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Archive for the ‘Magnets’ Category

Where things stand with those little spherical magnets (BuckyBalls)

It’s been just under a year since we had an update about the CPSC’s favorite target: Those little spherical magnets commonly known by the brand name of BuckyBalls.

As you may recall, BuckyBalls came on the market a few years back, made quite a splash, but were then hounded by the Consumer Product Ssafety Commission to the point where these magnets were effectively banned.  Another spherical magnet supplier, known as NeoCube, also fell by the wayside, but a 3rd company, the almost unknown Zen Magnets (who apparently were first in with the product but last in overall sales due to BuckyBalls and NeoCube’s aggressive wholesaling campaign.) made the effort to fight back at the CPSC and actually won their court case.

Sadly, that was not the end of it. Zen Magnets has spent the better part of the past year just getting things in order for a new rollout of the classic spherical magnet product. Meanwhile they are bracing for another possible round of legal battles with the CPSC.

It might not come to that. The CPCS commissioner is on record as saying the following:

“We’re doing this without taking the time to learn the lessons about why we failed the first time, or if there’s any need for the rule… I think this is a factor of pure ego, and this agency has taken the thoughtful opinions of the 10th circuit personally, and we just wanna win for winning’s sake…”

The CPSC removed the rule on 3/1, as ordered by the court. But almost immediately the commission voted to implement a new rule regarding magnets. The precedent is set, however, so a rule as draconian as the last one would be lost in court even faster.

Meanwhile, what happened to the other companies? No idea what happened to NeoCube – their inventory was sold Zen Magnets (which may have caused them quite a bit of a legal headache) and we can assume they are long gone. Zen Magnets is in position to restablish spherical magnet sales. The folks who made BuckyBalls? Well, while Zen Magnets was fighting the legal fight against the CPSC they released a set of tiny rare earth magnets that they sarcastically named ‘Compliance Magnets’

Perhaps taking a hint from these Compliance Magnets, the makers of BuckyBalls released SPEKS. A set of rare earth micromagnets that is also compliant with the CPSC’s old rule.

Time will tell if they succeed with this product. Having personally handled such ultra-tiny magnets I find they had some appeal, but lacked the fidget potential the classic larger Spherical Magnets posessed.


As for our store? Well, we have our own (as the top image shows), and can sell them until another ban comes down. Sadly we can only sell these in-store at the moment.


More news on the banned BuckyBalls front, but not from Buckyballs

Ah, some day some Nostalgia program on VH1 will talk about the phenomenon made of sweet spherical magnets known most popularly as BuckyBallsBUckballs


Iron Filings – Yes, Iron Filings and what to do with them!

While carrying some boxes over to the local post office one of them sadly fell on the ground. One of the Postal employess commented that he hoped what was in the box was not fragile. I answered “Not this one, it is full of Iron Filings.”. “Iron Filings? Why would someone want that?”196

Why indeed?

Iron Filings are not the most exciting product we carry in the store. Its a bag, and it has 1 pound of Iron Filings inside it. Oh, and a label. Gotta have the label saying what it is. That’s it. And yet we sell quite a few of them!

So what are iron filings for? Here’s a few art & science projects that requires them:

1) Magnetic field patterns: Place a magnet (preferably a bar magnet) flat on a large piece of paper and sprinkle the irong filings on the paper around the magnet. The iron filings will line up to to illustrate the ‘field lines’ of the magnetic field of the magnet

2) Making Rust: There are a number of experiments listed out there where you add vinegar to iron filings to show how it oxidizes and makes rust.  Sometimes when you do this you will get a ‘rotten egg’ smell and its not exacly certain why that happens.

3) Budget Ferrofluid: Actual ferrofluid is kinda pricey, so many folks use irong filings sealed in a test tube with light oil (30w) to act as a budget version of ferrofluid. Its efficacy is…debatable.

4) Art Toys: Remember those ‘magnetic doodlers’ where you uses a tip to give a face eyebrows or a mustache? The ‘hair’ was actually made of Iron Filings. Some take this idea a step further

5) Music: Let’s just watch this, shall we?

6) Make a Fuzzy Magnet Pet. Take a powerful rare-earth magnet and drop it into a bag of iron filings to get this nifty fuzzy iron tribble!


Want to buy Iron Filings?


BuckyBalls, ZenMagnets, NeoCube or other Spherical Magnets now (mostly) banned.


Breakin’ the law! Breakin’ the law!

As of yesterday (April Fools Day ironically) Those much loved Spherical Magnet sets are officially banned from sale by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  After years of litigation, arguments, and sometimes even corporate tantrums the CPCS has said they cannot be sold for amusement, or as a toy, even to adults.

The rule, as stated on the CPSC website, says the following

“The final rule establishes requirements for magnet sets and individual magnets that are intended or marketed to be used with or as magnet sets. As defined in the rule, magnet sets are aggregations of separable magnetic objects that are marketed or commonly used as a manipulative or construction item for entertainment, such as puzzle working, sculpture building, mental stimulation, or stress relief.  Under the rule, if a magnet set contains a magnet that fits within the CPSC’s small parts cylinder, each magnet in the magnet set must have a flux index of 50 kG2 mm2 or less.”

That flux level is very low, and while most standard magnets fit under it, the rare-earth magnet power needed to give these spherical magnet sets their ‘stickiness’ won’t be reached.

So does this mean my old set of BuckyBalls is illegal?

