Introduction: Wooden Ball Bearing

Picture of Wooden Ball Bearing

This instructable will show you how to make a very cool looking ball bearing out of wood. I have always been interested in ball bearings, so I decided to make one my self, and I decided that making one out of metal would be too much like bearings that you can buy, so I chose to make one out of wood.

This bearing consists of 3 parts, the inner race, the outer race, and the balls. Most ball bearings have what is called a cage that is pressed in to hold the balls in, but I could not make that so I made this with the outer race as 2 parts glued together.

Step 1: Tools and Materials Required.

Picture of Tools and Materials Required.

The tools that are needed to make this are:
Wood lathe with a faceplate (A metal lathe would work very well, but be careful turning wood on a metal lathe, because if you leave saw dust on the lathe it could rust)
Lathe tools
Drill bit assortment
Wood Chisel (Or utility knife)

2 5.5 inch squares of 3/4" thick wood (I used pine because that is what I had, but hardwood would be better, but anything you can turn on your lathe is fine) this is going to be the outer race

1 3" square of 1.5" thick wood (I cut this out of a 2x4) this will be the inner race

Material for 9 wooden spheres (see next step)

Super glue/ Wood glue

Step 2: Balls

Picture of Balls

To make a ball bearing the first thing you need are some balls, for the size that I made it took 9 wooden balls. To get these there are a couple of options, you can make them on the lathe, or you can buy them.

To make them:
There is a process that you can do on the lathe to make a pretty good wooden sphere, I found out how to do this from this site
I tried to make the balls on my lathe, but that takes a lot of time, it took me several hours to get the first one correct, then about an hour and a half for each of the next ones (took so long because you need to get them to the exact same size) so for 9 balls you are looking at more than 12 hours.

Buy them:
They are cheap, I got mine from Michael's, and it was less than $5 for 16 of them, most any craft store should have them. The biggest downside to this is that you can't find them in any other wood than pine, and hardwood would be better, but the pine ones work.

Step 3: How to Turn the Races.

Picture of How to Turn the Races.

The way I turned the races was on the faceplate, but generally with the face plate you have to put screws into the piece, this would not work for the turning, so what I did was take a piece of junk wood such as mdf about the size of the piece that you need to turn (for the outer race I used a 5 by 5 square of mdf. Attach the mdf to the face plate, then turn it to about 1/2" smaller than the piece that you need to turn. Finally take the 5 inch square that you have for the inner race, and glue it to the piece of mdf, but only on the perimeter of the mdf. This will allow you to break it off after your are done turning using a chisel or utility knife.

Both parts of the outer race, and the inner race will be turned using this procedure.

Step 4: Outter Race

Picture of Outter Race

For the outer race of the bearing you will need to start with a piece of flat wood that is about 5.5" by 5.5" by .75" thick. First you need to turn it into a 5" diameter circle (use the caliper to measure diameters, and be as precise as possible.). Next find the biggest drill bit that you have (less than 3.5"), I used my 2.125" forestner bit, and drill through the center of the piece of wood using the lathe. Next using the lathe tools cut the hole out to 3.5". Next you are going to cut the place where the balls will run, you will need to cut to make a hole that is 4.25" in diameter, but only goes .5" in from the front surface.

After you make that, you need another one exactly the same as it. After you have 2 identical outer race halves it is time to cut the inner race.

Step 5: Inner Race

Picture of Inner Race

To turn the inner race you need to start with a piece of wood that is 3.5" by 3.5" by 1.5" thick. If you take a 2x4 and cut it to 3.5" long it is the right size (remember a 2x4 is actually 1.5" by 3.5"). Mount this to the lathe in the same way for the outer race (because this is twice as thick as the last piece you may find that you need to support the end of the piece with the tail stock), then turn it to 3" in diameter. After that mark the center of the piece, it should be .75" from either side of the piece. Then in the center cut down until the diameter of the center is 2.25", and the trench is 1" wide. Now you can drill a hole in the center of the inner race to make it look more like a bearing.

Step 6: Putting It All Together.

After all of your pieces have been cut it is time to put it all together. You want to do this on a flat clear table. Lay down one of the outer race pieces and the inner race inside it, now start putting balls in between the two.

If you start to put the balls in and after a while you find that it is too tight and you can't fit any more then you are likely slightly off on one of your dimetions. If you have a chuck that can handle the piece then you can put it back on the lathe and modify it, but if you do not you either need to make a new piece or carefully sand it with a dremel (if you use a dremel you will likely have a spot where the bearing doesn't turn uniformly.)

After you have all of the balls that will fit (for mine it was 9) put the second part of the outer race on top, line it up to the other piece of the outer race, then glue them together. I used superglue because i was impatiant, but wood glue would be better. Also use a sparing amount of glue because you do not want glue on one of the balls.

