Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Making amazing wooden gears

Here are some samples of gears made by Steve Garrison. He has developed a technique that enables you to make any of the gears of the type shown in this video by using either a scrollsaw or a tablesaw. You can make straight-tooth or helical gears.

From his description:
There are no paper patterns to glue to wood and saw around, the correct involute tooth profile is automatically generated. This technique is very simple once you see how it works. There is no need for expensive cnc routers or lasers or any computer-controlled tools. If you have a scrollsaw or tablesaw, the ability to cut accurately sized circles from plywood, and a computer - then you can do this. You won't find this technique anywhere else, I have looked thoroughly and know it is my own original idea.

Visit his web site at from that home page click on the "gears" link to purchase Steve's technique. The price is $30.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Is there a site that focuses on documenting toys?

A reader of The Automata / Automaton Blog recently wrote to me about a neat little motorized toy he has. He also posed a question.

Reader John Grabowski writes:
Last Christmas, my mom gave me a wind-up tin toy Santa that they got a couple of years before I was born (circa early '60s). I have always loved this wind-up Santa, so I searched the web to try and find out more about him or see similar pieces. I didn't find any like him anywhere though. This year, I got him working really smoothly again, so I filmed a video of him doing his thing. That way, I figured anyone into this sort of stuff would get a chance to see him. Do you know of any site that focuses on displaying and documenting toys (rather than simply selling them)?

I don't have an answer myself. How about the rest of you out there? Do you know of a site like the the one John asks about? If so, post a comment here. Thanks! -Dug North

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Gizmos -- The best paper automata deal around!

I made a huge oversight in my recommendations for mechanical toys. The Gizmos kit gives you everything you need to make eight Rob Ives models. For one very affordable price, you get:
  • A 144-page book with an introduction to automata and the simple mechanisms
  • A pre-made pop-up frog ready to jump
  • Punch-out parts for two snap-up models
  • Complete punch-out parts to create six fully animated paper machines: Die Fledermaus, Mouthy Moose, Schrodinger's Cat, Shrimp Boat, Surf Bunny, and Marching Robot
  • Reusable templates for each of the model parts, to get you started on future projects
Gizmos is a great way to learn basic mechanical principles and paper-engineering techniques.

Here's a link to Gizmos by Rob Ives

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Beautiful wooden tower clock with wood gears

Here's a nice video of a beautiful wooden tower clock. The clock was designed and built by Adrian Iredale, who was inspired in part by Clayton Boyer's wooden clock designs.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eitech metal construction toys - gears and more

I really like the Eitech construction toy building sets. I haven't built one of their models, but I have purchased bundles of parts such as gears, axles, and sprockets for use in prototyping various mechanisms.

They aren't exactly cheap, but they will stand up to a lot of use and reuse. Many of the parts are metal. Some of the plastic parts have metal reinforcements. The system offers a wide assortment of mechanical components, metal structural pieces, and motors to animate your projects.

Here is Amazon's selection of Eitech Building Sets.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Music Box Study No. 5

Check out this amazing study of the larger DIY paper-punch music box by Ben Gerstein. Not only is the piece impressive, but it looks like quite a workout!

From the YouTube description:
Music I punched for the Teanola paper strip music box, identical to the Kikkerland model used in Studies I-IV but twice the size. The mechanism covers 20 notes of the C major scale.

[ Thanks Ben! ]

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Musical Wonder House in Wiscasset, Maine

Musical Wonder House in Wiscasset, Maine
The Musical Wonder House, located in Wiscasset, Maine, is a unique museum featuring more than 5000 restored musical boxes, player grand pianos and organs, spring-wound phonographs, musical birds, porcelains, furniture, clocks, steins, whistlers, a musical painting, and 23 antique coin-operated machines.

The collection is housed in a 32-room mansion dating to 1852. They have an impressive gift shop and -- for the serious collector -- they offer a selection of restored antique musical boxes for sale.

Here is a link to the website of the Musical Wonder House and here is were you can take a virtual tour of the Musical Wonder House.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'The Whole World and You' with automata actors

An automata-based reality sets the backdrop to this very catchy tune. The song -- titled "The Whole World and You" -- is by the band Tally Hall. I think I like these guys!

[ Thanks S.C.! ]

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Magnext iCoaster with cool magnet-based tricks

Mega Brands Magnext iCoaster for 2008
The new model of the MagNext iCoaster from Mega brands is a 64-piece ball rolling track set that can be configured 10 different ways, as described in the included instruction booklet.

