Introduction: Motorized Marble Roller Coaster

Picture of Motorized Marble Roller Coaster

This is a roller coaster for marbles. It's made from lots of cardboard and hot glue, some stuff out of an old broken printer, and a few other odds and ends I had laying around.

I played around with cardboard, tape, glue and marbles a lot as a kid, making tracks and ramps and such just for fun.

I had been wanting to make one of these for years, just to see what I could come up with now that I'm a little older. The main thing I'd been wondering about was how I could get the marbles back to the top with some sort of mechanism made from simple, available items.

The whole thing turned out pretty well, and surprisingly, the motor/conveyor belt system I came up with works perfectly, although the initial version was really fast (see the video in step 6).

I made a few changes to slow down the conveyor, and the final painted version is shown here.

Step 1: Supplies

Picture of Supplies

I gathered up quite a bit of craft cardboard for this project, along with a few old boxes from the trash.

I used lots hot glue, along with some wood glue and white glue in a few places.

Step 2: Base

Picture of Base

The base is made out of MDF. It is 20 inches by 40 inches, and about 4 inches tall.

Step 3: Original Motor Assembly

Picture of Original Motor Assembly

(This was quite the hack job, but it worked.)

The electric motor is out of an old printer. The drive is made from a section of cardboard tube, along with MDF glued to the inside, and rubber bands placed on the outside to give traction to the conveyor belt.

The motor was hot glued directly to the base, and the geared end of the motor was pressed against a rubber band on the conveyor drive. The power comes from four double-A batteries in a holder from Radio Shack.

Step 4: Conveyor Belt

Picture of Conveyor Belt

The conveyor belt is made from 72 inches of nylon webbing, with 3/4 nails placed through it every 3 inches. The nails are glued to small folded pieces of thin white cardboard, which keeps the nails standing up straight when they are pushing against a marble.

A cardboard guiding track was built around the conveyor belt. This V shaped track keeps the balls centered on the belt. A thin piece of wood was built into the track under the belt which keeps the belt from sagging.

I added little triangular pieces of cardboard to the front of each nail and "flag" which keep the marbles in place on the track while they are being pushed along.

Step 5: Track

Picture of Track

I used strips of corrugated cardboard that were glued to form T beams as the main supports for the track. Each section of track is made from two corresponding pieces of single-ply cardboard that form a V-shape. Small strips of cardstock-like cardboard were used to glue the track strips together. Please examine the photos for detail.

I made up the layout of the track as I went along. It took a lot of trial and error to create all the various sections of track that curve, dip, rise, etc. The trick is to build and test with a marble as you go, and if it works, great--if not, take it apart and try something else.

If you're interested in making a marble coaster but are somewhat scared by the complexity of my project, take a look at these instructions for building simple marble tracks (shared by user Covo).

Step 6: Video of Original Version

Check out the video. The lift on this was crazy-fast, but pretty cool. Note how the ball is actually thrown from the lift and hits the track with quite a bit of speed:

Step 7: Upgrades!

Picture of Upgrades!

I agreed with a few of the first commenters that the lift was way too fast, as seen in the first video, and that this definitely needed a paint job.

I dug around for more parts I had kept from the old printer and found a small rubber belt along with a bunch of gears. These were put to use to slow the lift down to a nice, roller coaster-appropriate pace.

I modified the cardboard drive cog to accept the new motor belt, and added a tower to house the motor, gears, and battery pack.

Because of the slower lift, I had to make some adjustments to the positioning of the upper portion of the track which receives the ball off of the lift. This slowed down the track somewhat, so I also had to switch to using steelies (heavier metal marbles).

Prior to painting, the tower looked a lot like a prison yard guard tower. That was unintentional.

Step 8: And Another Video

Here is the painted, completed version in action:

As a parting note, I have a couple of balls out of old computer mice--they are heavy and rubber coated. They are silent as they go down the track, and very lively. My track wasn't built with these heavier balls in mind, so they tend to fly right off in a couple of spots.

If I ever build one of these again, I'm going to build it to be used with an old mouse ball, and I would recommend anyone interested in building one of these try them out. They create a really cool effect.

