Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Magic -themed Automaton to be Auctioned

Here is another installment in my ongoing behind-the-scenes sneak peek of the automata that will be auctioned by Skinner Auctioneers on March 24th in Boston.

This is a large coin-operated piece -- it takes the large old-style English penny. It features a clown with a fan. When the coin is inserted, music begins to play, and he covers his face with the fan.

Next, he raises the front panel on the box next to him to reveal...his head!

He pulls the fan away to reveal that his entire head is missing.The cycle then reverses until the machine stops running.

This piece was made by the younger Phalibois. (See Christian Bailly's Automata: The Golden Age, 1848-1914 for more information on Phalibois and other famous automaton makers of this era.)

Learn more about the auction in March at Skinner's website

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Automata Search Engine

I have leveraged a new Google tool that allows you create custom search engines.

It's not just a Google search box on my site.

I have hand-selected nearly 50 sites that are specifically about mechanical automata. When you use this custom search engine, it searches those sites only. Hopefully, this should help you find information that is useful to you -- rather than simply matching anything that says "automata".

Give The Automata / Automaton Search Engine a try. I've already found some cool stuff!

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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Study of Levitations Automaton

Machini the Marvel: The study of LevitationsTake a moment to check out my most recently completed automaton.

You may recall my former piece in which Machini the Marvel pulls many assorted items from his Transmutative Hat.

I have once again called upon Machini the Marvel to perform a mechanical illusion.

This time using the what would appear to be only the power of his mind, he moves objects on a lecturn. By closing his eyes and passing his hand over the lecturn ink rises in its inkwell, a book opens of its own accord, a pen spins in place without being touched!

Check out Machini the Marvel performing The Study of Levitations!

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Carving Vise to hold Figures While Carving

Now, I'll be honest...I don't own one of these, but it sure looks like a nice thing to have for carving. I bring it to your attention also because it is on sale for $59.99, normally $71.49.

Adjustable Carving Vise/Carvers Mallet
Two great carving tools! One to hold it and a beautiful mallet to carve your fine pieces! (Mallet head is green not black as shown.) Mallet and carving vise sold separately.

Adjustable Carving Vise/Carvers Mallet

Adjustable Carving Vise/Carvers Mallet

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mini Clamp-It Assembly Square Kit

I use these to assemble the boxes that house the automata mechanisms. The squares are thick so that the pieces clamped to it stay flat. The squares are also a strong plastic, so I don't worry too much about marring the wood. They also have little notches in them that allows the clamps to nest securely in them. At $35 they may seem pricey, but I sure am glad I have them, and the clamps can be used for other purposes.

Mini Clamp-It  Assembly Square KitMini Clamp-It Assembly Square Kit
Buy this kit and save $4.95 versus buying individual pieces separately!

Includes everything needed to clamp two corners at time; comes with two Mini Clamp-It Assembly Squares and four 4" Mini Clamps.

Mini Clamp-It Assembly Square Kit

The Mini Clamp-It can only be obtained in the Tools section of Rockler Woodworking.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Automaton-Makers: How to add a coin mechanism to you piece

Here's a nice little article on how to add a coin activation mechanism to your automata. Find a public location for your masterwork (retail store, library, restaurant, etc.) and you may be able to put that automaton to work for you earning $$$.

This comes from Tim Hunkin of Cabaret Mechanical Theatre fame. He's the maker behind many of the larger interactive automata. He's also been a cartoonist and had a TV series called The Secret Life of Machines.

Check out the Coin-op tutorial [via] that is itself [via]

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Fractional Digital Caliper

I bought a digital caliper to replace my classic vernier-style one last year. It is a lot easier to read the digital display than the fine lines on a traditional caliper.

My digital caliper displays units smaller than an inch in decimals. That's fine for the units like 1/4 inch displaying as .25 inches. But things get sticky with finer fractions. Quick: what's the decimal equivalent of 17/64? Sure, I could figure it out, but I usually don't.

The little gem shown here is a digital caliper that displays units in fractions on the screen. It has three modes: fractional inches, decimal inches, and millimeters.

As with most calipers, you can take inside measurements, outside measurements, and depth readings. It even shuts itself off after it's been idle for while to save battery life. (Mine doesn't do that.)