The kit is something of a multimedia experiences since it incorporates lights, motion sound, and the ability to plug your own iPod into the system. (Small pieces make this set inappropriate for small children.)

Magnext iCoaster magnetic slide
The track features some really novel tricks -- like the magnetic slide (above) in which the track ends and the ball is held by magnetic attraction to a metal slide that bridges the gap. Magnetism is also used for the ball elevator.

From the review
It's easy to see why the previous iCoaster was recognized by The National Parenting Center and Parents Magazine as an incredible building toy. This version retains all the great qualities of its predecessor and is bigger, stronger and faster.

The construction oriented iCoaster encourages kids to build with determination, helping enhance their ability to focus and their fine-motor skills. It also promotes understanding of magnetism, inspires creativity and helps kids develop problem-solving skills, adding an innovative dimension to play.

Here is where you can learn even more about the Magnext iCoaster (new Model).

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Applause for The Applause Machine Event!

The Applause Machine
Laikingland's first product -- The Applause Machine -- was designed by automaton-maker Martin Smith. When you press the button, The Applause Machine enthusiastically claps its hands. If you are still looking for gifts, this is one anyone is sure to treasure...even if it is a bit late!

News from Martin Smith on Laikingland's Open Day:
The first Laikingland Open Day was a great success and we celebrated our first year and first design, "The Applause Machine", with friends, family, suppliers, collectors and customers. They all seemed to enjoy the chance to look around what is usually a closed workshop and studio. Lots of questions were asked about the next design and lots of comments were made about how much more beautiful the Applause Machines are in real life than in the photographs.

Here are some shots from the Laikingland Open Day event...

The Applause Machine
The Applause Machines are available in five colors and are a great all-purpose gift, self-esteem booster, or recognition of achievement.

Visit Laikingland's site to see more and to order The Applause Machine.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Trebuchet and Catapult Gift Guide from MAKE

Trebuchet and Catapult Gift Guide
The holidays just got a bit I am so happy to share with you MAKE Magazine's complete Gift guide for the trebuchet and catapult maker. Build one, learn things, and by all means -- fling something!

(I am staunchly pro-catapult. There, I said it.)

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Isaac Newton's great idea told in whirligig form

There can be no doubt: artist Ben Thal has taken whirligigs to a new level -- many having up to 30 moving parts and multiple actions. The whirligig shown here depicts Sir Isaac Newton's epiphany regarding gravity in animated wind-powered 3-dimensional form. Wow.

To learn more about the remarkable man behind this and other fantastic creations check out this great profile on him: Spin Doctor -- Former Surgeon Ben Thal Builds Humor Into His Witty, Whimsical Whirligigs.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Working replica of the Antikythera mechanism

Working replica of the Antikythera mechanism
A British museum curator has built a working replica of the Antikythera mechanism -- a 2,000 year old machine found off the coast of Greece in 1902.

The Antikythera mechanism was used to track the movements of planetary bodies (including their various eccentricities) as well as for determining the dates for Olympic games.

Here's a full article on the working Antikythera reproduction: World's First Computer Rebuilt, Rebooted After 2,000 Years.

For even more information on this device, check out the book called Decoding the Heavens: Solving the Mystery of the World's First Computer.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Steam-powered kinetic sculpture made of glass

Steam-powered kinetic sculpture
Just when I think I've got a handle on the bounds of human ingenuity in the domain of automata, mechanical toys, and mechanical sculpture -- my eyes are opened anew. Consider: a mechanical kinetic sculpture driven by steam...and made of glass!

Shown here is one of several "Glass Engines" built by glass artist Bandhu Scott Dunham. The form of power, the various shapes, the smooth motion, the assorted colors, the levels of translucence, the inherent fragility of the material itself.

I may have used the term "astonishing" on this blog before. I don't think I had a suitable frame of reference for the word until now.

Check out the Salusa Glassworks site for more images and QuickTime movies of Bandhu's Glass Engines and a hand-cranked marble track (and WHAT A MARBLE!)

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Invention System 2.0

LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Invention System 2.0
LEGOs aren't just plastic blocks anymore! Now you can design, construct, and program real robots. The Robotic Invention System lets you build three robots out of the box: a Candy Sorter, a Robotic Arm, or a drawing Artbot.

When you start building your own creations, you can attach sensors, motors, and gears to the RCX microcomputer. You then use your PC and the LEGO MINDSTORMS CD-ROM to program your robot. The possibilities are almost endless here.

