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How to Make Rolling Ball Sculpture

Learn How to Make Rolling Ball Sculpture here!

This page is under construction! So please check back for updated information.

So, you want to know how to make Rolling Ball Sculpture? Well, you’ve come to the right place! I’ve been making RBS for over 18 years and have the experience based on trial and error that will help you get started in making your own RBS. My first advice is that you need to keep an open mind on how it will look and be prepared to make and build things that you can only see in your mind. It does help a great deal to draw out what you’ll be building and know that you might end up making the same item a few times to get it just right. I often make new things and it’s always, ALWAYS, better the second time I do it.
See to the left, track clamps, for holding and spacing the tracks when you weld. Buy them HERE. These are an absolute necessity for building tracks.

To get started on how to make rolling ball sculpture – these basic steps will point you in the right direction:
1. Make the frame
2. Make and install the ball lift – you can buy How to Make a Helical Lift here
3. Add the entrance and exit tracks leading into and out of the lift
4. Build and add your track switches
5. Add your large elements first like the Loop d’ loops or Tall skinny coil/spiral or vertical zig-zag.
6. Make the elements you’ll be using such as tipping arms, flat spirals, ball collectors’ other things you like.
7. Make sure all other tracks are built before you add the last, long, track that will weave in and out of the larger elements you added first.
8. Build the “long” track. This track will weave in and out of the already installed elements filling in the entire structure. Be sure to take your time. Keeping the ball slow will help keep in on the tracks and make the corners less problematic. Don’t let the last track be a “race to the bottom” fill things in as much as you can and keep the ball slow as possible.
9. You don’t have to use a motorized lift; you can have the balls released by hand or even have a ball at the bottom press a lever and release the next ball automatically – (semi-automatic).
10. Research on the web how to build fun elements – there are hundreds of great examples that can be adapted to your particular build.

Are you the do-it-yourself type?

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 hands but practice will make it so that you don’t even feel pain lol.

Below is a TON of good information on what I do. This info is a bit dated… but still very useful to get yourself started in making your own rolling ball sculpture.

But, before you go any further, check out these track clamps. They will make track building quick and spaced just right.

Below are some things to get you started!

And please, don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube Channel

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.

Here are several track clamps taken apart. I have both 7/8″ and 1″ spacing. Your spacing will be different depending on what size marble/ball you use.
Here are several track clamps taken apart. I have both 7/8″ and 1″ spacing. Your spacing will be different depending on what size marble/ball you use.
To hold everything together I had to use 6 clamps. It is better to get the shape you want before adding spacers. After you weld, that spot will be weaker than the rest of the track. Shaping can still be done after spacers are added, but most track bending should be done first, especially with a loop d loop.
To hold everything together I had to use 6 clamps. It is better to get the shape you want before adding spacers. After you weld, that spot will be weaker than the rest of the track. Shaping can still be done after spacers are added, but most track bending should be done first, especially with a loop d loop.
Here is the finished loop installed on sculpture #64. This loop d’ loop can be see at: “Coolest Toys on Earth” 314 Main Street, Milford, OH. C’mon on in and see it!
Here is the finished loop installed on sculpture #64. This loop d’ loop can be see at: “Coolest Toys on Earth” 314 Main Street, Milford, OH. C’mon on in and see it!
This is simply a straight piece of track. It is important to keep the rails as straight as possible for smooth rolling on the tracks. These are the very first spacers on the loop d’ loop track. Notice how I added several track spacers to hold the tracks in place before I bend loops into the wire.
This is simply a straight piece of track. It is important to keep the rails as straight as possible for smooth rolling on the tracks. These are the very first spacers on the loop d’ loop track. Notice how I added several track spacers to hold the tracks in place before I bend loops into the wire.
Track before spacers
Track before spacers
Two spacers welded on
Two spacers welded on
Here is the finished section, ready to begin becoming track.
Here is the finished section, ready to begin becoming track.
This is the loop from #72. It is 7 consecutive loops.
This is the loop from #72. It is 7 consecutive loops.
Here’s the loop, installed, on #72.
Here’s the loop, installed, on #72.

