Friday, 31 December 2010


A recent email from Sergio Pinese regarding the Crankahead competition mentions that some people have completed their models already. 

A cold sweat formed across my brow. This does not bode well for me.

I am having to remake some of the model as the movement is not that smooth. I made a "to-do" list for the model and realised how much more I have to do! I will be spending most of new years day in my freezing workshop (although the snow has melted).
On that note, I hope everyone has a great new years! Now I'm off to celebrate the new years like most of the British and get very drunk and have a fried breakfast in the morning to try and ease the pain.


P.S. Never use power tools if you are inebriated.

Sunday, 26 December 2010


1) Finish the Crankahead model
2) Finish the Turtle and the Hand model
3) Work on some cardboard models
4) Promote myself a bit more
5) Get a scroll saw
6) Get a heater for the workshop (still cold)

Sunday, 12 December 2010


I have sold my automaton model of Santa for nearly £70! This is without a doubt, the most profitable model I have made. 

For most of the auction I had the minimum bid from a guy who has bought a few of my models before and I was happy with that, but to leap up to the amount it sold for is fantastic!

Thank you very much for the purchase (if you read this blog)

I've taken a break from the workshop (too cold) but this week I'll be back in working on the Crankahead model. If I get that one sorted then I can move on with previous projects. Plus I've had ideas for new models.

Hopefully it will be a busy new year!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

It is done

Well, after a lot of tweaking, I have completed the Christmas model.

After looking at the video, I kind of wish I'd slowed down the gears further as the action seems to go too quickly for my liking. Even so, I am happy with the fluidity of the piece. 

Ebay, here I come!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Cold weather problems

The weather here is so cold that it is making operations in my workshop impossible. My hands are too cold to be able to do any actual work. I have also found out that extreme cold temperatures don't allow PVA to bond properly. Also, instead of drying clear, the PVA glue is drying white which is leaving horrible streaks over my frame.

I have brought the model back to my home and will continue working on it. It is almost complete I think but there are a few teething problems and the joints on the Santa figure are not moving as smoothly as I would like. 

Time to do some tweaking. This time, with a cup of tea.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Christmas model

Ello ello!

I have been keeping a low profile recently as I haven't been getting to my workshop as often as I would like (Mainly because it's so cold!). But, I am on annual leave this week and have therefore been pressing ahead with my model for Christmas. Check out the pics:

I started using tracing paper to work out the dimensions of the models ( I saw from his blog that Keith Newstead does this on his models). It worked out well and I was able to keep the design symmetrical. It didn't turn out symmetrical after carving but it's pretty close. Now all I have to do is make the frame (nearly done) and work out the design of the cam to make the movement. I also have to paint the chimney.

After struggling to use my green belting for pulleys, I put out a message on the Mechanical Adventures Facebook Group. I had a reply from a chap called Tony Compton (I think he's from Australia) and he informed me of the correct method. After doing this I managed to get the ends connected. Here is a model that Tony made. I personally think it's excellent.

Having the green belt will allow me to work on the pulleys for the Turtle and the Hand and also my Christmas model. I want a pulley system to slow things down. 

I haven't finished the design for my friend Zuleika yet and her commission. I'll get right on it after I finish the Christmas model.

My Crankaheads model is also coming along. The guy who is running the competition (Sergio Pinese) is asking for updates from people taking part. I'm not sure how much to tell him or not to tell him. I'll send him a picture of the prototype and give a little detail. I kind of want to make it a surprise though.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

New project

My good friend Zuleika has asked me to do a commission as a present for her Mother's birthday. The brief is her Mum likes dogs and beach huts. I'll get my thinking cap on. 

The crankahead model is coming along nicely. Time is creeping up so I'll have to get a move on with it as it is still in the prototype stage. I need it to be complete by the end of January. 

My Christmas themed model is taking priority so I can sell it before the big day. It's going to be of Santa stuff in a chimney, struggling to pull himself out. 

Onward and upward I say.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Things on hold

Once again my habit if getting bored easily has risen so I have decided to put the Turtle and the Hand on hold for a while and concentrate on other things. 

The thing which really did it for me this time was trying to strengthen the whole frame. Screws didn't really work as I couldn't get them tight enough to securely hold the individual pieces in place. I then tried using dowel rod as pins (which meant I could easily take it apart whilst designing) but my measurements were off slightly which meant other parts didn't fit. 