The Fractional Digital Caliper is available at Hartville Tool online.

While you are there, you should browse the clearance section. There truly are some good deals there.

The 6'' Fractional Digital Caliper is also available at Rockler Woodworking.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Skinner Automata Auction, March 24th, 2007

Here are some more details on the upcoming auction by Skinner Auction house.

The auction will take place on 24th of March, 2007 in Park Plaza, Boston.

Pictured here is another interesting automaton that will be in the sale (left). It's a wall-mounted picture-style automaton, from the 1800s.

The automaton depicts a colorful scene in a blacksmith's shop with men working at the forge, a tail-wagging dog, and a farrier shoeing a horse.

The entire thing is driven by a music box and clever assemblage of pulleys in the back (see second photo at left).

Additional details about the auction will be online at

Check back here in the coming weeks for more information.

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WoodCraft Magazine Bundle - Automata Plans -- one of my absolute favorite woodworking stores -- is offering a bundle of the first year of its self-titled woodworking magazine.

This is a great deal for two reasons:
  1. You get 7 issues of a great woodworking magazine for $9.99
  2. You get Woodcraft Holiday 2005 with my article on how to build a contemporary automaton of your very own. That's worth the price alone!
Check out the Woodcraft Magazine Issues 1-7 Bundle

If you are a hard-core Dug North fan and just want the issue with the automaton plans, you can get Woodcraft Holiday 2005

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Collectors: Upcoming Automata Auction at Skinner

I have had the great pleasure of viewing in person some of the automata that will be offered by Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers (the experts you often see on Antiques Roadshow) in March.

This is the first installment in a series of posts that I hope to present over the next few weeks to show the items they will be selling.

The group pictured here are all antique automata with unique qualities and actions. These are only a few of the automata that will be offered in March.

The flute player (right) moves his fingers, head, mouth, and eyes as a tune plays. It's pretty amazing.

The man on the barrel (center) laughs, raises his hand, and makes a mocking gesture.

The seated figure (left) is the most amazing. Not only does he rock and move his head, but he actually smokes -- real cigarettes!

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Video of Life Size Elephant Automaton

I posted recently about a full-size walking elephant automaton. Here is some video of this amazing automaton in action.

Thanks to Tim Trager for the video

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Dremel 400-3/71 400 Series XPR Rotary Tool Kit

Dremel 400-3/71 400 Series XPR Rotary Tool KitHechinger Hardware is offering this amazing Dremel package for $105 -- about $30 less than Amazon!

From the marketing literature:
The Dremel 400 Series XPR rotary tool offers the performance, precision and control required to complete the widest range of projects of all Dremel rotary tools--from work, home or studio. Exclusive XPR attachments take advantage of the increased strength of the XPR's unique motor design plus it works will all existing Dremel attachments and accessories.

Look at what you get:
  • Features XPR Planer attachment, Flex Shaft & Circle Cutter
  • Includes XPR Storage Case plus 71 Accessories in their own integrated storage area
  • Variable speed provides maximum control and precision
  • Permanent magnet motor for increased performance and consistent speed at all speed settings
  • Ergonomic, contoured styling with soft-grip areas for greater comfort and control
  • Lightweight design for comfort during prolonged use
  • Separate on/off switch and speed control dial for the perfect speed every time
  • Lock-out collet button prevents engagement of spindle lock when tool is running
  • "Dove-tail" feature for Dremel-exclusive attachments
  • Cool-running ball bearing construction for smooth and quiet operation
  • Replaceable motor brushes extend tool life
  • Five year warranty

