Are you the do-it-yourself type?
OR don’t make it, buy one!
I have literally, THOUSANDS of hours of experience bending and welding.
I have the scars and strong hands to prove it.
Welding and steel are often not very friendly to the human hand.
Below is a TON of good information on what I do.
I also have a 3 part video series for sale in the store that will show you all kinds of tricks to build your own, and will save you MANY hours of trial and error.
And will hopefully save you some welding burns, a whole lot of guess-work and much trial and error.
Send me an email if you’d like to purchase them. $43 for all three videos; 1) How to make a Helical Lift – 2) How to make a Track Spiral – 3) Tools I commonly use
Below are some things to get you started!
And please, don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube Channe!
- Marbles & Balls
- Track Switch
- Helical Lift
- Chain Lift
- Ring Lift
The track will be your most important tool in getting the ball from one point to another on your sculpture. Sure, you could have the ball jump or bounce or be shot around, but that would be impractical for most situations. The track is not glamorous or flashy, but it will be your most often used tool on your sculpture. I have several track clamps that I use to keep the tracks parallel and spaced the same distance apart. If needed, I can always squeeze the track spacers to make the track narrower. I have since learned that shaping the path of the track is best done, as much as possible, after the track has been installed. I butt weld the “old” track to the “new” track, add a spacer for stability and strength, and then go about threading the path where it needs to go, bending the curves around the sculpture, exactly where they need to be.
I bend nearly all my track with my hands. I shape each curve by hand because I have total control over how tight or wide the turn will be. Sometimes I have to finish a section of track after it has been installed onto the sculpture. If I were to not bend my track by hand, then I would never be able to get in there to bend the rest of the section. My hand does get tired from bending all day. I usually use 1/8″ for track. I have seen 5/32″ (eddie boes) used which can be bent by hand as well. I can even bend 3/16″ but it helps to have leather gloves on when I bend that size wire, and you won’t get any tight corners with that thick of steel.
I start making the track by attaching the two ends of the track rails together with two track spacers before I begin to bend the track into the path it will take.
This keeps the track in place with much, much less effort than trying to hold both pieces in place with just your hands. After bending the corner or turn that I need, I add spacers to that corner. This keeps the wire in place so I know I can bend the next corner easily. The best way to test if your corner is going to
work is to attach it to the sculpture. Roll the ball from the top and see if it “climbs” the corner, or makes it just fine. All final adjustments to the track should be made after the track is installed. You will not know how fast the marble will actually be traveling until it is installed. Then you can make final adjustments to the corner. Once you get experienced you can “eyeball” most of the corners, and be pretty close.
Keeping the speed of the marble low is very important. The faster a ball is traveling the more sensitive it will be to vibration on the track, and any imperfections to the track itself. The ball will also exert a lot more exergy as it rolls through a turn, making it come off the track easier. Very sharp corners are very hard to get just right. The best thing to do is let the spacing of the track be as wide a possible to keep the ball well seating between the rails. Smooth track and smooth banking will be key here too. If you don’t want to mess with banking the corners, then just use some guard rail on the outside of the corner.
The single biggest challenge you will face when making a weld, or solder joint is keeping your parts from moving. This sounds simple but it can be quite frustrating, especially when you are making a critical weld that is hard to get to. Get lots of clamps, alligator clips, and maybe a magnetic poseable arm for taller situations. Keeping the rails properly spaced while welding is important, but can be changed later if needed.
Turns are the hardest part of making track. It’s always best to make as many turns and track as you can off the sculpture. Then connect your new section to the old. Add a couple supports and then bend any remaining track that is left hanging… : ) This track looks good, but it will probably still need more banking and bending to keep the marble running on the steel track. The marble comes off the track very easy with corners like these. It really depends on the speed of the ball.
This is one of my track clamps. I use it almost every time I make a weld on some track. This clamp was machined with a MILL by my friend Bill, who is a machinist. I would tell you how this clamp is built…if I knew. I do know that it holds the track at the right spacing, keeps the rails parallel and most importantly keeps the track from moving while I am making that very weld. Track Clamps don’t have to be this nice. In fact I used to use picture hanging eyes screwed into wooden dowels. Anything to keep the track the right distance will work well. Once the spacers are on, they can be bent in and out a little if needed anyway.
