Friday, September 28, 2007

Reader Contribution: Moose Running Automaton

Dedicated reader of The Automata / Automaton Blog Charles Mak has sent me this video of his latest Canadian-themed automaton. Kudos!

To learn more about making automata of your own, check out my hand-picked list of books at my Amazon aStore.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dug North's Trick Halloween Automaton Top Hat

Here's a little video of the hat of my design that is in the new Halloween edition of MAKE magazine.

This is the prototype shown in this movie. The model in the magazine is a bit shorter and so sits on the head better. I also used a black ribbon in place of the maroon one.

The project requires two costume "coachman's" hats, plywood, some small pieces of wood, two L-brackets, two springs, a brake cable and lever, a cable crimp, some washers and screws, and...brace yourself...a rubber finger puppet. Terrifying!

Here's a link to the MAKE store where you can get the Halloween issue, which is full of nothing but DIY Halloween projects.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Featured Artist: Pierre Mayer

One of my favorite fellow automata makers is Pierre Mayer. Like me, he has made contemporary automata that perform and/or depict magicians and magic tricks.

Making an original contemporary automaton function is a challenge in itself. Making the automaton perform a trick that is actually somewhat deceptive or mysterious is a HUGE challenge. This is where Pierre Mayer's work stands out.

In this piece, the sequence starts with a small orange tree. The tree then blossoms, and bears fruit. Next an orange opens at the top of the tree and two butterflies fly out holding a silk handkerchief.

There is a long tradition of automata depicting magic tricks. The famous magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin started his career as a watchmaker -- a skill that served him well in his next occupation as a magician and automaton-maker. He created the original orange tree piece that inspired Mayer's contemporary version.

The piece shown in the recent movie The Illusionist with Ed Norton borrowed from Robert-Houdin's piece, but showed the tree itself growing. Robert-Houdin's did not actually do that.

Check out Cabaret Mechanical Theatre's page on Pierre Mayer's Orange Tree Automaton

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Paper Gears Hank-Cranked Automaton

This model captures the essence of mechanics and automata: the gear.

Build you own working bevel gear made entirely from card stock paper.

Print this model onto thin photocopier card then all you need to make the model are scissors, ruler, Elmer's-type glue and a sharp knife.

This is just one of dozens of excellent paper automata offered by Flying-Pig Paper Animation Kits. Cool stuff like a warded lock, air turbine, and combination locks can all be made with paper!

Click here to view more details

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Work Sharp - PowerTool Sharpening System

I am always looking for the next new type of sharpening tool. Let me introduce you to the Work Sharp 3000.

The Work Sharp employs a spinning glass wheel on to which you have adhered an abrasive sheet. The "see-through" wheel allows you to look down to see what you are sharpening.

The sharpening port enables sharpening of 20, 25, 30, and 35 degree angle chisels and plane irons up to 2" wide without he use of a jig.

The unit is cooled with forced air and a heat sink allowing you to removal metal without affecting the steel's temper. This means you won't ruin your tools.

The Work Sharp 3000 comes with a 2 year manufacturer's warranty, 2 tempered float glass wheels, a see-through slotted wheel, top tool rest, a crepe stick, and PSA abrasive kit.

Head over to to check out the Work Sharp 3000

I see that Amazon also carries the Work Sharp 3000.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Automomous LittleDog Robot on Uneven Ground

Boston Dymanics has done it again. Check out this small dog-based robot traverse a complex terrain. Amazing!

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Friday, September 14, 2007

UK Crafts Council - Great Automata Resource

A kindly reader of The Automata / Automaton Blog was kind enough to share with me a fantastic resource. The UK Crafts Council has their permanent collection displayed in a searchable interface on Photostore.

Should you visit their search page, simply select "automata and toys" from the "Discipline" drop-down menu. You will be presented with 56 pages of automata images by many of the most famous, distinguished, and notable automaton-makers. Shown above is a great collection box automaton by Tim Hunkin.

As I explore the collection more, I'll keep you posted on what I find. If you find items of note, leave a comment on this post, or drop me a line using the Contact Dug North link in the right sidebar.

Search the UK Crafts Council collection of images.

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Make Magazine Halloween Project Archives

I am really excited to have an article in the fist-ever Halloween Special Issue of MAKE Magazine. They have set up a dedicated Halloween section of their site. It's full of DIY Halloween projects.

They are also holding Halloween contests in a bunch of cool categories including:

  • Pumpkin decorating
  • Costumes
  • Decorations, haunted houses, and gadgets
  • Halloween Food
To enter just upload your photos to the DIY HALLOWEEN Flickr photo pool and tag them "DIYHALLOWEEN." You can also email your photos to, or put them on Instructables in the MAKE group with a tag "DIYHALLOWEEN". Maybe your project will be in the second Halloween edition next year!

Check out the Make Magazine Halloween project archives.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Automaton Art with Wood, Gears, Pulleys & Chains

Automaton Art by Steve ArmstrongA kindly Automata / Automaton Blog reader made me aware of an automaton artist named Steve Armstrong.

Armstrong is represented by the John Pence Gallery in San Francisco.

From their site:
His work is most unusual for the big city in many ways - Armstrong is a Kentucky native known for his "Automata" sculpture. Every piece has moveable parts, hand-carved from various woods and vividly painted. He deftly uses gears, pulleys, chains and the viewer's energy to make his sculptures move. They stand tall, they whirl and spin, and they open to reveal an amazing sense of humor.

At this moment, he has a piece on auction at eBay.

Check out the John Pence Gallery's page dedicated to Steve Armstrong's automata.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Make Magazine Halloween Issue on Sale 9/4

MAKE magazine has its fist-ever special Halloween issue for sale on newsstands starting today, September 4th!

I have written a short article for this issue showing the reader how to make a trick top hat for the spooky holiday. The hat can be seen on this version of the cover at the bottom, in the center.

The hat holds a mechanism connected to a cable and bicycle brake lever. When the lever is squeezed, a little monster bursts out of the top of the hat. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

The project is fun to make, but even more fun to wear!

If you local newsstand or bookseller does not carry MAKE, you can order the Halloween issue at the MAKE online store.

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Tiny Fighting Knights Automaton for Sale at CMT

You've got to visit the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre web site to see this really cool and REALLY small automaton of two knights fighting.

Granted, the motion isn't too elaborate, but the incredibly small size, nice detail, and great concept make this piece a gem.

Check out the full description and watch a video of the dueling knights at CMT's online shop.

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