taking one frame at a time since 1999

'soft' steel balls... good idea? + silver solder question

Hello everyone,

Just a quick question about ball bearings... I came across these ball bearings which say they are 'machinable' and low carbon...

I was wondering if it would be a good idea to buy those or not... I have so far used stainless steel 302 steel balls, as I found recommended here mostly as well, but still had to anneal them to make it possible to drill through them... This means they're softened anyway of course, but I don't know how comparable that would be the ones offered here... It says they're 'soft polish AISI 1018 Carbon Steel'. Say, I'm using ordinary mild steel for the joint plates, would these softer steel balls still be hard enough to work well as a bearing?

I noticed with other steel balls I used which were annealed by someone else, that they may have gone too soft, as of some even the surface seemed to be affected and showing some irregularities... The ones that I tried annealing myself were still quite hard but possible to drill through with some patience...

I'm very new to ball and socket armature making and have just been diving into it since the last couple of months. I might open another thread for more of what I'm working on, but here's a link to a little test of what I've achieved so far:

* edit: just adding a question about silver solder... Which so far I've been buying at a store at my university (I need to check the exact brand/name of the stuff sold there again), but it seems it is turning out pretty expensive (14p per cm) (I'm going through it quickly sometimes, due to learning and needing practice, making mistakes, etc.). I found some online suppliers where it seems a lot cheaper, but I don't know what to consider exactly for good quality. I know it has to be high silver content, so about 55%? I read about a brand name in another topic, but it seems to me that it is a US brand as I couldn't find it easily to buy from UK suppliers (I'm in the UK). Is there anyone out there with good advice on UK suppliers for silver solder? I found something 55% called 'Fontargen A 313', about 20 pounds for 5 meters... does this say anything to anyone here?

Thanks for the time reading this as always, appreciating any help. :)


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A long time ago at my outset I was blessed with the guidance of not one, but three master armature builders.  They, as well as the rest of the artists in that studio, were selfless and quick to show me the best of their techniques.  Who am I to do otherwise...


Good to see this thread still being filled with new tips and tricks and shared experience. :)

Interesting idea about using aluminium combined with phosphor Bronze washers for lighter weight armatures... never thought of that or seen that. 
Heavy armatures is not always a bad thing though I think... depends on the design of the puppet, as long as joints are strong enough for what they need to support..

Late response to this thread, been busy (still) working as a trainee in the armature department at Mackinnon and Saunders and soon starting a contract at John Wright Modelmaking. learned so much from everyone here since starting my stop motion journey, would not have gotten to this point without all your generous support and advice and suggestions, so thank you all..! Now again learning from some of the most amazing puppet makers and will hopefully have lots to contribute here helping others with this crazy art form from now and in the future. Not been building a lot of actual joints lately as Mackinnon and Saunders has many stocked from various armature builders, but been working on all sorts of interesting components and parts and armature assembly.

Don't have any experience with armacreatures armatures. How are you getting on with that armature?

okay so I am new to the thread, and very new to stopmotion. I have been a cg animator and modeler. I have been looking into stopmotion for the past year and totally enjoyed every second of it. I use lost wax casting for brass parts and body piercing balls and rods which are very hard surgical steel. I tend to use silver solder paste, which is really easy to use. Anyway example is above and I welcome any constructive criticism. 

That's a very neat little armature. How well do the knee and elbow joints work with just a brass-on-brass rubbing surface?

Using lost-wax casting is a clever idea, especially if you have a friendly plumber who will throw some discarded taps and fittings your way! You might like to look up the 'lost-foam' method which may be less time consuming.

If you have access to both copper and aluminium scrap, which are usually easier to find than brass, you might try making your own 'Aluminium Bronze' alloy from 90% Cu, 10% Al by weight. This is the stuff they make large ships propellers from and is supposed to be quite hard but easy to cast and machine. I plan to investigate making castings with this material myself, but in my part of Western Australia we have a total ban on exposed flames outdoors for most of the year due to the bush-fire risk so my furnace has to stay cold until winter comes in June.

Everything that Stider has mentioned so far is really good advise. I had the opportunity to take a fabrication class, where we made ball and socket puppets. So using the center drill to get through the hard outer layer, and adding lots of lube, really helps.  

I've just had a look at the price of ready drilled and threaded body piercing, stainless steel balls on Ebay. 5mm and 6mm readily available at around $5 per 100 with free postage.

Assuming they're hard enough for armature use, and the thread size is suitable, this is cheaper than breaking drills.

You put your finger on the only problem I have with these armatures. The knee and elbow joints. They do work if I lubricate them with oil. I have just recently added nylon washers and even with one washer on one side there is a marked improvement. And the action is as smooth as anything. I will be redesigning the knee joints to first make them a bit nmore robust and widen the gape to make it easier to add washers.

As for the piercing balls. They are very tough steel. The only thing that may be a put off is that the thread is 14 gauge (M1.6) and you will have to solder in place. The flip side is that you will get a really tough but slender result.

Lost foam sounds really intresting and will look into it. Unfortunately I am not that expreanced with casting. We leave near Birmingham which is a silversmith in and jewellery center and I have a caster who charges £25 a tree and  metal cost. Which is 3 full set of armatures and rigs. I suppose I am lucky to have a wife who is a jeweler and can help out with sourcing people and places that can be useful.

Hi Omid, did you you silver solder the ball to the rod and the rod to the brass/bronze parts? any problems with the different metals coming together?

Yes thats right. 

No, not at all, its easy enough to solder steel and brass together. You just have to be aware that steel heats up a lot faster. So when the solder runs, it's going to run towards heat. If you are not careful to keep the heat on the brass the solder will run towards the steel, and you won't solder the two metals together.

Will Bishop Stephens said:

Hi Omid, did you you silver solder the ball to the rod and the rod to the brass/bronze parts? any problems with the different metals coming together?


I did wonder if you had a jewellery making link. Lost wax casting of such small pieces is not a common skill. At that price I'd leave the work to the expert and not mess about with lost foam experiments unless you really want to get sidetracked away from the armature making into doing your own casting. That path leads to never completing anything. Trust me, I know!

Thanks kit, 

I tell you what is the best part of dealing with wax. It's the fact that you can tap the threads into the wax. So when you get the caste the brass is already tapped.

Good to see more and more being added to this thread. :)
That's a lovely looking armature! Cool to see you are using lost wax casting. I wouldnt have known about it when I started this thread, but I've been working at John Wright Modelmaking for a few months now and they use the lost wax casting for quite a few bits. Not the ball joints but for little hinge joints for thumbs it works quite well. Though we still drill out and tap the holes. Interesting idea about tapping threads into the wax, I wouldn't have thought that would work directly from the cast... I've not been closely involved with the process yet though, but have worked with the components that were cast from it.

If any thoughts looking at that armature I find the rods in the lower legs looking a bit scary. There is quite a long bit of very thin rod, what thickness is that? Is it a steel rod or is that also cast in brass? I'd be scared it would break or bend. It might be an idea to have the thicker part going up closer to the joint so there is only a tiny bit of thin rod just enough to not get in the way of the joint movement.

Most armatures I've had to work on recently just had ball joints for the knees and elbows, sometimes even a pivot and a ball joint! I guess that's a preference from the animators, less restriction in the movement. At other times for a hinge joint ball joints were used, but with a cross pin going through the ball to limit the movement. That seems to make for a really nice hinge joint, but may be tricky to do with limited equipment.

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