Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cabaret Mechanical Theatre - Automata Website!

There are many notable figures who helped to bring automata as an art form into the latter part of of the Twentieth Century. Among them are Alexander Calder, Sam Smith, Jean Tinguely, Frank Nelson, and Rodney Peppé, and Falk Keuten.

Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, its creators, and its artists also deserve very special recognition in defining and popularizing contemporary automata as an art form. They have just launched a redesigned web site that is full of great information, both old and new.

Here is a link to Cabaret Mechanical Theatre's new web site. Enjoy!

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Automaton Maker Carlos Zapata - New Website

Laughing man automaton by Carlos Zapata
Automaton maker Carlos Zapata has a new website which has what looks to be a complete history of all his work. There are tons of photographs of his automata and many are animated.

Shown here is a hand-cranked automaton titled Laughing man, 2008 (6 inches high, wood and metal).

Check out all the automata by Carlos Zapata on his web site.

[ Thanks David! ]

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Non-circular Gears & Uncommon Planetary Gears

We tend to think of gears as circular wheels with teeth. While this is the most common form, some gears do not have proper teeth. As the video shows here, gears do not even need to be circular in shape. These unconventional gears defy our notions about gear shapes, and are surprisingly beautiful to watch in motion.

You can learn more about gear design from the Handbook of Practical Gear Design or hundreds of other books on mechanical gears.

To the engineering-types out there: are their particularly good books on gear design? Let me know or post them in the comments here. Thanks! -Dug North

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Gizmos: New Paper Automata Kit from Rob Ives!

The unstoppable Rob Ives has a new paper automaton set called Gizmos.

From Barnes & Nobel:
"Everything You Need to Make Amazing Paper Machines!

Automata are animated toys that use several basic mechanisms to come alive—and they're made completely out of paper! Using the ingenious punch-out designs included in Gizmos, you can assemble six enchanting automata by designer Rob Ives—and when you've mastered the fundamental techniques, you can create new designs of your own.

Gizmos includes:
* A pre-made pop-up frog ready to jump right out of the box!
* Pre-stamped punch-out parts for two snap-up models that are perfect for first-time builders
* Complete punch-out parts to create six full-color, fully animated paper machines: Die Fledermaus, Mouthy Moose, Schrödinger’s Cat, Shrimp Boat, Surf Bunny, and Marching Robot
* A 144-page book with an introduction to automata and the simple mechanisms—cranks, cams, and levers—that give them life; easy-to-follow instructions to make eight Rob Ives models; and handy reusable templates for each of the model parts, to get you started on future projects

Gizmos is a fascinating way to learn about basic mechanical principles as well as a guide to paper-crafting techniques that will enable you to design and build paper toys that capture the imagination!"

Eight models for under $15...that's a good deal. Check out Gizmos by Rob Ives at Barnes and Nobel.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Automomous Lawn Mowing Robot

Automomous Lawn Mowing Robot
Useful autonomous robots for the home are here to stay. You can get them to vacuum your floors, clear your gutters, wash your floors, and even cut your lawn. Shown here is a programmable robotic lawnmower that cuts grass up for three hours on a single charge.

The mower's path is constrained by a hidden wire boundary that defines the limits of your yard.

Because the robot uses an electric motor, the cutter spins at higher RPM than gas-powered mowers, yet produces far less noise (and no fumes). The mower detects ambient moisture, so it will return to its docking station if it is raining. As a safety measure, the unit automatically shuts off when lifted in the air.

All of this means you can program the robot to automatically trim your lawn on any day and pretty much any time you like. The robot will return to its docking station when it has completed cutting your lawn or when it needs to recharge itself.

Check out all the details on the Robotic Lawnmower.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Our ways are not your ways" - Surreal Automaton

From the quirky, ingenious mind of Paul Spooner comes this surreal automaton. I don't want to spoil the effect, so please...take a moment to watch this little video. Not your ways, indeed.

When you're done head on over to to learn more about Paul Spooner and many other top automaton makers.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Thomas Kuntz Incredible Decapitation Automaton

This eerie, life-like automaton by (and of) automaton artist Thomas Kuntz does a version of the classic decapitation trick. This is mastery of a craft -- or actually, several.

From the YouTube description:
This automaton, a nightmarish vision was inspired in part by the 19th century Phalibois clown automaton. The first version was sold to a private collector and then this 23" tall automaton was made from a completely new set of sculptures with some added features and a completely new mechanical design. It is an auto-biographical self-portrait told through occult allegory and runs for one minute to complete the cycle. A mechanical musical "dirge" is built into the machine (but not heard on this clip). The entire figure including the cams, levers, and actuating devices below the figure were made from scratch hand-cut from brass steel and wood.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Early Newstead Automaton: The Temple of Doom

Early Keith Newstead Automaton: The Temple of Doom
A dedicated reader of The Automata / Automaton Blog has been gracious enough to share with us here an automaton made by the talented UK-based artist Keith Newstead.

