Sunday, April 29, 2007

Amazing Arrow Shooting Automaton

Known as Karakuri, the Japanese have a very long tradition of fine automata making. This is a reproduction of an original from the 1850s. The boy reaches down, selects and arrow, puts the arrow on the string, draws back, and fires at the target. He repeats this action several times. Amazing.

Kits for making your own can be purchased from The Karakuri Corner.

Useful Tools - Reader Submissions

Friday, April 27, 2007

How to Sharpen or Fix Broken Drill Bits

Over time, drill bits become dull and cease to cut effectively. Sharpening dull bits can improve the quality of your work, put less strain on your tools, and generally make drilling safer (since you can let the bit do the cutting, rather than applying force that can cause the bit to break). Sometimes, drill bits do break. You don't necessarily need to throw it out!

One option is to buy a Drill Doctor. These range from $50 for your Basic Drill Doctorto their $150 Professional Drill Bit Sharpener.

Here's an article on How to Sharpen Twist Drill Bits.

The article shows you how to freehand-sharpen a twist drill bits using a grinding wheel. While it's not too difficult, there are several important things one must know and do. In addition to learning the correct angles, the article explains the three distinct motions one must use while holding the bit against the grinding wheel.

1 - Move the bit to the left (grinding on the left edge only)
2 - Rotate the bit in clockwise rotation
3 - Move the bit downward

Read the full article on Resharpening drill bits, courtesy of Woodcraft woodworking stores.

Labels: , , ,

Ingenious Mechanisms for Designers & Inventors

A Weighty Set of Books
These books are very comprehensive. There are may multi-component mechanisms described in great detail for mechanically inclined people. For automata makers, and beginners in particular, it may be a bit too much to digest, but certainly there are hundreds of mechanical elements that could be used.

The drawings are very good -- clear and well labeled line art reminiscent of patent drawings.

These books offer multiple solutions for each category of machine. The organization is a little funny -- since you will need to browse all four books to cover all the solutions. You'll learn a lot along the way.

Be Ready to Do Some Reading
These books will require some careful reading of several pages to absorb how a given device works. It's not exactly a quick reference.

If you are more of a visual-learner -- as I am -- I would suggest that you buy Mechanisms and Mechanical Devices Sourcebook, which shows an isolated mechanism and places one, short paragraph of text immediately next to it. If you are on a budget, you might consider 507 Mechanical Movements in Dynamics, Hydraulics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Steam Engines, Mill and Other Gearing

The machines depicted in Ingenious Mechanisms are of an historical nature. This is not a shortcoming, however. Mechanisms of the sort found in these volumes were state-of-the-art at one time. There were no electronic sensors and computer controls at the turn of the last century. Everything had to work -- and had to work mechanically. It's a testament to a certain real-world ingenuity that most of us can't comprehend.

I feel these four volumes they have greatly improved my understanding of complex machines.

Learn more about Ingenious Mechanisms for Designers and Inventors (4-Volume Set) (Ingenious Mechanisms for Designers & Inventors)

Labels: , ,

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Win a Laser Cutter from Instructables

Instructables is giving away a BrightStar LG3040 laser cutter package worth over $6000!

To enter the contest, here's what you need to do:

1. Publish an awesome Instructable on any subject anytime between April 15th and Sunday June 17th 11:59 PM PDT and add it to the Laser Cutter contest group. They will judge the projects with help from Squid Labs and past winners, while taking into account each Instructable's rating and number of pageviews as another "judge."

Entries do not have to involve lasers; any Instructable is eligible. The focus is on sharing what you're passionate about.

2. Five finalists will be selected and announced around Friday June 22nd. Each of the five finalists will need to submit a proposal telling what they would do with the laser cutter.

Check out all the details of Instructables Laser Cutter Contest

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Vaudville Automaton Enigmarelle - a Hoax?

There is an running theme in the history of automata, to create -- or fake -- lifelike creations (for the latter, see The Turk, Chess-Playing Machine).

The recent post about an automaton from the 1900s by the name of Enigmarelle looks to be another hoax.

The source of their post is the VITAPHONE VARIETIES blog.

It seems a bit too good to be automaton adept at so many different things. I have nothing but respect for engineers, machinists, and craftsmen of the past, but this thing rivals ASIMO in its abilities.

Follow the links and decide for yourself. If you know more about the history of Enigmarelle, post a comment and let us know!

Labels: , ,

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Woodshop Specialtes: Wood Gears & Marionettes

Here's a book that at first glance might not seem to be of much use to automaton-makers, but not so!

There are three sections of this book that are of particular interest to automata makers (and woodworkers in general).