Here's where you can learn more about LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Invention System 2.0 - Robotics.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The 6 Foot Working Ferris Wheel K'NEX Kit

The 6-Foot tall Ferris Wheel is largest K'NEX building set they have ever produced. It has more individual pieces (8,550 to be exact) and is physically bigger, topping out at a full 6 feet tall.

Clearly, this is a big project -- probably best for expert builders in their late teens and older. The set comes with color-coded instructions and a wall-powered motor to set the wheel in motion.

Here is one place to get the The 6 Foot Working Ferris Wheel Kit.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Paper snowman model, automata, & surprise gifts

Snowman paper model kitRob Ives over at Flying Pig Paper Animation Kits has just released a new paper model for the holiday season. The snowman shown here is a downloadable model. You simply pay online using your Paypal account or a credit card, then download the .PDF that contains the pattern and instructions. Don't worry if you are not used to paying in Great Britian Pounds (GBP) -- PayPal will convert the transaction into your currency. Most cost less than a cup of Starucks coffee. Once you download the file, print it, cut out the pieces, and glue it together as instructed.

If you have kids at home on vacation complaining of having "nothing to do", check out all of amazing paper animation kits from Flying Pig. There are dozens, ranging from dinosaurs to working paper locks. You can let the kids choose the model and have the kit printed out in just minutes. That ought to keep them busy!

Struggling for what to get the crafty/clever person in your life for the holidays because you think they already have everything? Why not surprise them by pre-ordering Rob's forthcoming book? It's called Paper Engineering & Pop-ups For Dummies.Give them an envelope with a print out of the book's cover and they'll look forward to receiving a great gift in just a few months.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Mechancial toy gifts for holidays 2008 - Part 2

This is the second part of a two part post on mechanical toy gift ideas for the 2008 holiday season. Part 1 of the list may be found here.

Solar Car Book
Solar Car Book- Another great product from the folks at Klutz. It's hard to beat a instruction book that has a kit attached...or is it a kit that is has book?

Either way, at $20, this is a fun and easy way to build a little solar-powered car.

Mr. Machine
We owe it to ourselves to remember some classic mechanical toys. Mr. Machineis just such a classic. Like the 1960s version, the real fun is taking Mr. Machine apart and putting him back together. At $100, it may seem a lot for a toy, but how much is the education acquired worth? There should be one in every household, I say.

Wind-up toys from Kikkerland
Wind-up toys from Kikkerland- Wind-up toys have a whole new contemporary look. Kikkerland makes an assortment of wonderful walking, jittering, and squiggling critters. They cost between $9 to $18 each. Best of all: no batteries required now or ever.

Working Wood Trebuchet
Working Wood Trebuchet DIY Kit- No childhood is complete unless you have build a siege engine. These all-wood kits are great for the budding engineer or as a scale models for adults with a mind to build a full-size version in the back yard one day. The trebuchet kit sells for $40. You supply a hobby knife and white glue.

Tomy I-SOBOT Robot- This was good deal last year given that this is a very capable humanoid robot toy. This year however it is a STEAL at $85. For the the young, the toy can be used as is. For the advanced, sites are springing up all over the internet with instructions on how to hack this 6 inch tall wonder.

I hope this two part series has given you some good ideas for mechanical toy gifts this year.

If none of these items quite seem to satisfy your gift needs, head over to The Automata / Automaton Store for an assemblage of mechanical, automata, and robot toys. You might also peruse the MAKE magazine store for all manner of gifts for keen minds -- young and old.

Seasons Greetings to All!

[ Thanks again to the members of The Automata / Automaton Group on Facebook for their help in compiling this list! ]

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Mechanical toy gifts for the holidays 2008 - Part 1

You've still got a few shopping days left! Here is a list of mechanical toys that can be ordered online and at your home in plenty of time for the holidays.

Battery Science: Make Widgets That Work and Gadgets That Go
Battery Science: Make Widgets That Work and Gadgets That Go - An affordable, creative kit for making all kinds of crazy little contraptions with little more than a small battery-powered motor. At $15, this is a great value and great fun.

More fun engineering from Klutz:
Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes

Karakuri: Bow Shooting Boy
Karakuri: Bow Shooting Boy by Gakken - A kit for the advance or ambitious maker, this is a plastic recreation of a famous Japanese karakuri. The boy actually picks up arrows, places them on the bow, and shoots at a mini target. Amazing! At $150 this may be best for the "big kid" in your life or a gifted youngster. A different Gakken Karakuri kit may be found at the MAKE magazine store.