Entitled The Temple of Doom the piece is dated April, 1991.

The proud owner describes the automaton:
Basically it's a model of little church tower with a clean-cut kind of a guy pulling a bell-rope. Upon the first pull a little bell rings, but upon the second pull the roof of the tower lifts up to reveal a little red devil. The devil has a kind of inquisitive look about him as to if to say "who's that calling me?". After that, the roof shuts and the cycle is repeated.

Early Keith Newstead Automaton: The Temple of Doom
See more automata by Keith Newstead on his web site.

[ Thanks Frank! ]

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Unique Gothic Automaton Clock Depicting a Mystic

Gothic Automaton Clock Depicting a Mystic by Theroude
Here s a very interesting and unusual vintage automaton, probably made by the famous French maker Theroude. Quite a fascinating piece. This and many other fine automata are going to auction today, August 23rd, 2008.

An excerpt from the auction description:
"Rare Gothic Automaton Clock Depicting a Mystic, probably by Theroude, c. 1850, the figure with carved and painted wood head, glass eyes, articulated jaw, brass bedplate carrying multiple movements from ten levers, including lateral and vertical motions of the head and arms, the right arm also articulated at the elbow and wrist, carved wood legs articulated at the hips, knees and ankles, four-gear train with rack-and-pinion concealed in the rocks behind him, in fantastical papier-mache grotto landscape with steps to natural arch, urn and pitcher beside animated glass-twist waterfall, ledge with crucifix and books, roots, foliage and cavernous ceiling supported by twisted branches, on oval ebonized base with beaded brass lips and 3 1/2-inch Roman enamel dial with Breguet hands, the brass going-barrel movement driving removable pinned wood barrel, fourteen cams, pulley and gong with two hammers, independent large four-air cylinder movement no. 9381, and eight-day clock with platform escapement and countwheel, strike on bell, stamped Boviller, Paris, ht. 32 1/2 inches."

Here is the complete listing with more information and additional photographs of the Gothic Automaton Clock Depicting a Mystic.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Roullet et Decamps Automaton has Odd Surprise

Roullet et Decamps Automaton has Odd Surprise
This finely made automaton by famed Parisian makers Roullet et Decamps features a young woman with a rather odd surprise hidden in her basket.

Check the additional images on the eBay listing for this Roullet et Decamps Jumeau Automaton to see what I mean.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

French Quarter-Chiming Wizard Automaton Clock

French Quarter-Chiming Wizard Automaton Clock
Here is another stunning piece going to auction on August 23rd, 2008.

From the eBay listing by Skinner Auctioneers:
"Rare French Quarter-Chiming Table Clock with Wizard Automaton, c. 1870, the black marble case with bronze figure of a boy dressed as a wizard, his right arm articulated at the shoulder for lateral and vertical movements, standing before a nest of four bells, which he strikes with a hammer on the quarter hours to play a tune, with six-inch dia. silvered brass dial with Roman numerals and pierced latticework, gilt bezel with beveled glass, brass ball feet and eight-day, spring-powered, three-train movement chiming quarters and striking the hours on a gong, ht. 25 in."

Here is full eBay listing for this French Quarter-Chiming Wizard Automaton Clock.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Organic Butcher Automaton by Paul Spooner

Paul Spooner's work never ceases to amaze me. This video shows what looks to be an incredible work-in-progress. The automaton features a little devil figure that emerges from doors in the floor. The figure raises its arm and an air organ begins to play. Two doors in the structure above the figure open in turn, one showing the organ pipes. The sequence is then reversed. All of this magic is powered by a hand-crank!

[ Thanks David! ]

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Del's First Wooden Machine, circa 1982

Here is a video demonstrating Del Short's earlier wooden mechanical device, made back in 1982. High-maintenance, but no-less amazing.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Del's Beautiful Wooden Machine - Final Details

I posted a while back about Del Short's Amazing Wooden Contraption. He's added the final details and the machine is now finished.

The best news of all is that he says he has some new ideas and will probably work on them! Personally, I cannot wait to see what this master craftsman comes up with.

I also love the way Del and Art interact. I am putting my vote in for a cable TV show.

[ Thanks Del and Art! ]

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Henry Phalibois Automaton of a Laughing Clown

Henry Phalibois Automaton of a Laughing Clown
This Laughing Clown automaton by Phalibois is going to auction on August 23rd, 2008 by Skinner Auctioneers.

The clown's mechanism contains a going-barrel movement with four boxwood cams and single-air cylinder movement that cause the figure to look from side to side, wink his eyes, slap his sides with his his hands, and shrugging his shoulders rapidly, so that his whole body seems to be shaking with laughter.

