…especially when I can turn it into a woodworking project. This has oft been my downfall as my cramped garage will attest to. My wife, Gwen, is an enabler when it comes to this, she has a knack for “finding” things that are just useful enough that it’s kind of hard to dismiss and discard them (me for instance). The fact that I have a dominant gene inherited from both of my Scottish parents that demands frugality is possibly part of the problem as well. (more…)
The marble tower is done and making a home inside the house (sadly no more playing in the workshop, back to work).
A few years ago I came across a marble tower that was bigger than the one I made, but conspicuously similar in design. It was in a restaurant and had a gumball dispenser on top that was presumably for charity purposes.
Coincidentally, I came across the very same thing a couple of weeks ago, although the sides are encased in some sort of plexiglass type material to protect it from the public. The money collected was to go to a local hospital and if you got a black gumball, you won a prize. My daughter gave it a try. The gumball wound its way around the various ramps and mechanisms (making far less sound) and ultimately depositing the gumball in a receptacle at the bottom.
What do you know, my daughter got the black gumball and won admission to the pumpkin-land they will set up this fall. Cool!
I snapped a couple of blurry pictures (sorry) as you’ll see below. It appears that an entrepreneur has worked out a CNC method for producing the parts for these marble towers and produces them as needed for charity gumball dispensing.
I actually googled something like ‘charity gumball tower’ and was able to find one source for these….starting at over $1000 each. While, I would go poor selling the one I made at such prices (labour costs coming in below minimum wage), it is interesting to note that something that starts as a handcrafted item can be produced through a mostly mechanical means at a cost that is viable from a business point of view.
This has me pondering the differences between Production work and what could be considered Research and Development. After developing the process of building something can you recover that cost through the subsequent mass production of the item? This would be an interesting exercise in developing a business plan around the initial cost of developing a piece of custom woodwork and then selling replicas of it at a level where the R&D costs are recovered in a short enough time to start generating profit on the items. Hmmm!
Of course, this flies in the face of a custom woodworking business where the customer is buying the item in part because it is unique. The question then is where does type of approach fit in? My neighbour made a few bucks off of mass produced mirrors and rocking horses by hocking his wares at various craft shows and fairs, but this is not a viable business model. This obviously isn’t how the greats did it…but then they have something the rest of us might just be missing (aside from thinning hair, I don’t see a lot of Sam Maloof when I look in the mirror.) Then there is always the question of what ‘custom’ really means, it’s a big world out there, especially on the internet..can more than one person be willing to pay a lot of money for their own ‘copy’ of a custom piece? I digress, perhaps I’ve been reading too many articles on making woodworking a business. What would Adam King say?
Yes, it is finally done.
Before I get to the finished product, I did have a few things to touch up before I even got to the finishing stage.
- the loading mechanism at the top needed some fine tuning and I decided to cut out most of the plywood in the supporting structure for it…it looked strange to me having a big piece of solid material right at the top.
- in a few places I needed to embellish the rails with bumpers to keep the marbles from making a premature escape from their noisy adventure.
- several screw holes needed to be plugged and cleaned up.
Once these steps were done, I had a whole lot of finicky sanding to do. A good lesson on something like this is to prefinish all that you can. The first 3 or 4 coats of varnish were wiped on (regular varnish thinned down with mineral spirits and applied with an old cotton sock), followed by a final coat sprayed on (spray can…not HVLP… ).
I left the finish to cure for a couple of days and buffed it out with a ’000′ scotchbrite pad (couldn’t find any ’0000′). The handful of moving parts also got a light coat of paste wax to keep them from sticking.
…..and…(drum roll)…ta da!
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as completing a project. When it’s something you can actually just go ahead and use right away, it’s even better. But when it makes lots of noise, then it’s just awesome!
I’ve got three videos for you:
Video 1: A tour of the tower.
Video 2: The full effect (and my ugly mug to boot). I’m also playing with actually editing video (which I can see is going to suck up lots of time if I start doing more videos)
Video 3: A few close-up shots of the various parts in action.
This entire process had its ups and downs and suffered from some serious procrastination, but it was fun and I learned a lot from the process. I was able to try out a couple of new techniques and now have a fun toy and interesting conversation piece.
Hmmm..so, what’s next???
