your own lifters and get your own ball rolling. The nice thing is that you can use scrap wood and scrap wire and just about anything you can find around your house. If you can find it, you can make your first marble machine for nearly no cost toy you at all. All you have to do is be a little creative.

Shaping the Wire Tracks — You Will Need a Way For the Ball Barrings to Roll

You can make tracks out of copper wire. For one, they are easy to shape and easy to solder together. Another reason to use copper wire is because it is so much easier than trying to dig out channels in your pieces of wood. It is a lot of work and can require machines you can't afford at the moment. I know I can't afford them. I believe you can use other types of wire, but I like the color and flexibility of copper.

I like the wire tracks because you can see the metal balls better. The machine looks more like a machine when you can see the metal on metal action. My problem at this moment is finding that beautiful copper wire he is working with.

Get Your Own Marbles — They Are Cheap and Easy to Find.

I like to get my marbles from the dollar store. When I can find cheap marbles, that is when I buy them. I buy them for several different reasons. I use them on marble machines for one. I use them in the Boy Scout Den I lead. They love to play marbles when it is cold outside. If I find rare marbles, I will add them to my collection.

Marbles come in all kinds of colors and usually, they are cheap. Most of the time they come in small drawstring bags. Sometimes they are just in plastic bags and you have to find a way to store them after you buy them.

Finished Machines — Some Amazing Works of Enginering

If you sit down and take some time, you can also build machines like the ones below. All you have to do is practice. It takes a little trial and error to get some of these ideas working right, but that is half the fun of making these machines.

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Let's talk about some of the materials you will need. Most of them you can salvage from junk you are about to throw out.

Motors — You'll be surprised where you can find motors that will work for this project. I found some from old portable cassette players. I bet you could use the motor from a CD player as well. There are plenty of them out there that don't have functioning readers. All you need is the motor.

Scrap Wood — You can use just about any wood. You can even buy the wood from your local hardware store. That is not necessary, though. There are plenty of places that you can get your scrap wood. A lot of times you can go to those same hardware stores and ask for the tiny scraps that are left behind when customers have their plywood cut to specific sizes. The stores will usually give those to you. You can pick wood out of dumpsters from construction sites. Make sure you ask permission first. I would hate for you to go to jail for trespassing.

Other Fun Marble Machines — Woodworkers Make the Coolest Machines

There are a lot of people out there who are building their own marble machines. Most of them are not even working from any kind of plans. They build these machines with only an idea in their minds. They wing it, just wanting to see the ball move from one point to another.

Sometimes these machines become something unexpected. They seem to take on a life of their own.

Ronald Walter's marble machine

Ronald Walter's marble machine

Super Awesome Clockwork Gears

The centerpiece for this marble machine are the gears. They lift dozens of marbles at a time and send them down an amazing track of twists and turns.

At first glance, I thought this creation was some sort of wooden gear clock. The only thing that gave it away was the fact there were no hands on the face, not to mention it was missing numbers.

If you go to the project site (click on the image) you will find an array of chutes and barrels and other things for the balls to do on their way down. I can't tell if he had plans for this one or not.

It inspires me to think about designing a clock that has a marble run aspect. What if the machine can tell time while lifting ball bearings up to a point where they can run down a series of tracks. I think that would be so cool.

I have seen some marble machines that are built to tell the time. Each ball signified a different number so the viewer can tall the time. From what I can tell from the video, it runs smoothly.

I counted the Ball Bearings in the gears. This machine moves 47 at one time. It makes me wonder how often it gets jammed.



A Lot of Work and a Lot of Fun

If you ever find yourself in Abita Springs near New Orleans, you should visit the Abita Mystery House. They have a marble machine made out of Popsicle sticks. I can't imagine what it took to figure out how to get it to work properly.

I can picture tons of dripping glue drying from the edges of all the Popsicle sticks. I can see kids laughing and having so much fun building something like this. Heck. I can see me having so much fun building this.

This model is an attraction for the museum. People want to see how this thing works when they first see it. It looks like a mess. It looks like there was no way it could actually work but it does.

I have seen other people make these Popsicle machines, but I have never seen one on public display. I would worry too much about someone tearing it up or breaking it in some way. I guess if it is securely glues, there would be nothing to worry about.

