Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mechanical Bird miniature solar kinetic sculpture

Check out this new miniature solar powered kinetic sculpture by master craftsman Szymon Klimek from Poland. This one is called Mechanical Bird and is inside of a wine glass!

See more incredible miniature kinetic sculptures by Szymon Klimek on his web site.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hokum automaton by Deane Benninghoven

Here is a lively automaton called Hokum by Deane Benninghoven of Seattle, Washington. The automaton was inspired by the famous Antonio Diavolo, the acrobatic automaton by Robert-Houdin, which featured a figure that was removed at the end of the performance to show it to be free of any linkages.

This piece is made of polymer clay, brass, epoxy, aluminum, pigments, acrylic paint, Plexiglas, Japanese paper, steel, wood, neodymium magnets and features the removable figure.

See more automata and other art by Deane Benninghoven on his web site.

[ Thanks Sharon and Julia! ]

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Ruby Slippers automaton by Nick Rayburn

You may remember Nick Rayburn's earlier hand-cranked automaton called The Waiting Hand. (If not, I suggest you check it out!)

His new piece, called The Ruby Slippers, shows the same superb craftsmanship. It probably goes without saying, but when you turn the handle the little slippers lift up and clack together 3 times.

If you would like more information or would like to discuss acquiring a piece you can send an email to: nickrayburn at sky dot com.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

German-made antique flapping bird tin toy

Here's an excellent vintage wind-up tin toy made in Germany. When set in motion, the bird spins around the central the tree, flaps its wings, and chirps!

Here's the full ebay listing with many photographs of this German-made antique flapping bird tin toy

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Estonian Dragon automton by Keith Newstead

Here is a motorized piece by the clever and prolific Keith Newstead. The dragaon is a commissioned work for the Estonian puppet theatre. I love seeing the mechanism in the latter half of the video. Just look at the textures and detailed painting!

See more automata by Keith Newstead on his web site.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Book: Mechanical Singing-bird Tabatières

Mechanical Singing-bird Tabatieres
Yesterday, we featured a video showing the mechanism of a singing bird box in action. Curious to learn more, I looked around for a book on the subject. I do not have this book, but I have it on good authority that Mechanical Singing-bird Tabatières by Geoffrey Mayson is one of the best references on the subject with color photographs and detailed illustrations showing the inner workings of all varieties of singing bird, from the early to modern versions.

Here is where you can see a few additional photos from the book Mechanical Singing-Bird Tabatieres. Check out the singing bird derringer!

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Video peek inside a singing bird box automaton

Here's a great video of a singing bird box automaton. In the latter half, the automaton is running with the mechanism fully exposed. Fascinating!

This is the first of a series of films that will feature the mechanical instrument collection at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona.

You can learn more about the Musical Instrument Museum on their web site.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mechanical picture automaton of shoemaker's shop

Here's a charming little video of a gentleman showing off a tableau style automaton of a shoemaker and his apprentice at work. As one of the YouTube comments notes, it is very similar to one depicted on page 96-97 of Mary Hillier's book Automata & mechanical toys: An illustrated history. The one in the book is attributed to Albert Schoenhut. The one shown here is very, very similar, though it does not feature the third figure of the woman on the right side of the piece.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Article on how to make lifelike marionette bodies

The Art of Making Lifelike Marionette Bodies
The Modern Mechanix blog has this old article on making marionette bodies. Originally published in Popular Science Monthly in 1936, the article is by Florence Fetherston Drake. The article has a lot of great information -- especially if you are actually making your own marionette. Of particular interest to the automaton-maker are the sections on materials, tools, and various types of joints.

Here is a link to the full article on The Art of Making Lifelike Marionette Bodies.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bizarre randomly oscillating magnetic pendulum

There is some good fun to be had by combining a simple pendulum with an array of magnets! The Randomly Oscillating Magnetic Pendulum (ROMP) produces some surprising motions as the magnet on the end of the pendulum interacts with the magnetic fields created by the magnets you arrange on the steel base.