At the bottom center of this picture, you can see where the track is welded together. They call this a “butt weld”. In my experience it is the hardest weld to get just right. It’s the hardest because it is VERY important. If it is not perfectly welded, the marble will make a click sound as it rolls over that spot. It can also be a weak spot if not welded well. I advise that both ends be sanded flat, I use an angle grinder, and then join them up. Since both ends are flat they will lay against each other nicely. Hit it with the welder, and you should have a good welded joint.
The most important part of the motor lift assembly is the thrust bearing. The thrust bearing is the blue disc between the two silver washers. This bearing holds the weight of the lift, and the marbles on the lift. This motor is 12V 5rpm. It works well, and is very strong, but its limit is a lift at about 20 inches tall. When at a motor supplier’s site, just search for DC gear motor and look for low RPM. A DC converter, or power supply can be found at a lot of surplus stores.
I also use an AC gear motor available from McMaster Carr or a supplier like them. They have face or side mount and several different rpm’s to choose from. If your interested they also have a full line of solid materials that you may need in your sculpture. I haven’t used a DC motor like the one in the picture for anything but Helical lifts. I am now working on a chain lift, with ladder chain, and the motor I am using for that will be a 5rpm AC geared down motor. It should have plenty of power to spare. A nice advantage of the AC motor is that they are quieter than the DC motors.
This is a face mount AC motor, 5 rpm. Any number of suppliers carry them. Use the ads here, or the search box below. Search for AC gearmotor and look for low rpm (3-7 rpm) The actual motor turns fast. The white fan spins at the speed of the motor and keeps the body of the motor from overheating. They get hot. There are 8 mounting bosses on the front, all tapped for 8-32 screws.
This is another DC motor. Made by Tsukasa. It runs at 7 rpm. Which may seem slow, but if you think about it, that’s 7 marbles per minute that will be released onto the tracks. If you have marble traveling up boths sides of the lift, then double that. I have found that a rolling ball sculpture works better if there are less marbles going at once, not more. One marble puts out a surprising amount of resonant vibration all by itself.
Want to use a DC motor but don’t have the slightest idea of how to get the screw pattern correct?
Well, no problem, because her it is, This shows the motor from the bottom of the mounting pad:
Ok, now to the good stuff.
I am going to give you the dimentions in decimal. Your starting point would be the from the motor shaft, that’s your zero dimension.
Drill the hole big enough so that the boss (the thick part around the motor shaft) will fit with a little extra so it can move around. Then move up .234 and then left .266 drill the hole for the screw, and then back to zero, and right .266 and drill the hole for the right screw. Go back to zero and then back down (.234) to the center of the shaft. Now go straight down .523 and drill for the bottom center hole. I have a large hole cut into the center of the pad, this is for the thrust bearing to sit in.
The screw holes are counter-bored so the screw head does not stick up, and interfere with the thrust bearing. Off the top of my head I cannot remember the screw size, but my hardware store carries them in stock. Bring your motor with you and just fit the screws to the holes. As for what size to drill the holes… just use your best judgement. The most important thing is getting the holes in the right place!
AC MOTOR mounting guide.
I also have the mounting dimensions for the face mount and base mount AC motors. I am not going to cover the base mount because it is very easy to do. The face mount is much harder to figure out.
Again, your motor shaft will be the center point, or zero. Drill a hole that’s .320 big for the shaft. Now move .500 up and .781 to the left for the upper left hole. Now go all the way to the hole on the right, moving 1.562. Once done with that hole move down 1.562, drill, and move 1.562 to the last hole on the bottom left. Now you will have the hole pattern drilled exactly right, and you can
move on to the next phase of construction. Do you find this a bit confusing? Go to McMaster.com and look up AC motors. They have the dimensions on their product page.
If you need to slow down the marble, or collect several marbles together, then this would be the element you want to use.
This picture of #59 shows two marble collectors. The collector in front has the black marbles with a colored stripe. The other collector is in back, is just tipping it’s marbles onto the track, and has the clear marbles with orange, white and blue in them. The collector in back tips when it has 7 marbles, and the one in front with the black marbles tips when the 8th one rolls on. All stainless steel track. The frame is made from 3/4″ stainless steel square tubing. All of it is TIG welded. The colorful glass marbles are 1 inch. The helical lift can be seen in the back, raising the marbles automatically to the top.
