Introduction: Make a Magnet Sculpture

Picture of Make a Magnet Sculpture

Build this magnet sculpture and experience the magic of rare earth magnets firsthand. Two powerful NdFeB magnets attract each other making it appear as if the cube on the cord is levitating.

You can get the kit for this project from the MAKE store. The kit isn't required, but makes acquiring the materials a breeze.

Step 1: Care and Feeding

Picture of Care and Feeding

This project uses some serious magnets, and with that comes serious potential for damage and injury. Here's the obligatory lecture to help you avoid trouble...

The rare earth magnets used in this project are an alloy of Neodymium, Iron, and Boron (NdFeB). They are very strong, capable of affecting each other from more than 18 inches, but not indestructible. Their protective nickel plating can chip and break through repeated impact, sending fragments flying. Do not machine, drill, heat, or ingest these magnets.

Keep these magnets at least a foot away from all magnetic media, including computers, hard drives, floppy disks, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, and credit cards. Keep them away from consumer electronics, including computer monitors, VCR's, TV's, cameras, cellphones, and personal music devices. Keep them away from things you don't want magnetized, like watches and tools. Keep them away from people with pacemakers or other implants.

Bear in mind that magnets will jump to each other (or anything ferrous) if given a chance. It's better to stick a magnet on something large and stable to keep it out of trouble than to let it wander around.

These magnets are for use by responsible adults, keep them away from infants and children. Handle with care to avoid being pinched. End of lecture, have fun.

Step 2: Parts Needed

Picture of Parts Needed

You can gather your own parts for this project or use the kit (shown below) from Make magazine. You'll also need:

sandpaper (180 & 320 grit)
wood glue (Titebond)
wood finishing supplies of your choice
sharp blade for cutting line (utility knife)
flame for sealing ends of line
something non-magnetic to use as a spacer

If you're starting with the kit skip to the next step, otherwise, read on for help getting your parts together. You'll need:

two 1/2" by 5" dowels
two 3/4" by 1 1/2" by 5" end blocks
one 1/2" cube magnet, part: CHa500D
one 1/2" by 1/4" disc magnet, part: D250D
one 3/32" by 3/8" rivet, part: MS20470AD3-6
one 1/8" by 3/8" clevis pin, part: MS20392-1C7
length of 100lb test braided Spectra fishing line

Go to your local big box home supply store for wood. You can use whatever you like, it's nice if the blocks and dowels match, and a hardwood will give you a nicer finished product. Walnut is used in the kit, you'll need to visit a woodworking store to find that.

The magnets are available from Amazing Magnets. Their part numbers are listed.

The rivet and clevis pin are both available from Aircraft part suppliers, such as Wicks Aircraft Supply. You can also check with your local surplus store, they usually have bins of small fasteners that you can search for something suitable. Remove some material from each side of the clevis pin in the area below the hole to provide clearance for the braided line when inserted into the cube magnet.

Spools of braided fishing line are available at sporting goods stores. You may be able to purchase it by the yard from a bait and tackle shop (they keep big spools on hand to load up reels). Spectra line is strong, abrasion-resistant, and has almost zero stretch, properties which make it useful for a lot of things other than fishing (e.g. kite line, r/c sailboat rigging).

Once you've got your pieces rounded up, drill the end blocks about halfway through with holes to receive the dowels. Drill the top block with a 1/2" by 1/4" deep hole for the disc magnet and use some glue to seat it securely. Optionally, drill a slightly undersized 31/64" hole and press-fit the magnet into place. Drill the other block with a 1/16" through-hole for the fishing line. On the side opposite the dowel holes, enlarge the 1/16" hole to within 1/8" of the other side, drill it out barely large enough to accept the body of the rivet with a single strand of fishing line in the hole (should be some resistance). Now enlarge the top of the rivet hole so you can countersink the head when assembled.

Step 3: Start by Finishing

Picture of Start by Finishing

It's easiest to finish the parts before they are assembled, so do that first. The degree of finishing is up to you, but a little time invested at this stage will result in a nicer end product. At a minimum, spend a little quality time with a piece of sandpaper to smooth the dowels and blocks.

A good way to keep the flat surfaces of the blocks flat is to tape a piece of sandpaper down on a glass tabletop. Sand with the grain of the wood as much as possible, start out with 180 grit sandpaper, then move to the finer 320 grit. If you've done a good job on the blocks you'll have sharp, 90 degree edges, and pointy corners. "Break" each edge and corner by holding the sharp edge/point on the sandpaper and taking a few passes.

Once you've got everything smooth, wipe the pieces down to remove dust and you're ready to apply a finish. Wood finishing is a Big Topic, if you've got a favorite approach, use it here. If not, a simple approach (used for making wooden puzzles) is to dunk the pieces in a 50/50 mix of brushing lacquer and lacquer thinner, then remove them and immediately wipe off the excess. The parts will dry quickly, then you can rub in a wax finish to add a little shine.

