Tuesday, October 30, 2012

If you were to have just one book on making Automata and Mechanical Toys, this might be the one to have

The name of this book says it all for indeed, it deals with Automata and Mechanical Toys, and it does it well. The book covers the history of automata, contemporary makers, and the construction techniques you will need to start making them yourself.

Photo of the book Automata and Mechanical Toys

What will you find in Automata and Mechanical Toys? The chapters of the book are as follows:

  1. A Brief History of Automata and Mechanical Toys
  2. The Origins of Contemporary Automata
  3. Tools and Materials
  4. Techniques
  5. Making Automaton Mechanisms
  6. Theme Projects
  7. Design
  8. Painting and Finishing

That's pretty much everything you could ask for in book on automata.

The chapter on the history of automata is among the best short treatments of the topic, dealing with the clockwork examples from history and placing the contemporary form that is the subject of the book in context.

Each chapter is interspersed with profiles of leading automata makers, showcasing their work with many pictures and a page or two of information about the artist. The artists featured are among the best known automaton makers in the United Kingdom. You'll see profiles of Lucy Casson, Ron Fuller, John Grayson, Neil Hardy, Andy Hazell, Tim Hunkin, John Maltby, Tony Mann, Peter Markey, Ian McKay, Frank Nelson, Rodney Peppe, Robert Race, Martin Smith, Paul Spooner, Melanie Tomlinson, Douglas Wilson, Kristy Wyatt Smith, Vicki Wood, and Jan Zalud.

The photographs of automata in this book are outstanding. Printed in full color on glossy paper, you can really get a sense for the devices, their construction, and the finishes that add that artistic touch.

The section on tool and materials is quite good and provides some translation of terms for speakers of American English (e.g. a "pillar drill" is what we call a "drill press"). The sections that cover construction techniques are clear and informative. In addition, there are printed patterns for pin-wheels, ratchets, cams, and splined gears. If you are just starting out, these patterns are invaluable.

A particularly cool thing about this book is the section on the automaton mechanism test platform. The reader is given complete instructions for making commonly used mechanical components. These can then be fitted to the test platform in order to see them in action. The final product is a bit like an interactive display at a science museum. The construction and use of this platform would make a great classroom aid or science fair project.

You won't find plans for any complete automata projects in this book. For that, you'll have to turn to one of the author's other books, Making Mechanical Toys, which is a great companion volume. What you will find are instructions for how to make the components you'll need to make an automaton of your own: ratchets, pinwheels, gears, linkages, cams, cranks, a Geneva wheel, and so on. This is really useful stuff.

Somewhere between a how-to book and a coffee table treatment of the art form itself, the book may frustrate those who want to focus on just one thing or the other. But, if you love automata, want see examples by well known automata artists, and want to learn more about how to make these wonderful devices, then this book is a must-have. If you were to own just one book on automata making, this is probably the one to have.

Click here to learn more about Automata and Mechanical Toys

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