First, there is section on wooden clockworks. This section may only be 8 pages, but it is almost the only 8 pages I've found on wooden gears and their construction. This includes tips on cutting wooden circles, making pin wheels and pinions, and cutting slots for toothed gears.

Second, there are two sections on the construction of wooden marionettes/dolls. Take a good look at the work of Paul Spooner/Matt Smith or Keith Newstead. I would be willing to bet that they studied puppet-making as some point. You can see that they understand the human form, joints, and how to make them from wood.

I have only covered three sections of this book; there are two dozen more on diverse woodworking topics. At this price, Woodshop Specialtiesis a great resource.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Scroll Saw Joinery

Scroll saws are great for cutting curves and complex shapes. Did you know you can also use the scroll saw for joinery?

Here's a really interesting that article shows you how to cut a variety of interesting joints on the scroll saw.

Read the article: Scroll Saw Joinery originally published in Scroll Saw Workshop magazine

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Proxxon Miniature Table Saw - Truly Amazing!

PROXXON Table Saw at Woodcraft.comI recently bought some new tools. The first thing on my list was a miniature table saw. My full-sized Craftsman is going strong after forty or more years, but it often seems like too big of a saw for the pieces I cut for automata.

Simply put, these little table saws are amazing. The saw is very strong and precise. The saw is quite capable of cutting hardwoods and the speed can be adjusted for the material.

There are a variety of blades available including a carbide tipped, diamond, abrasive disks, and fine toothed slitting blades. These blades are completely interchangeable with the PROXXON Mini Miter Saw!

There are also many fine accessories (rip fences, feather boards, cross-cut tables, tapering jigs) available. I comes with a basic rip fence and mitre slider.

Buying this saw had an added advantage...I was able to free up space by moving my full-size saw out of my primary work area because I need less often.

If you need a good saw, don't have a lot of space, or work with small pieces I think these miniature table saws are a great choice. I LOVE mine.

Check out all the the details on this Proxxon Table Saw.

Labels: , , , , ,

Cabaret Mechanical Theatre - Older Video

I may have linked to this video of Cabaret Mechanical Theatre previously. I thought it might be nice to have it available from here.

I believe this footage is from an exhibit at the OXO gallery a while back.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Here's a wonderful 6 minute video of the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre exhibit on display at Kinetica. As an added bonus, there is a Beatles soundtrack!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Hand Cranked Marble Machine with Wood Gears

Matthias Wandel, the same guy that has one of the only detailed online articles about cutting wooden gears, has made an amazing marble rolling machine.

I don't normally post about rolling ball machines because they are a complete topic unto themselves with some great web sites fully dedicated to the subject.

This machine stands out for two reasons:

1 - It has wooden gears, so I HAVE to post about it.

2 - It is hand cranked like many automata.

Here's a link to the Marble Machine 2 page. I learned about it from the blog over at Make Magazine (my favorite).

Here's the video of the Marble Machine.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Automaton: A Boybot & His Dogbot by Dug North

I have made some additions and put the finishing touches on an automaton I started a few years ago: A Boybot and His Dogbot.

Stylistically, this piece is different than my other automata in that I have used geometric shapes for the figures and have decided to leave the wood unfinished. I experimented with painting the figures, but they lost too much of their charm.

The piece is on public display at The Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA.

Here's a link to detailed pictures of the figures and the mechanism from A Boybot and His Dogbot.

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Automata / Automata Store - Updated!

I have updated a bunch of the books listed at The Automata / Automaton Store and added additional comments to the some of the titles.

I've selected books for automaton-makers and collectors. Book topics include: automata-making, paper automata kits, the history of automata, mechanisms, woodworking, metalworking, animatronics, autonomous robots, whirligigs, puppets, wooden toys, mechanical toys, wooden puzzles, carving, and the engineering process.

Be sure to also check out the tools listed by category in the left side navigation.

Visit The Automata / Automaton Store to build you library or tool collection.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Making Wooden Hinges

Here's a great article from Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts Magazine describing how to make hinges out of wood.

The article has complete step-by-step instructions with photos and a scale drawing that you can photocopy and use as your cutting template. The project assumes you have access to scroll saw.

Here's a link to the article: Make Wooden Hinges

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Nemomatic show this Friday - Berkeley, CA

Sculptor Nemo Gould (Nemomatic) will be participating in the group show: "Recovery" at the ACCI Gallery in Berkeley, CA, USA along with other artists who work with recycled material.

This will be the first opportunity to see his new Giant Robot sculpture before it is permanently installed at a private residence.

Also on display will be his amazing Giant Squid automaton.

Learn more at the News section of

Labels: , , , , ,

Great Review of CMT Exhibit with Photo Sets

Over at the Pixelsumo blog, the author has a great review of a visit to the newly opened Cabaret Mechanical Theatre exhibit at Kinetica Museum that I told you about here.