After the glue dries sand the outside as necessary, and now you have a wooden ball bearing.


ngadhno (author)2014-03-09

Nice job!

loopingz (author)2012-06-18

Interesting. I think you can achieve some similar result using a router cutting circles. I say that for people like me equipped with router but withotu a lathe...

kcedgerton (author)loopingz2012-06-18

You could probably do something with a router and a good circle jig. You will just need to think about the order that you cut the circles.

Wheatridge (author)2012-06-18

Nice project for the lathe. It is an interesting way to make a turntable. From a woodworker I would like to give you a couple of hints.Ther is a simpler and better way to make your mounting plate than turning the corners off of wood squares. Simply rough out your sqares on the band saw first. Every lathe owner has a band saw. To glue them together just use a wood glue making a sandwich with a piece of brown krqaft paper, such as shopping bahs are made from. The base will easily split down the middle.

kcedgerton (author)Wheatridge2012-06-18

I usually do rough the pieces on the band saw, I do not know why I did not when I was taking pictures though. And I'll have to try the wood glue and paper. Thanks for the suggestions.

heyross (author)2012-06-17

I have a 36 ft yacht. I purchased a 25 year old trailer made by a boiler maker but never used. If I am going away for a period of time I put the boat on the trailer. Currently my problem is that the bearings for the truck tires are immersed in salt water once or twice a year and regardless of grease have a tendency to rust up. An very old gentleman with heaps of sailing experience advised me to make up some wood bearings. Having no wood lathe skills it has become a "too hard job".
Mate, you are on a winner and could possibly have a commercial market. There are a large number of boats stored in boat yards with their own ramps that are forever having difficulty with their bearings. If you are prepared to make up a set of four wood bearings to size I would be more than happy to purchase them.
Great Idea!!!

criggie (author)2012-06-17

I was planning to make a savonius wind turbine, and intended on using 20-40 glass marbles as the bearings in a fairly long race. Hasn't happened yet.

engineeron (author)2012-06-17

Using this idea for a Lazy Susan reminds me of something I did about 10 years back. I used a 1-1/2" radius router bit (3/8" shank) and a long radius guide to cut grooves into two large sheets of particleboard. This was industrial-grade material 1-1/4" thick; not sure if regular material would hold up. Anyhow, I placed 6 dozen (yes, six DOZEN!) ping-pong balls in the tracks, and had a non-metallic revolving table five feet in diameter for use in a radio-frequency test area. Legs were 4" Schedule 40 PVC pipe attached with flanges to the hexagonal lower section on all six corners. We routinely placed 300 - 400 pound loads on this, and it revolved just fine. I intended to varnish the tracks before putting the table to use, for longevity, but the last time I saw it, it was still in use, and had never even been opened back up. No balls had failed, either.

kcedgerton (author)engineeron2012-06-17

Yeah, that is a great way to create a large lazy Susan bearing. My high school robotics teacher once made a robotics challenge where 2 robots went head to head, on a giant rotating table made that way using marbles for the balls.

Davak72 (author)2012-06-17

Very nice. I will use this someday I'm sure. We also have a jet wood lathe, and it's worked well.

Trike Lover (author)2012-06-17

Years ago while vacationing in the UK I saw a museum exhibit showing a large axle bearing made of wooden rollers and races (possibly heart-of-oak or lignum vitae) - I think from a mill axle. In the same exhibit, there were also some rollers of the same size that had been cut and smoothed from stone. I don't recall what stone - possibly limestone? - but the finish was quite smooth and they appeared to be properly cylindrical - to the naked eye at least . They were about 2 inches in diameter and 6-8 inches long. Knowing the quality and precision of stonecutting in the Middle Ages (visit any cathedral of that period - Salisbury for example), I'm sure they were made and used for something practical, not ornaments. Anyhow, a most interesting Instructable.

steveastrouk (author)2012-06-17

The very first ballbearings WERE wood, and they have been found in cart axles in archeological excavations in Scandinavia. The balls though, weren't turned, they were tumbled, quite possibly by simple water mills.

The massive bearing company SKF publishes a massive book on bearing design, with some of this history in it.

kcedgerton (author)steveastrouk2012-06-17

Very cool, actually before starting this I was researching wooden ball bearings, and was unable to find anything, but it makes sense that ball bearings were made of wood long before they were made of metal. I wonder how good their tolerances were, because I have found with this it takes a lot to make a bearing with close enough tolerances to work properly.

steveastrouk (author)kcedgerton2012-06-17

They made them around the balls they made, rather than designed the bearing and made balls to fit, so the ball-to-ball tolerance for a batch would have been superb.

THE wood for these of course would be Lignum Vitae.

ccm84 (author)2012-06-17

It might be worth noting that it is fairly fast to make wooden balls with a drill and some sandpaper/steel wool.