I'm gonna put in on the back-burner for a while and probably come back to it in the new year. My colleagues at work have suggested I try and make something for Christmas so I think I'll concentrate on that. 

There's also that tin can model to work on but that can wait...

Hopefully I'll have a more productive blog post in the future.

Thursday, 4 November 2010


I haven't really been doing much apart from working on the model for the Crankahead competition. The model is coming along nicely and the mechanism within the figure is set. I just need to work on everything else now. I have a prototype stage in which I can start adding things to check how everything works. The email I received states that over 30 people have entered the competition so I think it's going to be quite interesting to see what comes out of it. Professional automata makers are also entering so I don't think I'll win, but it'll be nice to have a model placed next to theirs (so to speak). 

I received the material for the pulley belts.

 I was initially concerned about the black rubber and how it would hold together if I superglued the ends but the bond is really strong with regular superglue. I put considerable pressure on it trying to pull it apart and it would not break. I wonder how much grip it has though. The green belt has a rough surface which would give it more grip but superglue would not work. From a facebook group in which Keith Newstead talks about it, he says it is melted, so I would need to try and use a heat source. I will try this when I get back to my workshop. 

Not a lot else happening. I have been experimenting with a scissor lift set-up, just using Popsicle sticks for the moment. It works well but I need to think about how to transmit the movement to it. 

There is also not a lot happening with my tin can model. I got as far as cutting out a chicken but no further in working out the movement. 

On a happy note, I sold my pumpkin headed automata on eBay. It sold for £22 which is double what I thought it would go for so I am pleased with that. I hope the person who bought it is happy with it and that it arrives safely.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

In from the cold

The seasons are changing and I've noticed how much colder it is getting in my workshop. I don't have any heating there so I have decided to take my wood carving operations back to my bedroom and leave the bigger tasks for my workshop space. 

Speaking of which, I received my lime wood and have started trying to carve for the Crankahead  competition. It feels strange after spending so long carving pine and it's taking me a while to get into the swing of things. My carving skills were never that great, so hopefully having this wood will help. I'm not allowed to upload any pictures of my efforts so far but suffice to say, they look pretty crap. I will keep trying. 

I've been continuing to work on the T & the H and have moved the lever for the turtle's limbs above the snail cam so it is lifted rather than pushed down. A spring is in place to snap it back down. 

I've had to string together a few springs as I don't have any of the correct length. I need to do some research into where I can find some springs. And people ask me why I don't have a girlfriend. 

Anyway, here's a quick video of the mechanism working. I had to move the left cam down but luckily the gears still meshed even though they were a little far away. Things are coming loose on the frame so I'll spend some time on that strengthening things.


I also wanted to add a link to a youtube video of one of Paul Spooner's models which I had forgotten about. It's clear to me why he is one of the best, with imagination like this. If I had a tenth of his skill I'd be happy.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Cam's made and gears fitted

I completed the gears for the Turtle and the Hand. They are made of plywood but the layer split off from the other side of the gears so these will not be the final gears, if I even use them. 

They  mesh nicely and the whole mechanism is working with not too much effort when the springs are attached, but the whole thing runs far too fast so I'm going to have to think about slowing everything down. I might try and use a belt drive. I've been looking at using rubber and found some on eBay. I need some proper rubber glue though. Sadly all these things cost money so that means saving up some. I'm currently saving up for a scroll saw though. If I do use pulleys, I'm not sure that gears will be needed, but it would be a shame to waste them. I'm surprised the gears worked so well. Usually they put a bit of a fight when meshing.

One thing I noticed though when everything was up and running. It looks like the mechanism for the turtle's limbs is back to front meaning that the legs will snap out of the shell instead of snapping back into it. I think I'll have to change the position of the lever so that it is above the cam rather than below it. A spring will be needed to pull it down and the cam will need to push it up. With a spring pulling down,this will "snap" the limbs back into the shell (hopefully).

Trial and error. 

I've also worked a little on the tin can. I have made a lever for linkage to be fixed onto. I might have made it a little short. Luckily, tin cans are abundant in my house so it won't take long to make another if it needs re-doing. The cam also needs shaping to get the desired movement.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Bits and Bobs

I had to go to hospital yesterday and I booked today off work in order to recover and it also gave me some time to go to my workshop and do some more work.

