skewers

Jonathan Jamieson of Dumfries, Scotland, did more than whittle away his vacation in the summer of 2006. While on a break from school, he turned common bamboo barbecue skewers into a delicate sculpture that gracefully delivers a rolling metal ball bearing down a series of chutes and turns.

Jamieson built the 2-foot-tall wooden sculpture, and a smaller, dual-track one, in the glass garden room of his parents’ house. The structures are rather delicate, so their 17-year-old architect probably won’t be taking them to university when he goes to study mechanical engineering this fall.

But his parents have other messes to worry about. There’s an entire room in their house devoted to their son’s projects — microcontrollers, an R/C car made from K’nex, a Van de Graaff generator that stands hair on end. There are also juggling and unicycling gear, guitars, and an amp cluttering up the room.

“I like the look of them,” Jamieson says, explaining why he constructed the tracks. “It’s fun watching these, because the ball keeps changing direction and, because you can’t see a direct track, it looks like the ball is moving around randomly.”

Working from the bottom up, Jamieson stacked 10-inch bamboo skewers into a scaffolding and connected them with 3-inch strips of garden wire. He didn’t begin with a preconceived plan, so he had to adjust as he went. The ramp lengths and angles, for example, needed tweaking the higher he went, lest the ball get moving too fast and derail.

“You decide where you want to take it. That’s the freedom of it,” Jamieson says. “You have to test it constantly ’cause you often put something in and it goes wrong and you take the piece out and try again.”

To show his far-flung friends his creation, Jamieson posted video of his sculptures in action on YouTube. The video-inspired comments include, “You are my idol!” and “Better than LSD.” Guess they liked it.

Rolling Ball Sculpture: jonathanjamieson.com/projects/rolling-ball-sculptures/