I could go on about great planning and thinking ahead and any number of good reasons for why I went ahead and put the bottom mechanism in place long before I was ‘supposed to’…but in reality, it looked like fun, so I jumped ahead and did it completely out of sequence.
Having done this out of sequence turned out to be quite helpful when I was doing the short and winding road in the previous post, since I didn’t have to guess or calculate how high it had to be when it ended, nor did I have to figure out a way to attach it. Yea me!
This part looked like fun to me, kind of like a small section of a mechanical binary counting machine you’d find in a kid’s science museum. Ok, I’m probably reaching, but it evoked that kind of feeling in me. Basically the divider flips back and forth between the two tracks, using the marble’s weight to move the divider as it passes by.
I pretty much followed the plans to a T for this part. Well, except for the little trough at the end where the marbles rest….you can’t expect me to do a whole section by the book!
No real significant challenges in this part, just a lot of thankfulness that I’ve got a bandsaw, without which I am dead sure I would have done it differently…as in not at all.
The one area where I spent some time and did a mock-up was on the little cog-wheels. I wanted them to be the same and had a bit of trouble making the first one look just like the template, and it ended up a little off balance in the end. From the exercise of building one, I figured out a more straightforward way of cutting them on the bandsaw.
The plans were to have a wheel with four spokes 90 degrees to each other but each with a slight curve to them, with a cylinder stuck on the end of each spoke to catch the marble. This is a little tedious to do, at least with my tools….(feel free to read that as skills instead of tools). So, instead I made each spoke a bit more like a teardrop shape, which was both easier and to my eye, a little nicer – less like the old erector sets. The cogs spin freely on some thin dowel material (bamboo skewer to be exact), which I later trimmed down and capped off.
Instead of the planned for trough, I decided to let the marbles collect in a triangular pen. I took some 1/8″ strips of ash and glued them from the uprights back towards the center where they intersected with this last mechanism, as well as one strip across the front to keep the marbles in place.
I tried dry fitting the triangular pen in place and it looked pretty good to me, so I glued them down. Yes kids, it’s lesson time! Dry fit…glue…sounds right. Oh wait…there’s a mechanical activity happening somewhere in there too…a marble is supposed to be involved. The plan should have been: dry fit – TEST – rethink – dry fit – TEST – glue. Insert sheepish look.
Apparently the marbles are able to bounce just high enough to hop over the ash strips, only to be found several minutes later with a telescopic magnet on a stick – buried in wood shavings under a cabinet. After several such tests and some R-rated language I cut an additional strip to increase the height enough to bounce the marbles back into their pen.
Yes, this was done out of sequence (as you can see this part without the bell and winding road)…which I will claim was planned out for your viewing pleasure.
This was the last step in build process, but I am still far from ‘done’. The tower now actually works, but there are some glitches and there are a few things I have to go back and revisit as well as some trim work.
My next update will include some pictures of the finished product along with a flawless execution of 10 marbles through the dispensing mechanism and all subsequent ramps, toys, bells and xylophones, to end with a pile of marbles nestled in the triangular pen with nothing but the faint pealing of the bell to give away the maelstrom of activity that just took place. Too dramatic? No…just you wait…you’ll see!
Still don’t believe me? Ok…here’s a teaser….and if you watch carefully at the end you’ll see my issue with the inadequate front pen rail.
If you watched the video at the end of the last update, you already got the preview of what the short and winding road looks like.
Going back to the plans, they wanted a board that had a routed zigzag, but once again I didn’t like it, so I took my own path.
I did toy with the idea and even went so far as to try to fit a board in place that could do this, but I found it was rather heavy – it took up a lot of visual space and blocked the view of the mechanism at the bottom of the tower too much.
While working on some finishing touches to the mechanisms higher in the tower, I came upon the idea of reusing the technique I used for making the ‘loading ramp’ for the funnel.
Essentially I took a long strip of the rail material and cut little wedges at a variety of angles and played with taping them together to make a ‘snake’.
A few attempts and I’d found what I wanted, something that was light and delicate looking that completed the path from the bell down to the last stage of the tower.
Attaching the snake was a simple task, a couple of glued straps between the rail from the funnel to the bell and the top end was secure. The bottom end took a bit of milling to get a block to join the snake to the last mechanism.
The block I chose to have a curved side to it to contrast with the generally angular nature of the tower while still imparting a bit of a mechanical feel to the joint. To me at least, the curve imparts movement, as if the snake rail somehow is hinged onto the other piece.
