Friday, September 19, 2014

Modular marble machine

Four years ago I purchased the plans for a modular marble machine from
I started building the machine, but I have been held up by various other projects along the way.
During the initial cleaning of the workshop before the Welsh stick chair extravaganza, I had to move the semi built machine. I decided that I should finish it before starting too many new projects, so we could have fun while the children still have an age where it is funny.

Originally my plan was to make it completely out of exotic wood, but in the end I used a few pieces of elm as well, since I had some left after the chair building extravaganza.

There are an incredible amount of small parts that need to be made, and precision is important to enable the units to fit together as intended.
It is not a hand tool only build, because of all the boring of holes at exact depths. Off course it will be possible to do it only by hand tools, but I opted for a router in a small router table for making the grooves in the runners.

What really caught my eye the first time I saw a video of the machine was the ingenuity of the marble pump. At the homepage, there is a video showing how to build it. It is cool because it has very little practical use - and the idea of pumping marbles is close to defying reality.

The plans for the build are very thorough, and it comes with additional help information, so even though it looks like a daunting project, it can be made with just a little bit of determination. The hardest thing is to keep the project going, since there are so many small things that need to be made.
It does look overwhelming for a start, but just go ahead one page at the time, and you'll get to the end of it.

My only small complaint with the plans is that some of the measurements are a bit optimistic for woodworking. Most of these measurements are probably derived from calculations used by the program for making the plans, but 1.33 cm is hard to get dead straight on. But I guess that if you use your own sound judgement, you can easily overcome this.

The completed machine is a marvel to behold, and it serves absolutely no practical purpose.
-But it is fun to play with, addictive to watch, makes some nice plop plop sounds when the marbles are rolling and gather a lot of attention from people who sees it.
This weekend Asger (8) is having a friend coming over for playing, and I expect that they'll spend a lot of time playing and having fun with the machine, and that is actually good enough of a practical purpose for me.

Asger operating the marble machine.

Checking if the marbles are exiting correctly.

Another set up of the machine.

View from the crank side.

The inside corner. Instead of a spline, I opted for a triangular block that was cut to the correct height and glued in place.

An action video of the machine in function, please bear with the "jumping" focus. Asger is the camera man on this film :-)


  1. Hi Jonas,

    I'm also in the process of building the marble machine (although, only 3 years :-)).
    My box is also dovetailed. I wondered how you support the base plates? The plans call for a spline but I don't like this in combination with the dovetails. It would be great if you could add a picture.

    Greetings from Belgium

    1. Hello Bert.

      I have added a picture of the inside corner. I glued a small triangular block inside the corner. Before that I had cut it to the correct height.
      Have fun with the build :-)

  2. Very cool. Looks like a lot of fun to be had in that project. Big bonus points for dad in that one too. Nice work!


  3. Thanks.
    We just had some friends over, and their children loved playing with the machine too, so it was well worth the effort to build it.

  4. It's good to see you with a proper haircut! And good job keeping the sideburns. They must be good luck for woodworking!

    1. I am envious of Jonas not only for his woodworking talent, but the fact that his wife not only encourages woodworking, but also sideburns. More importantly, they look good on him.

    2. You are both too kind :-)
      I think my sideburns do help in the woodworking work, but I am a little in doubt of how much.
      I just signed on today, so I'll have to see if I can pull myself together and do something this time.