Fun with Wooden Balls

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Have you ever found the need to make your own wooden balls for a project? To be frank, we haven’t either! But seriously — how would you do it? Well, lucky for us, Hackaday Alum [Jeremy Cook] has experimented with a few different methods.

He was originally inspired by this video from [Philip Stephens] who makes them completely by hand using a hand-made hole saw. Not wanting to spend hours making a ball, he thought about ways to automate it — well, kind of.

His first attempt was to use a mill and a rudimentary rotary index table consisting of a wood clamp — Hold a wooden dowel in place, hole saw halfway through, rotate in the clamp, repeat times infinity. Eventually you’ll be left with a wooden ball whose sharp edges you can just break off. Not very satisfied with this method, he discovered a Reddit thread on making wooden balls with a rather ingenious method… Stick around after the break to see how.

First up is the rather slow hole saw method:

But here’s the cooler way to do it. Orbital sander, plus a tube — let the wood bounce around and quickly erode into a perfect sphere!

35 thoughts on “Fun with Wooden Balls

  1. I always find wood shops interesting, the people who seem to occupy this type of habitat are usually fascinating and will make a large number of their own tools or heavily retrofit existing ones.

    The lathe should have been explored a little more, it is almost designed perfectly for the task…

    1. Ball bearing are made by placing bits cut off wire between two abrasive plates.

      So for this keep the set-up as is, but put another disc into the mill chuck, and turn it on. Add a ring the size of the discs to keep the ball contained.

      Gradually lower the mill head until the desired size is reached.

      Like the ball bearing, keep switching the abrasive to finer graded until polished.

      Of course a mill won’t spin anywhere near as fast as a router so using two routers would be a better idea. (A tad noisy though…)

  2. “Have you ever found the need to make your own wooden balls for a project? To be frank, we haven’t either!”, you’ve obvious never heard of Geppetto. The orbital sander method is interesting, if not the most accurate method in the world, if they could be made rounder they’ed be good for ball bearings in large projects.

      1. He probably shouldn’t, the bearings in a drill press aren’t made for the horizontal forces encountered whilst turning (on a lathe) it would likely be fine for a very short run of pieces but I wouldn’t want to use it long term.

          1. @sean it looks like a Sieg X3 to me. They convert to CNC pretty good. Grizzly is just the importer/retailer so they branded it, but others sell the same model.

  3. Hobby shops like Ben Franklins and Hobby Lobby sell wooden spheres. It is a neat idea, but seems like a waste of time to me.

  4. Wow, they are going about it all wrong. I make wooden balls for children’s toys.
    I can make eight at a time on my Shop Smith lathe.
    Just insert a length of square stock, and cut the balls in a line.
    Then using a small saw, cut them apart and sand the ends.
    Each ball is identical in size, and only need minor sanding to make them smooth and perfectly round. Takes less than an hour to make eight.
    I even taught an eight year old how to do it with adult supervision.

  5. 1. That wasn’t a sphere. It looked like a potato.

    2. It’s impossible to make two similar sized potatoes with this method.

    How about using a lathe?

  6. Cool idea, but it will ruin that mill’s accuracy. Whenever an absorptive material is finely cut on a metal-working tool, dust makes its way on to the ways (linear bearing surfaces), where it picks up oil and can distort the movement.

    1. Wood dust does tend to suck the lubrication out of a mill but I’m normally in the habit of lubricating my milling machine regularly anyways. I’ve had my mill for almost 30 years now and it is OK.

    1. Nice waste of time, I think steel ball bearings are made between two grinding wheels rotating until the ball drops thru. I made a table with square tapered cabriole legs just to see if I could do it. It’s just wood and I have a fireplace.

  7. Work an hour to make a 30 cent wooden ball which are sold at Michaels.
    Now stone is a different item. I used to see them make stone balls at rock shows where they used 3 pieces of tubing attached to small motors configured in a triangle.

  8. I recall a technique I saw in scientific american in which a rough approximation of a ball is spun in a lathe, and the cutting tool used to smooth off the lumps is a metal pipe. The rim of the working end of the metal pipe is chamfered to a cutting edge, not unlike a hole cutter used for cork or rubber. Net result, a circular cutting edge is worked over the surface of the rough shaped ball, resulting in a smoothed, fairly spehrical surface.

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