I have cut out a couple of new snail cams for the Hand and the Turtle model. I have attached bearing blocks and will fit screws inside in order to attach them to the shafts. (Incidentally, my hardwood dowel shafts arrived which will have much better torque strength than softwood). I have cut the new cams out of plywood rather than the MDF board I was using, as it was too thin.

I have also printed a couple of gears from this website:

I'm sure that nearly all automata makers are aware of this website and how useful it is. The online version is great but there is another version which has a lot more features. Unfortunately, I am a poor boy who cannot afford such things as yet. When I can afford it I will get a copy but I hope it has an option to input the diameter of the gear and then apply the pitch, as this is easier for me. These gears will be used to turn both of the shafts. If this doesn't work I might investigate the use of a belt drive, but I don't see why it shouldn't.

I started to drill in between the teeth in order to start cutting out but the glue had not yet dried so I will wait. There is a guy next door to my workshop who has a band saw who said I was welcome to borrow it. This will saw me some time.

I also started working on the tin can model. It's going to be of a chicken pecking away. It's going to be a very simple model with not too much going on. 

I have to figure out a suitable mechanism and then shape the cam to get the desired effect. Then I have to make the chicken. 

I have also decided to enter the automata competition. This is being organised by Sergio Pinese who runs  I think he has got together with Keith Newstead and others to get this competition off the ground. As said before, I am not allowed to show any pictures of the model and it doesn't need to be completed until the end of January 2011!

I have had an idea for a model for a long time and I made a mock up of the mechanism to see if it would work (in principle) and it seems OK. now all I have to do is put it together. I want to try and incorporate a lot of detail into this model. 

I'm not sure if I'm going to do the Dracula model. I have too much stuff to do and not enough time. My problem is that I get bored very easily so if I don't start something quickly then it is likely that it'll never happen. Another one for the ideas bin. 

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Doom & Gloom

As feared, the arm joint on my pumpkin man broke meaning I had to make it again

The new body was coming along nicely. I had made it slightly chunkier and I repositioned the arm joints as I had not done this on the last model

But, pine being pine and breaking easily along the grain, I screwed up and broke the arm joint

I'm not sure if I'm going to continue with this model. I shall keep the parts I have made so far and might give it another go when I get some lime wood. Pine is too unreliable (or maybe I'm too rough with it). Plus, I've already made one model so I'm not sure if I need to do one more. I'm going to concentrate on the Turtle and the Hand model and I think I'm going to enter that automata competition. I am also thinking of doing some work involving tin cans and tin in general but I have no experience in working with tin or how to solder it. It's good to have a challenge. 

I also need to get some more dowel. I was previously using softwood dowel but this wasn't good enough so I need hardwood dowel. But, I cannot find this in my town so I'm going to have to order it online. 

I sometimes wish I lived in America where wood carving is a more accepted past time and there are more stores to cater for it. I'm constantly finding it difficult to get decent materials in England and the cost is pretty high.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Progress report

I've been continuing to work on my models as you can see from the pictures

For the pumpkin man I have made the arms but I am concerned about the strength in a couple of them and there are signs of splitting so I might have to remake them. 

I have also tried adding a layer of white paint as a primer/undercoat to see how that affects the finish when finally painted up. 

To make the arms I used my new razor saw which is good for very fine cuts. 

For my Turtle and the Hand model, I have moved the cam for the hand movement but I moved it too far over so it was hitting the inside of the frame. I first tried sanding the cam down to fit int he space but then I realised that this affected the movement. In the end I cut out a hole in the side of the frame for the cam to move. I will have to remake the cam to get the movement that I want. 

I have also moved the spring for the hand so that it is attached to the top of the lever, pulling the lever up, rather than having it on the underside, pushing it up. The movement seems cleaner. 

I found a website called and they have an automata making competition. I'm not sure what the prize is but it might be good to enter and see what I can do. Unfortunately, the rules prohibit me from talking about the model or putting up any pictures until it has been submitted so I would have to keep it a secret if I did enter. 

