Friday, February 29, 2008

Gina Kamentsky Exhibit: Mechanical Confections

Gina Kamentsky SculptureGina Kamentsky is profiled in the Volume 13 of MAKE magazine (the same issue with my short book review of Dunninger's Complete Encyclopedia of Magic).

Gina Kamentsky is an multi-talented sculptor, animator, toy designer, inventor, musician, and teacher. Kamentsky works primarily with found materials and metal to create unique mechanical toys and kinetic sculptures.

Her solo exhibition, Gina Kamentsky: Mechanical Confections, will be on exhibition in Fuller Craft Museum's Daniel Tarlow gallery through November 9, 2008. She will be on site on March 2nd at 2:00 as part of Fuller Craft Museum's series, Objectively Speaking.

Here's a link to Fuller Craft Museum exhibits page.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

PhantasieMechanik Exhibit @ phaeno flickr photos

I would be remiss in my duties, if I did not share with you this flickr set of the HUGE automata exhibit that opened on February 23rd at the phaeno Science Centre in Wolfsburg, Germany. I have it on good authority that the exhibit features some of the very best of automata and kinetic sculpture.

If you are going to be in Germany between now and the end of June, you own it to yourself to see this exhibit.

Here is a link to the flickr set of the PhantasieMechanik exhibition.
More on the exhibit from the Mechancical Blog run by CMT
Here is a link to the the phaeno web site.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Animated Diorama Automaton of a Shipwreck

Just when you think you've seen all of the great automata from Pablo, there is another! Check out this animated diorama of the inside of a shipwrecked boat.

His attention to detail and creativity are always impressive.

Visit Pablo Lavezzari's site to see this and other works.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dunninger's Encyclopedia of Magic in MAKE

I'm thrilled to have played a small part in MAKE Magazine's latest issue, Volume 13. The theme of the issue is magic. I review a classic book on the subject: Dunningers Complete Encyclopedia Of Magic.

Magicians have a long history of being exceptional makers. Just to assure you that this post is on-topic, the book contains details of one of Hero of Alexandria's automata and instructions on marionette construction.

The book is out-of-print, but available used online.

Pick up a copy of MAKE, Volume 13 to read my concise book review. The issue also has a TON of articles on magic, makers, and cool things to make for yourself.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Automaton of Laughing Man with Lifelike Motion

Here's an automaton to help you get your week off to a good start. This laughing man automaton is part of the collection on display at the Musée de l'Automate in Souillac, France.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Manual Lever-Controlled Head Automaton

Another innovative piece from automaton maker Pablo Lavezzari. Somewhere between robot, puppet, and automaton, the piece is entitled Urban Face II. The piece allows the view/user to control the head's various motions using an array of levers and knobs.

See this and other pieces by Pablo Lavezzari on his web site at:

Learn more about Making and Manipulating Marionettes. The book includes: the principles of marionette design; advice on carving, modeling, and casting puppet parts; explanations for marionette control, stringing, and manipulation; instructions for the construction and jointing of human and animal marionettes; and secrets for achieving a range of special effects.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Penny-in-the-Slot Automata & the Working Model

Penny-in-the-Slot Automata and the Working Model Focused on coin-operated automata from the 1860s to the 1970s, this is comprehensive reference to the type of automata one might have found in amusement parks, fairgrounds, and seaside resorts. These machines depict themes such as haunted houses, drunkards, executions, churchyards, fire-fighters, clowns, locomotives, fortune-tellers. Other coin-operated machines used various mechanisms to played music. The book is targeted towards collectors and would-be collectors so it includes a price guide. It also features about 200 color illustrations. Though somewhat expensive, the book is a thorough treatment of this particular genre of automata.

Learn more about Penny-in-the-Slot Automata and the Working Model

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Video of Robert-Houdin Automata in Action

In this clip you see some of Robert-Houdin's famous automata including: The Orange Tree, The Pastry Cook of the Palais-Royal, The Trapeze Vaulter (Antonio Diavolo).

You'll also see some of the non-automata stage illusions that he made famous including The Ethereal Suspension (levitation of a boy), a glimpse of one of his Mystery Clocks, and shots of the Robert-Houdin Musuem.

The complete DVD is available in French or English. Here is the link to ROBERT-HOUDIN, A MAGICIAN'S LIFE DVD.

Learn more about Robert-Houdin and his automata in the book: King of the Conjurers.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

MAKE Finds Wood Automata @ NYC Toy Fair 2008

Phillip Torrone of MAKE Magazine is in New York City covering Toy Fair, 2008. Among his favorite finds this year: Timberkits wood automata!

Here's a link to his post about TimberKits at The NYC Toy Fair, 2008.

