Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reader Submission: Peru's 2nd birthday automaton

Automata / Automaton Blog reader Arri in Madrid, Spain made this charming automaton for his son Peru's second birthday.

From Arri's description:
It is made of wine-box wood, a piece of wood for the "2" found on the street and a small "pianola" that plays the happy birthday song. I love the chaotic movement of the "2", it's like my son.

What an awesome gift! I'm sure Peru was delighted.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lazy Chair video and Miniature Lazy Chair

Shown here is a piece called Lazy Chair by Fresh West.

From the video description:
Lazy Chair by Fresh West is an experimental concept piece based upon small wooden animals toys held together by tension springs which when the based is pushed in, the tension is lost and the animal collapses. The chair has a diffident personality of its own which collapses on approach and then rights itself in a random human like manner after a few moments delay.

The clever folks at Laikingland are offering The Miniature Lazy Chair by Fresh West -- a 1:6 scale version of the original. Just push the lever and the chair collapses, after a few moments it too restores itself! This is what The Miniature Lazy Chair looks like:
The Miniature Lazy Chair
Here's where you can see more images and/or order your own Miniature Lazy Chair.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Flying horse automaton by Tony Campton

Check out this wooden horse automaton by Tony Campton -- his first effort at making them. Wonderful carving! Well done.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, September 27, 2010

Woman in an Armchair by Paul Spooner

Ah, automata by Paul Spooner...always good. Always!

From the automaton description:
A new one-off piece by Paul Spooner. With echoes of Picasso's cubist painting 'Seated Bather by the Sea' (1930) Spooner's chair has 8 fingers which move like a wonky Peter Markey Wave Machine. The piece is operated by batteries (included) and the fingers start moving when the knob on the drawer is turned. Oak and mahogany (recycled from hospital).

Here's where you can learn more about the Woman in an Armchair automaton by Paul Spooner.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mystery mechanism: a spring-driven motor for...?

A spring-driven mystery mechanism
A friend spotted this unusual mechanism at an antique store and called to tell me about it. When the lever was flipped it started spinning away...but to what end? He couldn't tell. I asked some questions and it didn't seem quite right to be an automaton mechanism, clock, or anything else I could think of. Most mysterious was the lone word on the bottom that said "Battery". Curiosity prompted me to ask for some expert advice. I sent a few emails out. One of my expert contacts forwarded my question along to another person. This person, Glenn Grabinsky, provided an answer:

From Glenn's message:
I am 99% sure it is the bell striking mechanism from either a burglar or fire alram, probably circa 1890-1910. In the days when most places did not have real electrical service yet, these were the common way to go. They could be tripped by a solenoid which only needed drycell batteries for power. Then the heavy spring wind mechanisms took over for the bell clanging. There would have been a large bell with clappers which spun around inside, driven by one of the output shafts of this motor. There were no speed governors or regulators needed for these motors since the bell clappers themselves regulated the speed rotating around inside of the bell.

Well, I'm convince. Fascinating, ingenious, and educational! I love it.

My Thanks to Glenn and others for presenting and solving this mechanical mystery!

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Coin-op mechanical musical stereoscope

Coin-op mechanical musical stereoscope
Check out this awesome antique coin-operated musical stereoscopic viewer. The listing on eBay says that fewer than 10 of these are known to exist in the world today!

From the eBay description:
Dates to about 1890, assembled by the firm of August Lasseur, who leased entertainment novelties such as this for public venues. Lasseur would maintain the machines, collect the revenues, etc., in exchange for leasing their space, much the same as is done today with vending machines.

Fitted with a 6-tune Paillard music box, it plays two songs on the drop of a coin. The internal rack of stereoscopic cards allows the viewer to see a 3-D image, which in this case is a naughty picture of a pretty girl. The rack slowly rotates, and another picture soon appears. Each coin drop shows about 4 pictures to the viewer, and when the music ends, so does the show.

Here is the complete listing with many more picture of this Coin-op mechanical musical stereoscope.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, September 24, 2010

Transports of Delight by Keith Newstead

Transports of Delight is the first of a series of automata on the theme of transport by Keith Newstead.

