Thursday, February 25, 2010

Step-by-step carving of a dinosaur marionette

Step-by-step carving of a dinosaur marionetteWez Champion is documenting his efforts as he makes a very cool dinosaur marionette. Champion says he is a fan of the Prague style of marionette making.

Says the artist:
One of the things I like most about ALL Prague puppets is the way they don't try to hide the fact that they are made from wood... the master craftsmen seem to use the straight edges of chisel cuts to form unique facial expressions and unbelievable style to each character...this is what I someday hope to master for myself!

His blog posts document his project from drawings to roughing out the figure, to carving details. Stay tuned as he goes on to paint and assemble the puppet.

Here is a link to Wez's World -- the blog that documents the making of a marionette.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Book: How to Cast Small Metal and Rubber Parts

Book: How to Cast Small Metal and Rubber Parts
This gem of a book teaches you how to reproduce or create new casts of brass, bronze, many other metals, and rubber. It covers metal selection, molding sands, mold-making, and how to repair castings. It also features information on core-making, troubleshooting problems, grinding, polishing, and buffing.

From the book description:
Just some of the countless uses you'll find for this potentially profitable skill: making obsolete or vintage car parts, hood ornaments, garden and fireplace tools, kitchen utensils, automotive parts, replacing broken antique parts, reproducing sculpture, plaques, and other art ... all kinds of decorative and useful objects...

Here is a link to How to Cast Small Metal and Rubber Parts (2nd Edition)

[ Thanks Neil! ]

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Complete Modern Blacksmith book

The Complete Modern Blacksmith book
I recently gave this book to a friend for his birthday. An anthology of three out-of-print books, this book is a great value. The book covers much of what you might expect from a book with this title. What makes it really cool is its emphasis on making, repairing, and maintaining useful tools of every sort. I haven't found this information elsewhere yet. Very nice pencil drawings accompany the text. If you want to take your "making skills" to the next level, you should check this book out.

Here's amazon's info page on The Complete Modern Blacksmith.

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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 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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Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Automata of Steve Armstrong - Part 3

You guessed it -- here is the third and final video about the beautiful automata art of Steve Armstrong.

Here is a link to Part 1 of the video.
Here is a link to Part 2 of the video.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Automata of Steve Armstrong - Part 2

Here is the second of three videos from PBS show focusing on the automata art of Steve Armstrong.

Here is a link to Part 1 of the video.
Here is a link to Part 3 of the video.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Automata of Steve Armstrong - Part 1

Enjoy this video -- the first of three -- on the automata art of Steve Armstrong done for a local PBS station.

Here is a link to Part 2 of the video.
Here is a link to Part 3 of the video.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Automata-making workshops in Portland, OR

Karin Gale -- one of the creators of The Raven automaton I posted about some time ago -- will be hosting a mechanical bird automaton workshop in Portland, Oregon in a couple of weeks and still has a few spaces left.

Karin writes:
"These are not advanced workshops from a mechanical perspective so it would appeal to beginner level automata makers for this reason. But advanced makers might benefit from our construction techniques which allows a lot more freedom than some of the traditional automata construction methods using wood and metals."

Here is the link to the 3 Bird House automata workshop.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How to make a super accurate vernier protractor

How to make a super accurate vernier protractor
Check out this cool DIY article by Steve Garrison on how to make a protractor accurate up to 0.1 degree.

How it Works (from Steve's site):
Since this protractor uses a bubble level it can only measure vertical angles. The bubble is zeroed up on a reference surface by rotating the disc that the vial is attached to until the bubble is aligned with a mark and the front wing-nut is locked down. Then the protractor is placed on a tilted surface and the larger disc is unlocked (using the wingnut on the back) and the disc is rotated until the bubble is again aligned in the same position, then the rear wingnut is locked back down. The angle is read to a degree where the long line on the left side of the vernier points to the degree scale - read the smaller number. The angle is then read to a tenth of a degree by seeing which of the vernier lines matches up best end-to-end with the degree markings and added to the degree measurement. The markings on the vernier are 0.9 degree apart.

Here is the link with details on how to make your own compact protractor accurate up to 0.1 degree.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sand tight spots with the Proxxon Pen Sander

Sand tight spots with the Proxxon Pen Sander
If you sand really small wood, metal, or plastic surfaces, this pen sander may be a HUGE time-saver.

From the product description
Proxxon 12-Volt Pen Sander sands linearly where space is at a premium. This superfine sander with linear sanding motion operates at 8,000 strokes per minute with a 3/32" stroke. Superfine finishing of wooden, plastic or metal surfaces can be done in less time hands can do without big efforts. It is ideal for surfaces, slots and tight corners. Included are four sanding attachments with straight shanks and four with angled shanks -four different shapes per shank style- as well as three sheets of pre-profiled self-adhesive sanding pads. The sheets are 180, 240 and 400 grit with 5 of each shape per sheet.