Here's a link to the Randomly Oscilating Magnetic Pendulum.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Understanding the basics prinicples of gears

Building on yesterday's post about how to make wooden gears and last week's video post about time, gears, and how clocks work, here is another great educational video from . This one covers gear basics, various gear types, and sprockets, as well as showing some impressive real-world applications for gears.

I couldn't find the nifty combination spur/bevel gears he uses in the video, but the gears in Superstructs Gears Expansion Pack look like they mesh side-by-side or at right angles to each other, so could be used to replicate some of the demonstrations in the video.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

How to make bevel-style wooden gears video

My most recent automata-making article on pinwheels for Cabaret Mechanical Theatre features the interactive gear template generator created my Matthias Wandel. In the video posted here, Mattias himself shows you how to use the gear template generator to make wooden gears that run at right angles to each other. This step-by-step video is very well made and incredibly informative for anyone wanting to make wooden gears.

Check out more cool woodworking projects on

[ Thanks Charles! ]

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Seabird Flying Bird model/kit flies by flapping wings

Seabird Flying Bird model kit flies by flapping wings
This model bird kit known as The Seabird has a wingspan of 30 inches and flies by flapping its wings. That's a pretty big ornithopter! It is spring: time to head outside to send a mechanical bird into the air, methinks.

Here's where you can get the Seabird Flying Bird Model Kit.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

1890s Roullet & Decamps wind-up automaton pig

1890s Roullet & Decamps windup automaton pig
Here's an animal you might not have guessed you would find in automata form. This is a wind-up pig automaton from the 1890s made by Roullet & Decamps.

From the ebay desctiption:
This 1890's Roullet and Decamps automaton windup pig is a survivor. It looks to need some love but still a real cool mechanical toy. Pig shows a lot of wear and I do not have the key to see if the windup works. The toy is 11 inches long by 5 inches high and has glass eyes.

Here is the full ebay listing with many additional pictures of this Roullet & Decamps windup automaton pig.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reciprocating rack and pinion mechanism

 Reciprocating rack and pinion  mechanism
This is a still shot of an animated rack-and-pinion mechanism designed to convert a continuous rotary motion into a reciprocating motion. It seems so simple once you see it, but I'm not sure I ever would have thought of it myself.

This is just one of many well done mechanical animations which can be viewed at (You'll want to scroll down below the fold of the page to see most of the animation thumbnails.)

[ Thanks Dan! ]

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Two methods for making pinwheel gear templates

Two methods for making pinwheel templates
Click your way over to the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre site to read my latest column. In this article I cover two methods for making pinwheel templates on paper. This builds nicely off the last article on methods for making wooden circles.

Here is link to Dug's Automata Tips, Techniques and Tricks No.3: Two Methods for Making Pinwheels Patterns.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Paper Locksmith: Collection of Working Locks

The Paper Locksmith: A Collection of Working Locks
A book by Rob Ives of which I was unaware! This book contains plans and parts to make three different working locks entirely out of paper and glue. You are bound to learn a lot about locks along the way too!

From the book description:
A collection of three cut-out models of locks. They include three of the main varieties of lock: combination, mortice and "Yale". The models are colour-coded and are accompanied by a minibook describing the historical development of lock design and possibilities for the future.

It may be out-of-print, but it seems there are still some to be had. Here's where you can get The Paper Locksmith: A Collection of Working Locks to Cut Out and Glue Together.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Country Lamb automaton by Paul Spooner

Another Paul Spooner automaton with an uncanny affect and incredibly clever mechanism. Wait for the end of the video to see how it works!

Here is where you can learn more automata by Paul Spooner.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Video on time, gears, and how tower clocks work

Here's a nice video for a Sunday afternoon covering the basics of time, gears, and clocks. After a short introduction, the host shows us some up-close details of a nice tower clock. Grab a beverage and enjoy the video!

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Three books on making LEGO Technic mechanisms

Recently brought to my attention are these three detailed books on making mechanisms out of LEGOs:

   • The LEGO Technic Idea Book: Simple Machines
   • The LEGO Technic Idea Book: Fantastic Contraptions
   • The LEGO Technic Idea Book: Wheeled Wonders

The clever little walker shown in the video is from the Fantastic Contraptions volume.