No, the law does not outlaw any magnets. It does make them illegal to sell. Enjoy what you have, they cannot take them away from you. But they can prevent you from replacing them if you lose them.

Couldn’t you sell them as not being a toy?

I don’t doubt that some may try to do this, but really there is not much utilitarian use for magnetic sphere sets. You could sell small numbers as an artists supply perhaps, but trying to call them anything else will probably not fool the CPSC.

Are they really dangerous?

There is no danger as long as you:

a) Do not put them in your mouth

b) Keep them away from children who may put them in their mouth

Not necessarily in that order.

How can the CPSC do this?

They have jurisdiction over consumer products. Which is a lot of things. In fact it is everything we use every day. Most of the time their decisions make a lot of sense. In this case, their decision is not a popular one.

Can anything be done?

You can give the CPSC feedback, but do not expect them to go back on their decision.








The Price of Neodymium – Another drop?

In our last exciting report on the Price of Neodymium it looked like the price per kg of the Rare Earth magnet material had stabilized in the upper 80’s.  Another 6 months have gone by and what has happened?

neodymum1.15Well, looks like it took another hit. The price dropped suddenly in November and hasn’t recovered. In fact it seems to have dipped a bit more in December.

What happened? It may be hard to tell, some articles point (indirectly) to how China’s efforts to restrict the export of rare earth magnets may have backfired on them as they now possess an overabundance of production and markets reducing as hybrid cars reduce their rare-earth usage and the US is set to restrict the usage of rare earth magnets in toys.

Another factor might be the global drop in oil prices, which have resulted in reduced costs across the board.

Will this continue? It is hard to say. One source states that China is continuing to restrict their market production while expressing concern about their drop in the market share. We’re scientists, not market experts, so we cannot say for certain.

Neodymium magnets are used in stereo loudspeakers, TV’s, turbine systems,  car parts, science instruments, and even smartphones.


Buckyballs, ALL rare-earth spherical magnets to be banned. But is the CPSC being honest?

Scarcely a handful of years ago, the rage in magnets was BuckyBalls, the little spherical magnets that were fun to build and just fidgetSphericalmagnets with. BuckyBalls were not the only producer of these magnetic spheres, but they were definitely the best known and most popular due to their aggressive marketing campaign.

However this popularity made them a huge target for any product issues and BuckyBalls was soon hammered by lawsuits brought by the CPSC and eventually were effectively forced out of business.

The reason? It was alleged that many children were swallowing the magnets and when two magnets attached in the intestines the skin could necrophy and sometimes surgery was required.

BuckyBalls stated they were aware of two dozen emergency room cases out of  3 million of BuckyBalls sets sold, while the CPSC claimed over 1700 cases. BuckyBalls agreed to multiple warnings on the box agreed and to not sell the magnets in toy stores, but it wasn’t enough and the CPSC, in an unprecedented move took action to push BuckyBalls out of stores.

Unfortunately, the company that produced BuckyBalls, Maxfield & Oberon, did not handle the situation well. At times they made reasonable replies, but at other times the company’s founder went on anti-Obama screeds  that did little to defend the company’s position and probably estranged would-be supporters.

That being said, the push on BuckyBalls may have been the CPSC’s least popular action ever. But that didn’t stop them from pushing harder. Last month they put into law a total ban of rare-earth magnet sets to take place in 2015.

BuckyBalls, as noted earlier, are not the only spherical rare-earth magnet sets on the market. Even we at the store sell sets (although not online, and they are kept in a cabinet), at least two other companies, Magnicubes and Zen Magnets, sold the magnet sets. only Zen Magnets remains.

Zen Magnets is taking a slightly more scientific approach to defending their products. Instead of lashing out in anger, the founder, Shihan Qu, actually took a closer look at the CPSC’s claim of ‘1,700 emergency room incidents’ involving spherical magnets and found something rather odd. Here is their video:

The short version is: It seems the CPSC was using a very, very loose Venn diagram of search terms used in emergency room cases (words like ‘rare’, ‘powerful’ ‘spherical’  were all accepted) and considered any case that fell into that diagram to be a spherical magnet case. On its own that is shaky research, but it gets worse when the same terminology is used on the 3 years of emergency room cases prior to Spherical Magnets being introduced and shows there were just as many cases that fall under those terms over those 3 years.

The raw data from which the CPSC extrapolated their ‘1700 cases’ can be found here with highlighting to note the period when spherical magnets were introduced and what cases are doubtless caused by ingestion or aspiration of spherical magnets (most emergency room visits did not involve surgery).

Savemagnets.com is the place to visit to see latest developments in the attempts to prevent a CPSC ban.



The Price of Neodymium – Are we stable?

It has been 9 months since we did an article on the price of Rare Earth Magnet material, Neodymium. At that time to price was doing see-saws from 75 to 105 in price per kg: 163

So what has gone on those past 9 months? Not a whole lot, actually. Have a look at the latest movement:

Neodymium7.17Now it may look like there are some dramatic drops in price there if you look closely at the scale you will note the price variations are only $2 per kg. That makes the movement on the chart much less varied than the $30/kg variations it was experiencing last year around this time.

Has anything happened to cause this? Not much that we can determine. Mexico is considering adding itself to the list of Neodymium producers, but this is recent and does not seem to have done much to the price. Demand for electronics has not exactly spiked nor crashed. It may simply be that the wildcat speculators have left the market after making their profits or losing their shirts. The resulting market may simply be a more natural one without the roller-coaster effect speculation can bring.