NOTE: To operate, this unit requires a 12-volt transformer such as the Proxxon 38704 Heavy Duty Transformer

Here's a link to more info on the Proxxon Pen Sander.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Proxxon model-maker's power tools store section

Proxxon tool model-maker's power tools store
I am the proud owner of two Proxxon tools -- the miniature table saw and the miniature mitre saw. As someone who works with small-scale pieces of wood and metal, I am a big fan of this company's products. The Automata / Automaton Store now features an entire section dedicated to Proxxon tools. If you are serious about model-making and are looking for high quality power tools that are the right size for the job, look no further.

Check out the Proxxon Power Tool section of The Automata / Automaton Store.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Video of paper prototyping a griffin automaton

Katy Hargrove has created a great video in which she describes the process she is using to prototype an automaton project. Using manila folders, paper clips, scotch tap, and metal paper-fasteners, she has managed to create a very interesting motion for her griffin project. This is a great demonstration of an easy and effective process for working out the proportions and motions for various automata figures.

Check out more of her projects on the Art by Katy Hargrove blog.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Building a real woodworker's workbench

Here is a great Instructable on how to build a high-quality woodworking bench based on a set of plans originally published in Fine Woodworking Magazine (the best magazine of its kind, in my opinion).

The design used here is simplification of a bench from Sam Allen's book Making Workbenches.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Proxxon 38481 IB/E Professional Rotary Tool

Proxxon 38481 IB/E Professional Rotary Tool
While most of us are familiar with the versatile rotary tool, we tend to equate it with the Dremel brand name. I have owned many, many Dremel tools and do not have any serious complaints.

Still, this Proxxon profession model appears to offer some noticeable improvements. The manufacturer claims that this model can be use for extended periods when polishing, grinding, cleaning and engraving -- without becoming overheated. That is one problem I have had in the past, but I think I pushed the poor Dremel too far.

Like the better models of Dremel rotary tools, this Proxxon can be run at a range of speeds from 5,000 to 20,000 RPMs. Variable speed is a an important feature in any make of rotary tool.

Finally, the Proxxon features a die cast aluminum head which serves as a study housing for the steel spindle, running within a ball bearing assembly. This strikes me as more robust than most Dremel tools.

The unit comes with six collets (sized 1/32", 1/16", 5/64", 3/32", 7/64" and 1/8") and is compatible with a number of Proxxon accessories such as a foot switch, flexible shaft, and drill stand.

Here is a link to the Proxxon 38481 IB/E Professional Rotary Tool

Note: Those of you who know you will be using a rotary tool a lot, should consider something like the Foredom rotary tools that jewelers and serious woodcarvers use.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Carving tools sets with interesting handle design

Carving tools sets with interesting handle design
I've used the traditional carving knives, chip carving knives, and palm carving tools, but I can't say I've ever used a carving knife with this style of handle.

I gather that the handle design is meant to serve two purposes. They can be held fully in the palm for larger, forceful cuts, or griped by the narrow part at the neck -- rather like a pencil -- for finer cuts. It sure sounds like a good idea.

Woodcraft has a seven piece set (shown here, $50) and a a five piece set ($40). Both come in a storage box of some sort.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Koch Studio Kollegs - carving instruction manuals

Koch Studio Kollegs are written by master carver Kurt Koch. Each Kolleg focuses specifically on building your carving skills in a particular area while also covering proper tool selection, handling, and use. They feature numerous illustrations and photographs along with easy-to-follow instructions in four languages: English, French, German and Spanish.

From the product descriptions:
 Koch Studio Kollegs - carving instruction manual on hands
Kolleg #5 - Hands
Instruction in carving the seven known carved motives of hands: The working hand; the hand of the crucified; open hand of a woman; hand with firm grip, half closed hand, hand grabbing something fine and hand of an infant. 44 pages. Over 340 photos.

Koch Studio Kollegs - carving instruction manual on heads
Kolleg # 10 - Heads
Instruction in carving the different faces (heads) that lend itself to a family grouping: Young lady, child and man with beard. 40 pages. Over 340 photos.

Koch Studio Kollegs - carving instruction manual on clown
Kolleg #30 - Climbing Clown
Instruction in carving a clown climbing a rope. Once finished you'll be able to actually hang the clown from a piece of rope. A large carving approximately 19" tall, this project is generally regarded as one for the more advanced carver. 52 pages. Over 350 photos.

