Introduction: Where Marbles Come From --- It's Not Where You Think

About: The name comes from the First Star Trek movie, that pretty much says it all.

Most people think that marbles come from factories. But in this age of alternative facts I have found that there is another place that they come from.

You see, there is this silicone based life form that is out there, little tiny crystal bugs. And these bugs find pieces of broken glass and they implant the glass along with little crystal seeds of themselves inside special trees. These seeds or eggs, we are really not sure which they are, consume the glass and turn it into marbles. If you know where to look you can find one of these marble trees and when you cut it open it is full of marbles and glass. It is very special, extra special, the most special tree there is. And it is where marbles come from. This is a scientific alternative fact. And it was even verified by Star Trek in the factual TV show Star Trek, the Next Generation when a silicon crystal life form talked to Captain Picard and called people "ugly bags of mostly water". Which is also a scientific fact, except for the ugly part,

And just to prove all of this you can see the picture of part of the marble tree and how it glows with alien life forces.

A note for now ---- I have been having a problem getting a finished picture that I like. My camera is having a hard time getting good pictures because the light is so bright.. My video camera appears to have a better time with it. So I will try to post a video of the light soon. The RGB's are set to rotate through the colors so the light is constantly changing. I am also going to try getting some pictures of it in a "domestic" setting, in other words in a house environment. I think the ambient lighting there might help. I have had less trouble taking pictures of a light bulb, at least they don't keep changing.

Step 1: A Special Tree --- a Rotten One

Some of the ash trees that I cut for firewood were unusual in that the core of them had been invaded by fungus and rotted to the point that it was soft and spongy. The entire core of the tree is this way while the outside is still solid. These trees would be still standing, dead but still standing, and they stayed upright until the area of rot reached the outside and then they would fall. While interesting I could not see anything that they might be good for so I used them for firewood when I came across them. They burned good so most of these trees ended up being used for heat.

Out of curiosity I tried removing the rotten core out of a piece of this wood. It was relatively easy to do since the wood was so soft, and the hole extended neatly through the log. But then what? A friend suggested that maybe it could be used for a bird house which was a possibility. But other than that it was essentially a pointless ash hole. (Sorry I could not resist). I had one of these hollowed out ones sitting around for a while, waiting for inspiration. A project in search of an idea.

Then I began working with epoxy and glass and discovered the new possibilities the medium presented. And one day I remembered my ash logs and thought maybe they had some potential and perhaps were not so pointless after all. So I cut a chunk of log down the middle and decided to see what I could do with it. Shortly after trying this I found that I regretted having burned up so many of these logs. Now I am going to have to find more of them. In the meantime, "Where marbles come from" was born.

As the pictures show the initial core could be removed with nothing more than a screw driver. And the adventure began.

Step 2: Making the Hole Uniform

After the initial tear out of the rotten parts I was going to have to get a little more aggressive since the good ash wood was still rock hard. It was kind of amazing to go from soft spongy wood to hard dry ash wood.

I decided to try and preserve the bark since it would enhance the look so at this point I got out the epoxy and brushed the bark down with a coating of it. The epoxy soaked into the bark and hardened it so it would not flake off while working the wood. It is amazing stuff and works perfect for this kind of thing.

After a day of curing it was possible to start using more aggressive tools. I did try using a rasp but the ash is so hard that was very slow going. I ended up using a special mini saw blade and my Dremel to get a uniform depth hollowed out of the log.

Step 3: Adding LED Lights

The round shape of the log worked well for my LED lights. I have used these for other projects like my PVC pipe light. Once again the wires had to be shortened up so I could get the LED's closer together. I did think of using strips and just running them up and down but decided to stick with these mostly because they don't produce much heat and so far I have had good success with them. My intention is to have these buried under glass and epoxy and I don't want them overheating.

I used both white and RGB LED's. Two white then one RGB then one white in the middle then another RGB and 2 more white on the outside.

The most tedious part of this project was the wiring. Since it was going to be immersed in epoxy the wires had to all be done correctly with no shorts. There would be no do overs of this. I tested the lights every step of the way to be sure they were working.

