In a recent attempt to save money and have some fun, I decided to make a homemade medicine ball. I wanted a slamball–the kind that you can throw hard onto pavement without it bouncing back. Since new ones cost well over $100, I figured that I could save some significant dough if I just made one out of a cheap basketball and some sand. Sounded like a no-brainer. At the time, it was the day before Christmas, and I thought I would give myself a nice little present. Here’s how things shook out cost-wise in the end:Rubber Basketball: $15 Radial Tire Puncture and Repair Kit: $16 Funnel: $1.00 Turkey Baster (made a better funnel): $3.00 Sand: $6.00 Thin wooden skewers (to help jam sand into basketball): $1.00 Expanding Foam: $15 Shoo Goo: $8 Rubber gloves: $4 New bathroom scale: $38 Glass & Tile Scraper: $4 Bag of rags: $4 Industrial cleaner: $10 New mop: $15 Goof Off: $10 Cost of resurfacing bathtub: $375 Cost of replacing tile flooring: $1200 Total estimated cost: $1725 (plus taxes)
Now, I’m no math whiz, but it seems to me I didn’t do very well in cost-managing this project. Here’s exactly what transpired:
First I bought my initial supplies: the cheap basketball, the sand, a funnel, the tire repair kit, etc. I wanted play sand, as it’s really fine – but couldn’t find any in the winter season. Being stubborn persistent by nature, I decided to try the only thing I could find: construction sand, as supplied in 30kg bags at the local Home Depot. This persistent nature also required me to hump this same sandbag through slush and snow a distance of several blocks to get it to my car. Driving the car to the pickup area seemed too easy, and I thought carrying it would be like doing a “free” workout.
Excited to begin, I quickly prepared my work area in front of the television when I got home. I knew that it would be much more sensible to fill a basketball with sand outside, but my little condo balcony was several feet deep in snow. By filling the ball indoors, I could catch up on a few movies at the same time I worked. I eagerly tore open my bag of sand and peered inside. The sand seemed a bit coarser than what I expected. And was it my imagination, or was it just a bit damp? Oh well.
Next, I opened my radial tire puncture and repair kit. The kit consisted of a rasp and plunger, and about 5 very sticky plugs. I jammed the rasp into the basketball to puncture it (that part was fun) and dug around a bit to widen the small hole. I next made another small hole for air to escape. All I had to do now was to jam my funnel into the basketball. Looked like a good setup. Finally, I had to patiently spoon my sand into the funnel and wait for the ball to be filled with around 20 pounds worth of the stuff.
I realized I was in trouble when I tried to get my first spoonful of sand through the funnel. It was simply too coarse. Really coarse. Not having too many options at that time of year (play sand just wasn’t in the cards), I decided to make the best of things. I figured I could SIFT the sand (“yeah, that should work!”). So, I dipped a tupperware bowl into the bag of sand to get my first batch for sifting, trotted out to the kitchen, and promptly sifted it into a large aluminum bowl. As a few clouds of sand floated in the air, the heavier sand ended up in my bowl and the larger particles and little pebbles stayed in the sifter. Perfect. I knew I was making a mess by having sand go all over the kitchen, but thought it should be pretty straightforward to clean up later.
Well, to my chagrin, the sand wasn’t exactly flowing into the funnel the way I had planned. In fact, it really wasn’t flowing at all. So I found a thin wooden skewer and tried to help the sand along by jamming the thing into the funnel with some quick up and down jabbing motions. Seconds later, the silly thing slipped out of my hand and went right inside the ball, never to be seen again. Oh well, I thought. So now my medicine ball contained a few grains of sand and a big wooden toothpick. Perfect. After many, many repetitions of scooping, sifting, spooning and funneling, I think my ball weighed just under two pounds. And I was already well into my second movie. I needed the ball to weigh twenty pounds. Sigh.
I next had the brilliant revelation that the reason the sand wasn’t flowing well, even though it was being sifted, was that it was a bit damp. I needed to dry it! At this point, any sane and rational person would have either stopped and gotten proper sand, or would have figured out some reasonable method of drying it over a period of time. But I was determined. I was going to get this project DONE! It was the day before Christmas and I wanted this thing finished! So what did I do? I decided to ‘fry’ the sand in batches on top of the stove. Well, not really ‘fry’ as such because I was using a dry frying pan, but it was a frying pan for sure. Why didn’t I just put a whole batch into the oven on low? Because I was in a hurry, and since I was already sifting the sand in batches, I thought it would also be logical just to ‘fry’ it in batches. So the process next became, scoop, sift, fry, sift again, and spoon into the funnel. (By this time, I had also jerry-rigged a turkey baster to use as a funnel, because its narrow design made it a much better tool).
Needless to say, there was sand everywhere. Clouds of it billowed up over my sifter. I was tracking it with my barefeet into other rooms of the condo. My kitchen appliances, furniture, everything seemed to have either a fine coating of dust or an odd stone or two sitting on them. At this point, absolutely nothing mattered to me except finishing the ball. I was well into watching “Treasure Island” (the 1934 version to boot – it WAS Christmas after all), and finally the sand actually started flowing properly. It took about two movies to get the ball filled.
