How to Make a Polished Aluminum Foil Ball

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Introduction: How to Make a Polished Aluminum Foil Ball

About: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is Sam and I'm a community manager here at Instructables.

Making polished aluminum foil balls has been a popular trend online recently, with loads of people doing it and sharing their results.

The idea started in Japan but has been spreading quickly, and more videos on the topic are popping up everyday. This is one of the earliest videos of the process for reference.

Now, I'm not normally one to jump on bandwagons . . but this just seemed like a fun idea to me, so I decided to try it out. It was a surprisingly meditative process!

I took an elementary approach to this and just used mallets, hammers, and some aluminum polish. For the time and effort, I was pleased with the results. There was no sanding involved whatsoever - only pounding, tapping, and polishing by hand.

I'll show you how I did this and share the tips I learned along the way. Thanks for reading!

Step 1: Materials

I used:

  • roll of standard aluminum foil, 285 square feet
  • various mallets and hammers
  • Mothers brand aluminum polish, and lots of rags
  • 20 lb barbell weight as a hard pounding surface
  • pounding stump (it's just a log I have in my shop for pounding on; it's quite handy)

Step 2: Unroll and Make a Ball

I unrolled the aluminum foil on the floor, and gathered and rolled the tail end into a ball shape. (As I rolled up the ball, the foil roll would bounce into the wall and started leaving marks, so I added some masking tape to prevent that.)

I did not take special care to pack the foil ball especially tight - I just kind of did this as quick as possible. The completed ball was a little bigger than a basketball.

Then I began by smashing the ball with my hands and body weight as much as possible, to begin compacting it.

Step 3: Start Pounding and Compacting

I started pounding on the aluminum foil ball with small dead-blow mallet on top of the 20 lb weight. You just need to do this on a hard surface, like a sturdy table for hard floor (doing this directly on carpet won't work very well).

I worked around the circumference of the ball making small blows to pack the aluminum foil tighter, until it was in a sort of marshmallow shape.

Then I rotated the shape and worked around the foil turning it into a kind of roundish pillow shape. The peaks of this pillow shape were then pounded in until it was back to ball shape, albeit smaller than before.

Step 4: Keep Going!

I switched to a slightly larger mallet and continued compacting the ball following the procedure outlined in the previous step.

You can just pound away randomly and continually knock down the high points, but I liked the somewhat repeatable order of operations: sphere > marshmallow > cube-ish pillow > back to sphere

Wearing some gloves is strongly recommended!

I was experimenting with different mallets, but you could just use the same hammer the whole time. The main thing is to not pound too hard and to avoid making overly deep indentations as you go.

Each blow should be enough to compact the foil a little bit, but you don't want to deform the material so much that you end up with an unfixably non-round shape.

At some point the ball will be compacting less and less noticeably, so it becomes a more random process of continually examining status and knocking down high points. It's a slow sculpting process, and a bit of a workout.

Step 5: Keep Going Some More

I took the ball out to my garage and set up my 20 lb weight on a waist-high log I use for pounding things. This was helpful.

I also switched to a small 2.5 lb hammer.

The smaller the ball gets, the heavier it seems. It's funny how your mind plays tricks on you like that.

Cracks will begin to appear in the ball as you continue to compact it. You just keep pounding around the ball uniformly, and the cracks will appear smaller and smaller.

Step 6: Almost Done

When you're nearing the end, you'll notice the foil not really compacting any more. Earlier on, each blow would make a hollow thud as the ball absorbed the blow and compacted a little.

But toward the end each pound will ring more solid, and the ball will bounce as the strike transfers cleanly through it.

I switched to a smaller hammer and began using it to tap out all the high spots and small irregularities. As I did this, the ball became more and more shiny.

I put the ball on a folded up rag and made repetitive TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP all around the ball. It sounded like there was woodpecker in the shop for a while, and I'm sure my neighbors were confused!

At this point the ball was 16 inches in circumference (about 40 cm), and looked pretty good to me. I figured it was a fine time to stop.

Step 7: Polishing

At this point, some people begin sanding their foil ball with increasingly finer grits of sandpaper, well up into the thousands.

