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Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Modular Marble Machine

If you've been following the blog, the Modular Marble Machine is finally finished. If you remember from the last blog entry, all I really had left was to apply a finish.
That, because of all the small parts, was quite an undertaking in itself.
I wasn't sure what to use for a finish. I was concerned about the tight tolerances of the block pieces causing issues with finish getting in the holes. In the end, I decided on a polyurethane rub. It is just a mixture of Minwax polyurethane and boiled linseed oil. The base unit got three coats. The block pieces however, because of my concerns, only got a single light sealing coat.
That left us with a finished project. I wanted to show the front of the base unit in this photo because I love the look of this piece of wood I wound up using on it.
All of the block pieces are inside the base unit. It makes it handy to be able to store them all in there if you wish to put it away. It is a puzzle in itself though fitting them all in there.
You can see what I mean here. They have to be arranged just so if you want to place the base plates in where they belong.
After unloading all the pieces though, you put the elevator column in place, replace the feed chute and base plates, and then you can start having fun building marble runs.
You can build single track.
You can use the flipflop pieces and build double tracks.
I made videos. The problem is that I have a lot more patience and skill with wood work than I do with computer and video software. After six hours of messing with Windows Movie Maker and coming up very unsuccessful in putting the four video sections I'd made together into on short video, I gave up and uploaded them to YouTube in four parts. So please excuse me for the way I had to do it and watch all four videos below.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Marble Machine Goes Modular - Preview

I was ready and anxious to get back to testing this morning. You may remember from last time though that I had a few things to do first. So off to town I went for more marbles to start with. I bought six bags of marbles to be safe, but there is more to that in a bit.
Also I felt a need to make more of the tallest solid riser blocks. These are simple and didn't take long at all to whip up. Actually, I probably could have gotten by with less than the twelve I wound up making, in addition to the ones I already had. I always say though, if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing.
Then it was back to building up some track to test everything. With what I bought this morning, I had enough marbles to test everything, but I still don't have enough. I need five eighths marbles for this design. The problem is, out of each bag of fifty marbles I bought this morning that are supposed to be five eighths, only about five to seven marbles in each bag were acceptable. Most are oversized and won't fit the holes. Some have flat spots and don't roll well. I don't know if it's just a bad batch or what, but I have got to find a solution. I can't keep just buying more and more marbles. The coffee can with the rejected marbles is getting almost full, while the usable can still runs dry when I'm testing.
Anyway, I've gotten a few messages with questions that mostly deal with confusion as to how all this actually goes together. So, in addition to the photo above, here is a video.
Next thing I wanted to test was that all the pieces are supposed to fit into the base if one was to decide to store the whole mess, in a closet, for example.
Remember I made some extra pieces. It all fit.
It was like working a three dimensional puzzle to get it all in there though. I just wanted to see if it fit. I believe if I actually wanted to put it away in use, I would elect to place certain pieces, like maybe the square riser blocks, on top of the base plates to make it easier to fit everything else inside. This would free up space and make things easier, while still keeping everything neatly together to pull out and play with at a later date.
That is going to be the last post for at least a few days. All that is left is a finish. I still have yet to figure out what finish I want to use though. A couple of my other marble machines have no finish at all. I do want to put something on this one though. I know I'll finish the base if I don't do anything else. The blocks I am considering leaving unfinished. I am already having issues with some marbles being mighty tight because they are on the verge of being too large. I am afraid that putting finish on them will compound this issue.
I will give this some though and decide. Then I will post a video of the completely finished project when I am done. I hope you have enjoyed seeing what goes into a project like this. They are a lot of fun in my opinion. They are time consuming though and not for the impatient or easily frustrated.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Marble Machine Goes Modular - Testing