The curved block is not that visible in these pictures…alas, I’ll make sure it’s more visible in the video recap in a couple of more posts.
One intriguing ‘benefit’ (a rare moment of optimism on my part, calling it a benefit) of the snake rail that I did not expect is that the marble or ball does not have a smooth path, due to the angled joints. The result of this seemingly poor design is that the marble does not race down the snake with great speed, in reality it tends to wobble its way down the track.
When I first saw this, I was taken aback, it was not slick and smooth like the rest. After watching it a couple of times, I realized that I was really drawn to this part of the tower because it behaved in a unique and unusual way.
It isn’t the easiest thing to see in the video, maybe I’ll have to play with trying to get a slow-mo video of it to show it off well. but to me it achieves a bit of an inside joke that only I will really appreciate.
Not to get all Taoist on you, but far from being an uncarved block, my path as a woodworker is much like this wobbly snake…it’s not straight or smooth, but it is still a means to and end!
Man, where does the time go? I’ve got a couple of these updates to crank out to wrap up this project before I can get rolling on the next one, which is calling to me.
With the funnel in place and working nicely, I went back to the plans and calculated the space I was supposed to have left below the funnel for the remaining parts. Ooops….not quite the same number. I now had to deal with less space than was allocated for the remaining parts.
According to the plans, I was supposed to have a rail from the bottom of the funnel run over to one side, then meet up with a plank that had a routed zigzag down to a bell where it falls into the last stage – a mechanism that alternates marbles between two tracks before rolling across some wheels to rest in the bottom.
After a bunch of procrastinating and a bit of guessing, I figured out that the bell was going to have to come next and the best way to do this was with a little ramp from the bottom of the funnel.
The track from the funnel to the bell is attached directly to the underside of the funnel while the bell is sitting on a dowel coming out of a small strip installed between two of the side rails. The bell actually has a threaded tube inside that could go onto a bolt, but I was entirely too lazy to go looking for the right one at the big box stores. The dowel it sits on is tight enough that it’s not coming off by accident.
One more view
And here’s what it sounds like….NEXT!!!!
Once again, my creativity (maybe it’s A-D-D) kicks in while I’m supposedly following a set of plans. To go along with that, I’m posting this one completely out of sequence, although there is no ‘right’ place in the timeline of this project to put the feet on the tower, the reality is that the tower now has only some trim work and finishing to complete. But I managed to do this step today despite starting off in a funk, so I couldn’t resist posting it.
In the plans, there are feet on the bottom of the marble tower, basically just little odd shaped pieces of wood that echo the 120 degree angles of the hexagon base. I never really liked these and could not for the life of me think of what I was going to replace them with. I was also running out of ash.
First I tried taking a few scrap pieces and trying to make some semi-circular blocks that could go on, or under each corner. I cut them out and tried them in various arrangements with very little enthusiasm. I have saved myself the embarrassment and you the indignity of having to view pictures of these fubars. Just accept my word that this was a very bad idea.
I stood for a while pondering what I was going to do and realized that I only had a 12″x5″ plank remaining from my original milled stock for this project. This was okay since everything else was already cut and installed, but it meant I had no room for error if I wanted to make the feet out of ash.
This is when my recent spate of blog viewing paid off in spades.
After seeing Shannon Rogers (The Renaissance Woodworker) working on some french feet, and Charles Neil do some similar bracket feet via The Woodwhisperer Guild video collaboration build on a chest of drawers project…I could not resist trying this.
Now…a couple of caveats here. The legs I’ve built are pretty simple and basic, and very very small. I didn’t try to get perpendicular grain arrangement as Shannon shows, not did I attempt ogees or splayed feet, but I did at least cut each pair of pieces from a linear strip of wood, keeping the grain lined up. The grain in these legs is actually horizontal and for me this works better since they are very very stocky little legs.
With the 12″x5″ plank, I was able to rip down 6 strips 6″x1.25″ (3/4″ thick). From these I cut out a wedge from the back center of each piece, keeping the grain on the face lined up as best I could. Taking one piece, I drilled out a 3/4″ hole with a forstner bit to make the inside curve, then freehanded the rest on the bandsaw. This became the template for the rest of the pieces.
Once cut up, I used some painters tape to glue them up and hold them in place.
