Automaton Tutorial

Something different today.

for sale on Etsy at SteampunkDollsHouse
Some I made earlier

For quite a while now we have been selling little vintage clockwork motors and birds from our Etsy shop, together with the fixings needed to turn them into pretty little twittering and swooping automatons.  They come with a copy of the ‘instruction sheet’ I inherited when I originally bought them.  It was written in the 1980s and is – to my way of thinking – heavy on hyperbole but light on helpful information.  It took me many hours of trial and error to figure out how the various tiny parts went together, but then I’m not very mechanically minded.

It was quite heartening when a customer who had bought several was struggling to make them work and asked if I could explain how I do mine.   I decided to put together a tutorial for her, and anyone else who wants to try making one.  What follows is probably laughable for anyone who understands mechanical bits and bobs, but it may be some help to fellow bodgers and tinkerers who would enjoy building their own automaton.

 

As well as the parts supplied, you will need a box or housing of some kind.  Mine are little card boxes about 8.5cm/3.25 inches square and 4cm/1.5 inches deep (2 for £1 at The Works in UK at time of writing) but you can pack any spare space with foam board or folded card if your box is a bit bigger.

 

Drill a hole in the top of the box. Fig 2 shows the template for the hole, usefully placed on the back of the motor. Check bush fits snuggly in hole. I glue it in place or wrap it with a piece of double-sided tape.

Check fit of motor in box and pack spaces but check mechanism works OK. Don’t fix it in place yet.

If you want a stop/start bar, push the bar through its two slits and press it hard against the back of the box to make a dent (fig 4). Take motor out and cut a slit where your mark is (fig 5).  (The bar provided isn’t long enough for my boxes, so I make one out of plastic packaging.)

I think the pictures (figs 6 to 10) work better than words for attaching the bird. Very fiddly and you may need to adjust position of motor to get the arm moving freely. Lots of trial and error!

 

A true artisan would have crafted a wooden box and screwed the motor into it.  Me, I’m happier with glue, so here’s a picture of where you can safely spread glue without gumming up the mechanism.

Fig 12 shows the finished all-singing all-dancing bird. You can buy the kits from our Etsy shop at this link https://www.etsy.com/…/…/small-vintage-clockwork-motor-with… 

Letter From America

The shimmering airship positively purred as it landed in the grounds of Steampunk-Shrunk Towers. Airship, Floating Islands, Sails, Castle

Charles and Henry – the resident tinkers – were almost tripping over one another to reach it first and see it at close quarters.

With a faint hiss of air from a piston somewhere, a ladder descended and a young lady who (Henry later remarked) shimmered almost as beautifully as her ship, climbed down.

She laughed at their expressions and said, “Well, I reckon y’all must be Mister Charles and Mister Henry, from what I’ve heard.”

The brothers looked – if possible – even more astonished.  It was Charles who remembered his manners first.
“Charles Fortescue at your service, Madame,” he said, “And may I introduce my brother Henry?  To what do we owe this honour?”

“Delighted to meet you both, I’m sure,” the pilot smiled. “My name is Leticia. We have a mutual friend, gentlemen – a charming young man called Jasper Coggleford.  He told me that if I flew Bluejay here it would be you who came out to take a closer look.”

“Little Jasper?” spluttered Henry.  “Jeremiah’s boy?  But how…?”

“Jasper and his father have recently moved to my neighbourhood,”  Leticia explained.  “We struck up a conversation and when I mentioned that I was about to fly across to the West of England, Jasper was most insistent that I should come and make your acquaintance.  He said your eyes would pop out of your heads when you saw Bluejay!  Oh, and he also asked me to hand deliver this letter to you.”

To be honest, the Fortescues were so enchanted with both the airship and its pilot, that it was only several hours after Leticia had finally declined any more tea and biscuits and reluctantly headed off to her appointment in Bristol that Charles remembered Jasper’s envelope.  With a pang of guilt, they sat down to read his letter.

Dear Mister Charles and Mister Henry,

I hope you like Miss Leticia and her airship.  I bet you will!

Me and Pa are nicely settled in at our new home in America.  So are Mr Augustus and Mr Bjørn.  The people here are real nice, as they say around here.

There is one problem, though.  It seems part of our work over here involves battling with a Kraken or two.  Pa is being ever so brave, but I can tell he’s nervous and I am terrified.  I mean, we have some woodworking tools, but what we need are proper weapons.  I don’t know anyone as good as you gents at inventing and tinkering, so I thought maybe you could have a try at making some monster-maiming gizmos.

Miss Leticia is coming back at the end of the month, so if you had anything prepared by then, I know she’d be happy to pick it up.

I know you won’t let us down.

Please say hi to everyone there.

Kindest regards,

Jasper Coggleford

“Hi?” muttered Charles.  “The boy is certainly settling in over there.”

“Yes, yes, but the weapons!” exclaimed Henry.  “They need our help.  Let’s make a start at once!”

There was a marked reluctance on Charles’ part, Henry noticed.  He’d rummaged around and found some swords in an attic, so had set about making armoured leather scabbards.  However he spent rather too long admiring himself in the mirror, whilst brandishing one sword after another and shouting things like, “Have at ye!” and “Take that, vile sea dog!”

“Swords!” grumbled Henry.  “You might slice off a leg or two, but the mouth will still be coming at you.  We need something more, ah, mechanical.  Something to blow the creatures to kingdom come.”

He stood for most of the first day surrounded by what you or I might think of as junk, carefully trying out different combinations and attachments.  By the end of the third day there was a veritable arsenal surrounding him.

“Is that one of Mrs S’s Christmas tree baubles?” asked Charles, suspiciously eyeing the end of one of the largest guns.

“That’s tinkering for you,” was all Henry would reply.

“And that thing with the rotary saw -”

“The Sawful. Yes, isn’t she a beauty?”

“Try walking around with that dangling from your shoulder and you’ll slice your own leg off!” Charles snorted.  “Hand it over – carefully, man.  I’ll make it a protective carrying case.”

“Then they’ll need small pistols,” mused Henry.  “They won’t be able to carry these things about all the time.  Young Jasper probably couldn’t even lift one.”

Charles didn’t speak.
Henry looked long and hard at his brother. “You don’t like weapons much, do you, old boy?”

Charles shrugged. “Not a great fan, if I’m honest,” he said quietly.  “I mean the swords are fine, man-to-man combat, fair enough.  But blasting some dumb creature out of existence with one of those – things…  Hardly cricket, is it?”

Henry grinned.  He clapped his brother gently on the back and nodded.  “I do see your point.  The thing is, I don’t think monsters play by MCC Laws.  How would we feel if we heard little Jasper had had his head torn off by some ravaging beast?  We need to give the poor lad a sporting chance.  Suppose you work on making some belts and holsters, if I work out how to make the pistols?”

“Thanks, old chap.  Appreciate it,” nodded Charles and he headed off to find some more leather.

And when everything was finished and safely packaged, ready for its long journey over the ocean, Charles had one final item prepared – a peacock blue pistol with matching holster as a gift for the pilot of the Bluejay,  because, as Charles explained, you just never know when you might need to protect yourself against an attack from some dreadful creature of the skies.