Making a Kendama on the Lathe | Challenge Project


Wyatt has been asking me to make a kendama for a long time. It’s a fun, cup & ball kind of skill game from Japan. I’ve tried it out on several occasions while in a Japantown store and never had much success getting the ball to land correctly in a cup. It is truly a toy that requires practice. There are YouTube videos of experts at the kendama that show off amazing tricks.


Like a kendama, a lathe requires a lot of practice and experience to build enough skills to really become a great turner. There is a reason why woodturners are in a category of woodworking all their own: it takes more devotion to a single tool than other woodworking and building tasks.

If you are interested in learning more about working on a lathe, two of my favorite woodturners with crazy skills are Frank Howarth and Carl Jacobson. I love watching their videos and their mastery of the craft.

I preface all this because this project was a partial failure. Partial because the kendama didn’t really turn out the way it should have. I don’t even think an expert would be able to use it. On the other hand, my real goal this week was to challenge myself with something completely out of my wheelhouse, which I did. I learned a lot in my attempts and think I could get closer to turning a working kendama if I were to try again.

Turning a sphere on the other hand…now that is a crazy challenge!

My strategy was to draw a center line and curve over each half of the cylinder until the width was the same at the diameter. In theory, this makes sense. I made two attempts and both balls came out looksing more like eggs!Image4



The ball has a large hole that will drop into the spike end of the kendama. This goes about halfway through the ball and a smaller hole connects through the opposite side. This holds the string.



The other two pieces of the kendama are easier to turn, but need to meet exact sizes for the ball to fit into the cups or onto the spike correctly. Mine were a little wonky.




This hole joints the two pieces together.



And a smaller hole goes through the whole assembly for attaching the string.


The beetle-kill pine looks great spray lacquered though. So there’s that.




  1. Even if you lathe be so old what brand is it and do they still make tools I am interested in buying a another lathe and your lathe seems to be a good size. Thanks…

  2. Hey Steve, you can make erfect circles with two esay methods. First, you can make a ball turner for the lathe lkie this, in the case of your lathe, maybe you can made it with hardwood, and you can attach to the lathe if you remove the rest for the tools.

    The second method is a little trickier, you can buy a old connection rod from an old engine, and you can make 45º cuts on the circle of the connection rod (the bigger circle) with this you can use this half circle to copy in to the wooden sphere

  3. Steve: I think you did a good job. I know from experience wood lathe work can be challenging especially if you do not work it every day. As for a book to read… look into the author named Sir Terry Pratchet he is well known for disc worlds books and other great works. “Guards, Guards” is a good book to start with.

  4. Hi Steve, you did a wonderful job attempting to re-create the Kendama toy. From a side point of view it looks like a fairly easy project, but I know it isn’t. It’s good to challenge yourself as you did. Helps you grow more from there knowing what you’re capable of and what you need to emphasize on.

    By the way, fantastic blog, found it while searching for home improvements. You take on really interesting projects that give me few ideas.


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