Instructables
Picture of Wooden Ball Bearing
CIMG1053.JPG
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.
 
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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)
Caliper

Materials:
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
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rimar20004 years ago
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.
Routing the grooves and buying a bag of marbles is easier and cheaper.
Many, but many things are easier and cheaper. But in this site we are DESIGNERS and MAKERS, no economists. So please, think a little before repeating it.

Nice

Some of us are Designers and MAKERS on a budget, with out lathes. I see nothing wrong with presenting an alternative. In fact a diversity of ideas may allow someone to choose an alternative better suited to their projects needs.
Yes, yes, but what I am saying is that if we chose always the optimal way in terms of cost and effort, most of the things that we do, not make sense.

I do many things that I get much more expensive than going directly to buy ready made, but in the process I learn and enjoy.
ngadhno7 months ago

Nice job!

loopingz2 years ago
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)  loopingz2 years ago
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.
Wheatridge2 years ago
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)  Wheatridge2 years ago
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.
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)  steveastrouk2 years ago
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.
There are videos by SKF etc., on HOW to assemble a solid (2 ring) bearing... it's quite clever.

The other thing is that bearings are made to suit the job...

For SOME tasks, PLAIN tapered bearings are quite good.... even wooden ones...

Most of the ones I make are 45* tapered bearings, because they are self centering, self aligning and self adjusting, without locking up.

BUT they have their limitations as all things do, but for low speed, low load bearings, they are quite nice to make and run.
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.
heyross2 years ago
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!!!
criggie2 years ago
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.
engineeron2 years ago
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)  engineeron2 years ago
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.
Davak722 years ago
Very nice. I will use this someday I'm sure. We also have a jet wood lathe, and it's worked well.
Trike Lover2 years ago
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.
ccm842 years ago
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.
qwerty9872 years ago
Have the very same jet lathe.
heathbar642 years ago
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.
heathbar642 years ago
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.
lmvlobos3 years ago
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.
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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)  lmvlobos3 years ago
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").

rprough4 years ago
Use Gorilla Glue for the parts that require gluing. That way you can enter two contests at once! :)
kcedgerton (author)  rprough4 years ago
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.
They have gorilla wood glue.
kcedgerton (author)  mikesnyd3 years ago
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.
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.
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)  ryangranado4 years ago
I never planed to sell these, but if the price is right I will.
ryangranado@yahoo.com Send over a price that you think is fair.
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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.
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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.
thepelton3 years ago
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.
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