The Marble Chest

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Project by William posted 01-07-2013 12:47 AM 6104 views 31 times favorited 54 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have wanted to build a marble machine for as long as I can remember and just never got the chance. Well, I recently got the opportunity to get plans for one and jumped at the chance. building this has been the most fun I have had in the wood shop in a long time. Each and every step of the way, everything has to be tested and restested. I often found myself though testing to the point that it could only be called playing. It brought out the kid in me.
I want to show though, the most interesting part of this project.

This is a view looking up from low down in front of the chest, with the lid closed. Notice how all the parts that are attached to the underside of the lid fit so closely to other items inside the chest when the lid is closed. Even after going by the plans, you have to fine tune everything to work right. This involved adding ramps and taller sides to some of the troughs. When doing this, you have to constantly check and recheck that the lid will close. It is all too easy to add something that will interfere with the lid. So, after taking care of all that, I am amazed that it all works together. I was truly worried at one point that I was going to forget something and not be able to close it.

As you can see though, it does close like it should.

The chest uses a well thought out escapement mechanism to release one marble at a time. Those marbles go though a series of chutes and through four different vertical diverting switches. These switches divert the marbles into different directions to go though all the contraptions inside the chest. Also, there is another horizontal dirverter switch on one of those paths. Inside the chest, there is a parking ramp, a seal drop, a clacker run that empties into a spinning wheel and spiral, a curved path called Lombardy street that emtpies into a circus wheel, and a spring board that launches marbles through a ring, held by another seal, and into an enclosure where it hits some bells. After all this, the marbles are diverted into various well placed holes in the floor, where they empty into a drawer underneath the chest, where they can be retrieved and played with some more.

I build things for my wife and family all the time. It is seldom though that I build something and keep it for myself. Here is the new home for the Marble Chest. It resides on top of one of my gun cabinets. It is high enough to keep kids from messing with it when they aren’t supposed to, and I can get it down to play with anytime I want.
If you’d like to purchase the plans for this project, they can be found here.

Now I would like to apologize for what you are about to see if you click on this video. I am not a movie star like some of the other members here. I own a crappy camera, and even if I had a top of the line one, I still wouldn’t know much about what to do with it. I usually don’t do videos. I wanted to give an idea of the fun one could have with this though.
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As further proof of how much I have enjoyed this project, I’ve already ordered the plans for two more marble machines. Also, I’m already thinking that, eventually, I would like to take what I learn from building these and design my own. So, if nothing goes wrong, since one of the plans I ordered was instantly downloadable, I will be starting my second marble machine tomorrow.
If any of you have ever wanted to build something like this, don’t wait as long as I have. Get off your butts and order some plans. You will not regret it. They are a ton of fun to build.


I was tagging this post. I started to look at wood choices and tool choices and decided to edit this post.

I used the table saw, router, planer, hand planes, scroll saw, band saw, several different hand held sander, belt sander, drum sander, drill press, cordless drills, sand paper on odd shaped blocks of wood, and just about every other tool you can think of. I’m not saying you need every tool in the hardware store to build this. I’m only saying that having a variety of tools makes it easier. It could be done with basic tools. If you have all these that I do though, you will get a chance to use them on this project.

I did not NEED to do this, but for mine, I used pine, oak, cedar, cypress, sycamore, mahogany, walnut, cottonwood, pecan, exterior plywood, and birch plywood. You can use one wood for everything, or mix it up and use just about every species of wood in your shop.


54 comments so far

View sras's profile


6263 posts in 4296 days

#1 posted 01-07-2013 12:57 AM

You may not be a video expert, but that was FUN to watch. Great build William!!

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Stopher's profile


8 posts in 3536 days

#2 posted 01-07-2013 01:05 AM

That is incredible! How long did it take you to build?

-- The bitterness of low quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten. - Ben Franklin

View enurdat1's profile


100 posts in 3413 days

#3 posted 01-07-2013 01:07 AM

WOW! Thats awesome. Great work.

-- It is what it is...

View bandit571's profile (online now)


29152 posts in 3850 days

#4 posted 01-07-2013 01:11 AM

Looking good, William! Planning on a production line of these?

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View DIYaholic's profile


19921 posts in 3841 days

#5 posted 01-07-2013 01:14 AM

My turn, my turn, I want to go next!!!

Yes, William, you are a kid at heart!!! That’s not a bad thing.

Please be careful when you speak of this machine in public. People overhearing won’t understand when you say you lost your marbles. They may send men in white coats, with a lovely looong sleeved jacket for you!!!