Start by cutting a cube out of whatever wood you prefer and tack sandpaper to a table/block/etc. Drill a small hole completely through the center of the cube. At this point, I like to take a small & long wood screw (with the head removed) that will fit into the hole and clamp the other end into the drill with a washer between the drill grips and the wooden ball. Then it's just about turning on the drill and rounding the corners on sandpaper. Once you are half done, you have a rounded end, flip it over and go to the other side. Now you have a pretty spherical shape without a lathe. To really dial it in, hold some steel wool over the end of the ball and let it spin, it will take off any rough edges fast.

The only downside is that they have a small hole in them, but it won't matter. And as always, be safe when you are using power tools. Especially if you have one drilling towards your other hand.

qwerty987 (author)2012-06-17

Have the very same jet lathe.

heathbar64 (author)2012-06-14

Hmm, in thinking this over some more, I would make the inner race the one to be split in half. That way, you could slide each half onto a snug fitting shaft and it would align them perfecly.

heathbar64 (author)2012-06-14

VEry cool!
I've made several wooden v pulleys that work well and last a long time.
Once tried to make a taper lock pulley, but Alas! when I tried to lock it on the shaft it split the outer part. Guess I didn't think that through.

lmvlobos (author)2011-10-23

Ideally, you would cut the races with a radius to match the diameter of the balls. This will give the bearing a higher load capacity and longer life. If however, this is only a decoration. Well done.
Also, a SLIGHTLY better method for attaching the stock to the chuck flange...
Use WHITE glue, not woodworking glue, and put a sheet of thick paper, NOT card stock, between your work piece and the MDF that is screwed to the chuck flange. This will hold just as well, and separate very easily as the joint will cleave at the paper. Then just sand the remaining paper and glue off the finished work.

kcedgerton (author)lmvlobos2011-10-23

Yeah, it would be better, but at the time I was not that confident with my turning skills to do that.

Also I have heard of using white glue and paper, but white glue takes a very long time to dry, and I am impatient, so I chose to use super glue and accelerator, and I was a little surprised to see that it held, even when I went to larger diameters (~9").

rprough (author)2010-10-08

Use Gorilla Glue for the parts that require gluing. That way you can enter two contests at once! :)

kcedgerton (author)rprough2010-10-08

I don't think Gorilla Glue would work for this, because it foams, and if you were to glue it together you would probably glue the balls to the races, and it would not be able to turn.

mikesnyd (author)kcedgerton2011-06-20

They have gorilla wood glue.

kcedgerton (author)mikesnyd2011-06-20

Yeah, I actually used gorilla brand wood glue for this. I guess that I was just thinking of the original polyurethane gorilla glue not all of their products.

thepelton (author)kcedgerton2010-10-28

The part of the glue that foams out of the joint can easily be cut or sanded off once it is dried. You would just have to make sure it didn't contact the balls.

ryangranado (author)kcedgerton2010-10-14

Wow dude I sell all types of bearings and always wanted to make one. Not being a turner I wouldn't be able to make these. Any chances of you selling any? Freaking SWWWWWWEEEET!

kcedgerton (author)ryangranado2010-10-18

I never planed to sell these, but if the price is right I will.

ryangranado (author)kcedgerton2010-10-19 Send over a price that you think is fair.

mathieulj (author)2010-11-11

Just to be clear, I was agreeing with you (although with a more specific definition). For plain journal bearings (no rolling parts, just a slip ring around the rotating shaft), wood is still in use and has many advantages (although some disadvantages also) over more common bearing materials. Lignum vitae use is slowing down (due to availability) but rock maple is filling in the gaps.

mathieulj (author)2010-11-10

Wood bearings are still in use and they have decent properties when impregnated with some sort of lubricant (ex. paraffin). Although those are plain bearings instead of ball bearings. I would need to see many tests on wooden ball bearings before I would trust them in industrial applications. For little projects like this though, it is more than strong enough.

thepelton (author)2010-10-28

I have a machine called the Ringmaster that can cut concentric rings out of wood and was thinking that perhaps I could use it to make something like this. The only problem I can see is that I would probably have to run dowels through the sides to make the rings stick together.

Wo0kiE (author)2010-10-06

not sure if you stated it or if I missed it, but how long did this take you? very cool idea...

kcedgerton (author)Wo0kiE2010-10-06

The races took me almost an hour each, so if you buy the balls then it could take 3 hours or less. I took an hour per race because I was cutting small amounts off at a time, and checking the size. If you are very experienced with the lathe then you could take less time.

rimar2000 (author)2010-10-04


rimar2000 (author)2010-10-04

Wonderful! Years ago I have in mind to do something. The site you mention gives an excellent idea of how turning spheres. With your system you can make a very nice Lazy Susan.

CrLz (author)2010-10-03


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