How to Make a Polished Aluminum Foil Ball

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About: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is Sam and I'm a community manager here at Instructables.

Making polished aluminum foil balls has been a popular trend online recently, with loads of people doing it and sharing their results.

The idea started in Japan but has been spreading quickly, and more videos on the topic are popping up everyday. This is one of the earliest videos of the process for reference.

Now, I'm not normally one to jump on bandwagons . . but this just seemed like a fun idea to me, so I decided to try it out. It was a surprisingly meditative process!

I took an elementary approach to this and just used mallets, hammers, and some aluminum polish. For the time and effort, I was pleased with the results. There was no sanding involved whatsoever - only pounding, tapping, and polishing by hand.

I'll show you how I did this and share the tips I learned along the way. Thanks for reading!

Step 1: Materials

I used:

  • roll of standard aluminum foil, 285 square feet
  • various mallets and hammers
  • Mothers brand aluminum polish, and lots of rags
  • 20 lb barbell weight as a hard pounding surface
  • pounding stump (it's just a log I have in my shop for pounding on; it's quite handy)

Step 2: Unroll and Make a Ball

I unrolled the aluminum foil on the floor, and gathered and rolled the tail end into a ball shape. (As I rolled up the ball, the foil roll would bounce into the wall and started leaving marks, so I added some masking tape to prevent that.)

I did not take special care to pack the foil ball especially tight - I just kind of did this as quick as possible. The completed ball was a little bigger than a basketball.

Then I began by smashing the ball with my hands and body weight as much as possible, to begin compacting it.

Step 3: Start Pounding and Compacting

I started pounding on the aluminum foil ball with small dead-blow mallet on top of the 20 lb weight. You just need to do this on a hard surface, like a sturdy table for hard floor (doing this directly on carpet won't work very well).

I worked around the circumference of the ball making small blows to pack the aluminum foil tighter, until it was in a sort of marshmallow shape.

Then I rotated the shape and worked around the foil turning it into a kind of roundish pillow shape. The peaks of this pillow shape were then pounded in until it was back to ball shape, albeit smaller than before.

Step 4: Keep Going!

I switched to a slightly larger mallet and continued compacting the ball following the procedure outlined in the previous step.

You can just pound away randomly and continually knock down the high points, but I liked the somewhat repeatable order of operations: sphere > marshmallow > cube-ish pillow > back to sphere

Wearing some gloves is strongly recommended!

I was experimenting with different mallets, but you could just use the same hammer the whole time. The main thing is to not pound too hard and to avoid making overly deep indentations as you go.

Each blow should be enough to compact the foil a little bit, but you don't want to deform the material so much that you end up with an unfixably non-round shape.

At some point the ball will be compacting less and less noticeably, so it becomes a more random process of continually examining status and knocking down high points. It's a slow sculpting process, and a bit of a workout.

Step 5: Keep Going Some More

I took the ball out to my garage and set up my 20 lb weight on a waist-high log I use for pounding things. This was helpful.

I also switched to a small 2.5 lb hammer.

The smaller the ball gets, the heavier it seems. It's funny how your mind plays tricks on you like that.

Cracks will begin to appear in the ball as you continue to compact it. You just keep pounding around the ball uniformly, and the cracks will appear smaller and smaller.

Step 6: Almost Done

When you're nearing the end, you'll notice the foil not really compacting any more. Earlier on, each blow would make a hollow thud as the ball absorbed the blow and compacted a little.

But toward the end each pound will ring more solid, and the ball will bounce as the strike transfers cleanly through it.

I switched to a smaller hammer and began using it to tap out all the high spots and small irregularities. As I did this, the ball became more and more shiny.

I put the ball on a folded up rag and made repetitive TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP all around the ball. It sounded like there was woodpecker in the shop for a while, and I'm sure my neighbors were confused!

At this point the ball was 16 inches in circumference (about 40 cm), and looked pretty good to me. I figured it was a fine time to stop.

Step 7: Polishing

At this point, some people begin sanding their foil ball with increasingly finer grits of sandpaper, well up into the thousands.

I didn't see any reason to go to that trouble, considering that the ball was already pretty shiny.

Instead I polished the ball with a few rounds of Mothers Mag and Aluminum Polish. You rub it liberally on and then work it into the metal until it turns black, and then you buff it off with a series of progressively cleaner rags.

As you buff, initially the surfaces will appear dull and grey, but as you continue to buff (and switch to cleaner rags) you'll see the surface appear increasingly shinier. I repeated this process 4 or 5 times.

Step 8: All Done!

The surface of the ball is reflective but upon close inspection you can see all sorts of cracks and creases. It's really kind of fascinating to examine.

For about 4 hours of work and just a bit of polish, I turned a 7 dollar roll of aluminum foil into this shiny ball. Pretty cool I think.

Got any tips for me, or for other readers? Share them below!

If you make one, please share a photo and let me know about your methods, tools used, and how much time you spent. I'd love to see and hear about your results. Thanks again for reading.

