Losing my marbles - A tale of two games

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Project by vipond33 posted 08-17-2011 05:12 AM 2662 views 18 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Wooden games are a pleasure to build and own. They satisfy you in the work, they satisfy your progeny, often allow a fabulous interaction with them and all with the tactile feel and look of wood that is not duplicated in plastic. Chances are they’ll be passed on, perhaps for generations. “Look at this game that Grandma used to play!”
This is a tale of two games, one of them where even Grandma can’t figure it out, but it was all my fault.

Alan and Gill Bridgewater published an intriguing book “Making Marble-Action Games, Gadgets, Mazes & Contraptions: Designs for 10 Outlandish, Ingenious and Intricate Woodworking Projects” in 1999, and while it was not always well reviewed, I disagreed enough to make two of them. Some of the projects were quirky indeed and would appeal only to people that love to tinker and just build stuff. That might be you. With full size plans & drawings, many photographs and helpful, gentle instructions it was easy to like and do. Hand tools are foremost though machines are often shown.

First up is a marble balancing game. (See the 2 min. video) Try to roll 18 marbles into 17 available holes leaving a designated piece unplaced.
This was made almost exactly to plan in white oak, Baltic ply and cherry veneer over Baltic ply. The end miters are screwed together with brass locating pins allowing for replacement of the easily scratched plexiglass top.

This is a simple scroll saw project with just a little time on the drill press, giving you a game that even some adults find challenging. If you modify the hole diameters, (smaller is harder to get in to but easy to knock out of) it is very tricky indeed. Beyond that, it is a lovely thing to hold and look at with the sound and colours of the marbles and the warmth of wood. My daughter and many others love it.
Home run. Next batter.

The second game was a marble labyrinth type with a grid of holes laying over a 6×9 hole wooden egg crate insert (in the original plan), with side drilled holes that allowed the marble to trace a route from entry hole to exit. So, just 54 holes. It did not look difficult enough to me and I didn’t want to do all those half laps just to bury them unseen. So I made it harder, ridiculously so.

I substituted a chunk of the polystyrene louvre used on a 4’ fluorescent light for the grid. This has squares that are 1/2” across so the holes above must follow suit. Sharp eyed bean counters will see that I now have 192 holes to drill perfectly, except that I designed the game double sided with a different labyrinth on each side. And I made two! of these games, both promised, so I could not back out. 768 holes.

Seeing this I bought a 1/2” carbide tipped brad point bit and went to work. Here’s the routine: Slowly drill to score the veneer, press though and then stop the press and wait and wait for it to spin down because now I have a disc of wood trapped at the tip of the bit. Rinse, lather, repeat. If someone had invented a cordless drill press with a brake while I was doing it I would have rushed out and bought it. 768.

Now it was time to make the maze. I sketched out an overly complex route on graph paper and started to remove the unwanted plastic. But there were 145 gates to open on each piece and it took 5 snips with needle nosed pliers to clean out each one. 145×5x4=2900 clicks of the pliers, all the while working slowly to prevent the fragile brittle plastic from breaking apart. Moral: stick to wood.

Finally, wearily done I painted the white plastic black so that you could not peek through the holes to see where to go. Assembled then in a simple wood frame, with a sheet of clear plexi between the grids and the holes, and ball bearing holders affixed to the sides (for I thought that maybe someone would try running two concurrently! Hah!). No one yet has been able to run the maze, myself included, and I used to have a rough idea of the plan.
Thrown out at the plate.

About infinite hrs.
Build on LJ’s.

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-- gene@toronto.ontario.canada : dovetail free since '53, critiques always welcome.

5 comments so far

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18268 posts in 3672 days

#1 posted 08-17-2011 09:31 AM

Looks like a nice job on them. Thanks for the idea ;-)

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View mcoyfrog's profile


4145 posts in 3590 days

#2 posted 08-17-2011 08:32 PM

Very cool, and yes having a hand made wooden game is the best thing ever. We still have some of gramps old marble games….

-- Wood and Glass they kick (well you know) Have a great day - Dug

View Lewis Baumstark, Jr.'s profile

Lewis Baumstark, Jr.

49 posts in 2920 days

#3 posted 08-20-2011 03:52 AM

I have that book and hope to make a thing or two out of it one day (as soon as the backlog of a 1000 other projects is done…)

They’ve written several other “contraption” books that look cool but, alas, are out of print.

-- Every time I walk in my shop I thank my dad, my geometry teacher, and my drafting that order.

View souichiro's profile


369 posts in 3341 days

#4 posted 08-20-2011 04:37 AM

very cool :)

-- Dale, Oregon

View wannabenorm's profile


33 posts in 2302 days

#5 posted 02-24-2012 01:05 PM

this is truly amazing way out of my skill level but enjoy looking at them and maybe one day when my skill permits i shall tackle something of this nature

-- if i say something stupid over look me im learning.....

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