Making Balloon Balls

What's a balloon ball? Balloon balls are sort of a cross between a hard-rubber ball and a bean bag. They're great for juggling, since they have a nice grip to them, are round like a ball, but don't bounce or roll far away when dropped. They're also sold as stress-relievers and hand exercisers, since they're basically fun to squeeze. I saw some in a sporting good store the other day for $8 each, sold in various levels of stiffness for different workouts. Thankfully, you don't need to spend that kind of money. You can make a pile of them with a couple dollars worth of balloons and bird seed and bit of your time. Heck, they're even fun to make.

You'll need:

If you bought a bag of balloons in assorted colors, start by deciding what colors you want the balls to be. They can be solid colors, or be spotted with two or more colors. If you want a durable ball with as few balloons as possible, make them in solid colors or with spots of only one color each. When you're making a spotted ball, the color of the spots should be lighter than the background color for best results. The background color of the ball will be the color of the last balloon you put on, so if it's a light color, it may let a darker color beneath it show through in places, making for a splotchy and less appealing ball. Set aside two balloons for each ball, of matching colors if you want solid colored balls. The balloons you have left will be used for inner layers.

Ok, time to get started. Put a balloon (from the inner-layer pile) on one end of the tube, stretching most of the neck onto the funnel. Fill your measuring cup with bird seed and pour it into the other end of the tube (using the funnel.) Holding the tube mostly upright (balloon on the bottom end) and gripping the neck of the balloon against the tube to keep in from slipping off, blow into the top end of the tube. The balloon will inflate, allowing the seed to rapidly flow into it.

Now remove the balloon from the tube while pinching the base of the neck to keep the seed in. Set the balloon down (neck up.) Form the balloon into a sphere. Next, cut off most of the neck of the balloon, leaving only about 1/2 an inch. Tuck what's left of the neck inside the balloon.

Get another inner-layer balloon and cut the neck off completely (as straight and cleanly as you can.) With two fingers of each hand inside the balloon, stretch it over the seed-filled one. Try not to press too hard on the full balloon until the neck is tightly covered with the second balloon. When you're done with this step, you have a two layer balloon ball, with one spot (less than an inch across) where the inner balloon is visible through the neck-hole of the outer balloon.

Now get the two balloons you selected for the colors for this ball. Cut the neck off the one you chose for the 'spot' color (usually the lighter one.) Stretch this one over the ball the same way as before, but try to prevent any of the necks of the three balloons from lining up (for the sake of durability.)

Ok, get the last balloon for this ball, the one for the background color. If you want more than one spot on the ball, cut a few small holes in it (1/4 inch round holes are plenty big.) Stretch this one over the others and you've got a finished ball. The tension in each layer holds it firmly to the inner ones. Make a couple more and juggle!

Taking care of them

Stretched-out balloons have a tendency to stick together. After a few days, this will help secure the layers together and make the balls tougher (but don't worry... they're plenty tough enough to use the moment they're made.) The stickiness of the balloons can cause some trouble, though. If the balls are touching each other in storage, they will stick together firmly, to the point that separating them may damage them. Try to keep them from touching for long periods of time.

If they get overly dirty, scraped up or you just get tired of the colors, you can add additional layers. Each new layer makes the ball tougher and firmer, and reduces their tendency to flatten out when dropped.

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The Coulee Region Jugglers and Unicyclists ( 5/02