Multiplying Balls - Vernet VS Fakini

Discuss your favorite platform magic and illusions.

Postby Nathan Allen » 05/04/09 04:37 PM

Okay, I know the true manipulators are going to be all like, "No contest," and I, for the most part, would agree.

I've been using Fakini Tournament Multiplying Golf Balls for about 12 years. I like them for the following reasons:
  • They bounce; they can be bounced to show that they are solid, and if one gets dropped, they bounce back up to the hands
  • The gimmick is a snug fit; it "clings"
  • Nice weight to them
  • Solid look (no seams)


Here are the problems: When working outdoors, or in humid or hot environments, my sweaty hands create some less-than-impressive drops. It's NOT that I have no skills or that I need more practice; it's just physics - sweaty hands and fingers means slick balls.

BUT... I've owned Vernet Multiplying Balls in the past (the first silver version), and I just recently picked up a set of white.

I like them. Very "grippy" for the ball-roll flourish, never had any slip-outs when holding all four items between the fingers, cheap to replace or stock up on extras, just in case...

Downsides? The insanely visible seam on each ball (where the halves were glued together)... Also, if one were to drop unexpectedly, it stays on the ground. Gotta bend over to pick it up, and I don't have that kind of energy. Granted, drops happen much less frequently with these.

Still, I'm having a hard time deciding which set to stick with. Here are my questions to you fine folks who are more experienced than me:
1. Does the seam on the Vernet balls show up onstage? I took a file to it and ground it down, making it MUCH less visible on each ball
2. I've never had one break, ever, but are the Vernet balls fragile? Will they break if dropped on a hard stage?
3. Is bouncing a ball (like you can with the Fakinis) necessary to "prove" that a ball is just a ball?
4. Has anybody ever really had a problem with the loose-fitting Vernet gimmick?

I'm thinking, other than the visible seam on the Vernet balls, their handling and appearance really isn't all that different from the old red wooden multiplying balls (which is what I learned on). To the guys who use "non-bouncy" multiplying balls, is there a graceful out when a ball is dropped?

If you have any suggestions, ideas, or thoughts on working with a Vernet set, please share. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's on the fence here.

Many thanks!

-Nathan
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Postby Tortuga » 05/05/09 10:49 PM

I'll give you my $.02 in no particular order. No, the Vernet balls are not fragile. I believe they are advertised as ABS plastic. They do have seams, but depending on the distance, they don't show on stage. Besides, the seam doesn't really translate into, "they must be shells, or gimmicked". I don't have an issue with it.

Howard Hale used Vernet's product and did one of the best routines I have ever witnessed. I was luck to see him live at the Midwest Magic Jubilee in St. Louis.

No, you don't have to bounce the balls. I work with wooden ones and obviously I don't bounce them.

Good that you are thinking about it though. I'll share more thoughts later, I have to go.....
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/05/09 11:57 PM

I've used all kinds of balls for manipulation since the time I started by learning Geoffrey Buckingham's routine (from his book "It's Easier Than You Think") when I was 13 years old.

Wooden balls coated in the right kind of varnish are better than Fakini balls. They are lighter and the varnish helps them cling to your fingers. If you sweat, they won't squirt out from between your fingers like Fakini balls.

You can easily make them yourself in any color you like.

Just my two cents.
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Postby Nathan Allen » 05/06/09 12:48 AM

Thanks for your input, Tortuga and Mr. Kaufman. Is there a particular kind of varnish for wooden manipulating balls? Or is it just kind of a trial-and-error / different-for-everybody type of thing?

Or... are there different makes and models of the wooden balls? Recommendations?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/06/09 10:22 AM

Trial and error.

U.S. Playing Cards (Tally Ho and Bicycles) also used to handle better when the cards were varnished. Now they have a plastic finish.
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Postby Jim Martin » 05/06/09 11:23 AM

Any approximate date when US Playing Card discontinued varnishing their cards? (10 years, 20 years, etc.)

