DIY Homemade Toys: Walk the Ball

This walk the ball contraption is one of many homemade toys outlined in this book.

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by AdobeStock/DragonImages

Homemade toys can become cherished family heirlooms as future generations enjoy your simple endeavors. Making Heirloom Toys (The Taunton Press, 1996) offers 22 simple projects that are sure to please children and creators alike. Author Jim Makowicki supplies simple instructions and clear diagrams to aid the process. This excerpt, labeled “Project 7” is an ingenious walk the ball toy.

The object of this game is to walk the Ping-Pong ball across the cradle and back without the ball falling off. It sounds simple, but you’ll find it takes patience, coordination and lots of practice to master the game. You move the ball by raising or lowering one or more of the sixteen 1/2 inch diameter dowels, coaxing the ball carefully from one dowel to the next. Many people have commented that the game looks like a Viking ship, particularly with the light birch dowels (the “oars”) contrasted against the rich, dark walnut cradle. So when you’re done playing, this homemade toy makes a great coffee-table or desktop conversation piece.

Parts List

Cradle and Walking Sticks

1 Cradle: 7/8 by 1 13/16 by 10, Walnut

2 Cradle Ends: 1/2 by 2 1/8 by 4 3/8, Walnut

16 Walking Sticks: 1/2 diameter dowels by 6 long, Birch

1 Rod: 3/16 diameter by 9 1/8 long, Brass

2 Dowel Plugs: 3/16 diameter by 7/8 long, Birch

1 Ping-Pong Ball: 1 1/2 diameter (standard size), Plastic

Parts Preparation


There are two options for making the cradle ends. I chose to shape a single thick piece of walnut, and then resaw it into two pieces on the table saw. You could also use double-sided tape to fasten together two pieces of the proper thickness and then shape them as a single unit.

1. Use the full-size pattern to lay out the profile on the cradle end. Drill two holes to create the radiused shoulder on either side.

2. Make the 6 degree and 35 degree angle cuts on the cradle ends (a commercial tenoning jig is ideal for these cuts). For safety, stop the second cut short of the drilled hole and finish the cut on the bandsaw.

3. Sand the edges smooth, and then drill the hole for the rod.

4. Resaw the block into two 1/2 inch-thick pieces.

5. Make the U-shaped cutout on the cradle before beveling the sides to match the ends. To get a smooth radius, I first drilled the corners of the cutout with a 1/2 inch diameter drill bit and then cut to the holes on the bandsaw. You could also make this cut on a router table.

Walking sticks

1. Apply finish to four full-length (36 inch) dowels with one coat of sanding sealer and two coats of high-gloss urethane. Cut the dowels into 6 inch lengths and apply finish to the ends.

2. Drill the centered holes in the dowels using the guide block shown in the bottom photo at right.


black and white illustration of wood measurements for a toy

Finish the cradle and cradle ends, making sure to keep the finish away from the glue areas.

1. Glue the cradle ends to the cradle.

2. Drill the rod holes through the cradle, using the holes in the cradle ends as a guide. Be sure the holes are straight and parallel to the cradle.

3. Glue a dowel plug into one cradle end, and then slide the brass rod into the cradle from the opposite end. Slide the dowels onto the brass rod, alternating from side to side as you feed the rod into the cradle.

4. Glue a dowel plug into the cradle end when the rod is fully inserted.

Read more from Making Heirloom Toys:

DIY Homemade Toys: Tugboat

book cover with a wooden truck and wooden plane on it

Reprinted with permission from Making Heirloom Toys by Jim Makowicki and published by The Taunton Press, 1996.

  • Updated on Dec 18, 2021
  • Originally Published on Jan 16, 2014
Tagged with: crafts, heirloom toys, toys, walk the ball
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