Here is the full eBay listing for the Henry Phalibois Automaton of a Laughing Clown.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Life-Size Laughing Sailor Automaton from 'Sleuth'

Life-Size Laughing Sailor Automaton
I posted yesterday about a magician automaton that was in the 1972 film 'Sleuth'. This life-size laughing sailor was also in the film and virtually played a character itself. It was either created or adapted specially for the film.

From the eBay listing:
Life-Size Laughing Sailor Automaton from the Film "Sleuth", sculpted foam-rubber features and hands, blue glass eyes, articulated eyelids and lower jaw, seated on capstan head, with electric motors and remote controls causing the sailor to wink, blink, move his head, clap his hands and howl with laughter, in white trousers, striped jersey, navy-blue felt jacket and white hat, ht. 68 inches.

Read the full description and see another photograph of the Laughing Sailor Automaton.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Large Magician Automaton from the Film 'Sleuth'

Check out this fantastic vintage magician automaton that was featured in the film Sleuth (the original one).

At 56 1/2 inches high, the figure is approaching life-size. The magician does a transformation routine, magically changing the items under the hat four times.

This was the very automaton used in the movie "Sleuth" (1972)-- a thriller, starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. Amazing!

Here is a very complete listing with additional photographs of the Large Magician Automaton from the Film 'Sleuth'.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

British Wood Automaton Artist Peter Lennertz

Wood Automaton Artist Peter Lennertz
While working in Covent Garden in the late 80's, Peter Lennertz discovered Cabaret Mechanical Theatre. A Plumber by trade, he has always loved woodworking. By the 90's, Lennertz was making humorous wood automata of his own like the one shown above enititled Old man and the sea.

The British Toymakers Guild voted Lennertz toy maker of the year in 2007.

Check out dozens of great automata on Peter Lennertz's web site.

[ Thanks David! ]

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Cutest Little Robot Money Can Buy

realistic robotic baby chick toy
Here is a robotic chick toy from Japan. The bird sits on your hand, chirps, and flaps its little wings in response to touch.

But be warned, with great cuteness comes great responsibility: it cries when it's not given attention after a while. I suppose there is always the 'off' switch, too.

Check out the realistic robotic baby chick toy over at Think Geek.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mind-bending KATAKA Linear Actuator Mechanism

Take a look at this video of a linear actuator. It looks like a magic trick, but it's not.

The mechanism is based on segmented spindle technology. Not only is the whole thing incredibly compact, it's also strong. Here is a photograph of a KATAKA actuator lifting a car. This amazing device opens up entirely new possibilities for engineers and designers. I know I want one.

Learn more about the KATAKA actuator at

[ Thanks Soren! ]

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Gordon Bradt's Six Man Clock Kinetic Sculpture

Brass, gears, clockwork, 6 little animated figures...yup, it's official: I love it.

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Got Remote Controlled Animatronic Zombie?

I hate to be behind on things like this, but I feel duty-bound to report it to you anyway with Halloween coming up. Yesterday the illustrious featured this animatronic zombie.

I never thought I would say this: you can own your own remote controlled zombie, powered by 2 12-volt batteries and 4 motors. In addition to pulling itself around, it groans, screams, and talks via an on-board sound system.

Get all the gory details on the Dead Fred Zombie Chaser at Fright Catalog. Yikes!

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Monday, August 11, 2008

UberStix Construction Set and The UberPult

UberStix are a new type construction toy. Not only can you build exclusively with the system itself, it also integrates with and even bridges most other plastic building sets. UberStix are sort of an interop meta-construction toy. Now that's cool. has two different UberStix sets: a large general construction set and a smaller UberPult set (shown above).

Here's the UberStix Construction set (on sale too!).

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Wood Gears & Swedish Gadgets by Per Heldorff

Wood Gears and Swedish Gadgets by Per Heldorff
Master carver Per Heldorff began carving in the Swedish slöjd tradition and progressed to mechanical work incorporating cogs, wooden gears, and animated figures. As with most contemporary automata artists, his work often contains a whimsical element.

The work of master Swedish carver Per Heldorff will be featured at The American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. The exhibit is entitled "Wooden Gears and Swedish Gadgets" and runs from August 6th through September 28th, 2008.

Here is a link to Per Heldorff's web site.

Here is a book for further reading on Swedish carving techniques -- Carving & Whittling: The Swedish Style.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Automatic Marble Run Elevators for the CUBORO

Check out these extremely clever wooden marble run creations by Dietmar Wächtler. These elevators are not available for retail, but made specifically for trade show presentations and exhibitions.