Regarding the finish of the bballs, the Wakeling/Steinmeyer book speaks of "... French polish.... using layers of shellac and fine sanding. Shellac that is not impervious to water."
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/06/09 12:02 PM

It had to do with new EPA rules regarding pollution caused by the varnish in some step of the process. Not sure when. I know it was after 1988.
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Postby Tortuga » 05/06/09 02:10 PM

Nathan, I had to go in a hurry last night, but here are some more thoughts. I used to use the Fakini balls, both the Tournament Multiplying Golf Balls and the smooth ones. As a side note, I sold the golf balls to Chris Kenner around 1982 or so when he was developing a routine with them. As with all of his magic, he did some amazing and creative things with them.

Getting back to wooden balls, remember that some of them can be heavy too. That is the main issue that I have with the Fakini balls. When the palm is slightly sweaty, the heft of the ball causes them to fall away from classic palm. At least for me it does. I never have an issue rolling them or keeping them in place between the fingers, just the classic palm.

I'm not sure what are currently available from magic suppliers, but the best set that I have was purchased from Gene Devoe's Magic Den in St. Louis in the late '70's I believe. He told me at the time that it was of Japanese origin, I'm pretty sure. The unique thing about the set is that the balls are extremely lightweight. Although wooden, they weigh less than half of what the typical German varnished ball weighs. They also had 4 solid balls and two shells included. They are the only ones I currently use. They have great cling and the lightweight aspect makes palming almost effortless. If you can find these somewhere, you will undoubtedly love them.

Richard is correct in that you can make your own set of wooden balls. I think some craft and/or hobby stores sell wooden balls of various sizes. You can paint them whatever color you wish and then put on some clear lacquer. Experiment with different types until you get one that feels right to you. Also, you can choose gloss or matte finish. I believe Ganson recommended a more matte finish. Remember too that white balls appear bigger on stage if that matters to you. No puns please!

As for the Vernet balls, they are smallish, more similar to the Fakini golf balls and easier to manipulate if you have small hands. I prefer 1-3/4" or 2" myself. I believe Cardini and Wakeling used 2-1/8" size.

Regarding your question about the shell with the Vernet product, you are correct in that it doesn't grip as well as Fakini, or the wooden ones that I use for that matter. You can gently toss the ball in the air if you squeeze the shell firmly first, although I don't know if that is necessary. I don't feel the need to "prove" anything. If they suspect a shell, then they will just assume that it clings rather well to the ball in the air!

Hope I didn't go on too long. I used to perform a lot of manipulation and am pretty passionate about it. I rarely have the opportunity to do stand up anymore, but relish the chances when they come up. I mainly do cards and coins in my sales job and love doing magic at trade shows that I'm working anyway. Makes the time go by faster and helps the customers remember both myself and my company.

Good luck!
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Postby John M. Dale » 05/06/09 03:24 PM

Tortuga wrote:I'm not sure what are currently available from magic suppliers, but the best set that I have was purchased from Gene Devoe's Magic Den in St. Louis in the late '70's I believe. He told me at the time that it was of Japanese origin, I'm pretty sure. The unique thing about the set is that the balls are extremely lightweight. Although wooden, they weigh less than half of what the typical German varnished ball weighs. They also had 4 solid balls and two shells included. They are the only ones I currently use. They have great cling and the lightweight aspect makes palming almost effortless. If you can find these somewhere, you will undoubtedly love them.


I, too, have a set of these (Got mine from Larry's Theatical in San Jose, CA around '81 or '82) & was told the same thing about them being of Japanese origin. They appear to be hollow (which explains the light weight). There is a tiny hole in each ball and the shells have very thin edges but the fronts are thicker.

They are truly well crafted. The shells fit snugly enough on my set that you can do a careful toss and not have them separate (they are snug enough that they seem to create a very slight suction when you roll the ball out but yet not tight enough that the ball would get stuck). They're the only set I've ever found that tapping two balls & tapping a ball and the shell sound almost exactly the same (I think the hollowness and hole in the ball is why.) My set is red but Larry's had a white set about 5 years after I bought mine. (To this day I wish I'd bought those, too.)

I've often wondered if these are the balls Shimada used, since his routine uses 2 shells and he is (obviously) Japanese.

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Postby Nathan Allen » 05/06/09 04:04 PM

Those Japanese balls sound nice. If I ever run across a set I'll have to pick 'em up just for the sheer joy of it.

