The Marble Roll

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Project by Jack McKee posted 03-07-2017 06:22 PM 3889 views 12 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch


When I was teaching children’s carpentry and science and a friend lent me a small wooden marble roll to use in class. It consisted of two upright 1 X 4’s connected by sloping, grooved troughs. The marbles rolled down the troughs, reversing direction in a zigzag fashion, to the bottom. The kids loved it! They would roll one marble down by itself, then two or three, then a whole handful. Over and over and over again. They used it so much it began to bother me. What could they possibly be learning?

Here is a video. Its 6 minutes but not necessary to see the whole thing, you get the idea from the first minute. It is totally unedited; kids are engaged the whole time. I just held the camera.

Another friend mentioned that the Museum of Science and industry in Vancouver, B.C. hand a giant velcro ball roll. I went to take a look and discovered a large wall covered with velcro. Beside the wall was a box of small troughs made from plastic plumbing pipe split lengthwise. Each trough was fastened to a velcro backed L-bracket. The troughs could then be placed anywhere on the velcro wall. By moving the troughs around, an infinite number of paths could be made. Children could design and then build their own marble roll.

I made a scaled down version with a 3’ X 5’ sheet of velcro. It worked fine at first but gradually the velcro sheet wore out and the troughs would fall off. What about using magnets instead of velcro? I replaced the big velcro sheet with a piece of sheet metal and the velcro on the back of the troughs with sheet magnet. This worked great and still works after 15 years.

This project was so popular kids in my woodworking class wanted to make a marble roll of there own and here are a couple results:

Children learn from what the adults around them do. If adults make things then children learn interesting, useful and even sometimes beautiful things can be made by people, not just purchased. The Magnetic marble roll is such a project. Kids can help with construction sanding, drilling holes, and fastening the troughs to the backing boards. Best of all, from an adults point of view, once finished, the marble roll requires practically no supervision. You will not believe how much fun and learning take place. My admittedly biased opinion is that every school and children’s museum should have a magnetic marble roll.

You can probably build this from just looking at the picture, but if you want a materials list and brief building plans they are available (free) here:

Here are two important tricks: 1) Use the medium strength magnet sheet, not the thin stuff, which won’t be strong enough. One source for magnetic sheet is The Magnet King, online. 2) Don’t use marbles or the kids will be running all over the room chasing them. Use mini Kiosh balls, available from the Oriental Trading company.

Jack, Bellingham

-- Jack,

10 comments so far

View horky's profile


319 posts in 3943 days

#1 posted 03-07-2017 07:12 PM

Jack, this is AMAZING. How creative. Thanks for sharing …

View lumberdustjohn's profile


1263 posts in 4179 days

#2 posted 03-07-2017 09:27 PM

Looks like a lot of fun! Thanks for posting

-- Safety first because someone needs you.

View woodify's profile


343 posts in 3085 days

#3 posted 03-07-2017 10:23 PM

My kids will love this. My oldest just started making his own projects in the shop. When I show him this I’m sure it will be the next thing on his build list. Thanks for sharing

-- Woodify ~~

View robscastle's profile


7749 posts in 3217 days

#4 posted 03-08-2017 10:10 AM

Even LJs biggest kid liked it

-- Regards Rob

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3879 days

#5 posted 03-08-2017 12:02 PM

This is nice work and very creative and educational. It looks like a lot of fun and the kids will love it.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View eztrigger's profile


162 posts in 2940 days

#6 posted 03-08-2017 01:51 PM

Thank you for sharing, I am building this for my daughters

-- "Some get spiritual 'cause they see the light, and some 'cause they feel the heat." --Ray Wiley Hubbard

View smitdog's profile


469 posts in 3118 days

#7 posted 03-08-2017 02:13 PM

I’ve seen something like this before on a larger scale, like COSI science center or similar. Such a cool idea to make your own with the kids! Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio has one giant wall in their lobby that is a marble machine on a massive scale. Kids would sit and watch for a long time and guess where each marble was going to go!
Found a YouTube video of it here

-- Jarrett - Mount Vernon, Ohio

View Julian's profile


1620 posts in 3703 days

#8 posted 03-08-2017 04:15 PM

That’s a great idea. Games like this teach kids mechanical principles and they have fun on top of it. *

-- Julian

View david38's profile


3518 posts in 3356 days

#9 posted 03-08-2017 04:17 PM

nice job

View Ivan's profile


16626 posts in 3880 days

#10 posted 03-08-2017 07:57 PM

Nice work! Who can pay this smile on their faces.

-- Ivan, Croatia, Wooddicted

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