After a little while, with the glue dry enough, they got a light sanding.
Now comes the moment of truth, I wasn’t 100% sure that my hexagon base was accurately cut, it’s only been about a year since I started this project and I’ve learned a fair bit in that time. I tried each of the feet in place and to my amazement, they all fit really nicely.
Overall, I’m pretty impressed with how these turned out.
I thought about putting an ogee in the face similar to what Charles Neil has on his chest of drawers, or having the legs splayed out like in Shannon Rogers’ bookcase. The reality is these legs are only 1 1/4″ high and 3″ wide and they are going on a child’s toy, which is more than likely to get bashed around a fair bit. I opted for both the easier option and the most rugged and stable solution.
I am now itching to try this on something more substantial. Perhaps even carving some feet as well.
One thing woodworking teaches well is patience. I recognize that I could do more with this first attempt at bracket/french feet, but learning to walk before running is a valuable lesson and having a small project in which to display my lessons is pleasure enough. Aside from all that, I think they look damn good and they really hit the mark on what I think the base needed to finish it off.
Really, I was quite stumped to come up with a nice way to hold this funnel in place on the tower. I toyed with the idea of just holding it there indefinitely, but I doubt anyone would be happy with that plan.
While I was mulling this over, my daughter came out to see what I was up to. I was explaining the problem to her and I was holding the funnel by the rim (thumb under the outer rim and fingers over the top of the rim) when she says “why don’t you make a piece of wood that does that?” She points at my hand and proceeds to make a ‘C’ shape with her own hand and hook it onto the funnel. BRILLIANT!
I did a quick sketch and marked up a small block of ash with the ‘C’ shape and went off to the bandsaw. I tried it out and lo and behold it works just as well as my hand does – better probably since I can’t attach my hand to the tower permanently.
One of these ‘C’ holders was not quite enough to hold everything steady, so I made a second one and tried it out in various places, ending up on an adjacent upright. These were both screwed in from underneath (pocket hole style) to keep everything rigidly held in place.
Once the funnel was nicely attached and a few test drives with a marble I had to figure out how to get the marble from the exit hole of the xylophone spinning onto the funnel.
I tried a few approaches (cutting an angle directly onto a piece of rail that would angle directly onto a tangent around the rim, but I found that the results were less than spectacular, mostly the marble lost momentum quickly and dropped through the hole. I ended up cutting some pieces of rail into little angled sections and forming a curve from which I could get both the downward angle I needed and the angular momentum to send the marble around the funnel.
Once again, the shallow depth of the cove in the rails came back to bite me on the angled strip feeding the marbles into the funnel. On a regular basis, the marbles would skip over the edge of the rail and just drop right through the funnel, so I ripped very thin strips of ash and bent them around the top of the rail to act as a baffle to keep the marbles on track. It works nicely.
Here’s a video of it at work:
I was a little worried that multiple marbles in the funnel at one time might collide and create chaos, but this doesn’t appear to be the case, they seem to spin around effectively avoiding each other and maintain their distance after them come out of the funnel.
Next…I deviate from the plan completely as I try to tie in the bell and the remaining space between the funnel and the splitter mechanism.
I mentioned in earlier posts that I was ‘stuck’ at various points and procrastinated a lot. THIS, was the biggest cause of it.
Why was I stuck?
- First: I did not like the design of the spiral ‘funnel’ in the plans.
- Second: I knew I wanted to turn a funnel, but wasn’t sure how I was going to do it.
- Third: Once I’d made the funnel I couldn’t decide how to attach it.
The process of getting from the xylophone through to attaching the funnel was probably days of work, but months of elapsed time.
Part 1: What to do instead of the planned spiral funnel?
The plans called for a piece of plywood cut into a spiral with the center pulled down and the whole thing attached to a block of wood spanning the width of the tower. I thought this was kind of ugly and I had other ideas about turning a funnel instead.
Have you ever seen those charity coin funnels? The ones where you drop a coin down a slot and it rolls around and around the funnel, gaining speed as it goes lower and lower until it reaches the bottom and is really whipping around before it drops out? I figured I could do something like this for the marbles too. I even went so far as to look up the physics involved in these funnels and try to figure out what the curve needed to be to get the most out of the funnel. In the end, I found that the slope of the curve was going to be limited by the blank I was using and my turning skills.