Richard & Tortuga mentioned making a wooden set one's self. That sounds appealing. I like the idea of being self-sufficient instead of having to rely on a magic dealer half-way across the country. But I'm weird like that. So, the balls themselves can be found... Any ideas on how to craft a gimmick at home?

Back to the Vernet vs. Fakini debate in my head... Thanks, Tortuga, for letting me know about a pro with a great routine using the Vernet. I guess that is what I was looking for - knowing that other workers actually use these - and not just kids who had $15 to spend at a magic shop. Sure, there is really no difference in the eyes of the audience, but still... something just wasn't sitting right with me about wanting to switch from Fakini to Vernet. Seemed like a step backwards.

But that's what I did. I just sold my Fakini golf balls this morning, and turned around and ordered a couple extra sets of Vernet white balls to have on hand. Because, yes... white balls seem bigger.

And now... the $1000000 question... Any tips on using the Multiplying Balls in venues whose angles are a bit less-than-friendly to a magic act (nightclubs, some small company parties,etc.)... This effect and my routine for it is one of my favorites... But it is really the ONLY part of my show that has angle problems. Because of this ONE effect, I have to be all uppity about the audience seating and viewing angles.

If I could somehow develop a handling that successfully blocked the occassional bad angles (arm outstretched, gimmick empty), I would be a much happy camper.

Are there any books out there that give alternate takes on the classic handlings and displays?

Many thanks,

Nathan
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Postby John M. Dale » 05/06/09 04:17 PM

Well, there is an 8 ball, no shell routine in Principles and Deceptions by Arther Buckley titled "Production of Eight Solid Balls at the Finger Tips Without a Shell." It's not easy (but what by Buckley is easy?)

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Postby Tortuga » 05/06/09 04:36 PM

First of all, sounds like we have the same product John, and boy do I wish that I had ordered more from Devoe when I could have. He had white also, I chose red and now wished I had bought a couple sets of both. However, at the time I was in high school and the sets were not cheap, perhaps $30.00 or so, which made them a lot more than the German counterpart.

Nathan, I recommend a couple sources for the multiplying balls in addition to Mr. Kaufman's suggestion about the Buckingham routine. By the way, I don't have a link right now but there is a video of Mr. Buckingham available online and it is an incredible routine! Don't know if you can get a video of Howard Hale, but his routine with Vernet's balls is outstanding. He seemingly produces dozens of balls and from what I remember, used the 'flash four' gimmick to good effect.

I would look at Ganson's Routined Manipulation Part II, which in addition to billiard ball sleights and routines has a nice history of the effect and other information. It also has other manipulation routines with color changing knives and thimbles, etc. You might also check out the head Genii's 'Balls! Lessons in Sidearm Snookery'. Don't know if it is in print, but you can probably find one somewhere.

Other than that, if you have angle issues or are surrounded, then the shell is problematic. Instead of your arm out to the side, you can obviously hold it in front of your body, close to the chest. This will help the angles some. It will also take care of most of those behind you. There is also the issue of using the shell at all in those circumstances. Great routines without the shell are possible. Cardini and Wakeling have solved the problem and I believe Roy Benson's routine that was written up in Genii, I believe. He used the larger Owen balls like Wakeling, I think.

Experiment with various droppers and/or vesting to gain access to the balls. All of the references above cover devices to hold out the balls. That is another issue. Fakini balls don't work with traditional cloth droppers, they don't drop, they get stuck. That is why they have special (and expensive) tubes available. The wire holders like that from Lynetta Welch work great though. You might also have issues with a cloth tube and the Vernet's. I used wire-only so I don't know for sure, but I would think the the little projections would get hung up on cloth. Anyways, there are several other ways to gain purchase on balls that don't involve droppers of any type. A handkerchief in your breast pocket, under your vest (if wearing one), in your pockets, hidden behind a prop on the table, etc. Lot's of ways to skin the cat.
Let me know how you're coming along with your act. Sounds like you really like manipulation.

Finally, don't forget the Mcbride DVD's on manipulation. He uses Fakini's but most of the routines can be done with other. Also check out Arthur Trace for some creative ideas.
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Postby alames » 10/16/09 03:08 PM

I'm new to this list; just saw this thread and think I have something to contribute. Forgive a long-winded technical geek, but I think I have a couple of answers.

