Modular Marble Machine #6: Riser Blocks

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Blog entry by William posted 04-19-2013 12:17 AM 2199 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: The Crank Part 6 of Modular Marble Machine series Part 7: Track Blocks - Part 1 »

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.


10 comments so far

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2809 days

#1 posted 04-19-2013 12:56 AM

I’m still lost but following along with great anticipation. And now you’re a metric thinker!

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

View William's profile


9950 posts in 2962 days

#2 posted 04-19-2013 01:07 AM

Thanks for following along Andy. I think it’ll all come together and make sense in the end. The purpose of this blog though really was to show just what goes into these marble machines (a LOT).
As for the metric, the plans I’m basing this on are designed by Matthius Wandell. He is in Canada and uses the metric system. I am more accustomed to inch measurements. I have no problem with themetric system in general.
The biggest issue I’ve had using it is that I can’t find a good metric tape measure. The one I have has to be turned upside down to read metric. So every time I work on a project in metric, it takes me a bit to get back used to flipping the tape. It’s kind of embarrasing until you figure out the tape measure. For example, there’s a HUGE different in, say, 59cm and 59 inches.
On another note, if I had proper measuring tools, and plans and such in metric, I think I’d prefer it over inches. Standard American measuring system requires fractional measurements that are crazy on things such as this with requires small precise parts. It is almost impossible to accurately cut a thirty secondths measurement of anything. However, the metric system is simply in tenths. For example, using the same 59 number, a plan may say 59mm. It is simple to move the decimal over and know instantly that the correct measurement is 5cm9mm.


View DIYaholic's profile (online now)


19647 posts in 2794 days

#3 posted 04-19-2013 01:18 AM

Lego of my eggo!!!
These look like assorted sized & shaped Lego pieces, with marbles for removable nubs….

I too, would probably be more comfortable utilizing metric measurements. The math really is MUCH easier. Well, at least for this simpleton!!!

Eagerly awaiting further progress!!!

-- 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 William's profile


9950 posts in 2962 days

#4 posted 04-19-2013 01:22 AM

Thanks Randy.
Next I have to drill all the holes in the pieces I showed in that last photo. That’ll take at least a half day or so to mark the layout and drill.
After that, I can finally move on to making track pieces.


View eddie's profile


8565 posts in 2733 days

#5 posted 04-19-2013 01:30 AM

William it coming along iv been following like Andy ,but will be ready to see it ,may try it latter my self ,know the one at your shop sold me on them

-- Jesus Is Alright with me

View William's profile


9950 posts in 2962 days

#6 posted 04-19-2013 01:50 AM

Thanks Eddie. I hope you build one one of these days. I think you’d enjoy it.


View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3453 days

#7 posted 04-19-2013 11:12 AM

Looks like a lot of work William. I’m convinced that you do more work in a day than I manage in a month in spite of your health issues. Looking forward to see how these parts all work together on this interesting build.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View William's profile


9950 posts in 2962 days

#8 posted 04-19-2013 12:31 PM

Thanks Mike.
I’ve heard that a few times about how much I do. I tend to squeeze all I can out of a day. I wish I could do it consistently though. My health just doesn’t allow it to be done every day anymore. I have a good stretches and my bad spells.
You should have known me when I was in good health though. I’ll bet if I hadn’t messed my back up in ‘99 I would be able to work circles around the young guys even today. I just grew up working and always liked it. I now have depression issues sometimes related and corresponding directly to when I’m not able to do much. I always figured I’d work till the day I die. So when I get down and can’t get to the shop, I get down mentally as well. I feel a need to constantly be doing something.
All that makes me start to think of some of the jobs I’ve done that others wouldn’t have done. My first paying job I was thirteen years old. I hoed cotton for eight dollars a day. That amazes me when I think that a lot of people make more than that an hour now.


View Roger's profile


20938 posts in 2923 days

#9 posted 04-20-2013 12:18 PM

Yes, I know you’ve got more accomplished than I have in the past fast 2 months.. Sure can’t figure out how to slow time down

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View William's profile


9950 posts in 2962 days

#10 posted 04-20-2013 12:56 PM

I gave up on slowing down time Roger because I wonder if that would slow our movements down as well.
Lengthening the days though, that’s an idea.


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