Today started the testing process. I didn't feel well at all, but figured that I could handle just testing, as I didn't foresee any problems, so off to the shop I went. I was wrong. Oh boy was I wrong. There was a problem, a huge one. While building up tracks, nothing lined up as it should.
After doing some measuring and double, and triple checking, I found the problem. I had made a gigantic mistake. I'm not talking about a little boo-boo. I'm talking a mistake of epic proportions. This is my worst fear when building something like this. Some problems don't present themselves until everything else is done and you are down to final testing.
The problem was the feed trough. You may recall how much I keep harping on keeping that same 3.2cm spacing grid pattern through out the machine? In order to do so, the feed trough that runs through the middle of the two base plates was supposed to be 3.2cm wide, with the middle section being 1.8cm and the two sides being 0.7cm. Well apparently I had one of those brain farts I am so famous for. I somehow, in my head, added those two side measurements together and came up with two 1.4cm sides. That made the trough 4.6cm wide and threw everything off the grid by 1.4cm. That just wasn't going to do.
So I done some head scratching trying to figure out a way to correct this situation without rebuilding the whole base unit.
I tried offsetting holes in the block that is up high on the elevator column. That worked, unless you tried running track across the feed trough and back. So that still wouldn't work. There was just no way around it. At the very least I was going to have to rebuild the feed trough.
After rebuilding the feed trough I had to enlarge the notches on the base plates to bring them over to the new, narrower trough. This left a 0.7cm gap on the sides. I was out of suitable plywood to redo the base plates, and that material isn't exactly cheap, so I made and glued in filler strips on each side of the base.
Then it was back to testing. After making the modifications to the trough and plates, all was lining up ok now. However, I am not happy with the building of the tracks at all. You see, there are plenty of track elements to build any kind of configuration you can think of. The problem is that it is a puzzle to get it all supported high enough without running out of riser blocks. There are plenty of blocks to tie things together, but not enough of the taller blocks to build upwards. In fact, it is too much of a puzzle in my opinion. The idea is supposed to be to be able to build whatever you like, not to have to solve puzzles to do so. So I am going to make more of the tall square blocks.
Another thing I noticed was that, while building all of this, and tying it all together using marbles, the marbles I have are running out quickly. I need to go buy some more marbles. You see, the marbles come fifty to a bag. However, of the bags I've bought so far, less than half of them are five eighths inch or smaller so they'll work with this grid design. It's alright though. At a dollar a bag, I figure I'll buy five or six more bags, weed out the oversized ones, and have enough to get the task done without further issues.
So, I only thought I was done except for the testing. I need more blocks and marbles. That is next on the agenda. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Marble Machine Goes Modular - Track Blocks - Part 3

I had a good day today. Actually, it wasn't a good day at all, but I did get a lot done. To tell the truth, I was angry today. It's a long story, but I was just mad. When I get that way, I have a tendency to push back any pain I may be having and just go. I usually pay for it later, but I get a lot done.
That being said, this is what I got done today.
Three funnels.
Two circulating bowls.
One ski jump.
One rocker ramp.
Two flip flops.
And of course they all have the same grid measured holes in the bottoms as all the other pieces.
You may notice in this photo that the circulating bowls have a half hole removed on one face of the bottom. There is a good reason for this. These are usually going to mounted low over pieces below them. They need this relief area so marbles have room to clear them while moving on along the tracks.
And that completes all the track blocks. Here is a photo of them all, along with the riser blocks stacked neatly on top of the base plates.
To give everyone a better idea of the magnitude of all that I've done lately with this project, here is all the pieces laid out in full view. The only thing you don't see here is the base with the pump mounted in it.
Next up, I have to test and possibly fine tune the fitment of any pieces that are problematic. Then everything needs to have a finish put on it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Marble Machine Goes Modular - Track Blocks - Part 2

Next up on the track block list is the zig-zag tracks.
As you can see, these track pieces are double wide, but get the same grid measured hole pattern as everything else so it can be locked in place using marbles.
I debated on what wood to use for these zig-zag pieces. I have so far made all the riser blocks and track blocks out of sycamore. Then I realized today that these pieces, and a few others are larger than any sycamore I have on hand. I thought about gluing up material to make stock big enough. The problem is, I really do not want glued up stock any time I can avoid it. I prefer solid wood. I do have large enough stock in sapelle though. So I made the decision that using sapelle for some of the pieces would allow me to use solid stock, and add more color to the mix. So some parts from here out will be made of sapelle.
Back the the zig-zag tracks, the ramp portion is made of sapelle, while the rest is sycamore.
The top part of the ramps have triangles of wood that makes the marbles zig and zag through to the bottom. You may notice, the two are mirror pieces to each other.
Ok, I have an admission to make today. The pieces you see here are my third attempt at making these correctly. Have you ever had one of those days you just shouldn't have went to the shop?
The stacks of pieces are steadily growing as the days go by.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Marble Machine Goes Modular - Track Blocks - Part 1

I've decided to break the track blocks into parts in addition to the separate parts of the project as a whole because the track blocks will cover multiple days of work.
Before I start with that though, I also need to show the rest of the riser blocks. I did not see a need to make another post about them because it was only more of the basic same process as making the first part of them.
On the right side in this photo is the rest of the riser blocks. I finished these yesterday but wasn't up to posting last night. All these blocks are long narrow blocks that will be used to tie everything together as you build up the marble tracks.
I decided to show this photo of all the riser blocks laid out on the table to show better the amount of blocks that go into this. These are just the risers. Today it was time to start on the actual track blocks that the marbles will ride on.
I'm starting on the straight track blocks. These start are just square blocks of wood in two different lengths. The underside of all the track blocks get the same grid measured holes to lock in with the riser blocks. I showed in previous posts how this works.
The four blocks you see in the lower left corner are the only ones with holes through them. These also have three millimeter cutouts on the bottom of them on the end with the holes. This provides clearance for marbles if the track is built to have them fall on close tracks below them.
Each of these blocks, in both lengths, get the same six degree taper cut on them. This provides the downward slope for gravity to take over and move the marbles.
Then I used a router to cut the length of the slots in the pieces. Next, I used a router bit in the drill press to mill out the exits on some pieces. Each piece is tested multiple times. If there are any problems they are fine tuned using a dremil drill with a sanding drum on it and lightly shaping the pieces until things work smoothly.
Here I have restacked all the riser blocks on the right side and started the stacks of track blocks on the left. As I go, the stacks keep growing. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Marble Machine Goes Modular - Riser Blocks

In my previous post, I admitted to being sidetracked most of the week. I have gotten some work done on the marble machine, but it is a spot in the project where it is kind of pointless to post much because the work is kind of boring and mundane.
The parts I am working on are called riser blocks.
These are simply block, like children's building blocks, that stack on top of one another and interlock using marbles. It is upon this system of stacked blocks that track sections will later be made to sit on top of.
Here is the bulk of the higher blocks. I know it doesn't look like much, but this is extremely time consuming. There are a certain number of each style of block to accommodate building a variety of layouts. Some are just square blocks of different heights. Some are step blocks that are rectangular with one side higher than the other. However, every block has the same measured grid pattern holes drilled on top and bottom. This allows them to be interlocked using marbles.
All blocks have several things in common though. All are 3.2cm in width. This corresponds with the same measured grid pattern throughout the design, including the base plates. All holes are on the same 3.2cm spacing and 1.6cm from the edges to allow stacking and interlocking without interference. The height of the blocks are all set in units of 2cm. For example, one set of step blocks are two and three unit steps, which are 4cm on one step and 6cm on the other step. This will correspond with a 2cm height of the track pieces and allow easy transition of marbles through track systems.
I was able to get the flat stock cut, but my back made me call it a day before I started on the holes in them today.
In this photo though, you can see the tools I'm using to accomplish the accurate drilling of the holes. I use a marking gauge set at 1.6cm to mark lines on the pieces. The same gauge is then used from the ends to mark the holes closest to the edge. I use extra cut test pieces to get the depth of the holes, which have to be around 8mm to keep the marbles holding things tight enough. I mark and drill holes in my test pieces and check them with the depth gauge that is hard to see between the tape measure and marking gauges. To make sure I get the forstner bit drilling perfectly where I want it to, I punch a divot in each spot using the awl you see closest to the blocks in the photo.
When I finish these blocks, they will be single unit (2cm) planks that go from two hole strips, adding one hole at a time, all the way up to six hole strips. The large square you see are planks that will have twelve hole grid patterns on them.
If anyone doesn't understand how all these work together, don't fret. For now they just look like a bunch of wood with holes in them. When all is done though, it will make perfect sense. I promise a video at that time to demonstrate it all.