This arm is on #56, the wall hanging art sculpture. In this shot there are no marbles in the collector. The orange marble hanging out under the arm is the collector’s counter weight. This weight returns the arm when the marbles are released. It has to be very carefully placed, it’s weight is very important.
This arm is also on #56 the wall hanging sculpture. This arms tips when it has 8 marbles, so it’s got two marbles to go before it releases them all.
I use a bronze bearing that is self lubricating. It fits a 1/4″ steel shaft and is friction-fit into the middle of the plastic. I drill holes in the plastic so I can insert wire through them. This keeps the bearing in place, and the arm firmly attached to the pivot point. The bearing eliminates the need to oil, and will guarantee long life of your sculpture.
Marbles & Balls
If you want to go with the large size ball, around 2″, then I would suggest that you go all the way to 2 1/4″ and get pool/billiard balls. They are cheap, and surprisingly light for their size. Walmart carries them, by the set. If you do use that size/weight ball, then use 3/16″ wire or bigger. Can also be found by searching for Phenoic balls – to find different sizes.
Want to save weight, and use a lightweight material? Well…how about using ping pong balls. They could be colored, and do not weight anything. It would be hard to have them actuate moving parts, because they weigh very little, but it is possible.
Want a lot of noise? Then use a chinese stress ball! They are weighted unevenly on the inside, and do not roll smoothly, but makes a great melody of sounds when paired with the resonance of the wire. Not to be taken lightly though, it will put off a LOT of noise.
I started out using 5/8″ marbles, the small common ones you see everywhere. I also used 5/8″ steel balls too. The steel ones were nice because they had a lot of weight even though they were small, but unless you get stainless steel ball bearings they will eventually rust. Not fun. In my opinion, 5/8″ is a little small. I would recommend something a little bigger, right around 7/8″ or bigger. When I used a 1″ marble (25mm) for the first time, I was quite pleased at much better the bigger marble stayed on the tracks.
I now use 1 3/8″ (35mm) most of the time. They are a good size that stays on the track well, and is heavy enough to power most elements, without needing a buddy. And with a buddy or two their weight adds up fast! The best size wire for this size ball is 5/32″. It has just the right amount of strength while still being easy enough to bend. The larger diameter wire also gives you more room to weld to. But because it costs a lot more than 1/8″ to buy, I use 1/8″. It comes in 12′ lengths and can usually be found for around $2 -$5 per stick.
If you are doing a small table top sculpture, then I would recommend 1″ (25mm) marbles. Any bigger and their weight works against you if it is not properly secured to some kind of base. Any smaller and the marbles come off easier, and get lost easier because they are smaller. The track spacing does not have to be as precise the larger the ball you use.
Square is good, circle too, but let your imagination roam. You will only see an ordered mass of wire from a distance, and the marbles on the lift.
But the frame will stand out. Don’t be too worried about it being artistic.
First make sure it will support what you have in mind.
The frame you make will depend on how you plan to build your sculpture.
A wall hanging sculpture will be different than a sculpture that stands on a table or the floor.
The nice things about wall hanging art is that it is easily secured. A couple of screws through the frame, and it is held tight up against the wall. This serves to hold it up, and it also holds everything firm – which means no shaking around when the marbles are rolling on the tracks. Which is most important when making a table or floor standing RBS.
The frame, unless used for mounting, should be seen as the rough draft of the size, and will be where you connect all of your supporting rods to hold everything up. For a table standing sculpture, think more about how you will be connecting the track to it, and how it looks. Since it will not be carrying the weight of the entire piece like a wall mounted unit, then it can be more artistic. The big challenge with a floor or table sculpture is that it will sway back and forth due to the energy of the marbles as they roll through the corners. Don’t forget to make the sculpture solid before you begin to add track and elements, if you have to add these things later, they will be harder to fit in.
Make your frame first, then add the lift, and then add track. I would start from the top, and build down. This way you can start the ball at the top and know how fast it will be going when you go to add your next section.
I cut the steel for this frame with a metal chop saw, then welded it together. You could also use copper tubing, which is easy to cut, has fittings to make several angles, and is easy to solder to. And when shiny, looks really good.
I always cut the frame ends at 45 degrees. This way the ends fit right together and I do not have to cap the ends. Lay out the frame, and then measure to get it as close to square as you can. Then only tack weld the outside corners. Recheck to see if it is square, and make any adjustments needed. Then tack the inside of the corners on the face. Recheck for square again. Once it is right then finish off all of the seams, welding them in place. Recheck again, and if any adjustments are to be made, they should be very small. Take your angle grinder and grind down the welds smooth, use a wire brush to take away any black marks, and you’re done.