Part 2: How to make the funnel?
I wanted to make the funnel out of ash to keep it in harmony with the rest of the tower, so I settled on trying out segmented turning. I had a couple of ash boards available still to use on this project, so I took one and started cutting segments at about 30 degrees each, giving me 12 segments to make up a circle. This was very much design on the fly. I cut enough segments to make up two 3/4″ thick ‘plates’.
My plan was to take the two plates and cut rings from them and stack the rings to make up the funnel blank. I figured out that if I cut a ring from one blank, then staggered the next ring from the other blank, and so on, I would have enough overlap between the layers to turn the funnel. Before gluing up the two ‘plates’, I realized that I would have a hard time cutting rings out of them once they were put together. I ended up making four half circles instead and cutting the rings on the band saw.
I”ll interject here that I’ve never done segmented turning before (so, I get a check mark for challenging myself with a new technique) and only did a little bit of research on it before diving in. I learned a few things in the process:
- cutting the segments precisely in the first place is easier than trying to shave one segment down to make it all fit nicely
- cutting the segments precisely in the first place makes the glue-up go much more smoothly
- ensuring the glue-up is completely flat makes assembling the rings go much more smoothly
- glue is not a substitute for a good joint
- inserting accent strips between segments would be a good idea to hide the glue line – or choose your glue with glue lines in mind
- once glued up the entire blank is a heck of a lot more stable than you’d think
I will probably try segmented turning again, but I’ll plan better and spend more time on it than I did with this one.
Once it was glued up, I put it on the lathe and decided to keep the outside ‘stepped’ to show the rings used. The inside I tried my best to turn into a rough hyperbolic funnel. I stopped a few times during the turning to try out a marble and was pleasantly surprised by the positive results each time. In the end, I don’t think the shape of the funnel makes too much difference, what really matters is that the marble come into it on a tangential angle and have as much speed as possible.
I did experience some tear-out and the very bottom section was the worst for this. In the picture above you can see that I lost a few small chunks in the process of turning it. So be it, I did a bit of repair and once the hole was drilled into the bottom it was not as noticeable.
Next up, more going down the drain as I figure out how to mount it.
After riding the rails around the tower, the marbles get to make some music.
After falling out of the rails the marbles will tumble down a xylophone staircase. This consists of a base which fits between two opposing uprights, a pair of stair supports that the xylophone keys are attached to and some dowels to keep the marbles corralled along the keys before guiding the marbles through a hole to drop into the next section.
This looked simple enough to build, but once again I found reference in the plans to double check my measurements as my tower may not be exactly the same size at the same height as the one in the plans. They were right and this was my first inkling that I was deviating from the plans (see the previous post where I talk about the mistakes made in the previous step).
Originally I thought I’d like to liven things up and paint the keys in bright colours to improve the appearance. I lightly sanded, primed and enamel painted the keys. They looked ok, but once I started running marbles across them, the paint began to show signs of distress. Eventually I got a paint chip come off one key and decided to strip them back down the bare metal and polish them up a bit.
The keys came with a small hardware kit that Lee Valley carried, consisting of the xylophone keys and a bell (which gets used later). The one flaw I have with the hardware kit was a lack of consideration for how the hardware was going to be attached. The xylophone keys need a spacer that will not dampen the ring of the key too much, I made some out of some hard plastic tubing and attached the keys with some nice shiny screws used in the auto industry to attach car interiors.
The next step was to be a spiral track made from thin plywood strips cut in a spiral and glued to a cross-member to act a bit like a funnel. Being interested in turning as well, I reached another point of delay while I debated whether or not to do as the plans called for, or try and turn a proper funnel.
The joy and fascination of getting the marble dispensing mechanism working was kept in check by the finicky nature of the mechanism. Once attached to the tower I found that the tolerance for being off level was less than my tolerance for marbles cascading over the edges and scattering around the workshop. This was the second stage of procrastination.
Once I got over the fact that I would be revisiting the dispensing mechanism, I pushed forth to work on the guts of the tower. The next step was to attach rails around the inside edge of the tower on a slight decline, taking the marbles 360 degrees around the tower and dropping them into the next stage.
