How to Make a Rola Bola: Tips from Kim’s Dad

Rola Bola

Here are the steps my Dad went through when he made the rola bolas featured in my Rola Bola Christmas post. You will need:

Supplies:

  • A board: My Dad bought a wooden stair tread in white pine, 3 ft long, 12″ wide, 1″ thick. It cost $10. (You could also use a board that is not specifically sold for stairs. Make sure it will be strong enough to support the weight of users.)
  • Two 10″ lengths of wood that are 1″ x 2″ or 3/4″ x 1 1/2″. Scraps are just fine, dimensions can vary slightly.
  • 4 screws about 1 1/2″ long, maybe 1/4″ diameter head
  • Pipe: 4″ diameter by 12″ – 15″ long. It cost me $6 for a two foot long segment of 4″ diameter schedule 40 PVC. Get schedule 80 if you can. (If you want to try a pipe made of a different material, make sure it can support the weight of users. If you want to try a smaller or larger diameter, go for it.)
  • Sealer
  • Traction tape (optional, but a nice feature)

Tools:

  • Drill / Power screwdriver
  • Router (nice, but not absolutely necessary)
  • Saw (not necessary if you get pipe cut at store)

Directions:

  1. Top Board: Cut the board / stair tread to desired length. One of mine is 28 inches, the other is 26 inches.
  2. Router to round edges and corners. (This is optional, but makes it look really classy.)

    Detail of rounded corner and traction tape on Rola Bola.

  3. Stoppers: Cut the smaller (1″ x 2″) board if necessary to 10 inches or just a little shorter than the width of your top board. These boards will be the stoppers on the bottom of your rola bola. If you slide too far off center, the pipe will hit the stopper rather than shooting you right out and into a fall.
  4. Attach Stoppers: Place stoppers on the bottom of your rola bola. Mine are centered along the width and set in about two inches from the outside edges. Use screws to attach stoppers. My Dad used two screws per stopper, screws centered along the width of the stopper and set in 1 1/2″ from the outside edges. He used whatever he had in the shop, but thinks most 1 1/2″ long screws should do. Optional: He also inset the screws by drilling a 1/4″ deep hole with a drill bit larger than the screw and then drilling a pilot hole the size of the screw itself. (I told you my rola bolas are gorgeous.)

    Bottom view of Rola Bola.

  5. Seal: Use a tiny bit of sealer on the top surface of the rola bola. (If using a stair step, don’t finish the bottom or you risk warping. Leave the bottom raw wood.) My mother is the wood finisher in our family. She stepped in at this point, sanded using a 120 grit sandpaper, and applied a satin transparent finish. After that dried, she sanded lightly with very fine sandpaper to remove the raised grain and applied another coat of sealer. She says you probably don’t even need to apply a finish, but thinks it helps to keep the board clean.
  6. Traction: Another nice, but not absolutely necessary feature. My parents next went to a hardware store and asked for something to put on a stair tread to prevent slipping. They came home with a 2″ wide, 8 foot long roll of tape the texture of sandpaper. (Because they are fabulous about details, the corners on my stripes are rounded.) There are two per board, stopping two inches short of the ends and set in about 2 1/2″ from the edges along the width.
  7. Pipe: The next thing you’ll need is pipe. I was able to buy a 24″ length of 4″ diameter PVC pipe at a local hardware store for about $10. Dad cut this in half so I have two pipes exactly the widths of my boards. It is also fine to have your pipe a few inches longer than the width of your board — say, 15″. If you don’t have a saw, ask if someone at your hardware store would be willing to cut yours. My pipe is schedule 40 and it visibly lost some of its roundness when the adults got up on it Christmas Day. One of my cousins suggests I contact a local plumber and ask if I can purchase some of their schedule 80 scrap.
  8. Speed: That’s it. One usage tip, if you place your rola bola on a hard surface, you might find it wicked fast. Better to start out on a padded surface, which slows the rolling of the pipe. At my parents’ house, we put the rola bolas on carpet — placing a towel underneath to prevent the edges of the PVC pipe from cutting into the carpet. At my home, I tend to put mine on a yoga mat on a wooden floor. This protects the floor from scratches, slows the movement a tiny bit, and gives me a little traction when I get too far off center and the edge of my board touches the ground.

What about you?

If you have ever made a rola bola, do you have any tips to share?

If you use one regularly, do you have any comments on important features?

PS: I’ll write a post soon on rola bola safety tips and how to be a good spotter. Remember, I am not liable for any risky things you might try on yours.

Dec 28

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