Most of the models I make are made out of used or second hand pine. This is OK for some applications but carving in pine is quite difficult as the wood can split easily. I have found some lime wood on ebay (also call basswood in America) and is apparently very good for carving. I managed to get 20 blocks for under £12 so I am quite happy with that. They were also selling 64 blocks for £30. If it hasn't sold by payday I might also get that for the future.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Why I make automata

I love making automata. It challenges me, it keeps me occupied and the reaction from people when they turn the handle is great but the question I ask myself sometimes, and I'm sure other people ask, is "Why?"

I'm not sure to be honest. I'm not sure how it started. I think I saw an automata piece on and said to myself "I can do that!" So I did. 

Going back further though after consulting my father, he told me that when I was at nursery school, my favourite toy was a jack in the box and I would fight off the other kids who wanted to use it. That might be the root of the obsession. 


I have made the head for my second pumpkin head model. I also made some shoes but they have gone a bit Frankenstein in the thickness department. 

Time to do the arms and then paint the fella. Here's a video of the other model:

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Mechanism photos for turtle and the hand

    The Old mechanism

Mechanism for the limbs

The cam for the hand needs moving so less effort is exerted when operating.

The Hand and the Turtle and a friends birthday present.

One of the benefits of having worked on automata for a couple of years before starting this blog is that I have quite a few photos and video's to upload of previous models I have worked on to put on here, whilst I struggle with the new ones.

The video above is a model I made for my friend who had recently become a father for the first time and it was also his birthday, so in honour of this I made a model of him. It is the first model I used incorporating a belt drive system and finding a suitable belt was quite a challenge. The only thing I could find at the time which was suitable was some rubber gloves with some cloth lining on the inside which cut into strips pretty well. The only problem was that it stretched over time, impairing the operation. I had to take it off and add some elastic bands on the pulleys in order to get the necessary grip.

Actually, there was another problem. I thought my friend was 30 this year but he was only 29, which is why I painted 30 on the football shirt. Oh well. 

The other model I am working on is something that has been on going for a while. It is a model of a hand with its finger tapping the shell of a turtle which causes it to snap back into the shell. 

This model has been causing me grief for a while. I thought I had gotten it susses (see video) but the operation was not smooth and a lot of effort had to be exerted in turning the handle, so I changed the mechanism to use a couple of pivoted levers. The mechanism is still causing a lot of trouble and this is probably due to the placement of the snail cam being too close to the spring meaning I am having to exert more effort (I think). I'll have to look at the diagram re levers and pivot placements but if this is the problem I'll have to re-think the design. Check out the video of the mechanism when it was nearly working. it is slightly out of time with the movement. 

I have since made a new case to house the mechanism and also allow me to modify it a little. This will involve more tinkering in the workshop but it's all good experience. I'll put some photo's up when I get a chance.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Dracula sketches

Initial sketches of how I might get part of the Dracula model to work. 

 I'm sure there are easier solutions than this so I'll just have to try it and see.

I have also started carving my second pumpkin head figure. The alignment of the arms has turned out differently (I probably wasn't paying attention when carving) but it's workable. The frame is already complete. 

Thursday, 30 September 2010

It Begins

Just a quick note to say that I am not sure if "automatist" is the actual word to use for an automata maker but I thought I'd give it a go.

UPDATE: I changed the name of the blog to Amateur Automata Maker as is seemed more relavant. 


My name is Tony and for the last couple of years I have been making automata models. Through this time I've greatly benefitted from the blogs and web postings of other automata creators and I decided to create a blog to show my attempts at creating models. 

I wouldn't say that I am particularly good at carving models and my sense of logic is not great for working out mechanisms and timings for various parts but this is what I find most interesting. It's like completing a puzzle or having that "ah-ha!" moment when you figure something out. This is what attracts me to automata. Plus, if I can make someone smile when all they are doing is turning a handle, then I think I'm doing OK. Hopefully, by blogging about the processes involved it will enable me to analyse my processes and think about improvements and different techniques.

I used to make my models in my bedroom which was not practical seeing as I live in a shared house. I have now managed to find a corner of a garage to rent so I am now able to start work in there. It is still very basic but it's better than the previous set-up. 

At the moment I am working on a couple of models for Halloween. I have already finished a model of a pumpkin-headed man lifting his head on and off his shoulders. I made a model of this a while ago and sold it on e-bay. The models I am making now are a lot smaller. I will also try and squeeze in a model of dracula but whether I will complete this in time I don't know.