At this point I was fairly pleased with myself. The ball weighed about 20 pounds (having tested it on my brand new bathroom scale). But the ball wasn’t completely filled. I thought that might be a problem, because I didn’t want the sand to be rolling around from side to side. So I did a quick internet search, and found a guy who had finished off his medicine ball by spraying in a quantity of expanding foam. That sounded like a plan–the foam would expand to fill the hollow spaces and would harden solid.
Back I went to the hardware store to purchase a can of foam and some rubber gloves. I had never used the stuff before, but it seemed pretty straightforward. I remember seeing a few ‘caution’ notices and ‘danger’ icons on the can, now that I think about it. Anyhow, armed with some googles and my rubber gloves, I inserted the tip of the little straw nozzle into the hole I had made in the basketball, and started to spray. Everything seemed fine. As I sprayed, I started to think to myself “Now I wonder when I’m supposed to stop?”. It wasn’t like I could see what I was doing, as there was no way to see inside the ball. I gave it a few more sprays when the ball started to slightly expand in size. “OK, I think this is the point to stop”, I thought to myself. I may have given it one tiny little spurt more, I can’t really recall, because everything after that point seems a bit foggy now…
Slowly I pulled the nozzle of the can out of the hole. The pressure inside the ball was instantly relieved as a big geyser of foam shot out from the hole, spewing chemicals everywhere. It was like holding a mini-volcano. And it didn’t stop. Clearly, the key word in ‘expanding foam’ is ‘expanding’. I was sitting right beside my balcony sliding glass doors, and any sane person would have just thrown the ball outside onto the balcony…but not I. The only thing I could think of in my desperation was to get the ball into the bathtub, where it couldn’t do any damage to my floors and furniture. So I carried the ball to the bathroom, with it spurting and spouting all the way, and flung it into the tub where it landed with a crash–and sat there oozing foam.
I looked first in the mirror (through the spots of foam that were all over my glasses). I had foam on my face, hair, clothes, arms, everywhere. I next looked down at the floor. There was a trail of foam leading from the bathtub, across the tiles, and all across the living room cork floor. I looked at the chair I had been sitting in. More foam. I looked up at the ceiling. Foam was dripping down, adding to the mess on the floor. At that point, I didn’t know how to react. I actually couldn’t believe what had just transpired, and was still thinking that perhaps it would be possible to somehow rewind the events over the past minute and start again. My next thought was of lighting a match, throwing it into the foam, walking out of the condo and locking the door, and never returning. Of course that wasn’t really an option. It was just a thought.
Desperately examining the can instructions, I read that while the foam was fresh and still wet it could be removed with some kind of acetone. Last time I checked I was fresh out of the stuff. Next, the label informed me that once the foam had dried, I could ‘sand it or shape it’ to my hearts desire. I didn’t want to ‘sand it or shape it’–I wanted it gone!
Back once more I trotted to the hardware store, and while everyone was doing their last minute Christmas shopping, I was emptying the cleaning aisle of various and assorted industrial strength products. I don’t recall what all I purchased, but I was kind of desperate. I was practically ready to get something to start ‘sanding and shaping’. Once I got home, the foam had pretty much dried solid. Industrial cleaners seemed pretty ineffective. It was only the Goof Off that had some effect, when used with a razor blade scraper. And I had to scrape a lot. Scraping worked well on the tiles in the bathroom, and on the countertop. But the bathtub was more difficult (almost impossible to not scratch). And my cork floor in the main living area – well the damage had been done. I got all the foam off, but had to remove some of the finished surface of the cork to do so. I am still in a state of disbelief about this whole tragedy!
More pics of medicine ball making…I didn’t take any post-calamity pictures as I had other things on my mind.
Once I had everything back into some semblance of normality (except for the more permanent damage), I was able to seal the basketball with the tire repair kit. It’s a super strong seal, but I made double-sure that nothing was going to go wrong by sealing the plug with some Shoo Goo. I have to say that the end product, despite its ridiculous beginnings, is top notch.
So now that it’s been several months, I feel like my trauma has passed enough to be able to share this little story. I’m sure there’s a moral. One from the Aesop’s Fable “The Two Frogs” comes to mind: “Do nothing without a regard to the consequences”.
Please do not use this post as instructions on how to make a medicine ball of your own. Although, I have to say that now I’m armed with knowledge AND experience (and I have 4 more basketballs waiting to be filled). I also have 50 pounds of PROPER play sand (it’s even pre-dried, and super-fine). But first, I’m off to get a few quotes on some floor tiles… And I’m still finding grains of sand in odd places.
Finally (this is a long post, I know!), here is a short video clip of the medicine ball in actual use. Kind of funny with the dogs barking and growling in the background, and passers-by not knowing what’s going on…