Step 4: Assemble Wood Parts

Picture of Assemble Wood Parts

Do a test fit to see how all your parts fit. Some joints may be a little snug, but they should fit together without a lot of force. Gentle use of sandpaper on the dowels will convince tight joints to cooperate. Once everything slides together nicely, apply a little glue to the sides of the holes (cotton swab comes in handy here) and slide the dowels into place. Wipe away any excess glue while still wet, let dry.

Step 5: Attach Cube Magnet

Picture of Attach Cube Magnet

The cube magnet is attached to the braided line with a clevis pin. The line is tied through the hole in the clevis pin, and then threaded through the hole in the cube magnet.

Spectra fishing line is strong and abrasion-resistant, but it's also a little "slippery" for knot tying purposes. We can use that to our advantage, though. Thread one end of the line through the hole in the clevis pin and tie an overhand knot around the end of the clevis. Our goal is to keep the knot small, so it doesn't show beneath the cube, so the overhand knot is a good choice for that. On the other hand, it will slip, and this is slippery line. The solution is to tie another overhand knot on the loose end of the line to act as a stop knot (see series of pictures below).

Pull the stop knot tight, then grasp the clevis pin and pull the other end of the line until the stop knot is pulled up tight against the overhand knot. Now trim the line close to the stop knot and use a flame to melt the new end of the line into a small ball. The ball keeps the stop knot from pulling through, and the stop knot keeps the overhand knot on the clevis from pulling through.

Keeping a firm grip on the cube magnet, determine which end is attracted to the disc magnet. Thread the line through so that the head of the clevis pin will be on that end of the cube.

Once the line is threaded properly, work the knot into the hole in the magnet. Pull on the line to bring the clevis pin's head into contact with the cube, it will stay put once you've got it there. If you need to remove the clevis pin, use a piece of toothpick and push from the end opposite the clevis pin head.

Tip: You can use a permanent marker to color the line black as an alternative to the default green.

Step 6: Attach Line to Bottom Block

Picture of Attach Line to Bottom Block

This part takes a bit of fiddling. Read through the entire step and look at the pictures before starting so you understand how the pieces relate to one another.

Stand the frame upside down, so you can see the hole in the bottom. Place a non-magnetic spacer (corner of a book, foam packing material) on top of the disc magnet and place the cube magnet on top of the spacer. The spacer will hold the cube away from the disc while you are working on the bottom fastener.

The closer the magnets are, the stronger the attraction will be, but too close and it becomes less obvious that the cube is floating in space. A separation of about 3/4" seems to work well. You're going to need some slack to work with when tying the knot for the bottom fastener, so the spacer should be about 1/4" thicker than the desired separation when finished.

Thread the line upwards from the cube through the hole in the block on top. Pull the line upwards to remove slack, then tie an overhand knot close to the upper surface of the block, about 1/4" from where the line disappears into the small hole.

It's better to tie the knot too far from the hole than too close. If you're too far, you can tie one closer and trim the far one(s) off. If you're too close, you'll have to remove the knot so the line will fit into the hole along with the rivet.

Partially insert the rivet into the hole, leaving the head protruding enough so that the knot can pass underneath to be hidden from view. Grasp the line on the side with the cube and pull the knot down until it jams between the rivet and the rivet's hole. Remove the spacer and check the distance. Adjust spacing to your preference.

Pull the knot out from underneath the head of the rivet, trim the excess line close to the knot, and use a flame to melt the end (as with the knot on the clevis pin). Make sure the rivet hides the line from view, then push it down until the head is below the surface of the wood. A paper clip comes in handy if you need to push the rivet back out.

Remove the spacer and stand the frame upright.

Step 7: Done

Picture of Done

Your magnet sculpture is ready for display!

Note: consider the care and feeding suggestions when deciding where your completed project will live. Metal objects nearby (e.g. desk, filing cabinet) can be an attractive hazard.


WastedBabies made it! (author)2014-06-25

I made one!

Dumchicken (author)2011-04-06

grrrrrrrrrr does that mean i cant have one of those magnets just bcaus im 10???!!!

day-veed (author)Dumchicken2011-04-07

No. Just be responsible. Don't play with them while using the computer and don't go messing up peoples electronics. Use them wisely and have fun!

Dumchicken (author)day-veed2011-04-25

k :P

day-veed (author)Dumchicken2011-04-26

Though if you get pissed at someone with an iPhone...

Bluebie (author)day-veed2012-07-08

Magnet's don't affect iPhones. They don't store any information magnetically, and the only magnetic sensor is the magnetometer - you can stick as many rare earth magnets to the metal edge of an iPhone and the magnetometer still works fine - it recalibrates remarkably effectively by looking at other sensors like the accelerometer, gyroscope, and gps. Technically, the accelerometer and gyro are also affected by magnetism, but it's not significant unless the magnet is inside the computer chips itself (which is how the self test modes on those chips work!)