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:

This shows the motor mounted, seen from the top:

This is also from the top, but at an angle to give you a different view:

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.

Marble Collectors
Marble collectors can be very handy when making your rolling ball sculpture. They can store marbles and release them at the same time. This can give you several marbles going together. When you need marbles to go at the same time then this is the element for you. Also, if you build the collector so the marbles tip out sideways, all of the marbles will get getting started at the exact same time.

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
I’ve seen, and used, many different sizes of marbles. I use marbles because they are durable, come in many colors, and do not cost and arm and a leg if you get tired of the set you have. In some sculptures there are a lot of marbles total. To replace them all would be expensive if they were something exotic. The only drawback to glass marbles is that they are definitely not all created equal. I have found that different suppliers have different quality marbles. The color and finish on the marble may be fantastic, but the roundness of the marble is more like and egg with flat spots. I have had to shop around a little. It’s best to buy a just a few before investing in many. The best thing about marbles is their variety. Look around on the web, there is a lot to choose from out there! When searching for marbles, once you get to the marble site, just put in the size marble you are looking for.

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.

The shape you choose, will determine how your piece will look.
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:

Here are the pieces of the frame ready to be welded. They are the pieces of tubing on the inside.
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.

Track Switches & Splitters
Here I am holding up the end of the arm in the position that I want. I will be adding the arm stop and I have to get the length just right.

Here is the arm stop welded into position.

This is the back. I used 1″ Nylon round bar to house a 1/4″ id self-lubricating bronze bearing. Very effective because there is hardly any weight.

Front View.

Here is the switch on the frame, with track leading to it. I will have to add the track leading from it next.

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 are the first pins. I still have to add another row.

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.

This is a close up of the gate.

This pictures shows this square steel being setup for welding.It is 1″ x 2″ steel square tubing. I cut the ends of each of the 4 pieces at 45 degrees so I would not have any open ends to cap. I have a Miller Maxstar 150 STH – it has a high frequency AC start which develops an arc without touching the tungsten to the work piece. Which is nice when you’re welding delicate parts that could move. The foot pedal is for my TIG welder. Several pairs of vice grip pliers of different types are a quick and easy way to secure the steel you are going to weld. The “I” beam in the photo is to keep the steel flat while I weld it. This frame is larger than my workbench so I must use the i-beam on the floor. If everything is kept square and flat, then when it is assembled it will be very close to square without having to do much adjusting.

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 : )

Your workspace will be as unique as you are. It may limit what you want to do, but it shouldn’t get in the way of doing something. Everything in life is all about practice. The more you do something, the better, and faster you will get at doing it. But you must start somewhere before you can practice it. What will end up taking more room than you ever thought is the extra tools you will buy to help you make your RBS. A grinder, drill press, tool box, and all of the assorted things you will need really begin to take up lots of room. Also, when you have a couple projects completed, where do you keep them? Space can be the most important thing you may ever need.

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.

The type of steel you use will be up to you. Regular steel (not stainless) will eventually rust, and must be coated with something to prevent the eventual rust that will develop over time. Plain steel is easier to bend than stainless, and it is 4x cheaper. I have never used regular steel, but I have heard that it is easier to weld to than stainless. Stainless “balls” up more than regular steel. Which I suppose means that regular steel “flows” better when welded.

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.

Spirals are a great way to break up the straight track, and to perform several necessary functions. A spiral is just one piece of wire bent up into one continuous circle. I start bending the spiral from the inside, or bottom. I bend the entire spiral, then reshape it if necessary, to make the spirals even when looking at it from the top or bottom. Then starting at the bottom and working up
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 spiral is tall and skinny. The marble rushes through these spirals very quickly. This size of spiral is achieved by bending the wire around a piece of pipe.

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.

Track Elements
Track elements are the fun parts that are added so you can watch other moving parts, instead of just the ball. They can be simple, like a spiral or tipping arm, or be more complicated like a track switch. Each element serves a specific purpose, even if that purpose it just to look cool!

Marble and track elements

1) Single ball tipping arm

2) Multiple ball tipping arm, drops one marble, holds the rest back to wait
their turn.

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.