Laser Cut Buckyball (Buckminster Fuller Sphere)... or a Football If You Are So Inclined




About: Retired scientist messing around with making things to keep myself entertained

Buckminsterfullerene is a form (allotrope) of elemental carbon that was theoretically predicted in the mid 20th century and discovered in the mid 80s by synthesis in the lab (earning a Nobel prize for Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley). The smallest molecule contains 60 carbon atoms arranged in a regular sphere reminiscent of the geodesic domes of R. Buckminster Fuller (hence the name)

The structure is pretty much the same as an old fashioned football stitched from pentagons and hexagons

I decided to make my own model of the molecule in laser cut plywood (no practical purpose outside of keeping me amused for an hour or two)

Step 1: Step 1: Designing the Structure

I've been working in 3mm plywood so the cut outs were approx. 2.8mm wide to allow everything to slot together and hold by friction.

Atoms are represented as circular nodes and interatom bonds as simple rods

The nodes I planned to have one disk with 3 cutouts to allow each of the "carbon - carbon bonds" to join set at 120degrees to each other and just short of half the disk radius

Each bond is a simple rod terminating in an almost half circle atom with the end and matching cutout angled down at 11 degrees. 11 degrees isn't quite the exact bond angle but I figured that that was accurate enough and a little bit of tension would help keep the structure rigid

I then copy/pasted 60 nodes and 90 bonds onto the sheet for laser cutting (plus a few spares just in case I lost/broke any)

Step 2: Step 2: Cutting It Out

My local library has a Fab Lab so using one of their drop in sessions I test cut a few pieces to check for fit and since that went well sent the sheet with 60 "atoms" and 90 "bonds" to the laser cutter

Step 3: Step 3: Assembling the Sphere

Once it is all cut out you should have a daunting pile of bits but assembly is straightforward. Three of the "bonds" should just slot simply onto the "atoms and it is a good idea to start with arranging 6 of each into a hexagon. and then on 3 equally spaced sides of the hexagon to add a further 3 bonds and 3 atoms to form a pentagon. You keep adding in the same pattern.

Simple rules to check as you go along:

  • Each pentagon is surrounded on all sides by hexagons
  • Each hexagon is surrounded by 3 equally spaced hexagons and pentagons

As you go it should naturally curve round to form the neat sphere. If it doesn't check that the bonds are the right way round so that they all are angled in rather than out

Step 4: Step 4: Sit Back Admire Your Work

Smugly admire your Buckminsterfullerene ball - maybe paint it matt black



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    4 Discussions


    3 months ago

    This is awesome! I'd love to see your original files so it can be recreated!

    1 reply

    Reply 3 months ago

    Thank you! I've just started making and selling laser cut clocks, topographic maps, and other designs including this one so I'm not keen on giving design work and files away just yet till I know what works for me and what I can let go. Is there a way to share files but with a tip jar or something?

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    3 months ago

    That is really impressive. I wish that I had a laser cutter so that I could make things like this.

    1 reply

    Thank you! I’d love one myself but having a fab lab locally is terrific. I only started using it a couple of months back but slowly getting to grips with it