It's that time of year when many of us are looking for gifts for others (or ourselves). We all want to have confidence in the gifts we give. We take the recommendations of friends and family, trusted authorities, and online reviews.
This year, I've decided to look at 6 years worth of data to see what YOU -- the readers of The Automata Blog -- have chosen to buy. I've run reports and tallied up the most purchased books on Amazon. This isn't entirely fair to the newer books, because they haven't been available as long. Still, I think it will give you a good sense for what people like you have decided to purchase.
Published in 2010, Making Things Move: DIY Mechanisms for Inventors, Hobbyists, and Artists has done well to make it on to the list with titles that have been selling for much longer. There is a very good reason for that; it is one of the most comprehensive, easy-to-understand, and fun books on the topic. Author Dustyn Roberts covers every aspect of making things move, from fabrication techniques, to motors, CAD, and Arduino micro-controllers. If your interest in kinetic sculpture includes more than wood and brass, this book is fantastic resource. I expect to find it higher on this list in years to come.
Number 9: How to Make Animated Toys
An affordable classic, How to Make Animated Toys features instructions on how to make 30 wooden toys. Many of these fall into the pull-behind toy category. If there is a young one in need of beautiful wooden toys, this is a book for that kindly adult who will make those toys. In addition to the projects, the book contains a wealth of information on techniques and production procedures, materials and tools, as well as tips on animated toy design. Have an aspiration to sell toys on Etsy or at craft fairs? This would be a good book to have. You'll be getting How to Make Animated Toys used because it is out of print, but you will get it at a very good price.
There is no doubt that Rob Ives is a master of paper engineering. This glossy softcover book contains all of the printed color patterns needed to make four excellent paper automata: a pecking hen, a flying fish, three bounding sheep, and a bowing jester. If you or anyone in your life wants to try their hand at making an automaton -- and I mean right away -- paper is the way to go. You only need some white glue, scissors, a hobby knife, and this Paper Automata book. I've watched someone with no prior mechanical training complete one of these models in an afternoon. A gift of this book is like giving four kits. Priced at just over $10, that's a good deal in my book.
Rodney Frost is the only author to make it on to this list twice and that's well-deserved. In Creative Kinetics, Frost provides a brilliant introduction to the making of kinetic art. The book does an especially good job of explaining the mechanisms that typically make up the core of a wood automaton: levers, cams, cranks, eccentrics, pulleys, and gears. The projects are fun and wildly diverse. You won't find complete plans in this book, but if you are interested in learning to make kinetic sculptures in wood, this book provides all of the fundamentals in a fun and easy-to-read way.
Among all of the books on how to make wooden mechanisms, two of the best and most advanced have long been the two by Alan and Gill Bridgewater: Making Wooden Mechanical Models and Making More Wooden Mechanical Models. Originally published in 1995 and 1999, respectively, they have become increasingly hard to find, especially the second book which now fetches high prices in the used book market. So, it was good news to learn that the two books have been combined into Building Wooden Machines. The new combined volume features 28 ingenious woodworking projects with visible wheels, cranks, pistons and other moving parts made of wood. Each project has step-by-step instructions and plan drawings from which to work. It does assume the reader has woodworking skill and tools, so this outstanding book may not be the best choice for beginners.
Number 5: Making Mechanical Marvels In Wood
This book is not unlike Number 6 for it features plans for 15 handsome wooden mechanisms such as the cam and follower, the Scotch yoke, the fast-return actuator, and the geneva wheel. Unlike Building Wooden Machines far fewer of projects in this book require access to and experience with a wood lathe. This makes it useful to a greater number of people. If you are a less experienced woodworker, or do not have a lathe, then then you'll want to chose Making Mechanical Marvels In Wood over Number 6.
This one is a surprise, since the book was only published in June of 2012. Some bulk orders may account for its rapid ascent, but hey...the numbers don't lie! The book has earned its spot at Number 4 and that's where I will put it. Artist Tim Prentice makes large moving sculptures that combine fluidity, engineering, connectedness, flow, air, light, and change. His sculptures may be seen in public spaces and corporate headquarters throughout the United States as well as in Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Australia. Drawing on the Air gives the reader a multifaceted look at Prentice and his artwork in a beautiful 9" x 9" hardcover format.
Rodney Frost strikes again in the Number 3 spot with his book titled Making Mad Toys & Mechanical Marvels in Wood. Previously published as Whacky Toys, Whirligigs & Whatchamacallits, this book has long been at the top of my recommendations. This book features fourteen complete projects -- one of the only ones to do so. Each project has a bit of text, a photo, and many nice vector illustrations detailing the project's construction. I wouldn't call them formal 'plans' -- they are too colorful, assorted, and playful for that name. People determined to build an automaton, but short of ideas, are sure to find a project in this book that speaks to them. The projects have a wonderful vintage feel.
Number 2: Automata and Mechanical Toys
It is certainly no surprise to find Automata and Mechanical Toys close to the top of the list. In the past I have said that if you were to have just one book on contemporary automata that this should be the one. Both a how-to book and a showcase of the art form itself, this book attempts to cover it all. If you love automata, want see examples by well known automaton artists, and want to learn more about how to make these wonderful devices yourself, then this book is a must-have. Here is where you can read a more extensive review of Automata and Mechanical Toys.
Number 1: Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements: Embracing All Those Which Are Most Important in Dynamics, Hydraulics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Steam Engines
Coming in as the top selling book by the readers of The Automata blog is Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements. This one is a little hard to account for. Don't get me wrong. It's a great resource for interesting mechanical solutions, but that's all it is. Perhaps because I reviewed it first long ago on my web site it got an unfair head start on the other titles. Perhaps it has appealed to the Steampunk crowd in some manner. Perhaps it is here because it is an affordable book that can provide a lot of education and inspiration. Whatever the reason, here is what you can expect from this gem: the left hand page of each spread shows 6 to 9 mechanisms or "contrivances" as they were called, while the page on the right side gives a short description of each of the mechanisms and what it does. The mechanisms are presented in a concise, interesting manner. There is something compelling about the vintage line drawings and old-fashioned phrasing. Personally, I love this little book as will anyone who finds mechanisms fascinating.
So there you have it. Those are the books that you have purchased by way of this blog over the years. I hope the list was helpful and that you discovered something you may not have seen before. Thanks for making the purchases you did. Happy reading!