Friday, December 29, 2006

A Cabinet of Curiosities

I was fortunate enough to see a DVD recently released by Cabaret Mechanical Theatre -- home to many great automaton-makers. I was delighted to see work by CMT artists old and new. The DVD covers many items currently available in their online store. For example:

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Hobby Knife Blade Sharpener

Micro-Mark sells this X-ACT0 hobby knife sharpener. I don't know about you, but I go through a lot of these blades in a month.

Basically, it is a jig on to which you place your hobby knife. It holds the knife at the proper angle to sharpen #11, #16, #2, and #24 type blades against a small Arkansas Whetstone.

They sell honing oil as an accessory for this tool. (For those of you who don't spend 50% of your lives sharpening things, honing oil serves as a lubricant that suspends the steel shavings from your knife and prevents them from clogging the pores of the Whetstone. In time, a clogged Whetstone will become ineffective. Whetstones should be cleared after each use by rubbing a liberal amount of oil onto the stone and then wiping off the excess with a clean cloth.)

I have yet to order one of these because it's hard to spend over $20 on a $2 knife, but my logic is poor. As their ad copy says, it should "pay for itself" may times over.

Has anyone tried on of these? If so, drop me a line or comment on this post.

I think this item is only offered at Micro-Mark: Hobby knife Sharpener

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Paul Spooner: One man and his cogs

This is a great article from a few years ago that appeared in the daily newspaper The Observer originally published in September of 2004.

The British Automata-master, Paul Spooner, is the focus of the article around the time of his solo show entitled A Day at the Butcher's.

I really appreciate this story for several reasons:
  1. Descriptions of Spooner's work

  2. Spooner's own thoughts about his creations

  3. Good money is being paid for good artwork
    (Here's a currency converter for those not used to Pounds.)

  4. A bit of history about the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre (to whom all contemporary automata lovers owe a debt)

Here is the archived version of One man and his cogs by John Windsor

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Wood Automata Kits from Mechanical Monkey

MechanicalMonkey.Co.UK sells a huge assortment of do-it-yourself automata kits.

Each kit comes with full instructions and is rated with a difficulty scale measured in bananas. 1 banana = easiest, 5 bananas = more difficult. You can order some of them fully assembled if you choose.

Most of them can be motorized and they sell the motor platforms.


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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Kangaroo Automaton from Australia artist

Michael Molesworth is an automaton-maker from Australia. Among his many Australia-themed works are several that feature the Kangaroo. Check out his work and his insightful take on automata in the "What are Automata?" section of his site.

Take a look at this Wooden Kangaroo Automaton

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Mechanical Toys & Games @ The Henry Ford Museum

The Henry Ford Museum has over 10,000 toys and games covering over two hundred years. Items in the toys and games collection include dolls, toy animals, board games, toy automobiles and trains, mechanical toys, construction sets, toy musical instruments, puzzles, marbles, and educational toys. Of particular interest to me is the mechanical Toys and Games section.

From the site:
Toy makers have long experimented with ways that toys could simulate human and other real-life action. Key-wound clockwork mechanisms, mass produced by the late 1800s, revolutionized the toy world. Different mechanisms could motivate dolls, engines, cars, boats, and other novelty toys, producing amazing and eccentric variations of speed and direction. Although many of these were ostensibly designed as children's playthings, they were equally appealing to adults.

Visit The Henry Ford Museum's Toys and Games section online

Also check out the online exhibit related to toys. (The link is at the very bottom labeled "enter".)

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Glue Advice Site --

For anyone who makes things, this is a nice reference site that gives you advice about the best glue choices when gluing one thing (this) to another (that). It's super-simple to use. This site provides links to additional details for all of the suggested glues in the results. Be sure to read these detail pages because they have context-specific information that can be important.

I just used it yesterday to answer the question: what glue should I use to adhere paper to glass? came to the rescue!

