Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Musee Mecanique

The Musee Mecanique in San Francisco is one of the world's largest privately owned collections of mechanically operated musical instruments and antique arcade machines. They also have automata!

Here are some photos taken by Jason Simpson.

Here is the official The Musee Mecanique site

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Solvent Transfers for Cutting Wooden Gears or Parts

Here's a method for transferring patterns to various surfaces -- including wood. Called "solvent transfer", you use a photocopy or laser print and solvent to transfer the image to the wood. I've been doing this for about a year now. Once you get the hang of it you can transfer detailed cutting patterns to wood very accurately. This is a great technique for scroll-saw projects. The results are much better than carbon paper and tracing. Two important things to keep in mind: 1 - Lacquer thinner is nasty stuff so where gloves and do it in well ventilated area. 2 - If your pattern isn't symmetrical (like a gear), you must reverse the image before printing.

Here's a how-to on solvent transfers

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Pneumatic Automata by Hero of Alexandria

One of the earliest documented automata makers was Hero of Alexandria. There is now an online English translation of his work on pneumatics. Be sure to check out chapter 37 in which he describes his method to open temple doors by fire on an altar. Clever.

Here's the online edition of The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria

You might be able to find a used printed copy of The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria at

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Dug North's Automaton - 15 Minutes of Fame

Back in February of last 2005, the folks at -- my all-time-favorite blog , were kind enough to do a post on one my automaton called "An Interesting Specimen".

Here is the linke to Dug North's Automaton on


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Short Biography of Robert-Houdin

Here's a nice page biography page on the magician/automaton-maker Robert-Houdin from the PBS show The American Experience that profiled Harry Houdini.

A short biography of Robert-Houdin


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

DIY Wooden Gear Cutting Indexing Jig

Wooden Gear Cutting Indexing JigHere's an ambitious and clever woodworker who made his own rotary indexing mechanism to cut large wooden gears on his table saw. He's combined parts from a 1940s remote servo, a car odometer, his own wooden box, a calculator, and a lot of ingenuity.

It's a lot of work, but an impressive result. There's other cool woodworking related stuff on Matthias Wandel's site.

Here's the link to the Wooden Gear Cutting Jig project page.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

How to make a ramp walker figure out of wood!

UPDATE: The Automata / Automaton Blog is pleased to be the exclusive source for two sets of free plans for making your own ramp-walking figures out of wood! Here is the page with plans for a walking rhino and here is the page with plans for making a ramp walking robot. Enjoy!


A reader asked me how to make a gravity driven ramp-walker. I don't think I've ever seen plans. I did find some good info that I've listed below. Please add comments if you know of other good sources. We can create the best resource page on the web for making your own ramp-walkers!

I gather that this book has some info (but not a complete plan):
Earth, Water, Fire, and Air: Playful Explorations in the Four Elements

Here's a complete plan for a Tinker-toy based walker

This article shows an old wire-based walker and part of a patent for a toy with some of the key principles for ramp-walkers:

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin

Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin is one of my all-time heroes. He was a clockmaker, magician, , automatier, inventor, experimentalist, and goverment operative. His name was the inspiration for a young magican in search of a stage name. Thus, Ehrich Weiss became forever known as "Houdini".

Here's a great page about Robert-Houdin. I highly recommend the film by Jean-Luc Muller.

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