Modular Marble Machine #1: The Pump

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by William posted 04-09-2013 12:51 AM 7129 reads 8 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Modular Marble Machine series Part 2: The Elevator Column »

Today I started on a new marble machine. While doing the first three machines, I have gotten multiple questions through my email about what goes into these type machines. Well, so far, all of them I’ve done have been other’s designs, the one I’m starting as well. However, I do tweak some things and do design changes as I see fit. That is all part of the fun.
Since I start getting questions after posting any of the machines though, I decided I wanted to do a daily blog on the build of this new one. I can’t promise anything, but I will try my best to post every day that I work on it. In the case that I can’t, I will take photos so I can catch up as soon as possible. So here we go.

The newest project is called a modular marble machine. It is a very interesting design because the elements of it are not fixed. After it is done, the final user can move pieces and build different designs by stacking blocks. It’s much like a child’s building block toys, but only cut and designed to allow marbles to move over, around, and through the pieces.
Before I get started, if anyone would like to read more about the machine, by the man who designed it, Matthius Wandell, here is a link the machine on his website. While you’re there though, if you haven’t seen his site before, check out some more of his designs. This will be the sixth project I have done based on his designs, and I must say, he designs some amazing things.

While working on something like this, I don’t think it is written in stone to make the various parts in any particular order. So I usually work on whatever I feel like working on during a particular day. For this one, I decided I wanted to build the part of it that is most interesting to me, the pump.
As I said before, this machine is modular in design. You arrange the blocks to build any number of designs, limited only by ones imagination. To get the marbles started though, there is a hand crank operated pump that catches the marbles and “pumps” them up to the top, to be released upon the built tracks. I have now build machines with escapement mechanisms and gear lifts, but now something that operated like a pump, so this mechanism interested me greatly.

Here is the pump assembly. It is an open ended box. Inside is a crank shaft made from stiff wire that moved a slider back and forth, while at the same time moves a piston up and down. This grabs a marble from one hole, transfers it to the other hole, where it pushes up on the marble before it. Later, we will be building a shaft in which this pump will stack the marbles upwards for a steady stream of marbles on the tracks.


Here are photos of the actions of the pump.
There will be a feed trough that feeds a steady stream of marbles to the hole you see the marble in in this photo.

As you turn the crank, the piston will lower as the slider move towards the other hole, carrying the marble with it.

The marble comes out the other hole and the slider and piston move to catch the next marble from the first hole.

It catches the next marble same as the first.

Brings it under and over to the ejection hole.

And pushes the first marble upwards.


All of this will become more clear as we progress through the rest of the machine.
If you’re impatient and want to see a better idea of it now though, here is a video made by Mr. Wandell about the building of the pump. The video is close to twenty four minutes long, but it is worth watching if you are really interested in seeing exactly how the pump’s inner workings operate.


19 comments so far

View sras's profile


4874 posts in 3248 days

#1 posted 04-09-2013 01:04 AM

This should be a fun build to watch!

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Sandra's profile


7207 posts in 2194 days

#2 posted 04-09-2013 01:05 AM

Very cool. I love watching those marble machines in action, but don’t think I’d have the patience to build one.

-- No, I don't want to buy the pink hammer.

View William's profile


9950 posts in 2961 days

#3 posted 04-09-2013 01:09 AM

Thanks Steve. I hope you keep up with the build. I am trying to make sure to post every day I work on it.

Sandra, it’s like any other wood working project, one cut at a time. This will make the fourth marble machine I’ve built, but I don’t think these take nearly as much patience as some of my scroll work projects, so I think I can handle them.


View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2959 days

#4 posted 04-09-2013 01:12 AM

Your a Marble Mad Scientist.
Keep em coming.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2809 days

#5 posted 04-09-2013 01:20 AM

Keep em comin. I’ll be watchin! I just can’t visualize stuff like you can.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View DIYaholic's profile


19647 posts in 2794 days

#6 posted 04-09-2013 01:37 AM

I get to watch William play with his balls, err marbles!!!

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View boxcarmarty's profile


16537 posts in 2479 days

#7 posted 04-09-2013 01:44 AM

-- My mind is like lighting, one brilliant flash, then its gone.....

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3423 days

#8 posted 04-09-2013 03:20 AM

alright william, this will be a real joy to watch, its so nice to be able to shift around with different parts of wood working, scroll work one week, lathe work the next and now a marble machine…never gets boring does it..i have all the confidence you will do well on this…

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View William's profile


9950 posts in 2961 days

#9 posted 04-09-2013 03:56 AM

Thank you all.
I hope you all enjoy seeing the build up of this one. I think it will be a lot of fun when it is done because this one is meant to be played with and rearranged at will. All the others, you just put the marbles in and let them go. They are fun too, but I believe this one will be more interactive and more fun overall.
Matthius Wandell, as always, has some of the most complete plans I’ve ever seen. If you’ve ever looked at any of his plans, he leaves nothing out. If you have any questions any what so ever, if you look in the plans packet, the answer is in there somewhere.
I have looked over the plans at length, and of course I already found a few things I wish to tweak. That’s normal though. I’m never satisfied with building these things exactly according to plan. If I did they’d be just like anyone elses. I like mine to be unique in some kind of way.
Anyway, I hope you all enjoy it. I haven’t been doing too well since our trip to Georgia. Today was the first full day I’ve had in the shop since returning. I hope I have some more good days so I can make some progress here. I get anxious when working on projects like this one.


View William's profile


9950 posts in 2961 days

#10 posted 04-09-2013 03:58 AM

Grizz, one of the reasons I like marble machines is they pull on all sorts of skill sets.
This one I’m building now for example will make use of the table saw, drill press, lathe, scroll saw band saw. I get to use all the toy, uh tools, when I’m building something like this.


View oldnovice's profile


7133 posts in 3487 days

#11 posted 04-09-2013 06:26 AM

Very interesting!

A number of years ago, when I was still working in a high tech lab, we built a marble machine that sorted marbles by size and color so this machine really struck my fancy! And, since I now have grand kids guess what?

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 2976 days

#12 posted 04-09-2013 11:18 AM

William the Jolly Rouges are busy building one
So we will all be following.


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View William's profile


9950 posts in 2961 days

#13 posted 04-09-2013 11:41 AM

Thank you all very much.

OldNovice, this one would be a perfect design for the grandchildren.


View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3453 days

#14 posted 04-09-2013 04:57 PM

I lost all my marbles a long time ago William, but it will be interesting to see what you do with yours. The pump looks very cleverly designed.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View William's profile


9950 posts in 2961 days

#15 posted 04-09-2013 11:05 PM

Thanks Stefang.
After building the elevator mechanism today I ran into a problem with the pump.
I’ll talk more about it in the next installment, which I’ll get typed up after my dinner.


showing 1 through 15 of 19 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics