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

To illustrate my point, I'll use the example of my version of Paul Spooner's Press-up Anubis. The lifelike up and down action of this piece is achieved with the use of an eccentric cam with a rod connected to the feet set on a pivot point, a simple but clever design.

Press-Up Anubis
Another interpretation: the author's version of Press-Up Anubis by automatist Paul Spooner.

For Beginners
There are many useful books and Internet resources on automata and mechanisms. If you plan to try out this amusing craft, a good start is to gain an appreciation of the automata art (you can easily find hundreds of automata to view on the Internet) and acquire a working knowledge of some of the basic and simple mechanisms used. Then, choose a simple automaton design and build it. You can take inspiration from someone else's idea, buy a precut wooden kit or design your own; just be sure to start with a simple design and go from there to build up your skill and confidence. There is no substitute for making and handling an automaton.

If you just want to admire the artistry, the CMT has held automata exhibitions around the world, from Europe to Asia to Australia. Its current show can be seen at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry beginning October 2008 and ending March 2009. If you happen to visit the Sam Maloof historical residence in southern California, you will also find a few automata in his art collection. During my recent contact with CMT, I learned that a tentative tour for Canada is set for 2011—better late than never.

Charles Mak
Lee Valley staff

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