[ Thanks Falk and Dietmar! ]

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Antique Vienna Jaquemart Automaton Clock

Vienna Jaquemart Automaton Clock
The bidding is heating up on this Viennese clock dating to around 1830. The clock features two small Jaquemarts (or "Jacks") who hit the bells when the clock chimes. If you like antique clocks, this looks like a beauty.

Here is the full eBay listing for the Vienna Jaquemart automaton clock

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

How to Make a Circle Cutting Jig for a Router

Circle Cutting Jig for the Router
Perhaps you've been inspired to make a wooden machine with some rather large pin-wheel type gears. There are many ways to cut circles including freehand on a scroll saw or band saw. You can also make or buy a circle cutting jig for the bandsaw. Additionally, you can consider using a fly type circle cutter or using a hole saw in a drill press.

Here is a complete article on how to make your own adjustable circle-cutting jig for a hand held router.

Unlike many a circle-cutting jig for the router, this one overcomes a common limitation -- cutting a circle with a radius shorter than the distance between the router bit and the pivot on which is spins.

John English came up with the ingenious jig you see in the photo above. It doesn't rely on a pivot point, which means it can be used to cut range of circle sizes.

Here is the article on How to Make a Circle Cutting Jig for a Router

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Pin Wheels, Lantern Pinions & Peg Toothed Gears

While not as a elaborate as Del's Amazing Wooden Machine, the machine shown in this video makes great use of wooden pin-wheels, lantern pinions, and peg-toothed gears. Wooden circles and pegs can clearly be used to create many speeds and directions of motion. Well done!

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Cological Marble Run Construction Set on Sale

Cological Marble Run Construction Set
The Cological Marble Run Construction Set is on sale at This set allows you to create custom courses for your marbles to run. It includes everything from zig-zag tracks, to a mini rolling car, to whacking mallets, and a pop up the flag with a little song. You get 23 different types of mechanisms for moving marbles with 97 parts total.

Note: This product is imported from Japan and the manual is in Japanese. But the assembly illustrations are very detailed, so no real reading is needed.

Check out the sale price on the Even if you don't want to buy one, the product page has a neat little video of the marble run in action.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Papercraft Locomotive with Gears

Posted today on locomotive made with paper! This post comes to them (and us) via Neatorama.

Into paper gears? Maybe you want to try to Make Your Own Working Paper Clock.

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Carving Facial Expressions Book

Carving Facial Expressions Book
Here is a short book covering the details of carving the human face, showing a range of emotions. Though only 64 pages long, it includes details on the muscles of the face and some step-by-step examples of carvings. There are also reference photographs to serve as the basis for your own carvings. The author's obvious skill is enviable.

At about $10 USD new, I think you might want to consider getting the book Carving Facial Expressions.

For those more interested in carving caricatures, check out Dave Stetson' book Caricature Carving from Head to Toe and Pete LeClair's book Carving Caricature Head & Faces.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Quercetti Super Marble Run Vortex Building Toy

Quercetti Super Marble Run Vortex
This affordable set allows you to build a large marble run. Called the Quercetti Super Marble Run Vortex set, it features 220 pieces including 2 double entrance funnels, 3 spirals, extra long bridges, and a sturdy base. The set is adaptable, so your marble run can be reconfigured based on your own designs.

Check out the Quercetti Super Marble Run Vortex and other fun marble run construction toys at Kazoo Toys.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Bon Jest Wooden Automaton by Frank Nelson

Bon Jest Automaton by Frank Nelson
Here is a hilarious wood automaton by Frank Nelson entitled, "Bon Jest". The automaton is operated by a hand lever on the back.

From the Frank Nelson's web site:

"This is a one-off original automata. The two figures standing on a wooden carved fort. When the lever is pulled to the right the jointed Officer presents a medal. He leaps into the air – raising his head. The soldier turns his head, salutes, and receives a kiss on his right cheek. Pull the lever to the left and the opposite cheek is kissed."

Check out the video and images of the Bon Jest Automaton by Frank Nelson.

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In the Workshop of a Magician, Francois Junod

Francois Junod is an automatier located in Ste-Croix, Switzerland. He is one of very few automaton-makers still making and restoring them in the finest of the old watch-maker tradition. Here is short film featuring him and his workshop. Granted, you will get more out of the film if you know French. Regardless, the shots of the internal mechanisms are awe inspiring.

Here is a link to an older article about Francois in English. Also, here is the link to his web site.

[ Thanks Falk! ]

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum

Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum
Marvin Yagoda has been collecting vintage coin-operated machines since 1960. Open since 1990, his little museum is located a shopping mall north of Detroit in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The interior is filled with historical and modern arcade machines, sideshow wonders, fortune tellers, automata, and curiosities.

Here is the web site for Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum.

[ Thanks Shel! ]

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