How to Collect Marbles — There are Many Books About Collecting Marbles

The first thing you have to do if you want to collect marbles is to educate yourself about them and what makes them valuable. The best way I know to do this is to attend collectors shows. If you can't find those near you, then your next best option would be to invest in a book or two.

What Did You Do With Marbles as a Kid?

Marty Mandelbaum on December 17, 2019:

What gauge wire are you using?

bob on September 07, 2016:

what type of motors did he use

UnitedHerps on January 06, 2015:

He's not using copper wire....he's using brass. I would update your site to say so.

Robert T Gasperson (author) from South Carolina on January 21, 2014:

@SusanAston: You should look up the games online. I played "Ringer" with the scouts last week and they had a blast.

Robert T Gasperson (author) from South Carolina on January 21, 2014:

@Paul-Lenton: I always thought the ball bearings were cool. They make great marbles. I can't seem to find them. I guess I could go to Tractor Supply or something like that to find them. Instead I buy the 50 marble bag from the dollar store.

Paul Lenton from El Calafate, Argentina on November 28, 2013:

I used to play with them like in the video above, and every kid had another one with which to get the marbles out of a circle in the ground, that was a ball bearing from a big truck or a tractor. Nice memories!

SusanAston on July 28, 2013:

I remember playing with them - can't remember exactly what the rules of the game were but I did enjoy them.

Robert T Gasperson (author) from South Carolina on July 24, 2013:

@anonymous: He cut the big wheel with a band saw and a drill press. The balls don't fall out because the holes are drilled at an angle. They stay in the wheel till they are upside down at the top. Ingenious design really.

anonymous on July 24, 2013:

I wonder if the wheel from the big marble machine was self made or purchased.

If it's self made how to do it if you don't have any special tools (machines that you cannot affort) for it?

Why don't the marbles fall out of the wheel from the beginning and are only kept in place when they are already half away the lifting?

imagelist lm on April 03, 2013:

Great lens with valuable info...

anonymous on June 21, 2012:

I was here a 1 year and 1 day ago and am returning to enjoy this marble coolness once again. I loved playing marbles as a kid and once one of the big kids won all my marbles. My sister saw me in tears and went and challenge the big kid to a game at the next recess and won all his marbles playing pots...I got all my marbles back!

anonymous on March 23, 2012:

played marble games and made set it was great fun i love these videos

flycatcherrr on March 22, 2012:

I remember we used to build our own marble runs with things like wooden blocks and Meccano sets and those orange plastic Hot Wheels tracks... there are probably still some lost marbles behind the radiators in my parents' rec room, not to mention some marble-shaped dings in the baseboards.

anonymous on September 06, 2011:

Fantastic! I loved watching these. We mostly just collected marbles--I don't actually recall playing marbles, but we all had huge collections of them. Later there was a trend for "fried marbles", so most of our collections were reduced considerably by that.

Linda Hoxie from Idaho on September 04, 2011:

I love shooting for marbles as a kid. These marble machines are so cool, Blessed!

cdevries on August 17, 2011:

What a great idea for a Lens! I love these machines, whether they use marbles or larger diameter balls. Fascinating! Squid Angel blessed.

Andrew Douse on June 29, 2011:

Played. And i still do, though now its with cuboro as the building blocks.

anonymous on June 20, 2011:

This is cool, and a lot of fun. They would make great home projects to work on with the kids. I have always liked marble.

rwoman on June 01, 2011:

This might make a good summer project for my son...

sousababy on June 01, 2011:

Oh, this is the coolest thing. As a kid, I used to try to construct really simplistic ones (like zig-zag steps) with the edging left over in our bungalow (the V-shaped long strips that are used to line doorways, etc). I never would have thought of shaping wire. I really must try this with my daughter, she is fascinated by this sort of thing too. Great lens!

dannystaple on May 30, 2011:

Oh yes. Have you come across the Lego based ball contraptions? Its known as GBC - there is a set of guidelines so different Lego builders can build different modules, and then they all link up by having a particular spec for ball hoppers and average flow rate.

Also - don't forget the old helter skelter kids marbles game - perhaps room for an amazon link for that?

Anyway - given you a blessing - I love this stuff.

hayleylou lm on January 27, 2011:

Played the old fashioned way - trying to hit the main marble and win others marbles in the process.