We’re back to compound miters again, but compound compound miters. In this stage, the Lee Valley errata suggests an easy out, instead of nestling the miters up against the joint to the rails, put a butt joint to the rails and have the miter joint out in the space between the rails. I did not heed this advice, thinking it sounded too wimpy. Next time, I’ll think about it more and maybe try out a couple before committing to doing it the hard way.
I fought with these miters for multiple sessions and finally found a system of making the initial cuts on a chop saw and fine tuning them on the stationary disk sander. Not terribly satisfying work, but once it was up and working, I was pretty happy with it.
At this point I learned that I had made a couple of mistakes.
1 – the coves for the rails should have been a bit deeper. I did follow the plans for this, but I believe there is plenty of material to have deeper coves which would result in the marbles staying on the rails more readily. When the marbles get up some speed on the rails there is a chance they will bounce off a corner and actually jump off the rails.
I took out some carving gouges and deepened the coves slightly at the corners and that has mostly solved the problem. If the final setup still has the problem I may take the advice laid out in the plans and put in some raised strips to deflect the marbles back onto the rails.
2 – I was a bit too generous with the downward angle of this section. This essentially had two negative effects. The first was the increased speed and potential to jump the rails, the second was that I had not eaten into the space for the sections below it. This comes back to bite me later as I compound the problem in a later stage as well. Duh!
Next up, music time!
I have to admit that once I got this working, I spent a lot of time giggling like a mad scientist while it dropped marble after marble through the mechanism.
The mechanism is finicky at best, but when it works it works magnificently. I have built the mechanism and attached it to the tower, but I believe it will come back off the tower at some point either for some further fine tuning or perhaps a more aesthetic way of being attached.
The mechanism consists of three main sections of rails attached to a plywood frame which is attached to the tower:
- The top section is fixed and holds the stash of marbles yet to be released.
- The second section in line consists of two components, the actual marble feeder (lifter) and an additional fixed section of rail.
- The final section is a pivoting rail that uses the weight of the marble to prime the feeder (lifter) with a new marble from the top section and upon rolling to the end of the rail and dropping through a hole, pivoting again to release the primed marble.
I have some ‘adjustments’ to make to get things working smoothly, including some bumpers to keep the marbles on the rails properly, or shift things a touch to the right, we’ll see what has to be done.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not really that impressed with the piece of plywood spanning the tower to support this, I think a more elegant solution could be made and once I’ve completed the rest of the tower I will come back to this and revisit it.
While revisiting the attachment mechanism, I’m also going to work on the fine tuning. This works fine under ideal conditions, but if you shift it out of level by even a couple of degrees, the mechanism either gets stuck and won’t release marbles, or is unable to hold the marbles back and the act of priming a marble causes the whole lot to go flying down the rails causing general mayhem.
The marble tower, originally meant to be a homemade toy for my daughter (now ten), was rapidly becoming the butt of several jokes. Most of which involved it becoming a very odd wedding present due primarily to the length of time it was taking to be built. This pales in comparison to the glider chair that remains a sad looking glider footstool on a shelf in my workshop…meant as a gift for my then pregnant wife (11 years ago)…now looking more like a retirement gift. But, I digress…I will revel in the fact that I have made the marble tower a priority to finish before my daughter enters those fearful teenage years.
I reviewed the plans that I bought for this toy here.
The plans, and the Lee Valley errata sheet, suggest milling up most of the lumber first in oversized pieces and cut them down to size as needed. I’m an impatient person when it comes to this, but I’m learning the value of doing this step once. I took their advice and did most of the leg work up front.
The majority of the tower is made up from 4/4 ash. I chose ash for a couple of basic reasons. First, I already had it and had no specific plans for it. Second, I had never worked with ash before and wanted to expand my experience with more hardwoods, having spent most of my time working with softwoods, maple and oak. Lastly, from a practical point of view, this was a toy that would likely get some abuse, so the stronger the wood, the better.
The entire milling process was not that complex, mostly running the rough stock through the jointer and planer to get it to the nominal size called for in the plans. The one exception to this was the need for something in the neighbourhood of 18′ of marble track rails. These needed to be 7/8″ wide by 3/4″ thick strips with a cove routed out of them to allow the marble to run smoothly along the rails.
