Spaceballs alternative?

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Forum topic by MadGerman posted 11-10-2012 02:30 PM 10238 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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44 posts in 2299 days

11-10-2012 02:30 PM

Hey folks,

I’m making progress on my girlfriend’s blanket chest. I’m getting ready to glue up the sections today. However, I noticed that most of the raised panels are a little loose in the rails and stiles. I guess I sanded them a little too much. I was paranoid about them being too tight.

Anyhow, I understand that Spaceballs can be used to help center as well as keep steady raised panels. I’ve also read that they can be a little difficult to work with in that they require more force than is preferred to compress, thus putting undo pressure on the panels/framework. Another possible issue with them was that one guy noticed that they left a residue on the wood that eventually seeped through to the surface. When he contacted Spaceballs about it, I believe they just told him he compressed them too much.

As an alternative to them, a buddy at work mentioned that he uses the closed cell foam that comes in 1/4” diameter (as well as other sizes) rolls at Lowe’s. It’s the stuff you find in the window insulation aisle. It’s soft enough, but not too soft as to not do anything.

So, my question is this. What can you folks recommend to me to use to help steady/take up some space so my raised panels don’t rattle?

Thanks so much, in advance, for any help or suggestions you can offer. I appreciate any and all comments.


10 replies so far

View Sanity's profile


175 posts in 2926 days

#1 posted 11-10-2012 02:45 PM

Chad posted a suggestion on this, and it is much cheaper than buying space balls. Watch from the 1 min mark:

-- Stuart

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5234 posts in 2729 days

#2 posted 11-10-2012 02:49 PM

I just used small dabs of silicone, about 3 per side. The only caution to this is to not get any on the surfaces that will be finished, but it worked very well.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View casual1carpenter's profile


354 posts in 2712 days

#3 posted 11-10-2012 03:42 PM

Got this off mcfeelys. com. “The Easy Way to “Float” a Raised Panel! Solid wood panels must “float” inside the rails and stiles to allow for expansion and contraction and prevent future cracking and splitting. But making a panel float isn’t easy. For instance: How do you center the panel? What happens when the panel expands and contracts? Use Space Balls! Simply insert 2-3 of the flexible polymer Space Balls into the groove of each side rail and stile. The Space Balls will compress to center the door, providing a tight fit, even with expansion and contraction of the panel. Space Balls measure .260 for a snug fit in a standard 1/4” groove. Allow 3/16” gap per side. Panels should be 3/8” undersized overall. Use 8-10 Space Balls per door. Made in USA.”

There is likely a long involved engineering formula to use for this sort of thing. Essentially it comes down to how much you compress to hold the panel from rattling at low MC but allow the compressibility for wood expansion and have the elastic recovery to re-center the panel at low MC ‘shrunk’ state.

If the closed cell foam you mentioned can hold up to repetitive cycles of compression and expansion against the texture of the wood surface and possible pinch points of the wood joint. It then becomes a matter of establishing the panel edge gap to compressible material, think of the spaceball as a spring.

There is a point where I believe we over think things. If you look at MC related expansion / contraction rates by wood species you would notice large differences, yet the directions above take no notice of species or the original point the wood is in its expansion cycle. Additionally they do not adjust for the panel dimensions. Would not a 2’ panel behave different than a 6” panel?

Spaceballs, closed cell foam tube, silicone caulk, old fashion foam carpet pad, all of these and more are used.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3884 days

#4 posted 11-10-2012 03:52 PM

I put a brass nail top and bottom center through the
back of the frame and into the panel. It doesn’t stop
a loose panel from rattling entirely, but it does keep
the panel from shifting.

View a1Jim's profile


117417 posts in 3813 days

#5 posted 11-10-2012 03:54 PM

Like others have said make a bead of silicone let it dry and then cut into small pieces .The one thing you have to watch out for is to make sure they are the same thickness.The closed cell foam I’ve seen is to soft.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View HorizontalMike's profile


7770 posts in 3150 days

#6 posted 11-10-2012 04:23 PM

I have done just as Jim, in laying a bead or two of silicone on wax paper and then snipping to length after it has fully cured. Personally, I did not find the silicone replacement to be as satisfactory as the regular Space Balls product. The silicone compressed way too much and squeezed out on both sides of the panel dado (as if it were still viscous).

I am sure that I probably did not compensate “correctly” for when using silicone vs rubber Space Balls, however I am not sure just “how much” to adjust either the dado or the panel length/width.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Tedstor's profile


1678 posts in 2869 days

#7 posted 11-10-2012 04:31 PM

Spaceballs? There is no alternative or equal to the best parody ever (sorry, couldnt resist)..........

View MrRon's profile


5261 posts in 3480 days

#8 posted 11-10-2012 08:26 PM

Try rubber erasers cut to suit.

View MadGerman's profile


44 posts in 2299 days

#9 posted 11-15-2012 03:22 PM

Thanks so much for the help everyone. I ended up following Loren’s suggestion and just shot a small pin in the top of the panel. That, plus the cedar lining of the chest will keep the panels in place.

Again, thanks for all of your help.


View pintodeluxe's profile


5816 posts in 3049 days

#10 posted 11-15-2012 06:16 PM

I have used self adhesive foam strips in an exterior door application. It filled the space in the frame and panel well, and had the added benefit of preventing air infiltration. The groove in my case was 3/4” wide, but they may sell the foam strips in 1/4” as well.
Glad you found a solution.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

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