The whole frame process can be slow, but if you take the time to make sure everything is straight and square, you will not have to worry about it again during the building process.
For making a frame that uses a lot of the same angles, consider making this handy angle guide for making your weld right on the angle your looking for.
I have a metal chop saw that does a good job of cutting, but is not the best for accuracy.
I can get the angle right on, but that type of cutting blade can flex and your cut can be off anyway.
I recently made 3 – 12 sided circles. (36 pieces) Two of them were 45″ diameter and the other is 27″ diameter.
To make my job easier I made up this angle guide that makes sure all of my welds will be the same.
To make this guide I cut two pieces of square tubing at 15 degree each – to equal 30 – and welded them together.
Then, checking the angle carefully, made sure it was exactly 30 degrees.
Once it was at precisely 30 degrees, I welded on the wire across it’s open mouth to be sure it could not move again.
Here’s my angle ruler laid upon the guide:
The large stainless block is used to keep the pieces of metal flat.
Here is the new piece after welding:
To figure out how long to cut each section, first decide how big your circle will be. Then multiply it by pi (3.14). That will tell you how long it is around the outside of the circle, which is the circumference. Now divide the number of sides you have on your circle into the circumference, and that number is the rough length you will cut each piece. Keep in mind, your math will give you the diameter of your circle, point to point, not flat side to opposing flat side. I had 12 sides on my circles, so that meant I needed an angle at 30 degrees. This meant I needed to cut each end at 15 degrees so that the angle would add up to 30. Confusing? I though so too. I cut my first two pieces at 30 degree each. When I tried them together I was surprised to find it a 60 degree angle. I would have only had 6 sides on my circle with that angle. I’m glad I tried it out before I cut them all!
Here is the 45″ ring just finished, two to go!
The angle guide is at the top for reference. I had the luxury of cutting the tubing with a mill. It’s cuts are precise to the half thousandth, give or take a micron. It did help, but I found that it didn’t matter greatly. What is most important is firmly clamping the tubing so that it cannot move at all while cooling. That’s the advantage of using the angle guide, it was easy to clamp the pieces to it and keep them from moving.
This is a very handy track switch/splitter. This style collects the marbles in a row, and then when full, drops them all at the same time. This arm drops with 4, so it only needs one more. The marbles in the background are the counterweight marbles. They are just the right size… This is not the best angle to see, but 4 tracks lead away from beneath the marble arm collector/tipper.
This is the first layout of holes for the plinko scrambler. The Plinko Scrambler takes 4 incoming tracks and lets the
marbles on those tracks mix it up in the middle. They bounce off each other and the pins taking a new path out the bottom. Sometimes they take different paths, sometimes they all take the same path, each time it is different.
Here is the finished gate with pins. Installed onto the sculpture. I have yet to lead the wire paths into the plinko scrambler. First things first.
I would recommend these things as a minimum for welding:
Strong Clamps – to hold the parts down tight.
A flat surface to clamp to – to make sure everything is properly aligned.
Welding helmet – auto darkening is best so you don’t have to flip the helmet down.
Wire brushes – to clean the soot from your welds.
Angle grinder – to grind off the parts of the weld you do not want.
Chop saw – because you will need to cut the steel for your frame
Bolt cutters – An easy, clean, and noise free way to cut round steel rod, I have 4 different sizes of cutters 12″, 14″ 18″ and (2)-24″.
For a TIG welder, look for one that has the high frequency start. The high frequency start means that you do not have to touch the tungsten to the work to start the arc (known as “scratch start”). Instead the high frequency starts the arc without having to touch the work surface. A much better way to weld. I bought a Miller welder because it is a good quality brand. You will also need a bottle of argon for shielding gas, tungsten and collets. A belt sander, or bench grinder will be needed to sharpen the tungsten when needed.
I started out using a MIG welder. It was a Powermig 150. Imported. Cheap. But, it welded steel together, and that was all I needed. I used .023 stainless steel filler wire and straight argon. An important feature to look for in a MIG welder is that the power to the nozzle is OFF, until you pull the trigger. This keeps the tip from being “hot” all the time, and is much safer. Also, you will need unshielded wire, so you will need a machine that handles shielding gas. Instead of flux coated wire.
