Woodworking in the great white north.

Marble tower – the plans (review)

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.

Tools needed:
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)

Summary: C-
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. 🙂


One response

  1. Pingback: Marble Tower – initial steps « Woodcanuck's Blog

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