Let me know what you think!


powerfool (author)2009-09-21

So you didn't actually bend the cardboard to make the track, you have created the tracks by joining two stips of cardboard. Right? Also, some other question, how do you make the cardboard so "glossy" as it appears in the video? Is it just the paint? (spray paint?) Thanks! It's wonderful, I've been dreaming for a long time to make something like that but I hadn't got to it... now it's time! :)

seamster (author)powerfool2009-09-21

Yes--the track is made from two adjacent pieces of cardboard.

Each side of the track is about 3/4 inch tall. I would draw out each new section of track on a sheet of cardboard, cut it out, and then match it up to an existing piece to see if it would fit on the track the way I wanted. These were like "trial" pieces. If the new piece worked well, and took the ball where I wanted it to go, I'd add the new piece permanently to the track, thus extending the track little by little.

If the new trial pieces didn't fit, which was the case most of the time, at least I could see specifically what shape the new pieces needed to be. Many times I would just try something--knowing that it probably wasn't going to work--but that it would show me what would.

Certain sections (like the loop) were completely made off of the the base, and then added as a finished unit.

This project took lots of trial and error, practice, and patience!

As for the paint, I brush painted everything with basic acrylic craft paints. The paint seemed to slow down the track somewhat, so I gave it a coat of lacquer spray, which helped speed things up, and gave it that glossy look you see.

gavinweesnaw (author)2016-08-23

how do you hold up the track

sunshine688 (author)2016-04-29

Where can you get the wood glue from?

seamster (author)sunshine6882016-04-29

You should be able to find it at any home improvement or hardware store, but also at most large grocery stores as well.

SophiaF4 (author)2016-03-15

How long did this take to make it?

kdisaster (author)2015-03-23

How was the motor made from the printer?

seamster (author)kdisaster2015-03-23

The motor was just pulled from an old printer. I mounted it to a couple brackets and used some of the belts out the printer as well. This was several years ago, and I no longer have it... so I can't really tell any more details than that. :)

dj_ross (author)2015-01-29

Do u know wat exacally what i would need to make the roller coaster and how many peices of each i would need

FyreHawk18 (author)2014-11-25

Is it just me or did the marble skip the loop-the-loop?

cathy.bouvier.5 (author)2014-11-20

How did you make your track so smooth? Because when you bend cardboard it usually gets all bumpy and rigid? Did you cut a certain shape to make the turns? And how did you make the loop with it keeping its smoothness?

seamster (author)cathy.bouvier.52014-11-20

I used thin non-corrugated cardboard--the kind of stuff cereal boxes are made out of. So it was more like thick paper, which you can bend more easily than the corrugated box-type cardboard.

philesra (author)2014-11-17

Amazing! Love it.

seamster (author)philesra2014-11-17

Hey, thanks!

I'm actually working on another marble coaster right now. Only it will be all wood, and from a single 2 by 4!

. . . We'll see if I ever get it done though, as it's proven quite a challenge thus far!

philesra (author)seamster2014-11-17

Whoa, sounds like a serious escalation. I hope you'll post it up to this thread somehow so I get a notification to come check it out. I love these rube goldberg roller coaster mouse trap thingies.

JoshK2 (author)2014-09-10


DIYDougS (author)2014-04-03

This is just fantastic.

HollyMann (author)2012-07-12

This is awesome. Great work - my son used to watch videos on youtube (from Japan) of rolling ball machines all the time. Love them all!

osh114 (author)2012-04-28

How much does it cost for all the track materials?

john12345678910 (author)2012-03-28

you should make a vid of you demonstrating the marble rollercoaster

seamster (author)john123456789102012-03-28

See steps 6 & 8.

john12345678910 (author)seamster2012-03-29

oh that is awesome youve got a good future ahead of you

the poodleo (author)2012-01-29

thats a great idea,using nylon webbing for the belt. whenever I think of a chain lift that I would use for a project like thsi, I always think of something more complicated, like the ones that are in the Knex rollercoasters. but I love that this is just scratch built iwth such simple, working items. It would certainately make it easier to build.