The wiring for the side by side white pieces connected them not only in line but across with each other as well. So they were not just one continuous strip. Instead each unit was connected to power from 3 sides. Top, bottom and from the side. So if anything did happen to a unit, like it failing, the others around it would still be powered. The more connections the better the reliability. All the wires were coated with liquid electrical tape and then once it was all dry they were folded up and stuck together with hot melt glue. I wanted the LED lenses to be clear of obstructions like loose wires so everything was tacked down and then tested before moving on to the filling part. Like I said these lights were going to be at the bottom of a bunch of epoxy and glass and fixing any problems later was not going to be possible.

The first log I wired up I put the lights in first, stuck them in place with their double stick backing and then hooked them all together. This was not as easy as I thought it would be. It was difficult to reach all the wires in the bottom of the log. So when I did the second log I soldered everything together first, in effect I made a wiring harness, and then glued them in place. Much easier to do it that way.

The LED units fit 3 long with some space at the bottom. There was enough room left to put in a few square RBG's so the bottom of the log was all with RGB and no white.

Step 4: The Glass and Marble Part

I did use a bunch of broken automotive glass for this project, much like my previous instructable but I also added a lot of new stuff so I could get the color I wanted. I used both marbles and what they call gems, glass blobs that could have been marbles but were not made round.

The cat found this all to be very interesting. Some gems went missing, especially when the real swatting started. Eventually they will show up in places like under the stove.

While the marbles looked great I needed them to be not so clear. I needed them faceted so they would scatter the LED light. This meant they needed to be cracked.

Step 5: Extreme Glass Cracking

I tried traditional marble cracking, there are a number of Instructables on the subject. But it didn't work very good for the gems and the marbles didn't have a lot of cracks in them. I wanted a lot, a very lot, the most cracking ever, the very best most cracking of all time, OK, settle down.

After a number of experiments I came up with my own recipe that gave me good results. I should make it into it's own instructable ----

So essentially I heated the glass up to 500 degrees in a cast iron skillet, which by the way caused it to have all the oil burned off of it and made it smoke up the house and now I have to retreat it so I can use it for something other than marbles. Then using a metal scoop, (DO NOT use plastic, nylon or anything other than metal) I dipped them into slush in a bowel. (Since we have an over abundance of snow this year slush is pretty available. You can use ice if it's not winter.)

The glass will crack when it goes into the water. But not a lot. So now immediately lift them back out and take a propane torch and heat them back up in the metal scoop. They will crack a lot more as the flame passes over them. It is cool to watch it happen. I will try and shoot a video of it if I can. While still hot from the torch immediately put them back in the water. There will be some that will fall apart. This process causes an extreme thermal shock so there will be ones that don't survive intact. But it gives you great results. Lots of little cracks, great for refracting light. But this might not be so great for something like jewelry since it does make them a bit fragile.

Something not to try--- Don't try skipping the oven part and heating them up with the torch alone. It is to extreme of a temperature difference and the outside glass flakes off and pops off the marbles. So you have hot almost molten shards of glass flying around. Yep, tried it, did it, don't do it.

Step 6: Putting Things Together

Filling these logs with epoxy and glass is a many step process. Epoxy takes a long time to cure and in the process of doing so it will run. It reminds me of honey in it's consistency. It is thick and pours slow but it gets into every little crack and will flow out every hole it can find. So you have to plan every pour carefully in advance. The first thing to do for this project was to close up the log ends. Makes sense, plug the tube so it all doesn't run out. The broken glass acts like the rocks in cement. It is an aggregate. If I only used big marbles and gems it would take a lot more epoxy. By filling everything with small bits of broken glass it stretches out the epoxy and helps the light to travel around more. I found using only broken automotive glass gives everything a green tint since the glass is green. So it works good for places where the light does no go through it directly, like where the wires are. In addition to the automotive glass I broke up a bunch of the clear cracked gems to use directly over the LED's so it would not change the color. I put unbroken marbles and gems in with the broken stuff so it became a mix.