I didn't see any reason to go to that trouble, considering that the ball was already pretty shiny.

Instead I polished the ball with a few rounds of Mothers Mag and Aluminum Polish. You rub it liberally on and then work it into the metal until it turns black, and then you buff it off with a series of progressively cleaner rags.

As you buff, initially the surfaces will appear dull and grey, but as you continue to buff (and switch to cleaner rags) you'll see the surface appear increasingly shinier. I repeated this process 4 or 5 times.

Step 8: All Done!

The surface of the ball is reflective but upon close inspection you can see all sorts of cracks and creases. It's really kind of fascinating to examine.

For about 4 hours of work and just a bit of polish, I turned a 7 dollar roll of aluminum foil into this shiny ball. Pretty cool I think.

Got any tips for me, or for other readers? Share them below!

If you make one, please share a photo and let me know about your methods, tools used, and how much time you spent. I'd love to see and hear about your results. Thanks again for reading.

2 People Made This Project!

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6 Tips

Once I didn't seem to be making much progress on the ball I heated it up with a hairdryer witch allowed me to compress it even more.

i think that,the dark lines are exist becoz without the water-polish and the silk polish !

I also made one in the dryer, but I was just trying to get my clothes done faster. It was a nice surprise to end up with shiny aluminum balls. Certainly easier than hammering.

Having worked with a lot of hammering of metals if you roundthe edge of and polish the face of your nail hammer you can actually get a great shine while hammering.

The dark lines are from the silver polish gettingbinto all those crevices. A cool look but the people who are using 3000grit paper are using that to avoid showing those cracks.

But it’s really a preference.

if you polish your hammer to a high shine, you will get a finer more polished finish. Silversmiths use this while planishing silver.

The dollar store has comparable aluminum foil. It makes the investment of time far more worth it.

They also have rubber mallets. I spent two dollars on mine, and I'm pretty happy with it.

5 Questions

Any tip on how to get the ends stick to the ball? No matter how I pound it, it won’t stick. Thanks!

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Hmm. At this point I think the best solution would be the roll the flap inward to create a more bulky ridge, then try to pound that flat and into the ball. You may not be able to remove the gap completely though.

On mine, I think I tucked the loose ends in earlier on in the process, so they got compacted inward as the ball shrunk in size.

If you wanted to sand your sphere, any idea what grit sandpaper to start with?

By the way, I thought this was strange but cool. Two thumbs up.

Thanks.

I'm looking forward to trying this.

1500 to 2000 grit is what I have used. Add water while sanding it with the super fine grit paper.

What happens if I pounded it a little to hard and it turned into a flat disc instead of a ball?

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Polish it up and call it a platter. Say it was the plan all along! ;)

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Ha Ha Thanks.

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What was the final mass and circumference of the ball? I'm really curious to see what percentage of the ball ended up being air.

It'd be a math question. Provided the final mass is identical at the beginning and at the end, take the mass (in grams), divide by 2.7 to get the volume of pure aluminium (in cubic centimetres). From there, use the formula for the ball ( r = ((V/π)(3/4))⅓ -- power 1/3 is a cubic root) and you get the radius of the smallest possible ball. Everything bigger than that still contains air.

1 more answer

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The circumference is 16 inches, and it weighs 2.5 pounds.

How much does the finished ball weigh. Is it heavy enough to put out in the garden on a pedestal and it won't blow away in a light breeze?

According to Lavoisier, pretty much the same mass/weight as at the beginning of the process, hence the joke about the *impression* of the ball getting heavier (just denser). The more you tap, the smaller it gets, the denser it gets. If you tap a lot, the ball will get small enough so the wind will apply its force on a smaller surface (therefore less force) for the same mass.

2 more answers

The finished ball will weigh the same amount as the foil you started with. It will also have the same density. The volume shrinks because you are taking out all the air bubbles in the foil ball.