Musicman41 (author)2011-09-05

It would be nice to know exactly how you constructed the v-shaped tracks.

fkhalsa (author)2011-04-07

Nice job!
I agree it would be cool to see how many marbles you could load this with.

supreme-ette (author)2011-02-26

We also have this project for our Physics, and we used cheapboard. I tried forming the V shapes, but we cant manage to form a loop out of it.

logrithims (author)2011-02-05

hi great work .Just wondering how to make the loop

nathanlow (author)2010-11-11

hello, great setup you have here, currently building one of my own for a project for school.... i understood that you made the loop off the board i am just wondering how you cut it out on the carboard. thank you so much

jess.jsli (author)2010-10-26

oh my god! what a good idea!

FrozenIce (author)2010-07-21

man that is grate is it for sale? lol

trebornerdnoc (author)2010-06-24

is that like the strap of a school bag

comsa42 (author)2010-05-20

what is mdf?

234nightfox (author)comsa422010-06-24

mdf means medium density fiber. got it ?

seamster (author)comsa422010-05-20

MDF stand for "medium density fiberboard." It's a manufactured wood product sold in sheets of varying thicknesses similar to plywood and particle board. It's nice stuff to work with for certain types of projects.

trebornerdnoc (author)2010-06-23

i think ill try tomake amodel of a coster i was one it shoud be cool cound you make it all with card bord ?

flopina (author)2010-04-07

Cool I wonder if that would be a real roler coaster

valhallas_end (author)2009-12-06

This is quite nice - reminds me of the sets we used to play with, and the sliding penguins toy that was my favorite (same principle).  I have about 50 steel bearings roughly marble-sized - I might try to make one of these someday when I get free time to put them to some good use!

novakfor3 (author)2009-11-15

Wow, I'm amazed. I'm fascinated with projects like this. Bravo.

I have a question. So did you just make the whole track first, then add it onto the structure, or build it as you went?

Thanks, this project looks awesome, I'm going to take it on soon.

seamster (author)novakfor32009-11-15

I built as I went, and was constantly modifying and tweaking things along the way.  I mention the process in step 5.  I'd love to see a picture of yours if you make one.  Good luck! 

simon.leigh (author)2009-11-12

Way Cool instructable! Thanks for sharing this with us.

Brings to mind my early (pre PC) days in the computer industry, when mice were a real novelty. IBM would only ever supply replacement mouse balls in pairs. I still haven't quite figured that one out....

mbudde (author)2009-10-28

Cool. I'm thinking of using a conveyor belt similar to this for a ball return for a pachinko machine. This gave me that idea, so thanks!

blackhawk124 (author)2009-10-02

Ha, I have that exact motor that you used, I got out of an old Lexmark printer. I absolutely love the coaster and have considered many times automating the small marble coasters I've made over the years. I never would of thought of cardboard as an ideal material for track, but it worked brilliantly! Great job

daniel! (author)2009-09-17

This is awesome! Congratulations on getting first place! It would be awesome to add a circuit with IR LEDS and lights under the tracks so the light follows the ball. Or to somehow have a clear ball with a LED inside it.

Javin007 (author)2009-09-17

Sweet Jesus this is entirely too much fun. Plain and simple, I have no choice but to make one.

cruizerdave (author)2009-09-15


junkfactory886 (author)2009-08-31

Gotta love the woo-woo noise. May i suggest that you add more pulleys to lower the speed of the conveyor (And add more torque). or lower the incoming volts. GReat job.

sgt_pinky (author)junkfactory8862009-09-02

Yeah add a resistor between the motor and the power source - but make sure that the voltage you end up with is still within the specs of the motor - otherwise you will burn the motor out.

Kryptonite (author)sgt_pinky2009-09-15

Or it won't go.

seamster (author)junkfactory8862009-08-31

Thanks for the ideas. It looks like I'm going to have to do my homework on gears and pulleys and such. It's all kind of foreign to me, but it sure is fun.

xd12c (author)seamster2009-09-03

Micro Mark sells a gear box set for motors like that,8179.html

About This Instructable




Bio: 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 ... More »
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