I started out with a set of Vernets then got the japanese ones. I didn't like how the sharp points on the Vernets -- they jab your fingers, snag silks, don't work well with many kinds of ball droppers. Maybe I just needed to file the points down, but it messes with the chrome. They're just not comfortable, and working with billiard balls demands a lot of tactile comfort.

I have a set of the Japanese balls as well. Four balls, two shells, bright red lacquer, 1.67 inches/42.5 mm in diameter. Inside the lid says "Crafted by Mikame Craft". I assume (possibly incorrectly?) that they're made by the same Mikame, but I don't find Mikame making them now. Anybody connected with Mikame who could check?

Only regrets with the Mikame Craft balls:
1. they don't bounce, so don't drop them on stage
2. The shell can crack (not highly likely) so don't drop them
3. The paint can chip, so don't drop them.

The shells fit so well on mine that you can throw a ball/shell combination in the air and catch it without them separating. In fact, occasionally, getting them *apart* is more the concern. But they can be handled quite reely.

Like the rest of you, I wish I'd bought 3 or 4 sets -- they're really great balls, and the one set I bought is *definitely* not enough.

The Japanese wooden balls are *not* hollow. The hole isn't for hollowing, it's for mounting the ball on a pin in order to paint it. Many oriental woods have much lower density than our domestic hardwoods, the lower weight is a matter of good choice of wood species -- something close grained, low density. The tree they chose is fast growing -- looking inside the shells (which have only 1 coat of lacquer that you can see through) I see thick annular rings -- almost 1/4 inch thick. The tree is a fast-growing weed; something like poplar.

One could (and probably should) cover the hole by filling it, then lacquering it. I nver felt the need. If you make your own, matching the color is trivial.

The finish on the Japanese balls is lacquer. It's a fabled, classical oriental finish. You can spray it and generally get a very nice finish; you can also brush it, then sand/rub it with increasingly fine grits, then polish/buff until you get the ultimate shine. Classical Japanese lacquer finishes frequently run in excess of 30 coats. The lacquer handles really well. You might be able to buy various colors of lacquer in spray cans, but you may need a spray gun or an airbrush. I bought some to spray paint a bicycle 30 years ago, but I think some of the VOC regulations might affect the availability of such things these days. You won't find lacquer in a spray can at the hardware store. Try automotive painting suppliers. By the way, these guys have *unbelievable* choices of colors -- all the world class metallics for instance. People *love* to trick out their car finishes. If you have a friend who paints cars, start there. A small pin-hole to hold the ball, and spray away.

French polish is another possibility for finish. You *don't* need to sand between coats of french polish; each coat dissolves part of the previous coat, and you get a reasonable shine by just adding more. Learning to french polish well is a bit of an artform (make the pad right, and use a little oil to lubricate, ...) but can be learned. French polish also has nice grip. It's transparent, and can go over other things (like paint). French polish is easy to get at woodworking supply places (www.woodworker.com, www.woodcraft.com)

On making the balls, this is a woodworking thing. A wood lathe and a couple of jigs seem the easiest way.

I'd probably make my own balls, rather than buying them. OK, so I'm a woodworker, but making your own means you can seek *just the right* wood -- you could even try balsa if you wanted feather light. The wooden balls I've seen in the woodworking stores are frequently made of tight-grained U.S. domestic hardwoods, things like maple, alder etc. They're fairly dense -- rather denser than the Japanese balls we lust after. While I've turned decent spheres purely by eye on my wood lathe, I'd probably build a ball-turning jig so they'd be much rounder.

Alternatively, on making balls, you *could* take a large drum, set it up so it can rotate automatically, rather like a rock tumbler, put a bunch of cubical blocks of wood and many strips of sandpaper in, turn the thing on and come back later. It will make spheres for you. Their diameters would vary some, so you'd need to make lots and pick out those that have same diameter.

