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Making Russian Balls

Four Russian Balls I MadeRussian balls are juggling balls that were first popularized by Russian jugglers. Basically, they are sand-filled playpen balls. They make for a really nice juggling ball, because they have the appearance of a perfectly round stage ball, but are much easier to catch. Because of the sand, they are extremely bottom-heavy. This makes them great for things like foot catches and head balances. They can be a bit tricky to get used to if you are used to beanbags, but they do work well once you get used to them.

Using this guide, you can make about 80 Russian Balls for $20 or so. That's 25 cents a ball! That's amazingly cheap for a good quality juggling ball. You can find places on the Net where others will sell this ball to you for $6.

Things You Will Need

  • One set of playpen balls, like you would find in a McDonald's playground. You can find them at Toys 'R' Us. I also recently saw 100 of them at Walmart for $10.
  • Playground sand, which you can buy at toy stores or home improvement stores. I was able to find 50 pounds at Home Depot for $4. I don't really like the quality of the sand that much, so I filter it through a sieve before using it, to get rid of the larger dirt particles.
  • An exacto knife.
  • An electronic kitchen scale, which should be precise enough to give you measurements in grams.
  • Aluminum foil
  • A soldering iron with a flat-head tip. Most soldering kits come with different tips, including a flat-head one.
  • A small amount of tape. Duct tape, packing tape, gaffers tape, and many others will work.

Steps to Making a Ball

Initially, you will probably want to go through the entire process for one ball at a time. Once you get the hang of it, I find it more productive to do it as an assembly line, doing each step for multiple balls (8–10 at a time).
  1. Make an incision in the ball for the sand to go into.
    • Find the thickest part along the ball's seam, by trying to press in the ball with your thumb. Whichever place gives you the most resistance, that's the thickest part.
    • Using the exacto knife, cut along the seam. The cut should be just big enough that you can fill the ball with sand in about a minute.
  2. Fill the ball with sand.
    • Press your thumb against one side of the opening to creat a gap between the two sides.
    • Shovel the sand into the hole. It's best to concentrate on getting the most amount of sand near the whole, rather than making sure it all gets in.
    • Using a kitchen scale for measurement, fill the ball with sand to an exact weight. How much sand you put in is up to your preference and the size of the playpen balls. You may want to play around with different weights. In general, 80–120 grams is a good weight for a juggling ball. I recommend trying one weight, temporarily sealing the hole with the tape, and seeing how it tosses. It definitely shouldn't bobble in the air. Once you find a good weight, stick with it; all the balls should have the same exact weight, down to the gram.
    • Wipe any sand dust off the ball and the incision, before proceeding.
  3. Cool the ball.
    • Since the ball will eventually be sealed, the amount of air inside will be fixed. Since air expands in volume with higher temperatures and deflates with lower temperatures (i.e., pV=nRT), you will want to seal the ball at a low temperature. That way, the ball will be inflated at room temperature.
    • Cold garage temperature is a good guideline for the ideal temperature of the air in the ball when it is sealed.
  4. Seal the ball.An Example Seal
    • Cover the cut with one layer of aluminum foil. You will need the foil to make sure that the plastic doesn't burn (i.e., turn dark).
    • Tap the hot soldering iron along the cut a couple of times. This should melt the plastic under the aluminum foil. The plastic will stick to the foil; let it. After you are done tapping all along the incision, blow on the foil to cool it. After 3-4 seconds, the plastic should have solidified. Take off the foil and inspect the now indented scar. Spot check and repeat on places where it didn't work.
    • Cover the scar with aluminum foil again. Turn the scar so that it faces you vertically. This time, stroke the soldering iron across from left to right across the scar. You are basically trying to move some of the plastic from the left side to cover the scar. Again, blow on the foil and release.
    • Repeat the last step going the other direction. I find it easier to turn the ball 180 degrees and still move left to right. Your goal here is to smooth the plastic out, leaving no noticeable scar.
    • After cooling, you can make sure that it is a secure seal by putting pressure on the ball, while holding it up to your ear. You should not hear any air escaping. If there is a problem, repeat some of the previous steps, after the ball has fully reinflated.
    • It takes a bit of practice to get this process right, resulting in a small, tight, and nearly unnoticeable seal.