The Crochet Candy Dispenser (Gum Ball Machine) Story


Recently for a throwback post on Facebook, I posted some photos of one of my first mad crochet “science” projects, a working crocheted candy dispenser.  It looks like a small gum ball machine but I call it a candy dispenser because it doesn’t actually dispense gum balls.  They are a little too big and heavy for the project.  I usually claim that this project almost killed me, because I tried several complicated methods to get it to work.  This led to someone asking me about the different methods I tried and failed to make it.  Hopefully, this post will answer some of those questions.

I have always been fascinated with gum ball machines and how things work.  I was a curious child and at about two years of age, I even took apart a cuckoo clock to see how it worked.  But that’s a story for another time, another post.

Gum ball machines are a symbol of childhood.  These days, they don’t look quite the same as they used to and are made of different materials, but the majority of them are brightly colored to attract the eye, include a shiny transparent container through which to eye and tease the tongue of youngsters, and some promise a tiny toy treat in addition or instead of actual candy.  Children learned quickly that what they saw at the top was not a guarantee of what would inevitably come down the ramp into their eager hands, because hidden below the transparent portion of the machine were magical hidden works that controlled exactly what and how much of “what” would end up escaping the chute.  But that never deterred the excitement and anticipation, nor did it ever prevent a child from begging for a coin to take their chances on what could conceivably be thought of as a child’s gambling machine.

Okay, we know it’s not magic now that we’re older.  In fact, most of these machines worked with very simple mechanics.  And were made with rugged materials!  You certainly don’t remember many of them getting stuck or cheating you out of your goods like today’s vending machines where you’ll see your treat hanging precariously in the air while a large spring dangles it in front of you but won’t let go!  And when they did rarely jam, usually a quick jiggle of the turnkey back and forth would slide your coin perfectly into the bank, releasing your reward with the satisfying klunk which confirmed it was on it’s way.

I did some research and found this Squidoo site to be a very informative one for gum ball machines – different types and shapes, and changes through the years.  But especially watching the video included at the link, is how I developed my deeper understanding of the machines and how they work.  See it here.

In my head, I had to plan the construction of a crocheted model.  Without having to try, I knew that a yarn construction would not be able to support the type of gears and metal disks used in the real machines.  I suppose if I had wanted to make a large scale machine, I may have been able to create those pieces out of cardboard but I wanted a desktop replica size.  And I also wanted my crocheted version to work with a turnkey, like the old fashioned ones.  So out went the ideas for interlocking gears that would turn a disk with slots cut in it to release the candy down a chute.  Size just would not allow all that to happen in a desktop size replica.  Hmmmm.  Also, because of my desire for a turnkey, out went any idea for just having a mechanism that slid across with a lever to hide and reveal an opening for the candy.  Plus, a sliding mechanism might get stuck if the candy were trapped and the material of the mechanism weren’t strong enough to push the candy out of the way to close again.  Hmmm.  I needed something that would only allow one or a few pieces down the chute at a time, while preventing all of the candy from running down and out at once!  I considered making something that looked like an old rotary phone dial – the holes where you would put your fingers to dial would allow a piece of candy to escape, one at a time – but again, that would require a lot of room inside and some type of gear to get it to turn when the handle was turned.  It was all getting to be way more complicated than it should be!  I am sure I burned out a few brain cells just in the planning process alone!


This story does have a happy ending, however.  Without giving it all away, I can tell you that I was able to combine the use of a do-it-yourself type of clear ornament, which had a narrow opening so that when used with the appropriate sized candy, would only allow a small amount out at a time instead of all the candy rushing out  – this was especially helpful when it was being filled and tipped into place.  And finally a very simple mechanism for allowing only a small amount down the chute into awaiting hands was devised.  And now that all the hard work was done, I wrote it up into a pattern so nobody else has to go mad trying to figure it out.

I used several recyclable materials in this project in addition to a store bought ornament and a plumbing elbow from a hardware store.  These items are a plastic milkshake straw, a pull tab from a dairy creamer container, some plastic from a yogurt cup, a toilet paper or paper towel cardboard tube, and two metal pull tabs from soda cans.  You can see the crocheted machine in action here: 

And that’s the story of my working crocheted candy dispenser!  🙂


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