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Seller :Pier Filippo Conti

  • Created by: Paul Murrin
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Making Buckyball

What is Buckyball?
Buckball is a geometric sculpture about 80cm diameter made using 3D printing and pencils. The shape is a truncated icosahedron a 32 sided regular polyhedron made from 60 3D printed vertices and 90 pencils that form the edges. It’s called Buckyball after the form of carbon called C60 named after Buckminster Fuller an architect who popularised the geodesic dome. I hung it in my living room as a lampshade. It doesn’t really provide shade but looks pretty cool!


What you’ll need
• 3D printer or access to one from a hackerspace (I use an Ultimaker).
• PLA filament (about 120m of 3mm diameter).
• 90 pencils sharpened at both ends.
• Glue (optional).

Additionally to hang from a ceiling:
• Cotton / nylon wire.
• Ceiling rose.
• 1mm Drill bit.



You’ll need to 3D print 60 identical vertex parts and then take 90 pencils and sharpen both ends (ensure that they’re all the same size). The Buckyball is formed simply by attaching the pencils to the vertices in the correct pattern (refer to Truncated_icosahedron).

You can glue the pencils in place although it is not strictly necessary.
Once completed you can modify a standard ceiling rose to attach the part to the ceiling as a lampshade (assuming that you have a tall ceiling) otherwise just keep it somewhere as a cool sculpture.


Printing the parts

The STL file included: truncIcosahedronVertex_51mm.stl is designed to accommodate pencils sharpened using a Jakar electric pencil sharpener (search Amazon for “Jakar electric pencil sharpener”). This sharpens with a narrower angle to typical sharpeners which is beneficial for this design (and I’d recommend it as a great product). You can adjust the openScad file and produce an STL to suit whatever pencils you choose if you don’t have or want to get a new sharpener. But you’re going to get sore hands sharpening both ends of 90 pencils by hand.

The STL should print without support. It takes about 2 hours and just under 2m of 3mm filament to print each vertex at 0.12mm layer height at 70mm/sec. Though you can lay out multiple parts on the build plate to run a longer print job. You need 60 vertices so it is likely to take a few days / weeks to print them all.



I chose coloured pencils with a plane wood outer. The intention is to see a burst of colour where each set of three pencils intersect. However there’s
a world of choice in pencil colours. Have a look at pencils.org.uk or these dual coloured pencils on Amazon:

You’ll need 90 pencils to build the Buckyball, but buy a few spares in case you break some.
Sharpen all the pencils at both ends, but take care to ensure they are all similar length. Mine are 16cm long which forms a Buckyball about 80cm diameter which hangs about 1m below the ceiling level. You could use slightly shorter pencils to make a smaller sculpture.


Assemble the Buckyball by simply pushing the sharpened pencils into each 3dprinted vertex to form the correct shape. The key thing to identify is that it is made of hexagons (6 sides) and pentagons (5 sides). Each pentagon is surrounded by 5 hexagons and each hexagon is surrounded alternately by pentagon – hexagon –
pentagon – hexagon etc. You can look at images on the wikipedia page to follow as a guide if needed: Truncated_icosahedron. As you are nearing completion it may look like it won’t fit, but you can carefully spring the pencils / vertices back to form the correct shape. It will hold together firmly under its own tension, but you may choose to add a small amount of glue to each pencil to hold it in place for a more secure part.



Hang as a lampshade

If you have high ceilings or a large open hallway for example then the buckyball looks great hung with a lamp at its centre. I’d suggest a large globe style pendant lamp. A small point source light bulb will cast shadows from each of the vertices.
I modified a simple ceiling rose by drilling 6 small (1mm diameter) holes evenly around the base of the screw on part then hung the buckyball from cotton threaded through these holes (3 long pieces each fed into and then out of the rose and attach each end to two adjacent pencils on one of the hexagonal faces. The Buckyball is lightweight so I’ve had no problems with this hanging for a couple of years now, though you might choose to use nylon wire for extra strength. Mounting it is a two person job and requires care.


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