Timberkits make excellent gifts for the holidays. Here's a nifty fish automaton you can assemble. I think these kits are the single best way to get started with wood automaton-making.
From the kit description:
Making a Timberkit is to step into the whole world of automata, ingenious moving models and scenes. It is an art form in which you can appreciate the magic of mechanical action and a fascinating education and hobby for children and adults of all ages. No special knowledge or skills are needed, just a little time and patience to follow the instructions. Assemble the wooden cams, push rods, levers and cranks and understand what makes it tick. After you have made the model you can paint, varnish or customize it in your own personal way then try another!
The natural wood is sourced from sustainable forestry and fully machined with no further need for specialized tools. The minimum age recommended is 8 years. Adult supervision may be required. Timberkits come in designs of varying complexity and a wide range of themes to suit all interests.
Here is where you can get the Timberkits Fish Wood Model Kit.
Here is where you can check out all of the different Timberkits.[ Official Timberkits Web site ]