Wednesday, April 07, 2010

An ancient mechanical genius you may NOT know

We have all heard the great inventors of antiquity such as Archimedes and Hero. Here is another name worth knowing: Al-Jazari. Al-Jazari was an scholar, inventor, engineer, craftsman, artist, mathematician and astronomer from Mesopotamia, who lived from about 1136 to 1206. He wrote The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, which describes some fifty sophisticated machines.

The video clip shown here from Ancient Discoveries covers Al-Jazari's elephant clock -- a fantastically elaborate device which employed automata. There are a working reproductions of the elephant clock in Dubai and Switzerland.

Here is the Wikipedia article for Al Jazari. Here is the article on the elephant clock.


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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Wallingford clock at St Albans Cathedral (England)

Wallingford clock at St Albans Cathedral in England
At St. Albans Cathedral they have made a replica of the 14th Century clock and astronomical indicator designed and built by Richard of Wallingford. It takes 18 years to complete full cycle! When it was created, Richard's clock was probably the most complex clock in the British isles -- and among the most sophisticated anywhere.

Here is a web site dedicated to the Wallingford clock at St. Albans Cathedral.


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Friday, January 08, 2010

Video explanation - how a singing bird clock works

Justin Miller over at blackforestclocks.org has made a nice video in which he describes how a singing bird clock works. It's a really cool mechanism to see and a clear, concise description of how it works. Thanks Justin!

Here is a link where you can learn more about this singing bird clock.


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Monday, December 14, 2009

The Verge and Foliot clock escapment in wood

My appreciation and interest in clock mechanisms is growing all the time. Here's a wood version of one of the earliest of all escapements: the verge and foliot.

Wikipedia on the verge escapement:
The verge (or crown wheel) escapement is the earliest known type of mechanical escapement, the mechanism in a mechanical clock that controls its rate by advancing the gear train at regular intervals or 'ticks'. Its origin is unknown. Verge escapements were used from the 14th century until about 1800 in clocks and pocketwatches. The name verge comes from the Latin virga, meaning stick or rod.

Its invention is important in the history of technology, because it made possible the development of all-mechanical clocks. This caused a shift from measuring time by continuous processes, such as the flow of liquid in water clocks, to repetitive, oscillatory processes, such as the swing of pendulums, which had the potential to be more accurate. Oscillating timekeepers are at the heart of every clock today.

Here is a link to Wikipedia's article on the verge escapement.

[ Thanks Steve! ]


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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wooden clock sculptures by James Borden

I had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking with James Borden, creator of mechanical weight-driven clocks last weekend at the Paradise City Arts Festival. "Clock" doesn't quite sum up what Borden creates however. His pieces are large, artistic expressions of time described in beautiful hardwoods, long graceful curves, and inventive structural configurations.

From the artist's site:
In his Timeshapes, James Borden presents a different vision of the passage of time: Less frenetic and urgent than the normal ticking of a clock; slower paced; peaceful; playful; something easier to live with.

Here is a close up of a mechanism from one of his pieces:

To see more wooden clock sculptures by James Borden visit the Timeshapes web site.


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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Four free wooden clock plans to download

Four free wooden clock plans to download
If you have an interest in wooden clocks and clockwork, you will want to head over to http://www.woodenclocks.co.uk. Not only is there a lot of great information on the site, there are four clock plans that are free downloads. This is a great resource. Thanks to Brian Law of Wooden Clocks for making these available!

Check out the Wooden Clocks site.


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Friday, July 24, 2009

'Clocks Revenge' automaton by Richard Willmott

The Clocks Revenge automaton by Richard Willmott
Horologist Richard Willmott in the U.K. created this automaton (shown above) called "The Clocks Revenge". He wrote a note explaining how he created this piece that was inspired by my own automaton called "An Interesting Specimen".

From Richard's letter describing the piece
I applied my twisted mind to dreaming up a similar model which would involve clocks and came up with the idea that over the years old clocks must have suffered terrible indignities at the hands of incompetent repairers. So my model would be "The Clocks Revenge". I had a 6 inch glass dome and in the local charity shop found a child's toy which had a musical movement that played the nursery rhyme Hickory Dickory Dock. A plywood box was made to take 3 aluminum shafts, one for the cranking handle, one to take the two lifter cams to operate the arms and one to operate the music. The musical movement needed to run at a speed slower than that at which the handle was cranked so a small gearbox was built using clock wheels and pinions from my scrap box. Loose pin and slot joints were used where the shafts joined the gearbox and the musical movement to cover for alignment inaccuracies in my construction. Now I built a clock workshop to go under the dome. The notice on the wall is based on one that I saw in a clock repairers workshop in the USA. From limewood I carved the figure of the clock repairer. It had arms jointed at the shoulder and operated by fine wires linked to levers operated by two four leaf cams in the box. The whole lot was then fixed to the box and the representation of a clock with an angry face was attached to the back with its hands (arms) holding down the glass dome. Finally a humorous verse to give some idea of what was going on was composed and affixed.

His note went on to say that if you are an automata or clock fanatic and live within traveling distance of Elizabeth City, NC he would love to see you when he visits the U.S. in the spring 2010. He can be reached by email at: dickytickers at yahoo.co.uk


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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Medieval astronomical wooden clock design

Take a look at the beautiful wooden clock video. The wooden mechanism clock was designed by Clayton Boyer and built by Adrian Iredale. Beautiful work. One day, I'm going work up the courage (or set aside a substantial amount of time) to make one of Boyer's amazing clock designs.


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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Antique alarm clock with automatic candle snuffer

Carriage clock with automatic candle snuffer
Here's a really nifty gadget clock dating between 1840 and 1875.

From the eBay listing item description
The rear left corner of the clock has a candle tube, and the front has a cantilevered arm that is activated by a time setting on the clock. Upon reaching the desired time setting, the arm lowers and the cup on it’s end snuffs out the candle.There is also a wake-up alarm setting. So we here have a clock that tells the owner when to go to sleep, and when to wake up!

Here's the link for more info on this Carriage clock with alarm and automatic candle snuffer


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Friday, May 29, 2009

The inner workings of a German singing bird box

Here is a great video giving us the rare opportunity to see the inner workings of a miniature singing mechanical bird. This piece was restored in the clock and automata shop of Ray Bates who specializes in the professional restoration of antique clocks, marine chronometers, and automata.

Learn more about Ray Bates at The British Clockmaker site.


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Friday, March 13, 2009

Carved wooden cuckoo clock with moving figures

Carved wooden cuckoo clock with automata figures
We don't normally feature cuckoo clocks here on The Automata / Automaton Blog. But...why not? Carving, mechanics, historical tradition, wood, automata figures...it's all there as far as I'm concerned.

Here's a rather grand cuckoo clock I found listed on eBay. This clock already has many bids on it with a fair amount of time left. I don't know much about cuckoo clocks, but this suggests to me that this is a good one. Those of you who know more about this sort of thing: please comment!

This listing features many nice detail photographs.

Here the eBay listing for this large carved wooden cuckoo clock with automata figures.


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Monday, March 09, 2009

John Harrison, his clocks & longitude problem

Here is a 10 minute video segment about one of my heroes -- John Harrison. Harrison was the creator of the marine chronometer which gave sailors the first reliable way to determine their longitude while at sea. People didn't trust watches and clocks as we do now and many scientists of the day sought an astronomical solution to the problem. While possible, this was extremely impractical approach to use on board a tossing ship at sea in all kinds of weather.

Harrison made a total of four marine chronometers (H1, H2, H3 and H4), each more sophisticated that the one before. Prejudice and politics kept him from receiving a large prize for solving this problem. It wasn't until he was an old man and had gotten the attention of the British king that he was officially recognized for his contributions to science, horology, and navigation.

The full story can be found in Dava Sobel's book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time.


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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rare Black Forest 'Rat Eater' Automton Clock

A fairly common animated figure in Black Forest German clocks is 'The Dumpling Eater'. The folks over at North Coast Imports shared this video of a rare variation. Rather than dumplings, the animated pirate figure on this clock is eating rats!

Check out this an many other interesting Black Forest automata clocks at the North Coast Imports Blog.

