Lee Valley Tools Woodworking Newsletter
Vol. 3, Issue 1
September 2008
Automata: A Fascinating Woodcraft

When creating a piece, an automata artist must decide the following:
Character: Is the central piece best represented by a human character, an animal or an inanimate object?
Theme: Do I want my piece to project a theme? If so, will it be satirical, political, or humorous? For example, in one of my works, I chose Canadiana as the main theme and titled it Proudly Canadian.

Proudly Canadian
The author's piece Proudly Canadian features Canadiana as its theme.

Mechanism: Will a simple mechanism be adequate, or will a more complex mechanism add to the piece? Do I plan to show the internal workings of my machine?
Material and Construction: Will I make the piece using wood, metal or a combination of the two? Will I use found wood, hardwood or plywood? Will it be painted, stained or unfinished?

Automata Making
Making an automaton is similar to building furniture—both follow the process of turning an idea into a design, a design into a plan, and then a plan into a product. We are all familiar with the steps of marking out, cutting, sanding, assembling and finishing. Figuring out the mechanism is the only less-familiar step.

If you find the idea of building a mechanism intimidating, you are not alone—sometimes it can be! However, here is the good news: for beginners, a basic understanding of the use, not the theory, of three or four simple mechanisms is good enough. To start, just learn how to make things go up and down, side to side, back and forth (hint: cams and crank sliders) and rotate (more hints: cranks and gears). Even a simple machine can do a lot.

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