The post features links to a huge set of flickr photos of the show itself.

Check out this great review of the CMT show at Pixelsumo.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, April 08, 2007

5 Great Tools for Generating Ideas

Having trouble coming up with ideas for your latest project? Here is a list of resources that are helpful for generating ideas, or coming up with creative new solutions to problems.

This is a classic little book on spurring creativity. This is also the author of A Kick in the Seat of the Pants

An illustrated deck of 64 creative thinking strategies. You might also be interested in Innovative Whack Pack

Learn to think like one of the most creative minds of all time! They also publish a workbook for this called The How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci Workbook: Your Personal Companion to How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

Though he was never a good student, Einstein was wildly creative in his approach to problem-solving. He once said that creativity is more important than knowledge.

This is a physical object you interact with to create ideas. I'm not entirely sure how you use it, but it is such a different approach to creativity I can't help but believe it would help you come up with ideas.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, April 06, 2007

Cabaret Mechanical Theatre at Kinetica Museum

If you can be or will be in the UK between April 6, 2007 and May 5, 2007 you must visit Kinetica Museum located at Old Spitalfields Market, London.

Kinetica will be hosting
a major retrospective show on Cabaret Mechanical Theatre which includes more than 80 automata and a number of previously unseen works.

The show will feature artists including: Ron Fuller, Arthur Ganson, Tim Hunkin, Will Jackson, Pierre Mayer, Keith Newstead, Paul Spooner, and Carlos Zapata. (Many of my favorite artists are in that list!)

The exhibition will also include a series of talks and hands-on workshops by the founders of CMT and prominent British automata artists. Speakers will include: Tim Hunkin, Sue Jackson, Sarah Alexander, Will Jackson and Paul Spooner.

Learn more at CMT's Mechanical Blog or visit Kinetica Museum's site

Cabaret Mechanical Theatre (CMT) dates back to 1979, when a handful of automaton artists began to work together as an artists collective.

The group, founded in 1983 in Falmouth by Sue Jackson, moved to London’s Covent Garden shortly thereafter, where their collection of automata immediately received both critical and popular acclaim.

They produced a book (shown at left) that teaches about basic mechanics and the construction of automata.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Nifty Retro Wood & Brass Measurer and Marker

I'll start by saying I don't have one of these...but I want one!

Granted, I am a sucker for the wood/brass combination, but this little gadget is just plain clever.

Stanley once made a tool called the No. 1 Odd Jobs tool -- that's what this tool is based on. It's a marvel of measuring and marking.

It can be used as a T-square and mitre square as seen at left.

Here it is shown being used to scribe an arc.

Here is is being used as a depth gauge to set the height of the blade on table saw.

Of course, you can use it as ruler too (it's maple with brass edges).

Check out all the details on the Odd Jobs Layout Tool. Oh...and order one for me!

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Master of Windmills and Whirligigs

Whirligigs are a form of automata -- to my mind at least. They depict an animated scene with a person or animal. The only distinction between a contemporary automaton and a whirligig is that the latter are outside and are powered by the wind.

The folks over at The Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society have a great post about a man with a passion for windmills and whirligigs. The man's name is Vollis Simpson, an 87-year-old retired mechanic from North Carolina. Simpson's back yard is filled with dozens of his wind-driven creations.

A quote from Simpson:
"The main part of doing anything that turns is to get it centered".

Truer words were never spoken.

Check out the post on Vollis Simpson's Windmill Farm at the Kircher Society blog.

Here's a list of books on how to make whirligigs:

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Drawing Automaton Made from Paper

Drawing paper automatonI am always impressed with paper automata. It requires a lot of planning and finesse to make one that works well and does something interesting.

This paper automaton by the folks over at Cool4Cats takes paper automata artistry to a whole new level. This automaton draws.

There are a number of famous antique automata that draw pictures, such as those by Jaquez-Droz and Maillardet. There is also at least one contemporary wood automaton by Paul Spooner that draws a simple picture.

This is the first example I have seen of a paper automaton that creates a drawing.

From the Cool4Cats site:
When the handle is turned the artist looks up at his model, then down at his easel and -amazingly- he starts to draw. Keep turning and you'll be amazed to see that he actually does a real pencil drawing of the model on a 'post-it' note! The handle operates a 'worm' gear which in turn drives two large cams. One controls the forwards-and-backwards movement of the artist's arm, the other the 'side-to-side' movements. A series of levers transmit the movements and the combination of both actions results in the drawing.

Visit the Artist Automaton page to learn more or order the kit.

Labels: , , , ,