Similarly, magnets don't affect most computers. Hard drives are quite well insulated, and many portable computers rely heavily on magnets in their design. All recent apple laptops use several rare earth magnets to latch the screen shut and detect when the computer is closed. They also use magnetic power connectors. The iPad features several magnets in it's design to attach to covers and the likes. Really, the only reason to worry about putting fixed magnets near computers is if you're still using floppy disks. Some smart phones use wireless charging matts, which are pretty much identical to a degausser - a magnet eraser - in their operation, and near-field communication in many modern smartphones is also effectively an electromagnet transmitting data as magnetic shocks through the air. RFID tags are powered by oscillating 'degaussing' electromagnets too - that RFID readers don't erase your credit cards when you stick your wallet up against one is a testament to just how good we've gotten at making magnetic data storage which resists strong magnets.

The real risk is personal injury. Rare earth magnets are extremely strong and get stronger as they get closer to each other. They're strong enough to slice through skin if you pinch yourself between two of them. They're also quite fragile and can shatter in to sharp pointy pieces. Be careful! It's not unheard of for people to play with rare earth magnets by doing things like sticking one on each side of an earlobe, only to find it impossible to remove until eventually they squeeze straight through, piercing a huge hole through the lobe! You'd also do well to try not to put your head in to high power oscillating magnetic fields - if you had some big magnets spinning around for example. Strong oscillating magnetic fields are medically similar to electroshock therapy - and are increasingly used for that purpose medically. Small rare earth magnets are nothing to worry about though, so long as you're careful not to pinch yourself!

unominame (author)day-veed2011-05-23

You just contradicted yourself :P

ThaAWESOMEducttapeguy (author)2011-06-09

Grrr I can't find any magnets!!!

timnitro (author)2010-11-21

if you put small magnets in random order instead of one on the bottom you can swing the magnet on like a pendulum and it will randomly travel back and fourth in different directions

itssnowing (author)2009-12-13

 this is cool :D

i'm guessing you can pull it away, and it pops back up?
what if you pull it all the way down?

either way, it's very creative :D

Rob K (author)2008-02-28

I made a project for my art final using magnets and wood. Used some stong mounting magnets and chain mail. It is not a full supension but I think it still looks good.

Punkguyta (author)Rob K2009-04-03

That's pretty sweet man, but I would have used something other than a metal mesh

Rob K (author)Punkguyta2009-05-05

Late response. Its nickle silver 3/16 ID rings.

Rob K (author)Rob K2008-02-29

I didn't really want to hijack the comments but OK. I do have a few more pictures. One is when I started making it and the other one is more of a top down. The ring is 14 inches across inside and 16 inches across outside. Wood was a cheap pine board. The dowels are 4 inches long. I built this in a weekend started cutting the wood Friday night. I used a rotozip with a circle cutter bad idea, Don't try that. Sanded it till it was mostly round/rounder than it was. Saturday night it was glued and Sunday it was stained. The netting is 3/16 inner diameter nickle silver done in a Japanese 3in1. Magnets were 1/2 inch mounting magnets used for boxes. It looks a bit rustic just because I did not have time to varnish the dark stain.

lucianoabcd (author)Rob K2008-02-29

Hey, can you tell us more about your sculpture? Thanks!

gmjhowe (author)Rob K2008-02-29

i like that, very nice, how big is it? you should make like a pocket sized version, that could double up as a time machine.

Rob K (author)gmjhowe2008-02-29

Its to big for a mantel. It is 18" in diameter. The mirror inside is 12" in diameter.

I got the idea from but mine did not cost over $30.

gmjhowe (author)Rob K2008-02-29

u did a good job, urs looks more rustic than those on that site, well done! i mite try summit like this, got a whole stash of magnets out of hdds

berky93 (author)2009-01-02

I used to make these all the time, but just out of paperclips and some really tiny magnets. this one looks really nice, I should make a new one thats a little better.

gamerguy314 (author)2008-06-23

since i can't find a magnet of that shape, i'm guessing you can also use the magnets from the magnetexs toy?

I doubt those magnets are strong enough. Also, an oddly shaped magnet would be awesome. DOWN WITH UNIFORMITY! If all else fails, you can just buy the kit they advertise; it's magnets are perfectly square.

they are strong enough, you just have to make a slightly smaller sculpture

taytaylor (author)2008-09-28


Obsessive (author)2008-04-08

Awesome instructable! I made a similar magnet project with more low-grade magnets that I keep on my dresser. I used fishing line. This way if you were looking from a short distance or put it in place with a white backdrop, the magnet (Which looks like a small red marble) looks as if its floating. I understand the use of the wire though. Fishing line wouldn't stand against these earth magnets.