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Just weigh a roll of foil (minus the box, of course) and that's what your ball will weigh when you're done with it. :)

76 Comments

My Dad made a ball like this, only he used a slightly different technique. This was when I was a little kid, and I'm 81 now. He loved chocolate. Every time he finished a foil-wrapped chocolate bar, he would add the foil to his slowly growing foil ball. He was an annoyingly patient man and the last time I recall seeing this ball was when I was in my 30's, so at that point he had been working on it for at least 25 years! It was as solid as if it had been pounded as in this tutorial, but no hammer had ever touched it. Just his hands, applying one more small foil chocolate wrapper onto the growing ball, which was probably 4" in diameter last time I saw it. I'd guess he wasn't the only one doing it in those days . . .

1 reply

What a nice story, Skip!

Your making this aluminum ball reminded me of back in Public school when in the 70s anyways there was a couple girls that had aluminum balls that they were making. How well start with a marble and the aluminum came from cigarette foil packaging of which consisted taking the foil off paper backing and laying one the marble and use pencil to rub that paper side down and would stick to that marble. I remember the one girl during recess adding more foil and it was shinny.

I tried it once and was having hard time getting that paper off I don't know if they had problem with it also and only get small pieces but i recall them having whole foil with no paper .

They would us there nails to get foil and paper apart.

George

2 replies

I did the same thing in the 40's. Soaked the cigarette foil package in water to loosen the foil. Never polished them however.

I recall her's was perfectly round and the smoothness was from rubbing it down it had a dull rather than shinny yet very nice. I wonder if those girls remember doing this

What an interesting project! I don't believe I am that patient! Great photos and instructions, thanks! Question: a few gentle readers mention throwing the ball into the dryer for a few minutes to shorten the process. Does that leave black aluminum marks inside the dryer or on whatever is in there with it? The black rub-off on the pictured hand is pretty formidable!

I love this! I've been making small foil beads from chocolate wrappers for some time now. Hadn't thought to use the aluminum foil to make a larger ball! I'll have to start recycling my used foil into a ball. Great Zen project AND wonderful for anger management! ;)

If you enjoy this process you might want to try fashioning a dorodango ...
No cost. Just mud and determination.
One becomes emotionally attached to their little dirt sphere. Would that it were with the larger one.

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Wow, I hadn't seen this before, but now I definitely want to try it. It seems like a pretty zen thing to do. What do you think is the smallest you could reasonably get it?

5 replies

With the amount of foil I started with, and with just hammer pounding.. I'm not sure it could get much smaller. I worked on it for a while with that mini sledge, and it never got below 16" circumference, so I concluded I had bottomed out (at least with the force I was applying).

It's become a bit of a raging topic on youtube, so you should definitely search and check out what some others have done if curious. It was very zen indeed!

Thanks for posting this instructable; I found it somewhat inspiring - maybe someday I might try it myself.

I wonder if you had a power hammer or some other similar mechanical means if you could make it smaller? It would probably be more difficult to work that way; eventually you'd just end up with something like a large ball bearing and not as interesting to look at.

Something you or someone else might try is to give the final ball a coat of spray-on clear lacquer or polyurethane. You can also find transparent acrylic colors that would probably work well too. These would all seal the cracks, but still allow them to show, while protecting the shiny finish (aluminum oxidizes and gets dull over time - that's why polish for it exists).

Anyhow, it looks like a fun and low cost project; thanks again!

Thank you for the kind comment and excellent tips!

See attached. I started smallish and here is where I am after about an hour and a half. Basically half the size of the original.

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I have not seen this before, and I totally want to make one! It would look awesome as part of bookshelf decor, or propped on a shallow bowl on a coffee table. I could get into the zen. Thanks for the instructable!

Fascinatingly impractical, but you can't argue with success. The Japanese Sky-Tomo link supplied in the 'ible' has over 3.8 million views! A few of those and I could retire early!

So...it's dorodango with aluminum foil, basically? If you enjoyed the process of turning foil into a semi-shiny cracked ball, you should try your hand at dorodango. You seem to have the patience, and the results can be spectacular.

Hey guys if you don't like the project or think it is a waste of time keep it to yourself. I understand wondering if there are any other uses but the whole "why?? u must be bored" stuff is unnecessary. I think its cool and can imagine spending an afternoon doing something like this.

1 reply

I think it's a good thing, I love making things with my hands, and they look great in the flower garden with solar lights at night !