2 People Made This Project!

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104 Discussions

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SkipT1

7 months ago

My Dad made a ball like this, only he used a slightly different technique. This was when I was a little kid, and I'm 81 now. He loved chocolate. Every time he finished a foil-wrapped chocolate bar, he would add the foil to his slowly growing foil ball. He was an annoyingly patient man and the last time I recall seeing this ball was when I was in my 30's, so at that point he had been working on it for at least 25 years! It was as solid as if it had been pounded as in this tutorial, but no hammer had ever touched it. Just his hands, applying one more small foil chocolate wrapper onto the growing ball, which was probably 4" in diameter last time I saw it. I'd guess he wasn't the only one doing it in those days . . .

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George Cardona

7 months ago

Your making this aluminum ball reminded me of back in Public school when in the 70s anyways there was a couple girls that had aluminum balls that they were making. How well start with a marble and the aluminum came from cigarette foil packaging of which consisted taking the foil off paper backing and laying one the marble and use pencil to rub that paper side down and would stick to that marble. I remember the one girl during recess adding more foil and it was shinny.

I tried it once and was having hard time getting that paper off I don't know if they had problem with it also and only get small pieces but i recall them having whole foil with no paper .

They would us there nails to get foil and paper apart.

George

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Sir IkeGeorge Cardona

Reply 7 months ago

I did the same thing in the 40's. Soaked the cigarette foil package in water to loosen the foil. Never polished them however.

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George CardonaSir Ike

Reply 7 months ago

I recall her's was perfectly round and the smoothness was from rubbing it down it had a dull rather than shinny yet very nice. I wonder if those girls remember doing this

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Alaskan Bev

7 months ago

What an interesting project! I don't believe I am that patient! Great photos and instructions, thanks! Question: a few gentle readers mention throwing the ball into the dryer for a few minutes to shorten the process. Does that leave black aluminum marks inside the dryer or on whatever is in there with it? The black rub-off on the pictured hand is pretty formidable!

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bbanks5

7 months ago on Step 8

I love this! I've been making small foil beads from chocolate wrappers for some time now. Hadn't thought to use the aluminum foil to make a larger ball! I'll have to start recycling my used foil into a ball. Great Zen project AND wonderful for anger management! ;)

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CarbonMaster

7 months ago

If you enjoy this process you might want to try fashioning a dorodango ...
No cost. Just mud and determination.
One becomes emotionally attached to their little dirt sphere. Would that it were with the larger one.

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gravityisweak

8 months ago

Wow, I hadn't seen this before, but now I definitely want to try it. It seems like a pretty zen thing to do. What do you think is the smallest you could reasonably get it?

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seamstergravityisweak

Reply 8 months ago

With the amount of foil I started with, and with just hammer pounding.. I'm not sure it could get much smaller. I worked on it for a while with that mini sledge, and it never got below 16" circumference, so I concluded I had bottomed out (at least with the force I was applying).

It's become a bit of a raging topic on youtube, so you should definitely search and check out what some others have done if curious. It was very zen indeed!

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AndrewA167seamster

Reply 7 months ago

Thanks for posting this instructable; I found it somewhat inspiring - maybe someday I might try it myself.

I wonder if you had a power hammer or some other similar mechanical means if you could make it smaller? It would probably be more difficult to work that way; eventually you'd just end up with something like a large ball bearing and not as interesting to look at.

Something you or someone else might try is to give the final ball a coat of spray-on clear lacquer or polyurethane. You can also find transparent acrylic colors that would probably work well too. These would all seal the cracks, but still allow them to show, while protecting the shiny finish (aluminum oxidizes and gets dull over time - that's why polish for it exists).

Anyhow, it looks like a fun and low cost project; thanks again!

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seamsterAndrewA167

Reply 7 months ago

Thank you for the kind comment and excellent tips!

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GeneS30gravityisweak

Reply 8 months ago

See attached. I started smallish and here is where I am after about an hour and a half. Basically half the size of the original.

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JudyP63

7 months ago

I have not seen this before, and I totally want to make one! It would look awesome as part of bookshelf decor, or propped on a shallow bowl on a coffee table. I could get into the zen. Thanks for the instructable!

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kmpres

7 months ago

Fascinatingly impractical, but you can't argue with success. The Japanese Sky-Tomo link supplied in the 'ible' has over 3.8 million views! A few of those and I could retire early!

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Elmojo

7 months ago

So...it's dorodango with aluminum foil, basically? If you enjoyed the process of turning foil into a semi-shiny cracked ball, you should try your hand at dorodango. You seem to have the patience, and the results can be spectacular.

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LianaM9

6 weeks ago on Step 8

This is the problem I am having. I am not hammering hard at all, but the edges keeping coming up and no matter how I try to work them in or down, they only get worse. I’ve even tried using super glue to hold them down but they won’t stay. I have tried folding the ends in and that only makes it worse as then the crack can’t be worked at all. Any suggestions?

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seamsterLianaM9

Reply 6 weeks ago

Hmm. It looks like a flap that didn't get tucked well enough earlier on in the process, so as you compressed it there was a always that chasm running through the ball. I don't think pounding further can fix that unfortunately.

But if you make another one, as you're in the earlier phases you can make sure all flaps and loose edges get tucked in and mashed over with surrounding foil as you compress the ball, which should help avoid this result.