New York City Sand Table project

Craft & Design
New York City Sand Table project

Bill Gurstelle is a Contributing Editor for MAKE magazine. His most recent book is entitled Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously. You can follow Bill on his danger-quest at He is a guest Make: Online author for the month of August.

Earlier this year, Michael Dubno invited me to his house to take a look at his Sand Table.
Here is a picture of it:

sand table.jpg

It’s one of the cooler maker projects that I’ve come across this year (it’s got that Zen sand-art thing). Michael Dubno is the younger of New York City’s Dubno brothers, who are famous amongst gadget lovers for throwing the wonderful Gadetoff event. (Gadgetoff takes place annually in New York City. It’s a celebration of technical and artistic innovation and a salon to ponder the future.)

More on the sand table from

“The sand table is a functional piece of art. It is a complex electromechanical mechanism within a coffee table that draws patterns in sand.

How does it work?

A steel ball bearing sits on top of a pan filled with sand and is moved by a magnet hidden underneath. The magnet is driven along two axes by a gantry controlled by a computer with a web-based interface.

The parts were designed with Autodesk Inventor. Everything was either machined by hand or obtained from parts suppliers.

The gizmo was built in Dubno’s basement, which is no big deal except that he lives in a townhouse in a ritzy part of New York City’s Upper West Side. Dubno may have the best amateur machine shop in Manhattan. Unlike most NYC apartment dwellers, he’s got a full-sized industrial mill, lathe, and drill press plus all sorts of electrical equipment and hand tools.

This picture shows the X and Y axis stepper motors that precisely controls the magnet that drags the steel ball through the sand.

sand table x and y axis motors.jpg

Here are the electronics that control the the positioning motors.

sand table electronics.jpg

Michael took this picture of the table showing the motors and linear actuation devices prior to wiring in the electronics and adding the sand.

assembling the table.jpg

Examples of Sand Table Art

first drawing.jpg
second drawing.jpg
thrid drawing shark.jpg

4 thoughts on “New York City Sand Table project

  1. Sam Bleckley says:

    Check out for sisyphus, an older project of the same ilk.

  2. says:

    Great looking table — making something like this has been on my project list for a long time!

    Any reference to a sand plotter has to mention Bruce Shapiro’s Sisyphus series of machines:


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William Gurstelle

William Gurstelle is a contributing editor of Make: magazine. His new book, ReMaking History: Early Makers is now available.

View more articles by William Gurstelle


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