Introduction: Make a Scribbling Machine

About: The Tinkering Studio is an immersive, active, creative place at the Exploratorium where museum visitors can slow down, become deeply engaged in an investigation of scientific phenomena, and make something—a pi…

Scribbling machines are motorized contraptions that move in unusual ways and leave a mark to trace their paths. They are made from simple materials and set in motion by a vibrating offset motor causing them to bounce, spin, bump and move in interesting ways.

Step 1: Materials

Collect these things:

  • 1.5-3.0 volt motor [link]
    Note: You can find motors in all sorts of mechanical toys and common household objects; we encourage you to salvage one instead of buying it!
  • AA battery
  • A piece of hot melt glue stick
  • Broccoli band (thick rubber bands used for produce)
  • Markers
  • Recyclable container such as a strawberry basket or yogurt cup
  • Masking tape
  • Paper for testing

Some other helpful materials:

Clothespins; Popsicle sticks; wood skewer sticks; pipe cleaners; wire; nuts, washers, or other small weights; wire stripper; scissors; small screwdriver; googly eyes.

Step 2: Build Your Contraption

Getting Started:

  • Connect the motor to the battery—a broccoli band is perfect for keeping the leads attached to the motor and still be able to disconnect them when you want to change the motor’s position (masking tape can work too if you don’t have a broccoli band).

  • Experiment with ways to offset the motor: try a piece of hot melt glue stick, wood, or clay.

    Note: an offset weight means it is not centered on the axle of the motor. Notice how the weights in the photos stick out more on one side than the other? You can experiment with how much off-center you place the weight and see what different results you get.

  • What happens if you change the weight of the offset motor? Or change the length of the arm on the motor? Or change the orientation of the hot melt glue stick?

  • Find or build a base and attach your offset motor to it (try a strawberry basket, yogurt container, or other recyclable container).

    TIP: Make sure there is enough clearance for your offset motor to spin.

  • Attach one or more markers to trace the jittering movement of your scribbling machine.

  • Turn it on and make some scribbles!

Experiment with different designs

How could you make it go really slow and smooth? Fast and jumpy? Make big and small circles? Try using a wire or pipe cleaner to hang a marker away from the body.

Step 3: Take It Further

Here are some ideas to keep playing with Scribbling Machines!

    Trace-making materials: Experiment with using different materials such as paint and paintbrushes, chalk, or pencils to trace the patterns your scribbling machine makes. With chalk you can even scribble on the sidewalk!

    Natural materials: Collect items like sticks, leaves, bark, and pods from a park or your backyard. Add them to your machine and set it scribbling outside to see how the natural materials leave different pathways in sand or dirt.

    Incorporating switches: Experiment with making a switch to make it easer to turn your scribbling machine on and off. Try using a combination of clothespins, tinfoil, paperclips, brads, craft foam, or other materials.