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Elenco's Romomech Motorized Wood Toy

I've read that these kits can be a little tricky to put together, but I just love the look of the wood with the motorized elements. Wood and machine; it's the best of both worlds!

From my Amazon aStore:
This kit is supplied with pre-punched boards, gears, shafts, switch, motor, battery holder, and all necessary parts. Includes easy-to-follow instructions. Requires 2 "AA" batteries, screwdriver and long nose pliers.

Check out the Robomech from Elenco.

Also check out all of the motorized mechanical toys I've loaded into The Automata / Automaton aStore.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Automata: The Golden Age 1848-1914

Here is an excerpt from the List of Essential Automata Books I compiled and reviewed as part of my role as Kircher Society Resident Automatist.

Bailly, Christian. Automata: The Golden Age, 1848-1914. 2nd ed. London: Robert Hale, 2003.
Do not mistake this large volume for a coffee table book with little substance. Christian Bailly recounts the history of seven influential French automata makers of the Victorian era, including Vichy, Roullet & Decamp, Phalibois, and Lambert. Within the hardbound 360 pages, the reader will delight in 150 color photographs and numerous black-and-white drawings and photographs. There are chapters dedicated to automata mechanisms and to the restoration of vintage automata.

Check back here or to often: you maybe able to find this book at a more reasonable price. Here's a link to Automata: The Golden Age 1848-1914

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Horror & Halloween Animatronics

Alligator has an entire section dedicated to animated horror and Halloween automata or animatronics. From the home page navigate to "Halloween Props" then "Animated".

They offer 75 items ranging from a simple spinning motor for animating your own Halloween props ($16.99) to a 12 foot animated flying saucer ($29,000.00). Fair warning: some of this stuff is pretty gory, but they are horror props after all.

Shown here is an AMAZING realistic alligator automaton. It may set you back $8,900.00, but I ask you: how much should the power to send someone into cardiac arrest cost?

Completely realistic alligator lunges forward to snap at your guests. The high speed, 5 foot forward movement and opening mouth will startle the most brazen. Includes a powerful monitor amp, cassette player, and tape of fierce alligator sounds. Requires AC power and 100 psi air compressor. Industrial strength, and extremely durable.

Visit to check out all of their horror themed animatronics.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Robots, RC, Electronics Clearance @ HobbyTron is offering a whole bunch of cool stuff in a clearance sale. Included in the sale are many robot toys (like Robone shown here), radio controlled vehicles, electronic kits, and magic tricks. Cool store, eh?

They are also offering a coupon code that should get you an addition 10% off the listed prices.
Here are the details:
Coupon code: 10CLEARANCE
Expires: 11/14/08

Take a look at the clearance section

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Musee Baud: Automata & Mechanical Music

Comprised of pieces crafted between 1750 and 1940, the Musée Buad in l'Auberson, Switzerland looks like a wonderful museum. If you cannot visit in person, their web site offers a history of the museum, nice photographs of the the collection, audio recordings of music, and a shop that sells music boxes and automata.

From the Musée Baud site:
In our first room you will find music boxes, automata, clocks, singing birds, animated pictures and gramophones as well as other accessories, tools and souvenirs of the time period.

In our second room, one can admire the grandeur of our larger pieces while listening to these unique, priceless, mechanical musical instruments. Among the highlights include the famous "Maesto", an orchestra from 1900 comprised of 10 different instruments. Also in this room is the splendid "Phonolistz Violiona" playing solo violin.

Visit the Musée Buad web site (available in French, German, and English). [Thanks Falk!]

To learn more about mechanical music machines, check out The Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Vintage Mechanical Automaton Figure on eBay

Bearded man automatonBy way of a post on today, is this interesting automaton just sold on eBay. While the description seems a little vague, the photo documentation in the listing is great. They have many large photos of both the inside and outside of the piece.

I note the presence of a 6-station Geneva mechanism --- used to convert continuous rotary motion into intermittent motion. I'm not at all sure what the Geneva was used for.

Whatever it is, someone paid $1,775.00 USD for it.

Here's a link to the full eBay listing for the somewhat mysterious bearded automaton.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Proxxon Rotary Tool & Accessories

I own some Proxxon tools and I own several rotary tools, but I don't actually own a Proxxon rotary tool.

OK..that said, I love the Proxxon tools I do own. Woodcraft is sellng the Proxxon rotory tool at a close-out price right now (about $73). The specifications do sound impressive (see below).

Personally, I am very interested in that Universal Holder (D) for use with a flex shaft (sold seperately). That looks handy, indeed.

