Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cabaret Mechanical Movement - The classic text on automaton-making in Kindle edition!

One of the all-time best books on the art and science of making contemporary automata, Cabaret Mechanical Movemen, is now available in a Kindle edition. This is great news, because the original paperback edition can be somewhat hard to get and used copies of the softcover book are quite expensive. Published by Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, a museum that pops-up all over the world to delight its visitors with some of the finest examples of the automata makers art, is largely responsible for the existence of the genre. As such, they are a name to be trusted.

From the book description:

Making automata is hard. Making other sorts of three dimensional objects can also be hard, but the extra dimension of movement seems to add a disproportionate amount of difficulty. For most people, especially those untrained in engineering skills, getting to the point where making mechanical devices is easy, can be a long and frustrating task. Then again, there are many people who have a sound understanding of engineering but can’t even draw a horse.

These things can be learnt. This book does not teach you how to draw a horse, but it does remove the mystery that surrounds the world of mechanisms and the business of making things move. Cabaret Mechanical Movement contains a lot of theory but it’s also packed with practical tips and ideas for making your own automata, moving toys or mechanical sculpture.

Chapter titles include:

  • Who, What, Why?
  • Some Principles
  • Levers
  • Shafts
  • Cranks
  • Cams
  • Springs
  • Linkages
  • Ratchets
  • Drives & Gearing
  • Control
  • The Checklist
  • Bibliography
  • Index

You won't find step-by-step plans to make an automaton, but you will learn a lot about the basic mechanisms that make most contemporary automata tick. You will also get valuable constructions tips for making moving toys and automata. The book includes over 200 black-and-white illustrations. I would say that alone, it may not be enough to get you started making autoamta, unless you have some previous woodworking experience. That said, it is an indispensable book on the subject and should be among the first those new to the field acquire.

Here is where you can get the Kindle edition of Cabaret Mechanical Movement: Understanding Movement and Making Automata

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

"Serpina" -- an electromechanical wooden rolling ball clock by Christopher Blasius

Christopher Blasius wrote to let us know about his latest creation: an electromechanical wooden rolling ball clock. Check it out!

From the creator:

I have designed a new clock. Her name is "Serpina" and it's a electromechanical rolling ball clock. Instead of a pendulum, a ball rolls down an inclined plane, which takes 20 seconds. Then the seesaw then tips in the opposite direction and the process begins again.

For more information please visit his website at http://www.holzmechanik.de.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

Blast from the past: aging an authentic wood catapult kit, part 2

This is the second in a two part series reviewing the working wood catapult model made by Pathfinders. In the the first part, I reviewed the the kit and gave you some assembly tips. In this part, I'll tell you how I went about making the catapult look like it truly belongs on a medieval battlefield.

What is the Kit and Where Do You Get It?
The catapult kit is sold various places, but can easily be found from Amazon as the Pathfinders Medieval Catapult Wooden Kit.

Getting Ready to Get Old
Once the kit is assembled, you should have a bit of fun testing it out. I recommend throwing small grapes at a pyramid of empty aluminum cans. If you would like to make your catapult look old, read on. For this process, I used the following tools and materials:

* Carving knife
* Small wire brush
* Furniture finish touch-up markers
* Coarse twine
* Elmer's glue
* Sandpaper - 100 grit
* Minwax wood stain - Early American
* Round wooden disks
* Wooden wheel pegs
* Popsicle type "craft" sticks
* Soldering iron with wood-burning tip
* Gun bluing
* Portable hand drill
* Ball-peen hammer

None of these things are essential. You should feel free to use whatever tools and materials you have on hand or can obtain easily.

Making the Catapult's Wood Beams Look Old
The first thing I did was removed the string and washers from the model.

I used a carving knife to take the corners off of the straight edges of the wood. I didn't remove a lot of material because I didn't want to compromise the strength of the wood.

I just shaved off small, irregular shavings to make it look a little less perfect and perhaps as if the beams had been hand-hewn. I also rounded the spoon-shaped end of the throwing arm.

Next, I added the wood knots to the beams. I have a set of three wood finish touch up markers. I used the second darkest color. By gently resting the very tip of the marker on the unfinished wood, pigment from the marker is drawn into the wood fibers in a way that looks something like a real wood knot. Use the underside of the model to perfect your technique.

The knots may look a little too dark at this point, but don't worry. After placing knots of various sizes on the beams, I gave the entire model a coat of Minwax wood stain. I used "Early American" simply because I had some around. You can use whatever color you like, so long as it is considerably lighter than the knots you have made with the marker. This allows the knots to show through the stain. At this point, you should give your catapult some time to dry.

Later, I used a wire brush to give the catapult some scratches and wear marks to make it look like it had been used for years. I also used a wood-burning tool to add some grain lines and cracks to some of the beams. Make sure these lines follow the grain of the wood so that they appear natural.

I dipped the the string that comes with the kit in the Minwax and wiped the excess off with a rag. This makes the "rope" look old too.

Adding the Twine to the Crossbar and Throwing Arm
I am not sure if it is authentic or not, but I thought some cordage wrapped around the throwing arm and crossbar would look good. I also figured this would provide a bit of cushioning. I used a coarse three strand twine for this. I unraveled the strands so that I had a single strand. I tied one end of twine around the crossbar.

Next, I spread some Elmer's glue on the section where the twine was to be placed. I then wrapped the twine in a tight coil around the crossbar. I tied off the end and put a drop of glue on it to keep if from coming off.

This process was repeated on the throwing arm where it meets with the crossbar.

Making the Wooden Wheels for Your Siege Engine
I purchased a set of round hardwood discs that are 2 - 3/4 inches in diameter. I also purchased some wooden toy axle pegs and some craft sticks -- really they are just Popsicle sticks. All three items can be found at craft stores.

I used a soldering iron with a flat wood burning tip to create parallel lines on the wheels to make it seem as if they were constructed from individual planks. I also burned the edges of the wheels a bit to simulate wear and wood grain.

Next, I glued two short lengths of Popsicle sticks to the outside of each wheel to model the boards that would hold the wheels together.

I drilled a 1/4 inch hole in the center of each wheel and in the four corners of the catapult base. I sanded flat sides on the axle pegs and darkened them with marker.

Using the toy axle pegs, I mounted each wheel to the catapult. I glued only the holes into which the pegs go, so the wheels can move freely. Finally, I gave the wheels a coat of wood stain.

Finishing Touches to The Antiqued Catapult
The catapult was starting to look pretty old at this point, but the bright metal washers on the outside ruined the effect. I used the rounded end of a ball-peen hammer to dent one face of each washer. I then rubbed some gun bluing on the surface to give it a dark, oxidized look. DO NOT get this stuff on your tools.

In the end, I spent 30 to 40 minutes making the basic functioning catapult kit, and 4+ hours making it look old! I had a lot of fun doing it.

Where to Get the Kit and Other Supplies
Most of what you need can be found at your local hardware store, craft store, or hobby shop. If you have any difficulty finding these items locally, here are some online sources:

* Pathfinders Medieval Catapult Wooden Kit
* Wood carving knife
* Sharpie Touch up Markers - 3 pack
* Sisal Twine
* Elmer's Glue-All
* 100 Grit Sanding Sheets
* Minwax Wood Finish - Early American
* Wood toy wheels
* Wood toy wheel axle pegs
* Cuisipro Frozen Pop Sticks
* Woodburning and soldering tool set
* Perma Blue, liquid gun blue kit
* Cordless drill
* Ball peen hammer

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