A Modular Fountain System

People playing with Cascade


horizontal rule


Cascade is actually more of a modular fountain system than just simply a fountain. A sheet of galvanized steel covers the top of a short wooden ramp. A stream of water flows down the sheet of metal into a reservoir, whence it is recycled by an aquarium pump. Since the sheet is ferrous metal, blocks with magnetic backing can be attached to the sheet and can be used to divert the water flow.

I call it a fountain "system" rather than just a fountain because each set of magnetic blocks results in a very different fountain. I have built a fountain "engine" around which any number of fountains can be constructed. It's fun.


Wooden Blocks & Ramps

The wooden blocks were the first set of blocks I ever made. They simply get in the way of the water and send it in different directions. Some of blocks are ramps, and if you get the water moving fast enough you can get the stream to arc thorugh the air.

The blocks are simply wooden blocks waterproofed with polyurethane, and backed with magetic strips. Yes, the block you see in the upper left is an arch. The square blocks are about 1.25 inches on the edges, and about a half inch thick.


Lava Rocks

Most of the fountains you see these days have rocks, so I couldn't escape making some for Cascade as well. These are basically just the kind of lava rocks you'd buy for your gas grill, but I've drilled a hole in the back and hot glued a magnet in there. The hot glue also produces a better seal with the surface of the ramp.

Unfortunately, the rocks don't really make the water do anything interesting. The water sounds pretty good running over them, though.

The square wooden block in the picture is included for scale. The rock in the upper left of the picture is turned over, so you can see the patch of hot glue, and sort of see the magnet at the center of it.


CD Ramps

These are regular compact discs with wooden wedges glued undeneath them. Each wedge has a magnetic base so it sticks to the fountain, and it holds the CD at a ramping angle to the surface. The idea was to get water flowing over the CDs to make neat reflections on the ceiling.

They work OK, but only the ones that have very shallow angles. Anything more than 30 degrees or so and the water just isn't moving fast enough to traverse the entire CD. Somethings that's pretty neat in itself as it lets the water go throught the hole. The main problem is that the cd actually only touches the surace at a tangent. I should really cut off a part of the CD to give it a good inch or so of contact with the water flow.


Foam Letters

These are some 1.5" high, 0.5" thick foam letters that I added a magnetic backing to. I think these letters are meant for playing in the bathtub, and they actually were able to stick to smooth surfaces when wet, but not strongly enough for this fountain, so I added the magnetic backing. That was a lot of work, cutting around the edge of every letter. I did two complete sets, so the number of possible words is large. They don't make the water do anything interesting, but they enable you to add messages to the fountain as it flows.

Although I claim full credit for the design of this fountain, the concept on which it is based is not mine. Drew Olbrich wrote a Cascade computer program for a research project that allowed two people to play in virtual water across the Internet. It was way cool.

Recently, Eric Snider wrote another program using this idea. Eric's Cascade runs as a screen saver/toy on high end Macintosh computers. He's added some stuff to the program that I can never achieve in real life, like gravity sources.

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