Product Includes:
  • 400 Series XPR Rotary Tool
  • XPR Planer
  • Flex Shaft
  • Circle Cutter
  • 109 High Speed Cutter
  • 150 Drill Bit
  • 191 High Speed Cutter
  • 401 Mandrel
  • 402 Mandrel w/ Screw
  • 403 Bristle Brush
  • 404 Bristle Brush Cup
  • 407 1/2" Coarse Sand Band Shank
  • 408 1/2" 60 Grit Sanding Band (2)
  • 411 Coarse Sanding Discs (15)
  • 414 1/2" Felt Wheel
  • 420 HD Cut-off Wheels (20)
  • 421 Polishing Compound
  • 422 Cone Polishing Tip
  • 425 Emery Polishing Wheel (2)
  • 426 1-1/4" Fiberglass Cut-off Wheel
  • 428 Carbon Steel Brush
  • 429 1" Felt Wheel (2)
  • 430 1/4" Sanding Band w/ Mandrel
  • 431 1/4" 60 Grit Sanding Band (2)
  • 432 1/4"120 Grit Sanding Band
  • 438 1/4" 120 Grit Sanding Band (2)
  • 540 1-1/4" HD Cut-off Wheel (2)
  • 541 Aluminum Oxide Grinding Wheel
  • 561 MultiPurpose Bit
  • 8193 Aluminum Oxide Grinding Stone
  • 84922 Silicon Carbide Grind Stone
  • 85602 Silicon Carbide Grind Stone
  • 932 Aluminum Oxide Grinding Stone
  • 953 Aluminum Oxide Grinding Stone
  • XPR Storage Case

Wow! This is an entire workshop in a box!

Check out the Dremel 400-3/71 400 Series XPR Rotary Tool Kit

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Flying Spaghetti Monster Automaton

Flying Spaghetti Monster AutomatonAnother funny paper automaton to download, print, and make. A wonderful creation from Rob Ives at

From the site:
Turn the handle on this cardboard curiosity and the Flying Spaghetti Monster waves his noodly appendages. Let the pasta power of the FSM help with your tricky decisions, turn the handle and ask yourself "What would Flying Spaghetti Monster Do?"

Here's the link to the Flying Spaghetti Monster Automaton.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

5 Best mechanical reference books for the automaton maker

Here is a list of 5 great reference books for automaton-makers and people that love or want to learn more about mechanisms.

1 - 507 Mechanical Movements: Mechanisms and Devices (Dover Science Books)-Henry T. Brown

2 - Ingenious Mechanisms for Designers and Inventors (4-Volume Set) (Ingenious Mechanisms for Designers & Inventors)- Franklin D. Jones

3 - Mechanisms and Mechanical Devices Sourcebook- Neil Sclater and Nicholas Chironis

Also the improved Mechanisms and Mechanical Devices Sourcebook, Fourth Edition - Neal Sclater and Nicholas Chironis

4 -Illustrated Sourcebook of Mechanical Components- Robert O. Parmley

5 - Machine Devices and Components Illustrated Sourcebook- Robert O. Parmley

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

5 Best Books for Making Wooden Mechanisms

Here is my list of the top 5 books for people who want to make mechanisms out of wood. These devices are often used, or could be used, in the making of contemporary automata. The projects are great skill-building exercises and make great gifts.

1 - Making Wooden Mechanical Models: 15 Designs With Visible Wheels, Cranks, Pistons, Cogs, and Cams- Alan Bridgewater, Gill Bridgewater

2 - Making Mechanical Marvels In Wood- Raymond Levy

3 - Making More Wooden Mechanical Models- Alan Bridgewater, Gill Bridgewater

4 - Making Marble-Action Games, Gadgets, Mazes & Contraptions: Designs for 10 Outlandish, Ingenious and Intricate Woodworking Projects- Alan Bridgewater, Gill Bridgewater

5 - Making Working Wooden Locks- Tim Detweiler

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Incredible Elephant Automaton / Automobile

In the years after WWII, English inventor Frank Stuart wanted to develop a way to boost the European economy as well as increase moral among the people of Europe. How would you accomplish this monumental task of socio-economic engineering?

His idea: A giant mechanical Robot Walking Elephant Car.

Powered by a four cylinder Chevy engine with hydraulics hidden inside an anatomically correct body cavity, the elephant is capable of speeds of up to 20 mph.

Stuart made three of Robot walking elephants in 1947. One is housed in a museum in Austria, one in a private museum in Chicago, and one was kept by the inventor, then by his family after his death. It is this last that is pictured here.

It will be coming up for public auction.

Certainly, this in one of the most remarkable automata ever created.

Check out the Elephant Automaton

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