Introduction: Falling Sand Art Picture Repair

About: I'm a professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University. I do a lot of hobbies, including amateur astronomy, woodworking, and Lego modeling among many others.

One of my favorite decorations in my study has always been a falling sand art picture. These are classic desk distractions -- two panes of glass with a small separation between them, filled with sand and water. You flip the frame over, and gravity pulls the sand to the bottom, making all kinds of interesting patterns and pictures. Each flipped picture is unique.

Over time, the water in my frame has escaped, to be replaced by air, rendering the art non-functional. This has always made me very sad -- I'm particularly fond of this one because it's green, and it glows in the dark!

You can find new frames in the store, but they usually have bubbles in them that are only going to get larger. Finally, it struck me that I ought to be able to add water -- after all, the frames were filled with water somehow when they were first assembled!

This instructable outlines how I successfully repaired my falling sand art picture -- hopefully it will help you rescue yours too!

Step 1: Disassembly

The frame is in a simple cradle with little axle pins, that allow you to flip the pane over each time you want to make a new picture. There were no permanent attachments, and a little flex with my fingers popped the frame right out so I could work with it.

Some investigation revealed what I was looking for -- on both sides of the frame, there is a small hole in the plastic, behind which is a gasket that seals the gap between the two frames. Some gentle poking with a needle showed it was pliable.

The plan: poke a needle through the gasket, and squirt water into the gap between the frames. Just like inflating a ball, when I remove the needle, the gasket should seal behind it.

Step 2: Supplies

In addition to the frame that needs repair, I used:

  • Distilled Water: I didn't want the water to cloud up or have any chance of growing something in it. I could have boiled tap water, but decided it would be easier to work with distilled water
  • Needle: I needed a needle to pierce the gasket; it needed to be thin so it would go through without causing much damage or leaving a potentially unsealable hole behind. I didn't have any syringe needles around, but I have a little bottle and thin gauge needle that is used for applying cement when gluing plastics -- perfect for this task!

Step 3: Clearing the Port

My sand picture had been dead for a long time. When I stopped using it, I unknowingly had left the sand built up on the side of the frame with the gasket ports.

I didn't want to insert my needle and encounter sand that might clog my needle, prevent the injection of new water, or contaminate the opening in the gasket and prevent it from closing.

So I had to clear the sand from the gasket port. This took about 10 minutes of tipping what little water there was in the frame over the sand near the port and slowly washing it away to another part of the frame.

Step 4: Filling With New Water

Insert the needle through the gasket until you can see it between the glass panes.

Gently squeeze water into the space.

I think in the end the squeeze bottle worked better than a syringe because when I stopped squeezing, the pressure from the new water pushed the air back into the bottle, removing it from between the panes!

In the end, there was only a tiny bubble of air left -- no problem, as there is always air between the frames (some frames work with air as the barricades that the sand falls around, so some air is necessary).

Step 5: Finished!

Remove the needle, and you're done!

Sand started falling almost immediately as I added water, and no sooner had I removed the needle that it started behaving just like its old, wonderful self!

As I said, I love this frame because it glows in the dark. :-)

Good luck repairing your own Falling Sand Picture!