See more automata by Keith Newstead on his web site.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Video of the Museum Speelklok in the Netherlands

The Museum Speelklok in the Netherlands describes itself as "the most cheerful museum in the Netherlands". This video, featuring their astounding collection of mechanical wonders, makes their claim seem quite plausible to me.

From the site description:
Carillon clocks, musical boxes, Flötenuhren, pianolas, the singing nightingale, orchestrions including the famous Violina, street, fairground and dance organs; Museum Speelklok (before: the National Museum ‘From Musical Clock to Street Organ’) has it all. Guided tours of the museum take place every hour, when the instruments will be playing their repertoire varying from Viennese waltzes and tangos to tear-jerkers and the very latest hits. Besides presenting its collection, the museum takes great pleasure in organising special projects with well-known artists.

Learn more about the Museum Speelklok on their web site.

[ Thanks Vanessa! ]

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Secret Gadgets & Strange Gizmos: High & Low-Tech

Secret Gadgets and Strange Gizmos: High-Tech (and Low-Tech) Innovations of the U.S. Military
Automata? No. Mechanical Toys? Definitely not. Kinetic sculpture? Nope. Totally bizarre gizmos? YES!

From the book description:
Secret Gadgets and Strange Gizmos traces this evolving connection from the deadly innovations of the Union and Confederate forces to the top secret, high-tech inventions that are making military history today. Chronicling the hits, the misses, and the important technological advances produced by the U.S. military.

Actually, that description is rather dry. Try this: go to's page for Secret Gadgets and Strange Gizmos: High-Tech (and Low-Tech) Innovations of the U.S. Military and click on the book cover to "Look Inside". Check out the crazy gadgets like the gyroscopically controlled motorized unicycle shown above.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book: Coping Saw Work by Edward F. Worst

Originally published in 1927, many of the projects in Coping Saw Work provides plans for several wooden toys. The large format (11" x 8") features 121 full-scale illustrations within its 136 pages.

From the book description:
The great value of Coping Saw Work is in its hundreds of full-scale patterns, particularly for the mechanical toys that were popular in the early 1900s. Among them you will find plans for a pendulum-actuated circle of pecking chickens, the traditional competing woodchoppers, jointed animals on moving stands, and a number of parallel-movement toys such as the classic fighting dog and cat. Equally useful are the numerous full-scale drawings for dollhouse furniture and toy vehicles.

 Coping Saw Work by Edward F. Worst

You can get a new print of Coping Saw Work over at Lee Valley Tools or try for an original printing of Coping Saw Work at Amazon.

[ Thanks Charles! ]

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, September 20, 2010

Comparison of two stage coach model kits

Comparison of two stage coach model kits
If you have ever give some thought to building a model stage coach kit, here's some valuable information for you. Our friend "bilagaana" -- creator of DIY instructions for a plans holder and model-maker's sanding box -- has created a comprehensive comparison of two different versions of the kit -- one by Amati and the other by Model Trailways.

Here's the link to the article on comparing the Amati and Model Trailways stage coach kits.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, September 19, 2010

New automata, book, and site for by Carlos Zapata

Automata maker Carlos Zapata has been busy! In addition to new work, he also is offering a book and has a new web site. Shown here is his piece Elephant.

More about the book, Automata: Mechanical Sculpture by Carlos Zapata
This book is about the art of carlos zapata. His mechanical sculptures move when the handle is turn. He is been influence by folk and tribal art around the world. His work is full of colour and emotion.

Automata book by Carlos Zapata
Shown above is just one of the several pages of his book you can preview.

Find the link his book and see more automata by Carlos Zapata on his web site.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Build a programmable mechanical music box

How to build a programmable mechanical music box
Some time ago, I posted about the Gloggomobil, a programmable music machine. Here is an Instructable for making a very similar device. On the Gloggomobil the movable pins trip hammers which strike the keys on a Glockenspiel to play the tune. This device is similar in construction in most respects but the tune is played on a large version of the thumb piano.