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View boxcarmarty's profile


17437 posts in 3526 days

#6 posted 01-07-2013 01:23 AM

Are you fixin’ to run off and join the circus???

-- My mind is like lighting, one brilliant flash, then its gone.....

View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 4006 days

#7 posted 01-07-2013 01:24 AM

Careful and don’t loose your marbles William. You need all ya got.
And randy I got dibs on playing with it next.
I don’t want to even ask how much time you have in this.
Nice toy. Keep it safe till I get over there.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View Chips's profile


199 posts in 4879 days

#8 posted 01-07-2013 01:30 AM

Looking good William. I think it took me about a month longer to build mine than it did you. You are right about it being a fun build. It brings out the kid in you. I think I had more fun testing the movements than the kids have had playing with it.

-- Make every day the best day of your life. Chips, Mississippi

View JL7's profile


8786 posts in 4132 days

#9 posted 01-07-2013 01:44 AM

Don’t know what it is about the marble runs, but always fun…..this is quite the contraption for sure…..looks like a hoot! Nicely done for sure…..can’t wait to see the next one….

-- Jeff .... Minnesota, USA

View William's profile


9950 posts in 4009 days

#10 posted 01-07-2013 02:10 AM

Let’s see where to start.

How long and how many hours? I don’t know exactly about the hours, but I started on it the day after Christmas. Well, the day after we celebrated Christmas, which was early because of my wife’s work schedule, so I’ve worked on it at least some every day since the 24th of December. As for the hours, that one is tricky. Having so much fun with it, I lost track some days, and since the kids did not have school, stayed at the shop longer than normal some days. However, it’s hard to remember how many of those hours were spent building, and how many were spent playing.

Chips, my kids got bored with it within a few hours. I don’t know what is wrong with kids these days. I must say though that my kids didn’t just lose interest. They want the ability to make their own designs and ideas. So, for next Christmas, I’m thinking of building the modular marble machine so they can do just that. I hope you caught the special thanks at the end of the video Chips. Your name is there. Your contribution to this project is appreciated so much. Without you, I may have never gotten around to this amazing journey.

Marty, I dreamed of joining the circus at one time. Then I aged to, oh, about seven years old, and realized that it was rediculous to wish for that when I could just play with trains while skydiving and killing bad guys all day instead.

Randy, it’s too late. I couldn’t hide it for long. Vicksburg isn’t that large of a city. Everyone around here already knows I’m nuts. My losing a few more marbles wouldn’t do much besides make them shake their heads a little more. As for the men in the straight jackets, been there, done that. They sent me back home. Something about a condition that the best doctors couldn’t even help.

Bandit, I will build more, but a production line? In a word, NO. This is one of those things that you wind up with way too much time in to sell and make any money on. Besides, being as unpredictable as marbles are, you have one or two go astray at times. You know if I produced them and sold them, someone would have marble that goes flying. They’d either pester me about it being defective, or worse, sue me when their dumb kid swallows it. This is a different world we live in today. Some people would actually find something like this dangerous for kids. Me? If my kid swallows it, I just hope he doesn’t choke on it, because I want to know if it hurts when he passes that marble.
See Randy? Told you I was crazy.

Everyone else, thank you so much forn the kid words. I appreciate the compliments very much.


View Bagtown's profile


1743 posts in 4897 days

#11 posted 01-07-2013 02:44 AM

I love this one William.
Don’t stop losing your marbles.
People will get suspicious.

-- Mike - In Fort McMurray Alberta

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


21730 posts in 4842 days

#12 posted 01-07-2013 02:49 AM

Nothing wrong with the video William and fun to watch to boot. One of my ambitions too, build a marble machine, but I want to design my own. I have thought about making it modular.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


21730 posts in 4842 days

#13 posted 01-07-2013 02:53 AM

BTW, anyone who has been to San Francisco will recognize Lombardy Street ;-)

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View clieb91's profile


4262 posts in 5101 days

#14 posted 01-07-2013 04:08 AM

A very cool looking machine. Certainly is something that is on my future to do list.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View tefinn's profile


1222 posts in 3603 days

#15 posted 01-07-2013 04:27 AM

Wow! This is really great! It looks beautiful, a real work of art!

I’ve been wanting to build one of these for a while.
I have the plans from Matthais for the second one you’re thinking of building, but haven’t seen this one before. Went to their site and bookmarked it so I can order it later. They have a lot of other stuff I’ll be ordering also.


-- Tom Finnigan - Measures? We don't need no stinking measures! - Hmm, maybe thats why my project pieces don't fit.

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