I know. I am supposed to be working on a marble machine. I have a little, and I promise a post on that a tad bit later this evening. The thing is though, I have gotten sidetracked. I hate to sound like I'm making excuses, but I've had a rough week so far. I have been in a lot of pain. Sometimes the pain gets to me and I'm easily distracted from something I am supposed to be doing. Recently I have learned that turning is a favorite diversional tactic of mine when the pain wears on my mind. So I have a few turnings to show.
I became tied up over last weekend. Then, early in the week, someone I consider a good friend and I exchanged visits between our shops. Upon going to his shop, he gave me some wood. All of it was beautiful, but one certain piece offered a specific challenge to me. It was a piece of cherry with a knot in it that made most of the wood around it seem unusable. I was determined to get something done with it though. The twisting grain in it just intrigued me.
Most of the board could easily be cut into pen blanks. It was that area around that knot I wanted to get at though.
I chopped around it. Some of it shattered into pieces, flying off my saw as tiny projectiles that scared the living daylights out of me. I was able to get some small piece though just around the inner part of the knot. None were long enough for full pen blanks, but I had an idea to add accent pieces to them to give them enough length.
The above photos show the first pen I made with these pieces. The cherry offered some absolutely stunning grain. The middle, lighter colored wood on both side of the metal ring, is maple. The dark rings at each end are ziricote.
My friend also know someone who needed some drumsticks. As usual too, I went a little overboard with that. I had never turned drumsticks, but seen it as a learning experience. The most important thing I learned was that I can turn them, but if I was a good finish I'm going to have to build a steady rest to cut down on the chatter. That's alright though. My friend also gave me some bearings to build the steady rest with. That is a future project I will design in my head until I can get to it.
I made drumsticks in several different species.
This is mystery wood.
I am calling it mystery wood because I haven't been able to identify the exact species yet. It looks similar to mahogany, but I'm reluctant to call it that until I am more sure.
Here is a better shot of it. It is hard to see the grain in the drumstick photo. It is straight grain, very hard, and as I said before, an absolutely beautiful piece of wood.
I then had fun with a screwdriver. This is an old screwdriver. My friend bought it at a flea market and it wasn't working right. I disassembled this antique with pleasure. I have always loved working on anything mechanical in nature. I got it to working, but the handle was worn out and badly cracked. So I decided to also turn a sapelle handle for it. Upon returning the tool, my friend surprised me by giving it to me. So this goes into my working collection of antique tools. What I mean my usable collection is that I would never own a tool that I can't use, no matter how old. If I can't use a tool, I find someone to give it too who prefers collecting. I'm a user, not a collector.
So, the last couple of days I did get back on track. I wanted to show you all what I was doing though while sidetracked off of what I was supposed to be doing. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Marble Machine Goes Modular - The Crank

If you've been keeping up, we are just about ready to start building the actual pieces to make a marble run. The only thing we have left is a crank handle to operate the pump assembly.
To attach a shaft to the pump, running to the outside of the base box, we are using a half inch dowel. That dowel has a hole drilled the same size as the metal shaft. Then the dowel is split with a band saw down the middle of that hole. This slips over the shaft.
Next we have to pinch the dowel down onto the shaft. To do that we take a block of wood and drill a half inch hole through it. Then we drill and countersink four holes for screws. Then we split the block right down the middle of the half inch hole. Next, drill the hole larger on the countersunk side, just large enough for the four screws to pass through cleanly without catching threads. We want the screws to pull this top piece to the other one. So the threads do not need to catch that piece at all or it won't tighten.
After all that is done, and the screws are in the block to hold it together, slip the block onto the metal shaft. Put the wooden dowel through the side of the box and slip it over the metal shaft. Now pull the block back over the wooden dowel and tighten it down, pinching the dowel down onto the metal shaft.
This all creates a good enough fit to turn the pump rod. Now, if something jams up enough to completely stop the pump, this clamping system will slip. That is on purpose. You'd rather the rod connection slip than for a jam to destroy some part of the pump, or anything else. A jam is unlikely as long as we do everything else correctly, but you never know. It's better to be safe than sorry.
Now this part is not actually necessary, but I thought the outside of the box looked too plain. So I decided to add a dress up piece with an arrow cut out with the scroll saw. I made this out of a piece of walnut for a nice contrast to the color of the box.
Next, in my opinion, there was just too much play in the wooden dowel shaft as it came through the side of the box, so I added a block to the inside to give it more stability.
Then I made the crank from a piece of sapelle. The crank handle is made out of mystery wood. It is a piece of wood that a friend sent me for pen blanks that I have yet to properly identify, so I'm calling it mystery wood for now.
The reason I used a pen blank for that part is that I just needed a small piece of wood to turn for a crank handle, and this piece looked good to me next to the walnut and sapelle. All the dowels I have are softwood, mostly pine. I did not want to use pine for the crank handle, so I turned a piece for it on the lathe.
Now everything for a functioning feed system and base is finally complete. We can now start on actually building pieces.