Here is a link to the Instructable on how to Build a Programmable Mechanical Music Box.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ives clockwork walking bear automaton c. 1890

Here is an eight inch tall walking bear automaton by Ives currently on the auction block over at ebay.

From the ebay description:
When wound, the bear will turn his head to the left, open and close his mouth, and slowly walk forward and to the left. He will sometimes stop after only a few seconds, but just picking him up and wiggling him a bit and then setting him back down will get him going again. Below his left arm toward the front of him is the stop/start lever. The wind up key is a replacement and will be included in the sale. It fits nicely and winds the bear very well. The bear is covered with real fur; most likely it is rabbit fur. His feet and hands are made of carved wood. His left eye is made of glass and the right eye is a replacement and not glass, it looks good, although it’s not a perfect match.

Here is where you can see many nice images of this clockwork walking bear automaton.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New automata column on The Mechanical Blog

Dug North's column for The Mechanical Blog
I am thrilled and honored to have contributed the first article in what will be an ongoing series for the wonderful folks at Cabaret Mechanical Theatre. In this first article, I share some things I learned from building a clock made entirely of wood. The column -- titled Dug's Automata Tips, Techniques and Tricks -- will be published four times per year.

Here's the first of Dug's Automata Tips, Techniques and Tricks: Eight Lessons Learned from Making a Wooden Clock on the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre web site.

[ Thanks Sue and Sarah! ]

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book: Making and Manipulating Marionettes

Book: Making and Manipulating Marionettes
I have had my eye on this book for a long time, but have yet to buy it. It looks like a wealth of information on all aspects string puppets -- design, construction, and control.

From the book description:
Contents include: an introduction to the marionette tradition and the principles and practicalities of marionette design; advice on materials and methods for carving, modeling, and casting puppet parts; detailed explanations for marionette control, stringing, and manipulation; step–by–step instructions for the construction and jointing of human and animal marionettes; and professional secrets for achieving a wide range of special effects.

Anyone out there have this one? I'd like to know if you like it!

Here is a link to Making and Manipulating Marionettes.

[ Thanks Charles! ]

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Another mechanized monster in a top hat!

Mr. Hyde Halloween robotic top hat
I was tickled to discover a new Instructable by techiebot which features a mechanical top hat in part inspired by my own trick top hat automaton. The creator of this one definitely took things to the next level, making a fully robotic creation. Not only does the monster pop out of the top, but can also look from side to side!

Here's a link to the full Instructable on how to make the Mr. Hyde Halloween robotic top hat.

This reminds me: I finally got around to replacing the rubber finger puppet on my trick top hat with a little wooden monster of my own design. He has articulated arms that move as a result of the monster's motion. The hand on the hat brim works particularly well, appearing to grab the rim of the hat as the monster emerges. Here's what the trick top hat looks like with the new monster:
Halloween Top Hat Automaton

Plans for my low-tech (but still incredibly fun) trick top hat can be found in MAKE Magazine's Special Halloween Edition.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 13, 2010

Free plans for a ramp-walking wooden rhino toy

Exclusive: The Automata / Automaton Blog is please to present this set of wooden toy plans!

Retired civil engineer, cartoonist, automata & toy maker Roberto Lou Ma (creator of the ramp-walking robot figure) has been so generous as to create and share this set of instructions on how to make a ramp-walking rhinoceros. The figure uses geometric figures and straight cuts, so it should be fairly easy for everyone to make.

Click on each of the images below for full-sized plans and patterns. Download these to your computer or print them directly from your browser window (being sure that they are at full size).

Step 1: Intro to the wooden rhino ramp walker toy

Step 2: Patterns for rhino ramp walker toy

Here are the rhino toy patterns in PDF format, which will allow you to print them out at full size.

Step 3: Assembly instructions for the rhino ramp walker

Step 4: Hinge and glue details for the ramp walker

Step 5: Making the ramp for the rhino to walk upon

Thanks to Roberto Lou Ma for the wonderful set of mechanical toy plans!