Allmann (author)2008-03-19

Good idea, can you tell us more about your sculpture? Thanks!

m32825 (author)Allmann2008-03-20

I'd be happy to. That's a pretty open-ended request. Can you be more specific about what you'd like to know?

Hannibal420 (author)2008-02-28

Very unique in it's universiality. I plan on making this this weekend. In your disclaimer, (may the lawyers truly be the first against the wall) you state that a relatively safe distance from electronics is approximately one foot. I was wondering whether this was a personally researched distance, or just good S.O.P.? I was planning to put it on top of my 36" CRT, as a visual reminder of safe danger, and was curious. Thank you very much for eloquently and simply creating a quite decent instructable.

m32825 (author)Hannibal4202008-02-29

The distance recommendation comes from reading the cautionary material provided by rare earth magnet suppliers with their products. The goal of the lecture section is to help people avoid doing unwitting damage, rare earth magnets can surprise you if you've never encountered them before (and even if you have). I wouldn't recommend putting rare earth magnets anywhere near your big CRT. You'll note serious picture distortion a foot away. My concern is that if you get too close you're risking permanent damage.

m32825 (author)m328252008-02-29

But if you try it, let us know how it goes... :)

locofocos (author)m328252008-03-02

my bro's crt monitor has this function one of the buttons on the front does called something like degauss. When you press it, the image gets all misshapen and tie-dye for a moment like a really strong magnet came into contact with it for a split second. I think it might be to undo the effects of magnets on it. He had offered me to buy it for $20 when I got my first computer, but my dad offered me a free flat screen. Being new to computers- one old, big monitor vs. one thin new FREE monitor. And now I know that the flat-screen I still have can only go up to 1024x768, and the CRT my bro was gonna sell me can go up to 1200x freakin 1600!!! Of course he won't sell it to me now :(

iansmith (author)locofocos2008-03-12

The degauss function of a CRT is only to erase VERY WEAK magnetic fields from the screen. It would be totally useless against any lingering effects from a rare earth magnet. You can easily cause permanent damage to a CRT with a rare earth magnet, so keep them far away. Great project though... I think I'll make one to go with (but not next to!) my dimagnetic levitator.

hylian11 (author)2008-03-06

i made one! brilliant idea! i made an even larger one for my cat to play with! its quite hilarious!

beado4ever (author)2008-03-01

Very nice and straight forward instructions. I wonder how difficult it would be to put pivots halfway up the dowels and have it rotate 'head over heels' style?

m32825 (author)beado4ever2008-03-02

Good idea. The center of gravity is going to be above the halfway point because both magnets are at the top, but you could locate it with a little experimentation.

gmjhowe (author)2008-02-28

hey, very good, where have i seen this b4, ive seen this exact same thing elsewhere, was that u?

m32825 (author)gmjhowe2008-02-28

If you saw it in the Make blog, that was me. I thought others might be interested in building one, so I put together this Instructable and collaborated with Make to produce a kit for their store. The nice thing about the kit is that you don't have to run down all the parts, and you don't need power tools.

gmjhowe (author)m328252008-02-29

that would of been where i saw it, i always check out makezine, one of my daily stops. great job mate.

m32825 (author)2008-02-28

Most people like to pull the cube down to see how low it can hang on, so you're definitely on the same page with them. The closer it is to the top magnet the stronger the interaction, it's a lot of fun to play with.

GorillazMiko (author)2008-02-27

Nice! The picture's are really good. I like it a lot. +1 rating. And where did you get a cube magnet?

m32825 (author)GorillazMiko2008-02-28

The cube magnet is from Amazing Magnets, see "Parts needed" for the part number and a link to their site. Cube magnets with holes come in two flavors: magnetized axially with the hole, and magnetized perpendicular to the hole. You want the axially magnetized version for this project.

king_of_the_step (author)2008-02-28

I think this is a really cool idea +1

Lftndbt (author)2008-02-27

Metal objects nearby (e.g. desk, filing cabinet) can be an attractive hazard. LoL... This is simply beautiful... Great job!

Lftndbt (author)Lftndbt2008-02-28

Step 3 Start by finishing

The play with words, is almost poetry here...
I sell many finishing and preping products...

"Start by finishing" Will be my new catch phrase.... ;)
So much time is lost in trying to finish a project once assembled...
True craftpersons know this all to well...

awoodcarver (author)2008-02-27

Very nice work !!! I need to make one of these for my mantel .

Kiteman (author)2008-02-27

Very nice. The final product is almost Zen.


joejoerowley (author)2008-02-27

Cool! I have done this before also but mine looked like crap. Another thing you can do is put 2 graphite slabs in between 2 magnets you can make them levitate. Its pretty cool. Maybe I will make instructable of it.

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