Visit the glue reference site -

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fourteen Balls Toy - Occupational Automata

Fourteen Balls Toy company has installed five big automata in the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield. This is really amazing automata work.

The automata depict various trades: clogger, filecutter, childminder, silversmith, and pawnbroker.

The link below goes to a large portfolio of nice photographs showing the amazing detail, craftsmanship, and artistry. The clogger's set of drawers have dovetail joints!

Admire the Weston Park automata

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Automaton Maker Profile: AQUIO NISHIDA

Horse automaton by Aquio NishidaJapanese Artist Aquio Nishida had a nice exhibition this year at the Toy Museum Seiffen.

I don't read German, but I don't have to in order to appreciate the work of this automaton-maker. He seems to be the expert at animating four-legged animals using many cranks and long linkages.

Visit The Toy Museum's page on the Aquio Nishida Exhibit. (Click on the small gear icons on the lower part of the page to see his work.) [Thanks Falk!]

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Belt-buckle with Gears that Move that's a nifty belt buckle [via - via] - Link on YouTube

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Automata Maker Profile: John S. Morgan

John S. Morgan - Hen AutomatonFellow automaton-maker, Saul Bobroff, recently directed me to the work of John S. Morgan. He's got a great aesthetic style and well as mechanical style. I love the extensive use of wooden gears. The woodworking looks really well done too.

Here is the link to Aardvark Studio. (Click on the little box at the bottom center of the page.)

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Friday, December 08, 2006

New England Model Engineering Society

Dug North speaking for the New England Model Engineering SocietyI would like to thank the members of the New England Model Engineering Society for having me as a guest at their most recent meeting. Four automaton-makers were invited to say a few words, and I was one of them. Despite my lack of preparation, the members were very gracious and asked many interesting questions.

There are a lot of good metal-working and model making resources to be found on their web site. If you live in New England and are a fan of this sort of thing, you might consider joining their group.

Here's a link to the NEMES web site.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Automaton Maker Profile: Minoru Takahashi

Minoru Takahashi is another of the artists with work on display in Gadgets, Gears, and Whirligigs at the Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham, Massachusetts. I stood and turned the crank on his dragonfly automaton for several minutes. The motion is very captivating. I was really impressed with the wooden chain drive he uses.

It is a great honor to have a piece on display next to those of Minoru Takahashi.

Here is Minoru Takahashi's web site in English. There is even more to see if you click over to the Japanese version of the site.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

More on the Antikythera Mechanism

The journal Nature and the NYT have more this month on the Antikythera Mechanism which I posted about here back in September.

From the article in the NYT:
The mechanism, presumably used in preparing calendars for seasons of planting and harvesting and fixing religious festivals, had at least 30, possibly 37, hand-cut bronze gear-wheels, the researchers reported. An ingenious pin-and-slot device connecting two gear-wheels induced variations in the representation of lunar motions according to the Hipparchos model of the Moon’s elliptical orbit around Earth.

That's just amazing. This would be a huge accomplishment if someone made this today wih the aid of the internet, books from the last two thousand years, computers, and CNC milling machines. Bear in mind, they believe this was made around 150-100 B.C.!

Here's the New York Times article on The Antikythera Mechanism

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Book: Essential Robert-Houdin

The Essential Robert-HoudinRobert-Houdin (1805-1871) revolutionized the art of magic with his incredible stage mysteries and lifelike automata, and he thankfully left a number of books recording his philosophy and techniques.

All the classic works of the great master of magic, Robert-Houdin, under one cover, lavishly illustrated with hundreds of beautiful prints, engravings, and photos. The Essential Robert-Houndin cointains the following books:

  • The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic

  • Card-Sharping Exposed

  • The Secrets of Stage Conjuring

  • The Memoirs of Robert-Houdin

  • The Priory (Robert-Houdin's automated house)

  • Selections from Robert-Houdin's never-before-translated scientific writings

To my knowledge this work is only available at The Miracle Factory

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