You Don't Have to Be an Engineer to Make a Kick-Ass Marble Run

Give your free time creative purpose

Learn to make a cool looking marble run that never fails and has a surprise twist?

First, forget about using cardboard boxes, toilet roll tubes and duct tape (I know, I’m sorry!).

Yes, it’s time to invest in more rigid materials and take your marble run construction skills to science prize winning level!

How to make a Marble Run your science teacher will love: illustration 1

What will I learn?

1) Marble runs challenge you in so many diffrent ways… creatively, technically… and also your patience!

2) Building a marble run is a great way to bond with your kids while also teaching them some practical skills.

3) They are awesome fun!

Here’s how it works

The intrepid marble starts its journey at the top of the marble run.

How to make a Marble Run your science teacher will love: illustration 1

It then zig-zags along four dowel tracks before hopping onto a flying comet, which whirls it around, before sending it hurtling down three more tracks.

Then, just when you think it’s over, it jumps onto a rocket and is launched back to the top of the marble run.

Is that the end?

Surprise twist!
How to make a Marble Run your science teacher will love: illustration 2

No, it’s not the end!

What you didn’t see, is that the marble rolled through a hole to the back of the stand and is continuing its journey out of sight (sneaky!).

And after a short trip, to the surprise of onlookers, it rolls back through to the front of the marble run, the place where it started from.

How to make a Marble Run your science teacher will love: illustration 3

And then begins its journey all over again!

But no flying comet or rocket this time, just a chimney… and after 43secs its epic journey is completed!

Step by step guide

The instructions below are intended as a guide and inspiration – they don’t cover every step of the build!

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Let’s get stuck in…

Stand & tracks
How to make a Marble Run your science teacher will love: illustration 4

Use MDF or plywood to create the stand. Cut a section 600mm x 800mm for the upright and screw on a smaller section to create the base (1).

To make the tracks, glue flat wood strips onto the front of the stand, one at the beginning of the track, one in the middle, and one at the end. Make sure they are all inline and on a gradient, otherwise the marble won’t roll!

Now, cut two equal lengths of dowel and glue them onto the track supports. One against the face of the stand, and the other slightly less than the diameter of the marble away, this will make the marble roll super slowly (2).

Flying comet
How to make a Marble Run your science teacher will love: illustration 5

The flying comet is a small tin box at the end of a wire arm. The force of the marble rolling into the box causes it to swing around (3A) and hook onto a tin clip allowing the marble to roll out onto another set of tracks (3B).

Sounds simple, hey? Unfortunately, a rolling marble doesn’t generate much force, so you need to build a counterbalance to increase the sensitivity.

First, make a small tin box using the biscuit tin, cut it with tin snips, adding folds as necessary, and securing with hot glue. When done, attach the box to an L-shaped wire arm using more hot glue (4).

Next, glue a wood spacer onto the front of the stand, this prevents the tin box rubbing on the surface and helps support the axle part of the wire. Drill a hole through the centre of the spacer (big enough to allow the wire to rotate freely) and push the wire arm through.

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With the tin box in an upward position (12 o’clock), use hot glue to attach a horizontal wooden arm onto the wire on the reverse side of the stand. Next, glue coins onto the arm until the weight of the marble rolling into the tin box is just enough to tip the arm over.

Now, make a clip from a rectangular strip of tin folded in half. Glue it onto the front of the stand, using another wood spacer to position it accurately - it needs to stop the box falling backwards after it goes past.

Finally, you’ll also need to add a wooden ‘stop’ behind the clip to prevent the box swinging too far backwards.

Rocket launch
How to make a Marble Run your science teacher will love: illustration 6

The rocket is just another tin box.

The magic is in the release catch, a strip of tin with a lip (5A) that hooks onto a corresponding lip on the base of the box (5B).

When the marble tumbles into the lift it knocks the catch backwards, releasing the lift, which flies upwards under the power of the counterweight.

Before launch
How to make a Marble Run your science teacher will love: illustration 7

The illustration above shows the set-up before launch (6).

The lift sits between two wood guides near the bottom of the stand. It is attached to a counterweight (a tin box full of coins) by a cotton thread which runs over two wire guides.

When the marble releases the catch (7) the counterweight falls, pulling the lift towards the top of the stand.

After launch
How to make a Marble Run your science teacher will love: illustration 8

Once at the top, a hole in the wood guide allows the marble to roll out and along a tin gulley. The gulley guides the ball out of a hole and onto the reverse side of the stand, see illustration (B) in the ‘How it works’ section.

Well, that’s it - those are the most important elements of the marble run, I hope it gives you some great ideas.

Oh… and don’t forget to decorate your marble run.

Make it pretty!
How to make a Marble Run your science teacher will love: illustration 9

Spray it (or paint it) and accessorize the rocket launch and flying comet by sticking on colourful drawings (10).

Materials

  • A sheet of MDF or plywood
  • 6mm dowel
  • Square and flat wood strips
  • Old bisuit/sweet tin
  • 1.5mm wire
  • Cotton thread
  • Hot glue and gun
  • Drill and assorted drill bits
  • Screwdriver and assorted screws
  • Pliers and tin snips
  • Pencil, ruler or tape measure
  • Paper, spray paint and colouring pens

Give it your own unique twist

If you don’t have the tools, time or materials to build a marble run using wood or wire - don’t let me put you off going the ‘cardboard box’ route.

In fact, this approach does have one advantage, the easier construction method means the kids can probably get more involved.

Written by
Photo of Scott Bedford
Scott Bedford

Maker, Illustrator and Author