Modular Marble Machine #7: Track Blocks - Part 1

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Blog entry by William posted 04-22-2013 01:31 AM 1841 reads 0 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: Riser Blocks Part 7 of Modular Marble Machine series Part 8: Track Blocks - Part 2 »

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.


11 comments so far

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2719 days

#1 posted 04-22-2013 01:40 AM

I’m still watching and fascinated with the amount of work you put into this!

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

View boxcarmarty's profile


16311 posts in 2389 days

#2 posted 04-22-2013 01:44 AM

I’m still confused…..

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

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2871 days

#3 posted 04-22-2013 02:21 AM

It is a lot of time consuming tasks that go into these things Andy.
Marty, stay tuned. It will al make sense in the end.


View DIYaholic's profile (online now)


19623 posts in 2704 days

#4 posted 04-22-2013 03:59 AM

Marty will continue to be confused well after the machine is completed!!!

I would imagine that this could get just a tad tedious (to me at least) to build ALL those pieces/parts….
More power to you William!!!

I do like the overall concept of the interlocking modular components. Really looking forward to seeing it come together & in operation!!!

Carry on….

-- 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 Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 2886 days

#5 posted 04-22-2013 08:42 AM

Going well William

-- 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 eddie's profile


8565 posts in 2643 days

#6 posted 04-22-2013 09:40 AM

im still hanging in there William, looking forward to this one

-- Jesus Is Alright with me

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3363 days

#7 posted 04-22-2013 10:06 AM

Unlike boxcarmarty, I’m not confused at all, as I haven’t had a clue what’s going on from the very start. It is fun seeing this machine develop though. Ok, I did understand the pump, but it’s all been downhill for me since then. Keep up the good work William.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Roger's profile


20929 posts in 2833 days

#8 posted 04-22-2013 11:47 AM

I’m just excited to see these marbles, since I’ve lost mine many years ago

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

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2871 days

#9 posted 04-22-2013 12:20 PM

Randy, it is tedious making all those parts, very tedious. That is the point of this blog. I wanted to give an idea of what goes into these machines. Ever since I built the other three machines, I’ve had questions and comments coming to my email ranging from amazement, to curiosity, to some saying it must be easy since I have built the ones so far from plans. I want to assure anyone who wishes to do one that it can be done with patience, but they are far from “easy”. A lot of work goes into them. Beyond that, no plan prepares you for all the fine tuning and tweaking that has to be done. This is only a fun project for someone who likes getting obsessed with the finest of details to make something work. If you don’t, please watch someone elses work and save your sanity.

Thank you Jamie. I appreicate you keeping up with it.

It’s a pleasure as always Eddie. I realized that you didn’t get a chance to really see my other machines when you made your visit a while back. We got busy running our mouths. Next trip you make, I’m going to be sure that you see them in action.

Mike, thank you. And if you understand the pump, then the rest of it will be a breeze to comprehend. You should build one. This would be a perfect project for you. After seeing all the work you recently put into the marquetry piece, this would be a cakewalk for you.

Roger, thank you. That’s perfect though. You have to lose you marbles before working on one of these. They’d drive you crazy if you hadn’t.


Alright, I think I need to explain it the best I can. If it doesn’t help anyone, then I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait and see the video when it’s all done.
As I go through it, remember the parts.
The base holds everything. When the blocks are not used they are stored in the base.
The crank turned the pump, which pushes the marbles up and out the top of the elevator shaft, where the marbles will follow a path built up with riser and track blocks. The riser blocks are just pieces of wood that support hieght of the track blocks. The track blocks are self explanatory and are, well, tracks.

1. Build a track system. This can be anything from simple to complex. Once all the track blocks are built, you can use the riser and track blocks to build all kind of contraptions. The limits will only be with your imagination.
There are mainly three things you have to pay attention to here.
The tracks have to start where marbles coming out of the elevator column feed them.
The track have to be put together so they don’t “leak” marbles all over the place and provide constant motion. This can sometimes only be done through trial and error.
The end of any track system has to feed back into the feed trough so they can keep circulating back through the system.
2. Load the marbles up into the feed trough. Depending on the system of blocks that are built, this can range from 25 marbles up to over 100. The number will depend on how many, again depending on the complexity of what you’ve built. More complex systems will hold upwards of twenty marbles in the pump plus what ever amount stays in motion through the contraption. Using too few marbles will not hurt anything but will cuase “dead” spots in the action while the pump waits for marbles to make it back down to it. Remember you always have about twenty five marbles that are not used at the moment inside the elevator column. These have to have more marbles fed to them to push the next one out.
3. Turn the crank at a slow steady pace and watch the fun.
4. When you get bored with that design, take it apart. Use marbles in between the holes in the base plates and the block pieces and build something else.


View Doe's profile


1404 posts in 2859 days

#10 posted 04-22-2013 10:42 PM

This is way, WAY cool! I’m really not sure I’d have the patience to do all the risers and straight blocks. Can you give us a rough estimate as to how long it took, testing and all?

-- Mother Nature talks, I try to listen

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2871 days

#11 posted 04-22-2013 11:28 PM

I think you’re asking how long it took just for the riser blocks and the few straight track pieces I’ve gotten done so far?
If so, I have about a day and a half in doing the riser blocks, and a whole day doing the straight track pieces. So that’s two and a half days. I’m counting eight hours as a day because I haven’t been able to actually put in a whole day lately. If you count each day I worked on it, it would be closer to about five days.
I’m overcomplicating. I have a habit of that.
I have about twenty hours in just the riser blocks and the straight track pieces.
Aaaah! But I am nowhere near done yet. I’ll have today’s progress up after I eat dinner.


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