In addition to tape, hot melt glue is what you can use to keep the epoxy in place while it cures. You can build dams by slowly building it up a line at a time. After the epoxy is cured you can remove it often by just pulling it off. It leaves interesting ripples in the cured epoxy. It often leaves sharp edges also. In fact using the broken glass in the epoxy can make for very sharp barbs. I found that you can use the little Dremel sanding drum to take down some of the really bad ones.It will sand the glass down without breaking it.

In order to hide the base of the LED's I had to build up the epoxy past the edge of the wood. Hence the dam along the edge of the log.

So there was the initial epoxy brushed on the bark and then the two pours to plug the ends. Then in order to get the edges I had to tip the log about 45 degrees and do a pour for each edge. Adding large marbles and gems to cover the LED's first and then filling in the gaps with small stuff gave the best effect of the light sparkling through the glass. The marbles actually act like lenses and will magnify the light. You have to experiment first to see what looks best.

The middle was partly filled from the sides but it left a hollow depression. That is what I wanted. I put some larger pieces and full size marbles here. The effect was to be as though a bunch fell out when the log was cut. I had to do another pour with the log sitting at a angle to fill in the end void created by the end plug this way it made a gradual transition from the end to the middle depression. I had to do yet another small pour for the top so I could hide the marks from the tape.

So if you add that all up there were at least 8 separate epoxy pours to build this up to whee I wanted it. Actually there were a few more including one to cover the edge wood of the log. It was a lot of work and a lot of curing time. It can't really be rushed. You have to do it a little at a time, it is a building up process.

Step 7: The End Result for the Logs.

The end of the first part. This took a lot of epoxy and a lot of glass, but the results were pretty cool. The logs now have a lot of weight added to them. Glass is heavy and this much glass adds up.

The lights tested out good. Now it's time to put them on a base.

Step 8: The Base, Something to Mount To.

I had a pretty big piece of Russian Olive wood looking for a purpose. It had some problems where it had gotten weathered. There were a few soft spots and places that were starting to rot. But it was the right size so I decided to try and make it better.

I coated both sides with epoxy, giving extra attention to the soft spots and the epoxy soaked right into the wood fibers. It turned it hard as a rock so it would work perfectly for the base of my marble tree.

Step 9: Mounting

The logs had to be mounted onto the base. In this case the best way to do this was to just line them up where I wanted them and then scratching a mark in the epoxy. The next coating of epoxy would fill in the scratches and make them disappear.

I had to put the screws into the logs first since their location was important because there was not a lot of wood to work with. Drilling the holes prevents the wood from cracking. After the screws had been threaded into the holes I could make a template which I could then use to transfer the screws location to the spot on the base. It made the job very simple. Drill the base, start the screws and put them into the logs. It pulled together with no trouble and in the right spot. Both logs screwed down tight and had no movement. So the base was mounted.

I added some more LED's and wired everything together and put the power connections through the hole in the base. I wanted to make the base light up along with the logs. The idea was to make it look like some of the contents of the logs had spilled out onto the base. Adding the extra lights to the base ramped up the look and made it even brighter.

The marbles in the based helped to transition the mounting of the logs. It gave a way of connecting the epoxy in the logs to the epoxy in the base. The epoxy in the base was done with 2 layers. remember epoxy runs and in order to have marbles over the top of the LED's I had to have a built up area. so this had to be done with glue dams I then wanted to transition it to the level of the base. The glue dam's made this possible to do.

Step 10: Finishing Touches

The last glue dams helped hold the final glass in place and kept the epoxy from running off the base. In addition to it I added a few other things on the sides for appearance. I put a few little circles of glue for "stray" marbles and a couple of larger areas to make it look more balanced.

Once that epoxy had set I removed all the melt glue and finally added the last coat on the base which flowed into all the scratches and voids and gave everything a mirror finish.

It was hard to get finished pictures of this because of its size. Outside in sunlight it has a lot of sparkle to it. But the lights don't show up outside.

All together a fun project. I learned even more about the limitations and possibilities of glass and epoxy.

Glass Challenge 2017

Runner Up in the
Glass Challenge 2017

Trash to Treasure Contest 2017

Participated in the
Trash to Treasure Contest 2017

Make it Glow Contest 2016

Participated in the
Make it Glow Contest 2016