"Automaton" #7: What's inside

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Blog entry by mpounders posted 01-21-2012 12:13 AM 5972 reads 1 time favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: It's .........Aliveeeee!!!!!!! Part 7 of "Automaton" series Part 8: cowboy boots »

You not only get to play with the toy when assembled, it’s also a puzzle! After testing, I have it completely dismantled to do some finish sanding and painting. I stopped counting parts and pieces after one hundred, but it is important to be able to be able to make adjustments and repairs if needed. So I though I would post a few pictures of the inner workings, that might help if someone might like to do something similar.

The important part of the man, as far as how he dances, are the legs. these are just simple mortise and tenon joints and they need to be loose, sloppy fitting. I use wire brads for pins. The legs need to be close in length, but I actually added a screw in one heel and one a little further forward on the other foot, to make his feet kick out more randomly. You can hinge the arms at the shoulders, or the head and hand as I did. All the movement is caused by the figure bouncing his feet on the stage. This creates pretty random movements in all the jointed areas with a simple lifting action in the back.

The handle at the end turns a shaft with several cogged wheels that provide different actions. There is a back piece with a lifter bar that attaches with a dowel to the back of the figure. A crossbar with a hole drilled in it, holds a simple dowel piston that is lifted and dropped by the larger cogged wheel (4 times per revolution) and this raises and drops the lifter bar that is attached to the man’s back.

The cogs and hubs are just circles that are cut out of plywood on the bandsaw, with a hole drilled for the shaft turned by the crank. I usually glue a smaller disc to the side of a large wheel so the set-screw doesn’t have to be so long to fix it to the shaft. The hubs just retain things in place and the cogs are just used as cams, so nothing has to be very precise.

The crank shaft and smaller cog wheel provide the motions to the dog’s head and tail. The crankshaft is gust to disks with a center hole drilled for the shaft and then a second hole is drilled through both toward the edge. A short piece of dowel is glued in place and then the dowel throught he center is cut, so that the connecting rod rotates around it when the handle is turned. This provides the back and forth action to the dog’s head. The smaller wheel with 6 cogs simple has a hinged lever that rides on top of the teeth. The lever has a screw for the axel and attached to the right side of the box. I used a bit of elastic to attach it to an eye screw, that gives it a snapping action as it raises and drops when the shaft is turned. This raises and lowers a wire brad, used as a pin, that gives the motion to the dog’s tail!

The handle is constructed in a similar manner to the other drive pieces. I do have to use some wood putty to patch some voids sometimes, but I have concerns about using solid wood. Not sure if grain changes wouldn’t make a componnent too weak and cause it too fail?

I just need to get on with the painting and finishing, now that I think I have everything all sanded and such. Should be through soon! Thanks for looking!

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

6 comments so far

View wizzardofwood's profile


229 posts in 2898 days

#1 posted 01-21-2012 12:22 AM

sweet lots of pieces

-- wizzardofwood..... "ITS MY JOB TO AMAZE YOU"

View tinman_362's profile


95 posts in 2599 days

#2 posted 01-21-2012 12:26 AM

This is so cool. I inadvertently made a cheesey automaton then I see a real one being made. I had never heard of this until I made one. Mine is nowhere as neat as this one but I’m hoping to make a better one next time. They seem very Tim Burton-ish. I’m gonna have to go back and read everything you have on this. Thank you so much for the info.

-- Robert: Life is all about the stories ~

View mpounders's profile


875 posts in 2923 days

#3 posted 01-21-2012 12:35 AM

They are fun to make! Be sure and check out Wanda Sowry’s work
She does amazing stuff! Also google Dug North. They set the bar pretty high!

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

View Brit's profile


7387 posts in 2871 days

#4 posted 01-21-2012 12:50 AM

I was wondering how it all worked. Now I know. :-) Good luck with the finishing.

-- - Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View lew's profile


12102 posts in 3783 days

#5 posted 01-21-2012 06:00 AM

Great Automata!

You have to love this stuff- your imagination can just run wild!


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Rustic's profile


3253 posts in 3624 days

#6 posted 01-22-2012 12:33 AM

that is a lot of parts

--, Rick Kruse, Grand Rapids, MI

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