I start out by welding up my frame. I use a large “I” beam to clamp my pieces to, this keeps them flat and even, and also makes sure nothing moves when your actually welding. Once the frame is built and either bolted to the wall, clamped in a vise, or standing on your work table, you should start working on the lift.
Once your lift is installed (a stand alone project in and of itself!) and working properly, add the tracks that lead out of the lift and then a short section leading into the lift so you know that it works perfectly. At this point it is a good idea to make any track splitters you will be using. A track splitter will take one track and make it two. If you make the splitters at the same time, they will all be the same, and it will save you time. Next you will have to build track. The 1/8″ wire welds to itself very well and I don’t use very much 3/32″ filler rod. I had many problems at the beginning because I could not weld into the “armpit” of two crossing wires. Especially if I was trying to weld a 1/8″ wire to a 1/4″ rod. It is easy to weld through the rod, but a good, experienced TIG operator should be able to weld together aluminum cans, and rbs isn’t even close to that. RBS needs someone who likes physics, welding, mechanical movements and likes to just create something from nothing.
The key to welding the wire is keeping it from moving. One side can move, maybe because you have to hold it in place by hand, but the other piece you are welding must be held firmly. The track clamps I use hold the track rails solid, and I hold the spacer up to it by hand. I weld on one side and then holding the two pieces (the spacer and the rail) together with needle nose pliers, then weld it. It takes practice, but once you get the hang of it, TIG welding is a breeze and it looks very clean. It’s fun to picture what I’m going to make, bend up some wire, and just melt it together. Once you get a feel for your medium, it’s fun to just have fun with it : )
I started out making RBS on a wooden workbench, in my house. I soldered all of my sculptures with silver solder, and a propane torch. Soldering is safe enough to do indoors, and do not really have to worry about burning the place down with sparks. You do not need much room to solder, just a table to solder on, and a place to sit your butt. Otherwise all your wire can be cut with hand tools, and bent by hand. I made my workbench from 2×4′s and a couple sheets of plywood. Good tables, cheap and I still use both of them. Find easy instructions on the web, that’s where I got the plans for my benches.
If you plan to weld, then you will need at least a concrete floor. The sparks that will eventually fall to the floor cannot be put out easily. With welding also comes the grinding and cutting which is very noisy and very dirty.
I would think that you could work anywhere you want. If it’s all you have then you just have to make do. Just make sure that the process you are using to build your rolling ball sculpture isn’t a fire hazard for the area you choose. I have read a few posts lately about workspaces, and if you really want it bad enough – people will live in almost any conditions to have a place to make art
so they can get a foot in the door. But I have a wife, and I know she won’t just live anywhere.
I get the question a lot….Where do you get your steel. Well, I get my steel at Metal Service Center in Windsor, California. I had to get my yellow pages and call every steel supplier in the book and ask if they had 1/8″ stainless steel rod, 12′ lengths. I usually heard something like this: “Oooooh, stainless, Huh? Well let me see….” It is not so easy to find. I have paid as much as $5.50 a length and as little as $2.15 each for 1/8″ SS wire. The stainless square tubing runs about $4 per ft. depending on supply and demand. It is imported from Taiwan, as that’s what’s stamped on the ends of the square tubing.
If you really want to go quality, then go with stainless. You will never have to worry about rust, or even tarnishing, and it will never dull. If you plan to paint your sculpture then I would recommend regular steel. Stainless steel has to be etched, then primered, then painted. If you are using regular steel, then you only have to primer, then paint. The stainless has to be etched, because it’s stainless properties will prevent the paint from sticking as well as you would want. Etching allows the primer to bond into the stainless steel.
This picture is a shot of the top of #71. It is a floor standing sculpture 5′ high and 3′ wide. I have used three different sizes of wire depending on the situation. The majority of wire in this photo is 1/8″ wire. Perfect for most track. The frame is made from 1/2″ stainless steel square tubing. The white wheel bottom center is the tensioner sprocket for the chain lift. Click the pic for a bigger photo.
I also use 3/32″ for filler wire when welding, (TIG) or for the pickups (Hooks) on the chain lift. I use a LOT of 1/8″ for track and supports. When the situation requires more support then 1/8″ can offer then I use 3/16″. For anything stronger I use 1/4″ stainless steel. 1/4″ fits into the bearings I use, and is good for framing because it is very strong.