Check out more cool creations by Roberto Lou Ma on his YouTube channel.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mechanical banks that grab the coin

Here's a modern, Japanese version of an older mechanical bank theme. This one features an cartoon cat. Put the coin in kitty's food bowl and it'll pop out of the box to steal it, then meows to thank you.

Here's where you can learn more about the Mechanical Kitty Coin Bank

This is the older version that I remember:
Mechanical bank with hand that grabs coin
Here is where you can get the creepier classic bank featuring a human hand that grabs the coin.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Gorgeous longcase automaton clock from 1750

Gorgeous longcase automaton clock from 1750
Here is a beautiful walnut longcase clock from around 1750. This clock features moving "Punch and Judy" figures attached to the mechanism.

From the eBay description:
The Brass and Silvered dial is in lovely original condition, the silvered chapter ring with Roman Numerals and with the minute dial around the outer edge. The matted centre with the calendar aperture below the centre, and with the working silvered seconds dial above, both in working condition. The top arch houses the very unusual "Punch and Judy" automaton which rocks from side to side as the clock ticks. The arch is an added arch, it is unclear if the arch was put on as an alteration to the original order at the time of making, or if it was added slightly later. The makers signature is engraved around the bottom of the silvered chapter ring.

You can check out an assortment of antique grandfather clocks on eBay. Sadly, the description for this one has now been removed.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, September 10, 2010

Margot's Cat, kinetic sculpture by Arthur Ganson

I was recently reminded by a reader of one of my favorite kinetic sculptures by Arthur Ganson. Shown in the video above is his piece Margot's Cat.

From the YouTube video description:
This machine was inspired by watching a randomly shaped object bouncing off the surface of a slow moving, reciprocating and irregularly shaped piston head on the moon. Of course anything is possible in the virtual world of the computer.

The doll house chair seems to be the perfect object to bounce nearly weightlessly over the unsuspecting cat. In this machine, the chair is passive and all motion is due to interference by the cat. The large disk at the back serves to both counterbalance the arm and give more mass to the chair itself. The motion of the chair is complex and will never repeat.

Margot Clark was my wonderful and inspiring art history teacher at the University of New Hampshire. When she passed away she left a houseful of cats.

See more kinetic sculptures by Arthur Ganson on his web site.

[ Thanks Christoph! ]

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Knitting cat automaton by Roullet & Decamps

Knitting cat automaton by ROULLET & DECAMPS
Here is a 12 inch tall knitting cat clockwork automaton made by the famous French firm of Roullet & Decamps. Who knew that cats could knit?

From the eBay description:
As one arm lowers and raises the needle, the other motions the partially finished knitting in and out, while the cat slowly turns its head left and right. There is a very small opening in the leather covering on the cat's upper left forearm (which may, or may not, be intentional) in order to allow the arm to bend at this particular spot.

Here's the full listing with a longer description and many more pictures of this Knitting cat automaton by Roullet & Decamps

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Video: how a pocket watch mechanism works

This item is all over the web at the moment, but I would be negligent in the performance my duty were I not to include it here. The video shows and explains the workings of a pocket watch using a scaled up, functioning model. Very instructive!

[ Found via MAKE ]

Labels: , ,

SpooMonkey automaton by Pascale Michalski

Take a simple mechanism, some ceramic-like sculpting compound, and brilliant execution and what do you get? The SpooMonkey automaton shown here by artist Pascale Michalski. I love it!

From the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre site:
The first edition of automata from Pascale Michalski. SpooMonkey, which is short for “Spooky Monkey”, has been trapped in his cage for an eternity. His only amusement is making his bells tintinnabulate repeatedly. His haggard body tries to break out, but fails at it miserably again and again...

Here's the full page about the SpooMonkey automaton.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Willy Wonka's Everlasting Gobstopper Machine

Here is a rolling ball (actually Gobstopper!) machine inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This amazing piece was made by Sophie Catherine Naylor for the Newcastle-Under-Lyme Art Gallery and Museum's summer exhibition 2010. The Gobstopper machine/marble-run is operated by a push button switch, which activates a motor that pumps the Gobstoppers around the 8 various runs. The machine is roughly 150cm x 100cm x 100cm in size.