I'm also aware of a process involving a custom-built machine. You need three pipes whose ends all meet, with some separation between them. 2 of them have to be motor-driven so they spin, and they have to be spring-loaded to move along their lengths. The ends of the pipes are coated with abrasive. You put a roughed-out block of wood in, the machine centerless-grinds the spheres, which fall out the bottom when the spring-loadings in the pipes bottom out.

To make a wooden shell, one would start with a ball, then hollow it. The shell is .034 inch / .71 mm larger in diameter (you need *some* thickness in order for the shell to surround the ball). Another reason to learn to make the balls -- you need the same technology to make the shell in this case. Anyway, the ball-turning jig with a lathe would enable a hollow sphere to be turned in the end of a ball. You'd need a way to hold the work too; I'm thinking a custom-made wooden chuck hollowed to the shape of the ball, perhaps made like a collet so you can tighten it. Alternatively, a vacuum chuck would work. You get the nice suction fit by trying taking wood off *very slowly* and testing the ball in the shell until it fits like you want it to.

You could make a metal shell by a process called metal spinning. (cf. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKz0qZrQ ... re=related) The process is how they make Zombie balls and cups for the cups and balls. Start with a wooden form, you mount a thin piece of metal against the form, then spin the thing in a lathe. Pushing the spinning metal against the form shapes it. This is an art form, and can be quite dangerous (sharp spinning metal edges), but it is how a lot of things are made.

The more I think about it, the more I *want* to make my own. If I did, I could have *many* colors, many extras, and could finally *stop* worrying about dropping them.
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Postby alames » 10/16/09 03:14 PM

Oh, one more thing.
The Buckingham video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7-jOfPN ... L&index=10
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Postby John M. Dale » 10/16/09 08:09 PM

alames,

Thanx for filling in a bunch of info about the Japanese balls. I never had the lid to the box they came in, so the Mikame Craft connection is news to me.

Also, you answered the "Mystery of the Tiny Hole." I never thought the balls had been hollowed through the hole. (I thought maybe is was to equalize pressure so they wouldn't crack.) The hole never bothered me, it was just an observation. They sure seem to be hollow due to light weight. I'd assumed they'd been made in 2 halves and expertly assembled. (Is it totally obvious that I know nothing about woodworking yet?)

I'm not interested in parting with my set but, since they seem to be a bit scarce and well made, I'm curious if you any idea what their value might be?

JMD


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Postby alames » 10/17/09 02:26 AM

For those who know and love them, they're the equal of Fakini, so the current price of a set of Fakinis might be a starting point. Of course, the mikames include 1 more ball and 1 more shell, but that didn't seem to have too much an effect on their original cost vs competing balls. I seem to remember paying about the same for these vs the price of the German ones with the metal shell. I just liked the feel of these better; price had to be about the same, as I was a college student without deep pockets.

Since they're in the realm of the no-longer-made, and the rare-and-scarce, their value may be much higher, but only if the demand is there. These are working props, collectors items *only* if enough people know about them. Antique coke bottles might be worth more, but who can tell?

An analogy: I just bought a 70 year old metal lathe (analogous because it's another working-mans prop if you will, maybe the same size market -- guys who like magically making stuff out of metal with ancient machines vs guys who like to stand in front of people making magic with ancient props). Paid less than the price of a new one. It does a better job than the new ones, but takes a bit more finesse to use it.

Condition would affect their value as well.

Far as I know, not many people know about the mikame craft balls, so I wouldn't bet on a lot of antique value. But the magic collectors would know better.

So, all that said, I'd guess about the same as new fakinis -- maybe $88 for a set in nice condition. I saw 2 sets of fakinis on ebay for $50 and they didn't sell, so maybe $50 as a start?

What diameter and color do you have? (I'm just curious..)

Oh, and no worries about what you'd know or not know about woodworking. Most people don't. I'm just a geek who thrives on obscurities..

Arlo
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Postby alames » 10/18/09 01:00 AM

Another data point.
On http://www.ktmagic.com/Auction/APPrintItem.asp?id=4154 I see they just auctioned off a set of Mikame Craft billiard balls. 1-5/8 inch diameter, they state that they're hollow (which I continue to not believe), for $152.50. So I guess at least somebody out there believes they're worth roughly twice a set of Fakinis. Maybe the fact that they're rare?

I love the way they handle..
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