Building a model roller coaster is a great, hands-on way to learn about physics and centrifugal force. Whether you plan to build a roller coaster for fun or for learning, you will no doubt be able to see how the Laws of Motion apply and how gravity and friction affect your finished coaster. There are hundreds of real coasters that can be used as a design for your model, or you can design a new coaster and see how it stands against the real ones.
Study photos of your chosen coaster, or use paper and pencil to design your own. You will need views from many different angles so you can accurately reproduce the coaster. You will also need the measurements so you can convert them into scale and your model will fit together correctly.
Prepare the base of foam core to hold your finished model. Use the measurements to find the widest and longest parts and make sure that you center the coaster on the foam core so nothing is hanging off when the model is complete.
Using your chosen scale, plot out the points that will create your tracks. Points should be in pairs to represent the support beams on each side of the track. Use the pencil to connect these points to make a 2D image of the track.
Stick the skewers into the points you plotted to represent the support beams. Put a drop of glue on the dot and insert the skewer with the pointed end going into the foam core. Allow these to dry completely.
Use toothpicks to make support beams that run between the skewers like rungs on a ladder. Attach them with string or glue or both. The top “rung” of these ladders will be the supports to the tracks.
Add any scenery or decoration to the base that you would like to. Some ideas would be trees, benches, shaved coconut dyed green for grass or paint to simulate concrete or pavement.
Use long strips of balsa wood around the outside of the support skewers to give the coaster more strength and stability. Begin these at even intervals that are equal to the spacing of the support skewers.
Begin to construct the tracks using the balsa wood strips and the toothpick rungs. Start with a flat section such as the beginning or the ending of the track. Use string to keep pressure on the balsa wood until the glue dries.
Snip the tops of the skewers so they only extend 1 inch above the track. Lay strips of balsa wood over these skewers to simulate railings.
Continue constructing the track one element at a time. Use string to keep elements secure while the glue is drying. Especially if you are creating loops and curves.
Add all the fixtures that are near actual roller coasters. Such elements could include the design the line moves in, the covered area for loading passengers and lighting along the tracks and lines.
Paint the coaster, if desired, after all the glue has set.
Test your coaster with a car built for it, or a marble placed on the tracks.
- Foam core
- Balsa wood strips
- Dowels or skewers
- Popsicle sticks
- Car or marble
Popular scales for model roller coasters are the same for model trains. You can find all kinds of natural elements to add to the landscaping around the coaster if you use one of these scales for your model.
Wait at least 24 hours before removing strings that were holding pieces in place.
To make a working coaster (for a marble or car), make sure that your first hill is high enough to propel the marble through to the next element. Hills need to be higher that the loops that are after them and there has to be at least one large hill at the beginning.