I add spacers to keep the track in place. These are the trickiest parts of making the spiral. If the spacing is off too much it can be seen, and the ball may even drop out of it’s path. Work around the spiral one spacer at a time. Leave the wire at the top and bottom a little long, if you need to bend it a certain direction, this extra length will be needed. To make things much simpler, I would also suggest that you add the track pieces leading into and out of the spiral on your workbench, before you attach the spiral to your sculpture. This way you can turn the spiral any direction to make your welds, and it is much easier to work with. I use 1/8″ wire for my track, with thicker wire for supports.
This flat spiral serves to slow the marble down. The marble rolls in fast, and spins around against the guard rail. When it slows, the marble starts to follow the wire spiral to the center. The track gets narrower as it gets closer to the center. The ball is actually gaining speed because the circle is getting smaller, this makes the ball skip to another track away from the center. The ball continues to roll, more slowly this time, and will fall through this time without centrifugal force pulling the marble away from the center.
This pictures shows several spirals attached together. They are all different kinds of spirals. Flat, medium, and tall. The marbles in this picture are 5/8″ (standard small) marbles. I don’t use this size marble anymore because it was too hard to keep the marble on the track, and it was too hard to see the marbles rolling from a distance.
Here is a single spiral. This spiral gets the track down and back to the lift in a fun, fast way. Since the spiral is sideways from top to bottom, the ball needs to be going fast to enter the spiral
and not drop out.
This is the finished spiral, before welding into place just about where it is now:
Marble and track elements
1) Single ball tipping arm
2) Multiple ball tipping arm, drops one marble, holds the rest back to wait
3) Marble collector, tips with any ( 2+ ) number of marbles
4) Wavy track (up and down) sections
5) “S” curves (back and forth) track sections
6) Teeter totter
7) Marble drop; marble rolls up a small incline, then rolls back into play
8) Spiral, flat – ball slows down
9) Spiral, medium height – ball speeds up a little
10) Back and forth marble drop – Ball rolls back and forth, dropping down to the track below each time the marble changes direction.
11) Spiral, tall – ball speeds up a lot
12) Spinners; Can be any shape (circle, triangle, heart, random shapes), or
size, or could be specific letters of the alphabet. Many possibilities.
13) Marbles on track; the rolling marble hits a row of marbles sitting on the
tracks and sends the end marble off to continue on.
14) Plinko track scrambler; takes the tracks on the sculpture, and mixes them up so the marbles take different/random tracks when they drop out the other end. The marbles bounce around between pins, like in the plinko game from the price is right with the ol’ Bob Barker.
Listed down here are items that may already be included in your Rolling Ball Sculpture, and options for the loop d’ loop track.
15) Loop d’ loop, just a lot of loops ending in regular track
16) Loop d’ loop, jumping into basket
17) Loop d’ loop, ending in backspin
18) Track switch; 1 track turns into two tracks (left, right, left, right)
19) Track switch; Several balls line up, and they are all started at the same time. (like on #70)
20) Chain lift, can be any height from 12” to 30ft…or more.
21) Helical lift, good for sculptures under 24” tall.
This wooden bowl is 13″ across at the top and has a 2.5″ hole in the center. Several 2″ marbles roll around together until they all slow enough to fall through the center. A good way to mix up the marbles, slow down the time it takes for the marble to get from top to bottom, and randomize the path a ball will take if there is more than one path to fall into.
This is a gravity lift. The 2″ marble pushes down the yellow arm, lifting the marble at the other end. This smaller marble is lifted and released onto it’s own short track. It rolls along that track, then back to the end of the arm, waiting to be lifted again.
This element is pretty complicated. The ball rolls across the top and lifts the arm that is holding back the marbles sitting on the track. The marbles at the bottom are released to go into the ferriswheel lift, which raises 1″ marbles at it’s center. See the video below to see the marbles being lifted.
Needle nose pliers. Get a couple pair for holding the wire to make bends. Get pliers that are heavy duty, the wire can be very hard to bend, depending on the size. Then get a few more smaller pairs for the more delicate work.
Alligator clips, and assorted clamps. Keeping everything in place and for holding onto a wire that is being welded, so you can keep your fingers away from the heat. I use lots of alligator clips. Since I mostly work with wire they are the perfect size. You will find that clamping and jigs are the most important part of getting all of your parts looking the same.
