Introduction: Design a Straw Roller Coaster Using Tinkercad
In this instructable, we're going to design a roller coaster for marbles using Tinkercad! (Or whatever tiny round objects you have around at home :D)
We'll do all our planning in Tinkercad using the boba straw from the "Making at home" shapes collection. Once we have a model of our roller coaster, we can use that design as a basis to build one in real life! Tinkercad is a great way to visualize your projects and work out the dimensions of whatever you're building.
Step 1: Tools + Materials
We're going to take real-life measurements and use those to build our Tinkercad roller coaster.
- Paper or plastic straws
- A marble, bouncy ball, ping pong ball - whatever small ball you have around!
I highly recommend checking out the PDF I've linked above to the Tinkercad Keyboard Shortcuts. If you're new to 3D design like I am, it's really useful for helping you get your bearings. :)
Step 2: Straw Roller Coaster Anatomy
To help you envision your coaster, here's a breakdown of the two main pieces we'll be creating. I've also embedded the final model above so you can actually see what it will look like.
The coaster is made up of two distinct structures:
- The "legs" of the coaster: these are the H shaped structures the tracks will rest on. The height of these pieces determines the angle of the tracks.
- The roller coaster "tracks": these are parallel straws that the marble or ball ride along. The tracks lay along the top of the legs.
Now that we know what we'll be building, let's measure some straws and marbles. :)
Step 3: Taking Measurements
The first thing that we need to do is get measurements of our straws!
Measure the length and width of your straws. This will help us accurately design our roller coaster using Tinkercad.
Next, place two straws on your ruler and then place your ball or marble on top so it sits nicely between the straws and doesn't touch the surface the straws are resting on.
Take note of the width of the straws - this is how wide the tracks of the roller coaster will be. We'll be making the "legs" of the roller coaster a little wider to accommodate gluing the tracks on top.
Step 4: Start the Tinkercad Roller Coaster Design
First things first! Log in to Tinkercad and click the "Create New Design" button.
(If you've never used Tinkercad before, check out their tutorials to quickly learn the basics. I'm new to it, too! If I can do it so can you. :D)
Resizing the Grid
Once you're in the Tinkercad workspace, mouse to the bottom right corner and click "Edit Grid" - set the grid to be 12x12 inches or 30x30 centimeters. (You can go bigger, of course! But I want to recreate this Tinkercad model in real life, so I decided to set some limitations.)
Making the Straw
Now we're going to grab the "boba straw" from the Making At Home shapes collection. Select "Making at home" from the drop down menu on the right hand side of the screen. Drag the boba straw into your workspace.
Adjust the height, width and length to match the straws we'll be using to make the physical roller coaster. (Using the sizing boxes or the text fields that appear when you click.)
See how much smaller my straws are? That's why it's important to update the size of your straws to build the coaster correctly. :)
Step 5: Making the Roller Coaster Legs/Supports in Tinkercad
To make plotting out the coaster easier, we're going to be doing lots of copying and pasting within Tinkercad. :D
Make two copies of the boba straw you resized. Place them on the workplane and adjust the width between them to accommodate the coaster tracks on top. (My tracks are an inch wide to accommodate the marble I'm using, so the legs need to be wide enough that the tracks can sit on the cross bar.)
Make one more copy of the straw and lay it horizontally on top of the straws. I placed the horizontal straw 1/4 inch from the tops of the bottom.
Now we're going to trim the top straw so it doesn't overhang the bottom pieces.
Head to the dropdown menu on the right and select "Basic Shapes" - see the translucent box? That's what we'll use to remove the extra straw.
Place the box over the piece you want to remove, stretching it out to cover what you want removed. Shift + click to select both the straw and the box and group them. BOOM! Clean cut. Repeat the process for the other side.
Once the top straw is trimmed, select all three straws and group them together. You've got legs! We'll copy this piece over and over as we need it.
Step 6: Making the Roller Coaster Tracks in Tinkercad
And now: the simplest part of all of this, making the tracks!
Make two copies of your original straw and place them on the workplane. Set them at the width you need - for me, this meant the tracks were 1 inch wide.
Double check that the tracks fit within the legs and then group the two straws together to form one set of tracks. Change the color to make them easier to see on the workplane. We'll copy and paste this piece as needed!
I'm going to hide the tracks while I place the legs so I have less happening on my workplane. :)
Step 7: Rotate Your Legs 90 Degrees
Nothing too fancy happening here - just rotate the legs into the correct orientation and move them up so the bottoms of the legs are right in line with or above the workplane.
Now that our legs are situated, we can copy and paste these over and over.
Step 8: Placing the Coaster Legs
Every piece of the track needs two sets of legs, one at each end. To keep the marble or ball rolling, each piece of track needs to be laid so it has a slighty downward angle. To make this easy to do, I take an additional 1/2 inch off each set of legs.
For example: the first set is 7 inches tall, the second is 6.5 inches tall.
Place your set of legs in one corner, copy them, and paste the second set of legs in front.
Adjust the leg height by dragging them up and down in the workplane using the ▲ symbol that pops up when you select an object. (Or keyboard shortcuts, whatever works for you!)
You can press "R" to place a ruler down onto the workplane (pictured above) - this makes it easy to see how far apart your legs are. Make sure you're not placing them too far apart, keep the length of your straws in mind.
To make it easier to see the pairs of legs, I've colored coded each pair to match.
The last leg is alone, not in a pair: I decided to make a ramp at the end. The tracks will end on the workplane instead of resting above it.
Once all your legs are placed, you can cut off the bits BELOW the workplane using the translucent box trick we used in step 5!
Step 9: Adding the Tracks
When you add your tracks, it's a great time to make use of the "Hide" function in Tinkercad: this allows you to hide any objects you're not actively working on. I'm going to be doing this to make placing and cutting the tracks to length easier. :)
Hide everything but the first two sets of legs you placed on the workplane and the tracks you'll be copying. Make a copy of the tracks and bring them up to the top of the tallest set of legs.
Try using the keyboard shortcuts to move the tracks around if you find it tricky!
Angle the legs down (Right around 7 degrees worked well for me in most cases!) and then trim the ends off using the transparent block trick as we've done before.
Repeat as needed, hiding the objects you're not working with, until you've added tracks on top of every set of legs. We're almost done. :D
Step 10: Adding Finishing Touches
Once your roller coaster is built, it's time to decorate! I decided to keep playing with the colors and to add more objects to the model to make it seem more life-like. :)
Tinkercad has tons of ready-made shapes available in the drop down menu on the right side of the editor.
I added a piece of 12x12 cardboard from the "Making at home" collection to act as the base for my roller coaster. I used the "metal can" shape as a catcher for the marbles at the bottom of the roller coaster. I checked out the "Basic Shapes" menu to find a sphere to make marbles out of.
You can even add your name or the name of your roller coaster by selecting the "Text and Numbers" option!
Step 11: Make the Coaster in Real Life
Now that you've made it in Tinkercad, try building it for real!
Click here to check out "How to Build a Straw Rollercoaster" and see what you'll need to make it. I'd love to see photos/video if anyone makes one. 🤩