With the pile of lumber and rails ready to go, I set about building the basic frame. This consists of a hexagonal base with six uprights held together at the top with 6 stretchers, all held together with pocket holes. Getting the hexagonal plywood base correct was easier than I thought, but did require a bit of test cutting to get the angle right and some very conservative creeping up on the cut line. The uprights are straightforward, but do have a slight angle to tilt them inwards (roughly 5 degrees). The stretchers introduced compound angles into the equation…not something I recommend to anyone! Unless of course, you own a compound miter saw…which I do not. These turned out to be less challenging than first appearance.
I did not think at the time that I would be blogging about this, so I did not take pictures. So, bear with me as I show more progress in the pictures than is covered in the text.
The one additional piece added at this stage was the handle spanning the top.
The tower sat in the state of having the basic framing done until I had figured out how to get the marble feed mechanism to work. I could not fully grasp how it worked from reading the plans, so I had to go on faith and built it to see what makes it work. More on that in the next post.
Several years ago, when my daughter was a toddler, I came across a set of plans to build a child’s marble tower. Having a young child at home, I felt it was my duty to get these plans along with the hardware kit that accompanies them and build it.
This is a picture of the Lee Valley flyer showing what the final project ‘might’ look like.
At the time I was under the misconception that working from a purchased set of plans was smarter and easier than building your own plans/ideas. My rationale being that someone who has built this item and was commanding money for the plans would have thought it through thoroughly and worked out all the kinks in the plans before publishing them. I’m not saying the plans are bad, but let’s just say that they could be improved upon.
Here’s roughly what you get:
The plans consist of 3 double pages with writing and scale drawings on both sides. In addition to this, Lee Valley had the forethought to include a page with errata on it and their own suggestions for modifying the plans. While I have not implemented all of what the good folks at Lee Valley suggest, some of it was certainly helpful and saved some potentially bad moves in cutting pieces undersized.
I’ll try to break down the plans into various parts for review:
Instructions: D+ The instructions are laid out in a the order in which you build the project, so it’s fairly easy to just work away at them in the order they are presented. I find the instructions to be overly wordy and try to describe in several sentences what would very easily be conveyed by a good picture/diagram. One other nitpick is with the naming conventions. Parts are not labeled consistently. In some cases a part is given a name as well as a label (part F aka the xylophone base) which is somewhat confusing. In addition, part assemblies (the xylophone) are not given a part number as an assembly, creating a bit more confusion.
Diagrams: C The plans are primarily templates for cutting out the various parts. There are many diagrams that can be used to trace out parts and for the most part these are accurate and work well. One glaring omission was the lack of a picture of the final assembled piece. There was a single drawing of this, in one perspective, but this did not allow for a clear view of how the assemblies went together. Additionally, having a set of measurements for the height at which the different assemblies are to be attached to the tower would have been immensely helpful.
Accuracy: C+ Given the sheer number of bits and pieces in the entire assembly, the accuracy is pretty good. One improvement that could be made here is to teach the consumer about relative measurements. Someone may have gotten the angles just slightly off in assembling the main structure, which will throw off pretty much all of the templates where they span from one side rail to another. Informing the user that they should measure the span between X and Y rails at Z height would at least inform them that they are slightly too big or too small for the template and allow for adjustments. (Yes, I got tripped up by this)
Complexity/Skill needed: B- The complexity in this entire project is primarily in cutting the compound angles. For many parts, the angles are devilishly awkward to get just right. I struggled to get the first run of marble track around the outside to fit nicely. You have the joint between adjacent pieces (should be 60 degrees)….but that also has to be inclined to allow the marble to roll, and it butts up against the side rail which is a few degrees off square as well. Lots of trial and error needed here.
Aside from the compound angles, I have not found anything that required any great skill to get it right.
A router for sure, to make the marble tracks.
A bandsaw is indispensible for this, many pieces benefit from the use of a bandsaw.
A miter saw or better yet a compound miter saw (I lack the latter, so I managed with the former)
I started planning to work on this quite a while ago and got somewhat overwhelmed trying to understand how it was all going to work, so I procrastinated. Not so long ago, but certainly not recently, I started working on this project. I managed to get the initial frame built and start working on the assemblies from the top down. At times I had to stop and leave it for a while out of frustration, but I’m back on it now and determined to finish it up before I start anything new.
I have had my share of problems with the plans and my final project will not be exactly the same as what the plans call for, but all in all it has taught me a valuable lesson when it comes to buying plans. Just because you pay for it, doesn’t mean you are done paying for it.