How to Make an Earthquake Shaker Table

ruined house image by Alex White from

Things You'll Need

  • Plastic coffee can lid
  • Wooden board, at least 1/2-inch thick
  • Stapler
  • Marbles
  • Cardboard box that wooden board can fit into, at least 1/2-inch deep

Just how much damage an earthquake can do can be difficult to imagine. This simple shaker table will help show the effects of earthquakes on buildings and landscaping. With this shaker table, you can see the difference of P and S waves. P waves push and pull the layers of the Earth, through both solids and liquids. S waves move a little slower than P waves and can only move through solid objects. S waves move particles in a perpendicular motion to the way the wave itself is moving.

Staple the coffee can lid to the piece of wood with the lip of the lid away from the board. The lid should be centered so that the piece of wood does not touch the table beneath it. If the wood does tilt to one side, either choose a smaller board or use two can lids.

Place marbles in bottom of the box. You can use any size or amount of marbles that you want. Different sizes and amounts will produce different results during earthquake testing.

Place your board and attached lid into the box, capturing all the marbles in the can lid. Put the items you want to test on the wooden board. This could be blocks, a bowl of water or whatever else you want to use.

Simulate P waves (the first waves felt in a real earthquake). Slide your box back and forth rapidly on a solid surface. The faster you move, the more accurate the test. To make S waves, make side to side motions with the box. Here again, the faster you move, the more accurate the demonstration. As you lose momentum you will see the rolling motion of surface waves.


  • Test anything that comes to mind, whether it is miniature block houses, toy cars, landscape dioramas with water, or sand. Everything will react to the shaking differently.