[ Thanks Dolf! ]


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Friday, January 09, 2009

Celestial Mechanical Calendar and Orrery

While I have admired Clayton Boyer's wooden clock designs for a long time, this project places him firmly in my pantheon of heroes. This wooden machine of his design keeps track of everything -- including the retrograde motion of planets and how many days are in a given month! Ingenius -- there is no other word for it.

From his web site:
The Celestial Mechanical Calendar shows the day of the week, day of the month and the month. In addition, she indicates the Zodiac Sun Sign and New Moon Ascension sign, has a MoonPhase Ball that indicates a nearly exact reflection of what the actual moon is doing in the night sky. She also has a Full Moon Ascension Window, and an Orrery showing the synodic rotations of the three closest planets, Mercury, Venus and Mars and indicates when they go into retrograde. The Celestial Mechanical Calendar also knows if the month has 28, 30 or 31 days and advances herself automatically.

Check out all the details or -- if your are feeling ambitious -- order the plans to make the Celestial Mechanical Calendar and Orrery.


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Monday, October 27, 2008

Working wall clock with hidden safe

Wall Clock With Hidden Safe
OK...so it's not an automaton or mechanical toy, but it is a clock and mechanically nifty.

This safe seems like it would be particularly secure if you recessed it into the wall and then mounted it high up so that you needed a ladder to get to it.


From the product description:
At a glance, it looks like any other regular wall clock. But you know the secret! It swings open to store your valuables and small mementos on three shelves. Clock runs on 1 AA battery, not included. Has three predrilled mounting holes, hardware not included. Outside dimensions: 10"dia. by 3"deep. Inside: 8.5" dia. by 1.75" deep.


Here the link to the Wall Clock With Hidden Safe


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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gordon Bradt's Six Man Clock Kinetic Sculpture

Brass, gears, clockwork, 6 little animated figures...yup, it's official: I love it.


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Friday, August 08, 2008

Antique Vienna Jaquemart Automaton Clock

Vienna Jaquemart Automaton Clock
The bidding is heating up on this Viennese clock dating to around 1830. The clock features two small Jaquemarts (or "Jacks") who hit the bells when the clock chimes. If you like antique clocks, this looks like a beauty.

Here is the full eBay listing for the Vienna Jaquemart automaton clock


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Friday, July 25, 2008

Video of Wooden Verge & Foliot Escapement


The other day, I posted a video clip of historian Simon Schaffer describing the development of mechanical clocks in Europe. While his explanation was clear enough, the video did not do justice to the particular mechanism about which he was speaking. Here is a nice clear video of a wooden Verge and Foliot clock escapement.


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Friday, July 18, 2008

Video Tour of Clayton Boyer Wooden Gear Clocks

In this video, wooden clock designer Clayton Boyer takes you on a tour of his wild and beautiful assortment of clock designs.

See all of his designs at Clayton Boyer Clock Designs.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wooden Clock Wheel Cutting - Bandsaw Pinions

Here is a great video with detailed instructions on how to cut small clock pinion gears from plywood using a band saw -- an alternative to the more commonly used scroll saw. I own this small, well-rated, affordable benchtop bandsaw.

The craftsman in the film uses a fairly wide band saw blade -- 3/8 inch perhaps. Despite its large sized, he shows how to used a series of straight cuts and the front of the blade to nibble away and tight and curved area.

He does turn to the scroll saw, not for cutting, but for filing the edges of the pinion smooth. He mounts a needle file into the scroll saw. You can also buy files designed to fit in the scroll saw.

The video also shows how to use a benchtop disk sander to create round spacers and how to best glue the parts together with white PVA glue.

This is the kind of education you can only get by watching someone with experience.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Video: So You Want to Make a Wood Gear Clock?

Here's a low-pressure introduction to making a clock from wooden parts -- gears and all. Along the way, you learn many important techniques that could be used for automata making as well as clock making. The narrator discusses tools, specific methods of work, and the construction process in general. The film gives you a good feel for what you are getting into if you decide build a clock of your own. Don't rush this one...save it for when you have a few minutes to savor this charming video.

You may also want to learn how to fix existing clocks, so take a look at Clock Repairing as a Hobby: An Illustrated How-To Guide for the Beginner

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