Introduction: Bowling Ball Fountain

About: I'm cheap and like to use what I have on hand and I really enjoy taking things apart to salvage parts. Rather than be a precise engineering type of person, I'm more of an enthusiastic tinkerer. Making things i…
When I was a kid my parents dragged me to Longwood Gardens on a family vacation. The highlight for me was the topiary dinosaurs, but my Dad was really blown away by a fountain called the Eye of Water. In fact he still mentions it 20 years after we went there. So since it was Father's Day, and this year has been a rough one, I decided to make Dad his own fountain inspired by the Eye of Water.

I wanted the fountain to have a nice round shape that the water would gently roll over just like the Eye of Water did, because this is the feature Dad mentions most often when he talks about it. To achieve this I used bowling balls from the local thrift store. I did this because it was relatively inexpensive and I'm not a master craftsman who can carve a round smooth object out of rock/wood/cement/etc.

Step 1: Materials

Here's what I used to make my fountain:

  • 1 fountain pump
  • 3 bowling balls
  • About 3 feet of vinyl tubing (ID 1/2", OD 3/4")
  • Metal rods of various diameters & lengths
  • Epoxy
  • Epoxy putty
  • Spray primer
  • Blue spray paint
  • Clear spray paint
  • 1 flower pot
  • Shredded paper

A note on pumps. Be sure to choose a pump that has the power to lift water as high as your fountain. Also be sure to read the instructions for vital bits of information like the minimum amount of water needed to run the pump, how to adjust flow rate, or any kind of regular maintenance that may be needed.

Step 2: Tools

I used the following tools to create my fountain. Appropriately many were gifts from Papa RadBear.

  • Dremel (with cut off wheels & grinding drums)
  • Reciprocating saw (9" general use blade and 4" metal cutting blade)
  • Drill
  • 3/4" Masonry drill bit, 13" in length
  • Assorted drill bits of varying diameters
  • Electric sander (60 and 120 grit sandpaper)
  • Hack saw
  • Bench vise
  • Drill bit sizer
  • Flashlight
  • Tape measure
  • Scissors
  • Utility Knife
  • 5 pound sledge hammer
  • Ballpean hammer
  • Chisel
  • Pliers
  • Ball holder
  • Dust collection box

The reciprocating saw and dust collection system aren't absolutely necessary...they just make life a little easier.

A note on safety. Wear respritory and eye protection for this one. Drilling and cutting bowling balls kicks up a lot of dust and crap. It doesn't smell good either so that is probably a sign it isn't too healthy to breathe.

Step 3: Cut the Balls

We need to stack the bowling balls to make the fountain. Since spherical things are difficult to stack we will need to cut off portions of the balls to make flat surfaces.

The key to working with spheres is making sure they can't roll away. When I began thinking about this project I figured I would deal with this by holding the balls in place as best I could with my hands/feet and swearing a great deal. But I lucked out. The bowling balls I purchased from the thrift store were still in the bags. And inside one of the bags was a handy ball rest. This rest made life much easier.

So the first step to cutting off a portion of your bowling balls is find/make a rest and to put your ball in it. Next you'll need to lay out a cut line. I did this placing a metal can on top of the ball and getting it as close to vertical as I could with the naked eye. Then I traced around the can.

With the cut line drawn I transferred the ball and rest into my dust collection box and used a Dremel with a cut off wheel to make a starter cut. A starter cut will make it much easier to get a good clean cut and to get your saw blade started on the smooth surface of the ball. You'll notice in the pictures I got lazy and didn't take the cut all the way around the lay out line. This was the first cut on the first ball. On all subsequent ball cuts I made the starter cut go the whole way around and had much better results.

Once the starter cut is done take the ball outside and turn it in the rest so the cut is in a vertical orientation. Then strap it to the rest so it won't move during cutting. I didn't have a good strap so I ended up using packing tape. This worked fairly well but the ball did start to roll as I approached the bottom end of the cut. ( I also had to weigh down the rest so it didn't "walk" due to the vibrations from the saw.)

You'll notice in the picutres that when I made the cut with the reciprocating saw it resulted in a fairly ragged looking surface. This is because I was trying to make due with the four inch blade I had on hand. Aside from the ragged cut I ended up with a bent blade. So I went and bought a nine inch blade and the subsequent cuts were much smoother. I corrected this ragged cut the best I could by sanding it down.