To view photos and videos of the entire exhibition visit Sophie Catherine Naylor's web site.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, September 06, 2010

Set of 6 dancing Halloween wind up toy figures

Set of 6 dancing Halloween wind up toy figures
I just picked up a great little dancing robot called a Max the Noggin Bop. Part of the Z Wind Ups line, this figure has a great dancing motion created by a yoked offset cam and a number of clever linkages. The figure basically looks like it is doing 'The Twist'.

Just in time for Halloween, the company offers this set of six themed wind-up dancing figures (shown above).

Here's where you can get the Set of 6 Halloween Noggin Bops.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Book: Eccentric Cubicle from Make Magazine

Eccentric Cubicle from Make Magazine
Author Kaden Harris has created a book for the luminaries of MAKE Magazine. In it, he provides step-by-step instructions for building all manner of crazy contraptions. This stuff isn't just for the cubicle; it's for fun! If you are an ambitious or experienced maker or just curious about how to make insanely cools stuff, this is a great book.

From the book description:
From desktop guillotines and crossbows to mood-enhancing effects and music makers, each project presents a different set of challenges and opens new avenues of Maker lore. There's a strong emphasis on the basic mechanical theories and principles of the devices presented in the book, as well as the fabrication techniques you need to use. But this is far more than a book of project "how-tos". Eccentric Cubicle offers oblique industrial design and fabrication philosophies, countless cultural reference points, and innumerable bad puns.

Here's where you can get Eccentric Cubicle (Make: Projects)

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Incredible mystery mechanism: can you identify it?

Incredible mystery mechanism
Adrien Massue writes in from France with a most intriguing mystery. A few years ago he purchased this elaborate mechanism. Beautifully made, yet weird, he has no idea what the machine was designed to do. He is now is now on a quest to find out. I could only makes some general comments about the mechanism, but certainly could not identify it. Can you?

Here are some links with large images of the mechanism:

Monsieur Massue has posted a question about this mystery device to an antique forum and there is some general agreement that this is the mechanism for an automaton. So far, I am not convinced. My guess is that this is an elaborate mechanical sculpture made from an assortment of machine parts. What do you think?

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, September 03, 2010

Wooden ramp walking robot toy - free plans!

UPDATE: The Automata / Automaton Blog is pleased to be the exclusive source for free plans for making your own ramp walking robot. Enjoy!


I've seen ramp walking toys of similar design before, but the robot figure created by Roberto LouMa seems particularly appropriate!

Here is a frightfully/delightfully technical look at the principles behind such toys: An Uncontrolled Walking Toy That Cannot Stand Still. Here is a more easily digestible summary of the ramp-walking tinker toy (a product of Cornell University).

Despite the academic research and how common such toys are, it is surprisingly hard to find plans that show how to make a ramp walker. I have heard that there are detailed plans for a lathe-turned penguin ramp walking toy in the book 52 Weekend Woodworking Projects by John A. Nelson. I don't have the book, though, so I am not certain of this. Does anyone out there know if there are plans for a ramp walker in this (or some other) book?

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, September 02, 2010

How to make organically-shaped gears

Clayton Boyer, creator of amazing wooden clocks, has created this fantastic demonstration video showing exactly how to make gears with crazy and unconventional profiles. Coolest of all, he does it without saying a word!

Here is where you can see Clayton Boyer's wooden clocks.

[ Thanks Fabrice! ]

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

BuckyBalls - clever magnetic building spheres

BuckyBalls Magnetic Building Spheres
I wasn't entirely sure if BuckyBalls really qualified as mechanical toys, but a) they are magnets, b) they can be used to construct all kinds of crazy shapes, and c) they're just plain cool.

You can now get them in silver, gold, or black (also in 'original', but I'm not sure how that differs from silver).

They have the full selection of BuckyBalls over at

[ Thanks Julia! ]

Labels: , , ,