From Fantastic Contraptions book description:
The Technic models in Fantastic Contraptions include working catapults, crawling spiders, and bipedal walkers, as well as gadgets powered by fans, propellers, springs, magnets, and vibration. You'll even learn how to add lights, pneumatics, and solar panels to your own models.

All three books look really good! For in-depth reviews of these three LEGO Technic books head over at the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories Blog.

[ Thanks Denise! ]

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Instructables National Robotics Week robot contest

Instructables National Robotics Week robot contest
The world's best DIY site, Instructables, is gearing up for National Robotics Week by holding a robot contest. To enter, you need to publish a new Instructable that shows how to build a robot by March 20th.

All kinds of robot projects are eligible -- from the simple to the complex. Ideally, the robots should be something that K-12 students could make with the help of teacher or mentor.

Instructables is giving away some great prizes for the contest. Projects will also be featured on the National Robotics Week website. Winners will have a chance to show their robot projects at live events during National Robotics Week.

Here's where you can learn more about the Intructables Robot Contest. Here is where you can learn more about National Robotics Week, April 9-17, 2011.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Leopold Lambert wind up clown automaton

 Leopold Lambert antique wind up clown automaton
We've featured a fair amount of antique automata by Roullet and Decamps of late. Indeed, they produced some wonderful automata, but they were not alone! In an effort to remedy the recent bias, here is a piece by another renowned automata firm: Leopold Lambert. This 26 inch tall clown automaton is currently available on ebay.

From the ebay description:
When the key is wound, and the knob pulled, the motion is activated. The left foot taps, the body moves forward and back at the waist, the right hand strums the guitar, the left hand slides up and down the guitar neck, the head rolls left to right, while nodding up and down. There is also slight tongue action, as the clown sticks the tongue out. The music is a typical slow waltz.

Here is where you can see more images and read more about this antique clown automaton by Lambert.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

How to make a surprise pop-out dragon box

A great little mechanical toy is shown in the video above. When you slide the top of the trick box open, a small but nasty little dragon suddenly pops out to tag you.

Here is the full set of instructions with photographs so you can make your own surprise pop-out dragon box.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Book - Model Engineering: A Foundational Course

Model Engineering: A Foundational Course
OK...this one is completely new to me, but I sure like the looks of it! The book in question is Model Engineering: A Foundational Course by Peter Wright. Anybody out there have this one? Can you tell us if you like it?

Here's what Amazon has to say about the book:
Written by an experienced engineer, this textbook covers all the basic techniques of model engineering, including: understanding engineering drawings; setting up a workshop; buying materials; marking out; sawing; filing; bending and forming metals; and drilling and boring. The author includes a review of the properties and characteristics of engineering materials and describes the hardening of carbon steel for cutting tools in the home workshop.

I've added it to my ridiculously long wish list, but am waiting to see it in person or get some first-hand feedback before I order it.

Here's the link to Model Engineering by Peter Wright.

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Byrnes Model Machines 4 inch miniature table saw

Byrnes Model Machines 4 inch miniature table saw
I dearly love my little Proxxon table saw. I have assumed that I found the ultimate miniature table saw. As good as it is, it seems my saw may have some competition. Serious competition.

Shown here is the Byrnes Model Machines 4" Table Saw, precision-engineered with an accuracy measured in thousandths of an inch. I haven't used one, but it is loaded with carefully designed features. The web site says this little marvel is powerful enough to cut 15/16" hardwood -- and do it quietly!

Here is an review of the Byrnes Model Machines 4 inch miniature table saw from Ships in Scale Magazine. Here is another review of the Byrnes Model Machines 4 inch miniature table saw from Fly RC Magazine.

Here is where you can check out the Byrnes Model Machines 4" miniature table saw.

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Chameleon Chronicles automaton by Thomas Kuntz

Here's yet another amazing automaton by Thomas Kuntz call The Chamelion Chronicles.