You'll want to repeat this process for the other balls. In total if you're making a fountain three balls high you'll need to make five cuts.

Step 4: Drill the Balls

WIth the balls able to be stacked we will now need to drill holes through them to allow the passage of the tubing that will carry the water. Make sure you choose a bit that is the same diameter as the outside diameter (OD) of your tubing and long enough to pass all the way through the bowling ball. I chose to use a masonry bit because bowling balls are dense. And it turns out there is something that very much looks like concrete in center of them.

To drill the hole I loaded the ball into the rest, chose a spot that looked like it was in the center of the cut off portion and drilled. The first ball was no problem because I drilled a pilot hole. So I just applied frim steady pressure while drilling and the bit travelled straight through just like I wanted.

Next I stacked one ball on top of another making sure the edges of the cut off portions of the balls were aligned. I then passed the bit through the hole in the first ball and drilled a little divet to mark where I wanted to drill the hole. I removed the first ball and proceeded to drill the hole through the second ball. However, I had a bit of a brain fart and forgot to drill a pilot hole and apparently didn't keep the drill oriented very well. I ended up with a hole that didn't take a straight path. The angle was such that the tubing wouldn't be able to pass through both balls and maintain their alignment. To rectify this I drilled a second hole parallel to the first. I then used a ballpean hammer, a chisel and my masonry bit to remove the material between the two holes.

For the last ball I marked where I wanted the water to come out of the rounded top. I drilled a pilot hole and then followed it up with the masonry bit. This hole also went slightly off course. However I was able to rectify this less serious detour by simpling widening the hole on the bottom of the ball. I just drilled a second hole that intersected the first at a shallow angle, and then cleaned it up with a chisel.

Step 5: Joining the Balls

I originally intended to connect the balls with metal rods and epoxy. However, I decided not to bother with epoxy. I'll explain why a little bit later.

To join the balls we need to determine how long we want our rods to be. I chose a rod length of 6 inches, which means 3 inches of each rod will be in each ball. I have no logical basis for this length choice. It was arbitrary and based on my gut instinct that this would provide enough strength to hold the balls together.

Once I chose my length I marked it on the rods and clamped the individual rods into my bench vise. I then used my reciprocating saw with a metal cutting blade to cut the rods into 6 inch pieces. I didn't much care about the finish of the rods as they are going to be buried in a bowling ball. If you do care, or just don't enjoy your saw jumping like mad, use a hack saw to cut a starter notch in the rod. This will leave you with a cleaner cut and the saw won't jump as much. Repeat this process until you have the number of rods you need.

WIth your rods done it is now time to drill holes to receive them. First determine the diameter of your rods and then get drill bits of corresponding size. Next mark the placement of your rods around the central tubing hole. Drill out these holes to the proper depth with the appropriately sized bit. WIth that done do a test fitting. If the rod doesn't do in as deeply as it should there may be dust jamming up the works. Working the rod back and forth will help get the dust out, or you can tip the ball over and try and knock the dust loose.

Now we need to drill corresponding holes in the next ball. I tried several different ways and none was as accurate as I'd like. The fastest way was to use the holes I drill in the first ball as a template for the second. I set the butt of the marker in the hole and brought the other ball close up in the orientation I wanted it in. Then I would drill the hole in the new ball and place the rod. This let me keep it a little more stable as I marked the next two holes.

To do the holes for the middle (grey) and top (black) ball I tried using a template. I drilled the holes in other side of the middle ball, making sure they were offset from the holes in the other side used to join the middle ball to the bottom ball. This way the holes won't intersect and weaken the linkage.

I then created a rough paper triangle template to transfer the hole positions onto the the other ball. Just remember to flip the template over. The holes will be mirrored to each other when the balls are sitting side by side. Then mark the positions and drill the holes.

Once all the holes were drilled in the first two balls I brought them together. I first fed the water tubing through the central hole. This kept the balls in a good position while I put the rods in the holes. It should be a tight fit. I used a flashlight and a pair of pliers to guide/pull the tubing through the hole. Next I made sure the rods were in the proper holes and pushed the balls together as far as they would go. Then I used a 5 pound hand sledge hammer to "persuade" them to close the gap.