Wooden Pinball Baseball
Front Porch Classics Baseball- I finally had a chance to play at a friend's house and I am pleased to say that this is a really great game. It's well made and doesn't take up a ton of room. This rather nice model runs $80, but there are versions for about half the price. Good for adults and kids.

Kluz and Lego bundled packages
Lego Crazy Action Contraptions and Lego Crazy Action Contraptions: A Lego Inventions Book- Both spiral-bound books ($22 and $14, respectively) have clear instructions with step-by-step diagrams and come with a small pouch of LEGO bricks for the projects. Having additional basic Lego brickson hand is a good idea for the first book, and required for the second.

We'll be back tomorrow with part 2 of our last-minute mechanical gift suggestions. You can also peruse The Automata / Automaton Store where our staff has added hundreds of items that are available at

[ My thanks to the esteemed members of The Automata / Automaton Group on Facebook for many of these suggestions! ]

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret - great gift book

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
For those of you looking for a gift for the automata-minded, I would be remiss to not mention The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

The tale takes place Paris in the 1930s and features an automaton as a central element. Profusely illustrated, the pictures are critical to the telling of the tale...they don't just decorate the text. By all accounts -- and I have had dozens of individuals write to me directly to say so -- this is a classic.

From the author, Brian Selznick:
I began thinking about this book ten years ago after seeing some of the magical films of Georges Méliès, the father of science-fiction movies. But it wasn't until I read a book called Edison's Eve: The Quest for Mechanical Life by Gaby Woods that my story began to come into focus. I discovered that Méliès had a collection of mechanical, wind-up figures (called automata) that were donated to a museum, but which were later destroyed and thrown away. Instantly, I imagined a boy discovering these broken, rusty machines in the garbage, stealing one and attempting to fix it. At that moment, Hugo Cabret was born.

If you need a gift for a young person or someone young-at-heart, you should consider The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Magnetic Accelerator Kit -- ZING!

How about a simple, fun, and unexpected mechanical toy that uses strong magnets in a novel way? Yes, I say. Yes.

This simple kit allows you to put together a small magnetic accelerator.

From the product description:
Set the metal ball at the end of the track and watch as the energy transfers and multiplies down the track of magnets and metal balls until finally the last ball zooms off. The Magnetic Accelerator Kit is a great study for science fairs, but is just at home on your desk (just be careful what it sits near - these magnets are STRONG).

Here the link for the Magnetic Accelerator Kit.ZING!

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sale at - Rebate

The Geeks have been busy searching the universe for the most unique and interesting products available. With the holidays around the corner has some offers with extra "geek appeal" like the one below. The have tons of great gizmos, spy gadgets, and a variety of mechanical toys.

Save $5 to $10 on Orders of $25 to $50 or more!
Here is one offer in which you get $5 off of orders of $25 or more!

That's a good discount.

For this offer, use the discount code "BRAINS".

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WowWee's Tribot talking companion robot toy

WowWee's Tribot talking companion robot toyTribot is one of the latest from robot toy makers WowWee (of Robosapien fame). Tribot has a number of different modes, some of which (like guard mode), are semi-autonomous. Tribot can also be controlled via remote. The standout features of this robot toy are the slick omni-directional wheels and very quick remote-control response.

From the product description
Tribot is one of the latest in the line of personal robots from WowWee. This innovative talking companion is more than just your average robot -- Tribot is fresh off the robot assembly line and is ready to interact with you whether it is playing with his built-in games or telling you jokes. Remember though, he's only a young robot so he will need help from you to give him commands using the remote controller. Requires eight "AA" and three "AAA" batteries, not included. Measures 9"L x 8.5"W x 15"H.

Here's a more complete product overview of the WowWee Tribot Talking Companion.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Toys, Robots, and Steampunk gifts - from MAKE

Toys, robots and gifts - from keen minds at MAKE
I'm hoping to offer a list of my own for mechanical toy gifts, but in the meantime I am duty-bound to point you to MAKE magazine's outstanding blog and the suggestions they have already compiled.

Here is their Top 10 unexpected toys.

Here is their excellent Holiday Gift Guide to Robots.

Here is their Steampunk Gift Guide for 2008.

In general, the items in their online store -- The Maker Shed -- are very well chosen and bound to stimulate technical discovery. You can't really go wrong there.

Keep up the good work, MAKE!

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