Bolt cutters. If you are using any kind of wire 3/16″ or bigger, then you will need something bigger than a small hand tool. I use several sizes of cutters. At one point I used my metal chop saw to cut my 1/4″ rod. But it made a lot of noise, was very hot after cutting, and the slag had to be ground off. A lot more work than needed if you ask me. Bolt cutters take the work out of cutting, saving your hands from a lot of repetitive work as well.
Drill press. Hand drill. All the drill bits that go with them. A Square for framing. Acetone for cleaning metal. Good lighting – being able to see what you are doing seems like an easy one, but it is very impotant. Channel Locks to squeeze the track spacing (in) and grip anything your basic pliers can’t handle.
Several of the parts I use in my rolling ball sculptures have pieces that are machined. They are made with a Mill and a Lathe. To get a nice clean part that is easily duplicated, then a quality machinist is needed. All of the pivotpoints are made with a lathe. I cut each one roughly, and then trim them using a lathe to make each one exactly the same length. Then drill a hole, chamfer each end, and press in the 1″ oil impregnated bronze bearing. The mill is used in making the aluminum pads that my motors are mounted into.
Metal cutting chop saw. Use one of these to cut square tubing or anything that will not fit into the jaws of your biggest bolt cutters. Useful for making 90 cuts for square framing. If you want you could also use copper tubing and purchase the 90 joints. Copper tubing can be cut with a tubing cutter, you wont need a chop saw. It is also ideal to solder into if you want to solder your sculpture.
Work table. As level as you can get it. Preferably steel for welding. Wood for everything else.
If you are going to solder you sculpture then you are going to need a torch to heat the metal, flux so the solder sticks, and solder (preferably silver solder). You could use brass brazing rod, or copper wire. 1″ glass marbles are a good size for soldering. Anything larger can have too much weight for the solder to hold the metal together for a long time.
Imagination. A lot of parts must be visualized, or drawn before building. You are making something from just piece of straight wire, without instructions. Knowing where to begin when making an element, track switch, or track will just take practice.
This is the mill that I have been using on the right. Notice the digital readout, on the wall, upper right. The readout saves a lot of time because I don’t have to count the turns of the dials. I can just watch the readout. When the part is positioned in the right spot I can just hit zero and go from there. It only reads the X and Y (left/right and in/out) It doesn’t keep track of the table height (up/down) – that you have to count on the dial and keep track of yourself.
The most basic difference between a lathe and a mill is this:
In a lathe, the part turns, and the cutter does not.
In a mill, the cutter turns, and the part does not.
Both are a must-have for someone who does custom work. With a mill and a lathe, you can make almost anything! Yes, these machines are expensive, but have you priced how much a machinist would charge you for just one or two parts? Trust me, it’s worth the investment.
Making the lift is a different story… I am not going to give you step by step instructions,but photos are worth a thousand words and I can at least point you in the right direction. In these following 6 pictures I will show how I assemble the helical lift and the motor, and the bearing I use at the top of the lift shaft.
Shown here is the DC motor I am using. The thrust bearing is the blue disk between the two silver washers. The piece of aluminum you see standing to the right of the mounted motor is what connects the motor to the shaft. There is a slot in the top, and the black dot at the bottom is a set screw that connects to the flat on the motor shaft.
The thrust bearing goes around the bottom of the connector. The bearing is what holds the weight of the spiral lift and marbles; combined it can add up especially if you use steel balls. If you do not use some kind of bearing to take the weight, then all of it will be on the motor, which is not usually designed for that type of stress and pressure.
Here is the connecting piece with a better view of the slot. If the slot looks really sloppy and ground down, well, it is. It didn’t start out that way. I had cut this lift in half already, this is half of that half. Because of that, I had to trim the connector so it would fit. You can see how it works though. The pin inside the tube fits inside the groove, transferring power from the motor to the lift.
The aluminum tubing used for the center shaft fits over the connector piece and sits on the thrust bearing. The really tricky part about what you see here, it getting the motor mounted to the aluminum 1/4″ plate. The screw heads must be flush so the thrust bearing will lay flat.
This is the top of the same lift. I get these bearings at my local hardware store. It’s a flanged bearing. The flange is nice because it is easy to install like this:
I welded rods of 1/4″ and 1/8″ stainless steel to make a square that the bearing will fit into. It’s very snug.