Now if my drilling had been really precise they would have slipped together with little to no trouble. However, since my accuracy was lacking I ended up having to use the 5 pound sledge hammer to persuade them. This is the reason I didn't use epoxy. I figured if I had to beat them into close proximity they were unlikely to work loose. Repeat this procedure to attach the last ball.

Step 6: Filling in the Holes

Now in order to get a smooth flow of water we need to fill in all the holes, engraving and irregularities in the surface of the balls. The most obvious holes are the finger holes. To fill these in stuff them full of shredded paper or some other kind of filler. Pack it in really tight until it is about 1/4" below the edge of the hole. When that is done fill the remaining space with epoxy putty.

Why use the paper and not fill the whole hole with epoxy? Two reasons:
1) Paper is cheaper than putty
2) When crammed into confined areas I've noticed the drying/set-up time of epoxy gets much looonnngggeeerrr.

When the holes are epoxied work the putty into surface details such as lettering, divets or ugly gouges. Also fill the joints between the balls. Once the expoxy has dried sand these areas down until they are smooth. I used 60 grit sand paper to remove the majority of the excess epoxy and then used 120 grit sand paper to finish it off. In fact I sanded the whole surface of the balls with 120 grit to make it easier to paint.

Looking back after I had filled and sanded the first time I should have done it again on some areas. A close inspection of the finished fountain reveals some imperfections, but such is life...

Unfortunately I some how neglected to get pictures of the sanding process. You really didn't miss much. Just a lot of dust and electric sander. My electric sander has several neat detail sanding attachments that allowed me to sand the joints between the balls. If you don't have a similar thing you'll need to use coventional sandpaper and sand the joints manually.

Step 7: Making the Legs

With the balls joined we need to make legs. First you need to determine how tall your pump is and the length of tubing you'll have sticking out of the bottom. When you know this you know how long your legs will have to be.

With the length determined you'll need some sort of suitable leg material. I chose two old window cranks and a metal bar. I would've preferred three window cranks as they make nice stablizing feet, but I had to go with what was on hand. Mark off where you want to cut the leg material. I then clamped them individually into my bench vise and made a starter cut with a hacksaw. Next I used my reciprocating saw to cut off the excess.

Once the legs were cut to length I used my Dremel and a grinding drum to remove any metal burrs, dirt or paint so they could be repainted more easily.

Step 8: Attaching the Legs

With the legs made we now need to attach them. Use the height of the pump and length of tubing from the last step to determine how deep into the ball the legs should go. Mark this on the leg. Then determine the diameter of the leg and select a drill bit of the appropriate diameter. Attach a drill bit stop to the bit at a distance from the tip equal to the depth you want to drill. (e.g. if you want the leg 1 1/4" deep into the ball set the stop at 1 1/4" on the bit).

With your drill set up you now need to mark where you want the legs to go. I chose a trangle pattern around the central tubing hole. Choose whatever configuration is most stable for your project. Once your positions are marked drill the holes. Don't push to hard or the bit stop might slip and you'll go a little too deep. Once your holes are drilled clean all the dust and crap out and test fit the legs. You want to make sure they are a tight fit and go deep enough.

After you dry fit the legs mix up some epoxy. Slather it onto the portion of the leg destined to be embedded in the ball and insert it in the hole. Have some paper towels or scrap cardboard near by so you can clean off any excess that may dribble from the hole (or you can just sand the excess off later). Repeat this process for the other legs. Now give the epoxy about a day to fully cure. Then stand it up and see if it falls over.

Step 9: Painting

Now that the structure is complete it is time to paint the fountain so it just doesn't look like a stack of abused bowling balls.

Cut your water tubing to the appropriate length. Then use blue painter's tape to cover the tubing sticking out of the bottom and the hole in the top. With that done prime the balls and the feet. Even though I sanded the balls I went with primer because I wanted to make sure the paint would adhere and it helps hide little imperfections. I ended up doing two coats of primer followed by two coats of blue spray paint and two coats of clear spray paint to seal the surface.

When your paint has dried carefully remove the painter's tape. Then attach your pump outlet to the tubing on the bottom of the fountain and set the whole assembley in a container that will act as a water resevoir. I used a planter with a complementary blue color. Pour water into the resevoir and activate your pump. Water should soon be gurgling from the fountain. You may have to adjust the flow rate of the pump to get a gurgle that satisfies your asethtic sensabilties, but its worth the effort.
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