From Woodcraft's Site:

Great for detail cutting, grinding and sanding, the German-made Proxxon has a top speed of 20,000 RPM, continuously variable down to 5,000 RPM. Electronic full wave speed control gives almost constant torque, even at low speeds, easing micro drilling. The spindle rides in precision ball bearings, and has a lock button for changing bits. The Proxxon gets its power from a quiet, specially balanced permanent magnet motor. Our own testing showed superior low-end torque and far less vibration than the most popular rotary tool on the market.

Check out all the details of Proxxon Rotary Tool & Accessories over at

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Jacques de Vaucanson - Automaton Maker

Jacques de is a great site offering information about automata, automaton makers of old, videos, DVDs, books, and music boxes. They have translated their entire site into several languages, including English.

I posted previously about Vaucanson's Duck Automaton. They have an entire page dedicated to this innovative man.

From the Site:
Both a technician and talented watchmaker, Jacques de Vaucanson made himself famous from England to Russia from his creation of sophisticated androids. He also created inventions such as the rubber pipe, the weaving loom, and the never ending chain.

Visit to learn more about Jacques de Vaucanson.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Steampunk Flying Fish Submarine Automaton

Another great piece from the hands of Pablo Lavezzari - a talented automaton-maker from Argentina. This one is entitled Utopia.

See a full assortment of beautiful photographs of this piece at on this page of his site.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Vaucanson's Defecating Duck Automaton

One of the earliest well known automata was The Duck by Jacques de Vaucanson, first exhibited in 1739. Vaucanson (1709 - 1782) was a French engineer credited with creating fine automata that some regard as world's first robots. He is also credited with creating the first completely automated loom.

Here is a link to a video featuring a reproduction of Vaucanson's duck automaton on YouTube. If I am not mistaken, this reproduction was made by Frédéric Vidoni for the Museum of the Automata in Grenoble, in order to pay tribute to Vaucanson.

Here is a link to an earlier post with a photo of Vaucanson's duck, showing some of the workings of the original mechanism.

More on Vaucanson and his creations can be found in these books:
* Edison's Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life
* Crescendo of the Virtuoso: Spectacle, Skill, and Self-Promotion in Paris during the Age of Revolution

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Proxxon Micro Shaper - small scale router table

Proxxon Micro Shaper - small scale router tableOften, full size woodworking tools are just too big or too powerful for working on small scale projects such as an automaton. Fortunately, companies such as Proxxon make power woodworking tools for small scale projects. I've posted in the past about the Proxxon Miniature Tables saw and the Proxxon Miniature Miter Saw -- both of which I own. Here is The Proxxon Micro Shaper, a small router table that takes 1/8" bits -- perfect for minature-making and other small-scale woodworking projects.

From the Product Literature:
This miniature router table is the perfect sized machine for small-scale routing and trimming applications. Ideal for model building such as railroads, airplanes, doll houses and more! Features powerful 115V, 60Hz, 1/8 HP motor.

I can assure you that Proxxon tools are very well made and will surprise you with their performance.

Here is where you can check out the Proxxon Micro Shaper.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Whirligig of a Medical Student and Skull

Another video of a wind-powered automaton by doctor and automaton-maker Ben Thal. Very charming!

From the YouTube Description:
A white coat medical student inserts a tongue depressor into the snapping jaws of a human skull.

For books on whirligig construction, check out The Automata / Automaton Store. Whirligig books page 1 and Whirligig books page 2

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Man swatting fly automaton by Dave Johnson

The maker of this piece, Dave Johnson, says it is his first automaton. I've got to say...this is someone with some mechanical aptitude! Note the worm gear and ratchet mechanisms: not the sort of thing one typically sees the first time around. I especially like the way the piece cycles and the great use of secondary motion created by free-swinging parts -- a great touch that adds a lot of life to the piece.

From the YouTube Description:

Since these crank-operated automata inherently cycle through their action, I liked the idea of a task that's never finished, like Sisyphus and his stone. But I didn't want it to be purely grim, so I chose Sisyphus as a young man, in a more pastoral and relaxing posture (perhaps after a picnic), trying to swat a pesky fly. And always missing.

The video of Little Man automaton is generous in showing the details of the mechanism. Dave Johnson also has a nice set of still photos (including sketches) of the piece posted on flickr.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Robert-Houdin's Orange Tree Automata

Robert-Houdin Orange Tree Magic TrickThe Orange Tree Illusion was invented by Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, automaton-maker, clock-maker, electricity experimenter, and father of modern magic. A fanciful version of this illusion was recently featured in the film The Illusionist. This, more faithful recreation, is performed by Paul Daniels on his BBC TV series. The piece was refurbished by John Gaughan -- a famed a manufacturer of magic acts and equipment for magicians.