From the YouTube description:
This piece was a Commissioned automaton box for Ron Grant, author of the forthcoming beautifully illustrated children's book The Chameleon Chronicles. Absent from this clip are the 22 hand-painted Eggs (each corresponding to a Taro card) painstakingly painted by Luba Mittelman, an excellent illuminated manuscript artist. The book itself which is still in the process of production/binding is also missing in these clips ... in its place for demonstrative purposes in this clip is John Dee's a True and Faithful book. The piece has 16 different functions and is completely mechanically cam and lever driven with the aid of chains pulleys and linkages. Additionally (but not shown ) the dragon smokes with incense which is placed in his body through a door in the back. The piece is about three feet all with figures in roughly 1/9 scale. The footage was shot VERY quickly in less than 20 minutes before the frieght truck picked it up and took it to its owner in Texas!...Still the basic functions are shown.

I am always blown away by the work of Thomas Kuntz -- a modern master of the venerable art of automata.

See more automata by Thomas J. Kuntz on his web site.

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Saturday, March 05, 2011

Download three new free wooden clock plans!

Download three new free wooden clock plans!
I've just received word that Brian Law over at has made three new designs for wooden clocks available. The clocks have wooden works and are beautiful. Clock 7 is shown in the image above. The detailed plans in .PDF form are free. If you are want to cut the parts on a CNC machine, he also sells .DXF files for that purpose. Finally, he also has 3D CAD files available for purchase.

Visit Brian Law's Wooden Clocks to check out the three new clock designs (clocks 6, 7, and 8).

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Friday, March 04, 2011

A Brief History of Automata - lecture by CTP

Here is a 14 minute long lecture by kinetic artist Christopher T. Palmer (CTP) on the history of automata.

You can learn more about Christopher T. Palmer at the CTP Design & Creation web site.


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Vintage motorized drinking bear automaton

Here is a motorized drinking bear automaton believed to be produced around 1932 by the Decamps firm. The bear measures about 14 inches tall, and is somewhat atypical in that it has white fur rather than brown or black.

The bear sure looks like it is drinking, but in reality, there is hole in the the bottom of the cup. A tube starting at this hole runs down the arm, across the back, up the right arm, and into the bottom of the bottle. The motion of raising one arm drains the liquid into the other, allowing the bear to drink endlessly. It's an ingenious design.

From the eBay description of this drinking bear:
The Decamps electric Dinking Bear is a fun automaton and one of a very few that uses water. Switch on his electric (120v AC) motor using the roller switch in the cord and the bear will raise his right arm pouring water out of the bottle and into the cup in his left hand. Then he raises his right arm, tips back his head bringing the cup to his mouth and “DRINKS” the water, and then tips the cup just a bit more as if trying to get the very last drop! You could color the water to your favorite drink color for a little extra fun!

Here is the full ebay listing with many photographs and a lengthy description of this vintage motorized drinking bear automaton

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Metal Toys & Automata by Constance King

This is a good book on both automata and mechanical toys. Despite the emphasis in the title, there is a good deal of information on automata.

The photographs are excellent, the layout clean, and the history not overly dense. I recommend the book, though you won't find under-the-hood photographs showing how these marvels worked.

Be aware that this book was sold under several titles:

Metal Toys & Automata is the SAME book as A Guide to Metal Toys (both by Constance King).

To add even more interest to the situation, the latter title was sold with at least three different covers!

Here is where you can order either:
&bull Metal Toys and Automata or...
&bull A Guide to Metal Toys and Automata or...
&bull A Guide to Metal Toys or...
&bull A Guide to Metal Toys

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Long-running clockwork sculpture by New Gottland

Take a look at this stunning clockwork art by artist New Gottland titled A Mechanical Prayer. This is one of a limited edition of twelve.

This video shows one complete cycle of the narrative. The movement will run for about 45 minutes before it needs rewinding. (This is done by pulling the brass ball down, which rewinds the weights on the barrel.) The artist designed the movement himself, and machined most of the components using a Sherline lathe and standard drill press. The woodwork is oak and the brass imagery was acid-etched.

This is some truly amazing work.

You can see many photographs of A Mechanical Prayer on New Gottland's facebook page.

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