The tape is used to make up the slight difference in size. The bearing is 3/4″ but the tubing is slightly less. The tape is an easy way to get it just right for testing and building. The open tube in the back was covered later with little pieces of 1/8″ wire.
In these pictures I will show how I assembled my chain lift. I used these basic items:
AC Motor 5rpm
.25 pitch – Sprocket
.25 pitch – Ladder Chain
(I use ladder chain because
ALL the links come apart)
1/4″ id Bronze bearing
1/4″ id Thrust bearing
This is the sprocket that I am using. It had a center hole of 5/16″ the same as the motor shaft. But this sprocket needs to free-wheel so I had to add the bronze bearing in the center. I drilled the
hole 1/64th under 3/8″ (the OD of the bronze bearing) cut the bearing in half, faced it with a lathe, and pressed it into the center.
Then it is installed at the top of the sculpture. There is another thrust bearing on the other side of the sprocket so that there will be no friction while it is in operation. My aim is that it will
never need to be replaced. The center shaft is 1/4″.
This is how the AC motor will be attached to the bottom of the frame. I have not attached it permanently yet, because I am still fitting it into place. The holds it in place while I find the best spot. I added a set screw the the sprocket so it will not slip on the motor shaft.
This top shot shows the set screw and that I have the sprocket set out as far as it will go so there will be room for the ball pickups to go by. The motor is mounted into the aluminum plate. The screws are counter-bored so the head of the screw does not show.
I had to make the drive/guide mechanism while this walnut ring was being built.
If you are packing a small sculpture – something without a proper frame, then get a cardboard box that is just bigger than the size of your sculpture. Wrap the sculpture in bubble wrap, and pack all around it either newspaper, or packing bubbles or whatever you have handy to fill the space. If it cannot move, then it won’t get hit into the side of the box, and should ship just fine. It’s easy to just buy the cardboard box you will need.
However, if your small RBS is bigger than the standard boxes available to you, you may want to buy two boxes and put them together around your piece. Many times the box you want is the right size in two dimensions, usually the width and depth.
If you need to make a wooden box, like the one shown here in the pictures then just follow these easy steps.
Measure and build one side of the frame of the box. If your rolling ball sculpture hangs on the wall, then make the side that it will be firmly attached to first. If it stands on the floor or table, then make the bottom of the box first. Firmly attach the bottom of the sculpture to the base of the box and then make the rest of the box frame. Once the frame is made, stretch wood across inside from frame to frame and make sure the rest of the sculpture cannot move, at all. Once it cannot move, then just cover.
For a wall hanging rolling ball sculpture attach the sculpture in the box as if it were on the wall. If the outside framing of the box is too wide to be under the frame of your sculpture then add a cross piece under your sculpture’s frame for support and to attach to if possible. Lay everything on its back, then measure and add all of the rest of the supports. The sculpture cannot move because it is secured to the box itself, this way you do not have to worry about filling it with some kind of packing material to keep the sculpture from moving around. It can’t move. The frame at this point may not seem very strong, but once you screw on all of the panels, it is rock solid and ready for shipping.
This picture shows the cardboard box that holds all of the marbles. Paul, the buyer bought 5 different sets of marbles to go with his rolling ball sculpture. He wanted different colors to use. Once the sculpture is in the box, I secure it into a corner so it cannot move. Other times I just secure the bag of marbles to a stud, and the does the trick.
The box looks like it is many layers of wood. It looks like this because I cut up the ends of a sheet of plywood to get the straight, thin pieces I need to make the frame of the box. I use these strips in place of 2×2′s on smaller boxes. I cut the end of the sheet about 2″ wide. If you stack a few pieces of plywood on top of each other before you cut, then one cut gets you more than one piece. I take these pieces and screw two of them together to make the “studs” I need for the frame. Two of these strips screwed together works just fine, but three gives you more wood to work with, and the screws do not poke out the other side. (1-1/4″ sheet rock screws – sold by the pound) I only have to do this if I am shipping to an international destination that does not allow anything but
manufactured wood. All countries are different.
If you don’t have to use cut up pieces of plywood, for domestic shipping, or a country that doesn’t require it, then I recommend that you cut 2×4′s in half, longways. These make great studs for framing. I also recommend that you only use screws. They hold better than nails, and if you need to remove any of them it’s pretty easy. The receiver will have to remove whatever you use.