I couldn't embed the video here, so you will have to visit the link to YouTube to watch it. Witness Robert-Houdin's Orange Tree Automata.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Creative Kinetics: Mechanical Marvels in Wood

I don't know about you, but I have pre-ordered this, the latest book from Rodney Frost entitled Creative Kinetics: Making Mechanical Marvels in Wood. Amazon informs me that it is due to ship in the first week in April of 2008.

Artist, inventor, and longtime author Rodney Frost is known for wacky, whimsical woodworking books that encourage readers to experiment. With his newest, most creative volume yet, he provides an introduction to the wild and whimsical world of kinetic art -- art that moves. Using plenty of informative sidebars and dynamic illustrations, Frost teaches the basic techniques in his own inimitable style, beginning with easy, fun projects like weather vanes and mobiles powered by air currents alone. Then it's on to simple toys you manipulate with strings, and art mechanized by levers, cranks, cams, and cogs. Far from a routine woodworking book, Creative Kinetics will inspire even the least craft-minded reader to pick up some scissors and turn a tuna can into a propeller or cardboard into a jumping-jack.

Pre-order (at a discount!) Creative Kinetics: Making Mechanical Marvels in Wood.

Check out Frost's other book on automata sold first as:
Whacky Toys, Whirligigs & Whatchamacallits and now sold under the title Making Mad Toys & Mechanical Marvels in Wood

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Animated Cupid Automaton for Valentine's Day

Want to make an impression on Valentine's Day this year? Forget the card...make an animated paper automaton!

From the Flying Pig Site:
Romance and engineering in perfect harmony. Turn the handle on this delightful new model and cupid flies. Make a model for your one true love!

This is a downloadable kit. Once you purchase the kit, you download it and print it on to heavy paper (or card stock if your printer can handle it). You then just follow the instructions to cut and glue the model together. The time and effort you spend will show you really care.

Check out this and other amazing animated paper kits at Flying Pig.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Fantastic Wind-Powered Whrligigs Video

Automata maker Tom Haney sent the video you see above to me.

Tom writes:
I have something you might want to put up on your site. The man who inspired me to do mechanical pieces, Ben Thal, has posted a video on YouTube. I met him at a whirligig show in Oregon in 1994. He does great pieces with amazing and simple movements. He is a doctor and does whirligigs as a hobby. All his whirligigs are for indoors and are powered by a fan.

See it at:

The motions are pretty sophisticated for whirligigs...impressive!

Thanks Tom!

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Heron and Fish Automaton Video

Another video of some clever work by the artist I know only by their YouTube username: kitundu.

This piece features an interesting approach to creating a wave effect in the pond. There are also some nice detailed views showing some very practical information -- such as how to keep a cam follower on a cam.

[Thanks Falk!]

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Mechanical Artist - Clockwork Art of Dale Mathis

Artist Dale Mathis describes himself as an "exotic clock/machine maker with some automata included." He may be difficult to categorize as an artists, but his art is easy to categorize: exceedingly cool.

Shown here is a wall-mounted piece entitled David Mechanica. Through a broad range of projects, his distinct mechanical style persists.
From His Site:
Surrealism meets mechanicalism. A merging of old and new, industrial and civilized.

This is the world of Dale Mathis.

It is a world where metal, glass, construction bolts, pistons and pieces from motorcycle and hot rod shops are all simply artistic tools. Where working gears bring movement to masterpieces. Where machines are muses.

His site is full of beautiful photos of his work and information about the artist himself.

Visit the web site of Dale Mathis.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

The Murtogh D. Guinness Automata Collection

Sean Hamilton, reader of The Automata / Automaton Blog, was kind enough to share with me his experience at the Morris Museum in New Jersey -- home of the Guinness automata collection. He has generously agreed to let me share it with you here.

Extracts from Sean's Email:

I'm sure you've posted about the Guinness Collection at the Morris Museum in the past, but I haven't seen anything since the permanent exhibition opened last November. I thought I would send you an update.

I was at the museum last week and the exhibit space is very nice. They start things off with a short film about the history of mechanical music, automata, and Mr. Guinness. The displays are heavy on music boxes and mechanical musical instruments but there is a good showing of automata and a nice interactive display with videos of all the exhibited automata in operation.

They do demonstrations of various pieces in the collection daily. The day I was there the demonstration included three musical items and two automata. The Limonaire Freres Orchestrophone was surprisingly loud and its rendition of "The Sidewalks of New York" was thrilling.

During the demonstrations they mentioned that there are 700 pieces in the collection, 150 currently on display and that the other 550 will be available for viewing later this spring. Their website has lots of additional information including movie clips of some of the pieces.

A big thanks to Sean for this glimpse of what must be an amazing museum. I can't wait to go!

Visit the Morris Museum web site for more information on the Guinness collection.

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