If you have some extra galvanized steel lying around your home and a ton of free time, then why not make your very own ball bearing track?
Designer and machine maker Daniel de Bruin shows some easy tricks you can do to make use of the excess materials lying about your workshop. With the help of some solder, a wire cutter, and an electric drill, you too can create your own custom tracks.
Prepping the Galvanized Steel
First things first: you want to stretch out the steel into straight, workable pieces. Since galvanized steel is usually wound up when you buy it, you’ll want to stretch it out with some pliers while unwinding it using an electric drill.
Do this a bunch of times and cut the steel into workable threads. These will form the backbone of all your tracks.
Measure out the diameter of the ball bearing you’ll be using and find a bolt whose width measures about 4/5ths of that measurement. You’ll want to attach this bolt to your drill and slowly wrap some galvanized steel threads around said bolt. Once you have a spiral thread, mark it in the middle and cut out a bunch of semi-circle shapes. When soldered to your tracks, these will serve as crosspieces which will hold the whole build together.
Building the Straight Tracks
By far the easiest tracks to assemble are the straight ones.
Daniel de Bruin created an easy to make template which fits his ball bearing in the middle perfectly. Using the lines as a guide, he placed the straight tracks and applied soldering flux to the crosspieces before soldering them on.
After letting the solder dry for a few minutes, the track should easily pop off the template!
Curving the Tracks
Creating curved tracks is a little harder than making straight ones, but all you really need is a bunch of round objects.
Different circumferences result in different curves, so make sure to find the round objects that suit your needs! Once you’ve found some that make the curves you want, wrap your straight steel materials around the objects to bend them to your will.
The hard part about making curved tracks is that you have to find another round object which makes a similar curve to the first, only with a slightly smaller circumference. You’ll want both pieces of the track to have just the right amount of space between them before soldering the crosspieces on. Should the ball bearing constantly fall off when hitting the curve, just twist the track slightly inwards to keep the ball on track!
The Spiral Lift Loader
You can actually make a pretty amazing track with just the straight and curved tracks, but Daniel indulged us with a spiral lift loader that makes it easier to get the balls at the end of the track and put them back to the start point.
This is made using yet another template – only instead of making a flat track, this one is a spiral. Solder a center rod and a modified track and you just made a makeshift elevator for your ball bearings! Just don’t forget to add those exit tracks so your balls have somewhere to go.
As Daniel said, this part would require more trial and error than anything else. Finding the correct angle to place the tracks so that the balls load and exit properly can be a chore, but the result can be very satisfying. The same goes with the adjustments you need to deal with just to find the correct spacing between the spiral loader and the vertical flat track.
It will take a bit of time to create the spiral lift loader but once you’ve soldered everything together, you can sit back and hand crack your ball bearings back to the top with no problem.
Take note that the track shown above is Daniel’s own creation. You don’t have to follow it to a tee; so make something even more outlandish and amazing!