Koch Studio Kollegs - carving instruction manual on bear
Kolleg #46 - Standing Bear
Instruction in carving a standing bear approximately 15½" tall not including the base. Over 81 steps, 365 photos along with copious illustrations guide you through the project. Considered a project for the more advanced carver. 56 pages.

Here is the link to the Koch Studio Kollegs - carving instruction manuals.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Micro carving tools for very small wood carvings

Dockyard micro carving tools for small wood carving
The other day I mentioned the Rick Bütz woodcarving knives I use. While about 70 percent of the time I use either the standard carving knife or the detail knife, there are times when a specially shaped carving tool is just what you need. For a long time, I struggled with a mediocre set of palm carving tools. Mine didn't hold an edge very well and were just too big to be very useful.

A few years ago I discovered these unassuming little micro carving tools. They may look simple but they are hand forged, tempered, and tested for a correct edge profile. Not only that: they come sharpened and ready to use. Hallelujah!

They offer sets like the one shown here in three different sizes -- 1.5mm, 2mm, and 3mm. I went with the 2mm and am very happy with it. The micro carving tool set I bought has single and double bevel chisels, a skew chisel, a 90 degree V-shaped tool, and U-shaped gouge. All in cherry wood handles.

Here's the full line of Dockyard micro carving tools.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How to build your own plan holding stand for $10

How to build your own plan or pattern holding stand
If you make models, miniatures, or work from plan drawings of any sort you can spend good money on a plan holder. This one is the product of a great do-it-yourself guide. For about $10 you can make the plan holder shown here. This is a good way to get those sheets off your workspace and into plain view.

Here's the link on HOW TO BUILD A $10 PLANS HOLDER.

[ Thanks bilagaana! ]

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Friday, March 06, 2009

How to build working gears from paper cardstock

How to Build Working Gears from Junkmail or Cardstock
Finally! A truly wonderful use for all that junk mail! It pleases me to no end to see such a wasteful nuisance turned into a thing of mechanical beauty. This is from a great lesson on Instructables showing you how to build working gears from junk mail or cardstock.

Here's a video clip to showing the finished gears in action!

Here's the link on Instructables about how to build working gears from junk mail or cardstock.


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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fantastic all-wood blinds with helical gear system

Check out these absolutely fantastic all-wooden blinds.

The blinds utilize a beautiful set of wooden helical gears made with a technique that Steve Garrison created. The blind slats and the frame are walnut, the handles are pecan, and the gears and pulleys are made of cherry. Very nice, indeed.

Visit Steve's web site for information at

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

How to build a moder's vacuum sanding box

How to build a moder's sanding box
Here is an extremely complete step-by-step guide for making your own vacuum sanding box for small projects. The eight page guide includes a discussion of tools, materials, shortcuts, 3D renderings, and complete plans you can download in PDF format! This sanding box will be a valuable addition to any workshop where small parts are made.

Here's the link for the guide on How to build a moder's sanding box.

[ Thanks to bilagaana for this!]

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Miniature woodshop models with amazing detail

Miniature woodshop with amazing detail
Setting the scene for an automaton often requires making miniature versions of things. Having done bit of this myself, I can really appreciate the work of David Brookshaw who makes 1/12-scale miniatures of tools and workshop equipment.

Brookshaw is working on a fully-equipped Victorian workshop. In the photo above that is a U.S. Quarter clamped to the bench vise!

You can visit David Brookshaw's web site to see more photos of his work

[ Thanks Charles! ]

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Making amazing wooden gears

Here are some samples of gears made by Steve Garrison. He has developed a technique that enables you to make any of the gears of the type shown in this video by using either a scrollsaw or a tablesaw. You can make straight-tooth or helical gears.

From his description:
There are no paper patterns to glue to wood and saw around, the correct involute tooth profile is automatically generated. This technique is very simple once you see how it works. There is no need for expensive cnc routers or lasers or any computer-controlled tools. If you have a scrollsaw or tablesaw, the ability to cut accurately sized circles from plywood, and a computer - then you can do this. You won't find this technique anywhere else, I have looked thoroughly and know it is my own original idea.

Visit his web site at from that home page click on the "gears" link to purchase Steve's technique. The price is $30.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

How to Make a Circle Cutting Jig for a Router

Circle Cutting Jig for the Router
Perhaps you've been inspired to make a wooden machine with some rather large pin-wheel type gears. There are many ways to cut circles including freehand on a scroll saw or band saw. You can also make or buy a circle cutting jig for the bandsaw. Additionally, you can consider using a fly type circle cutter or using a hole saw in a drill press.

Here is a complete article on how to make your own adjustable circle-cutting jig for a hand held router.

Unlike many a circle-cutting jig for the router, this one overcomes a common limitation -- cutting a circle with a radius shorter than the distance between the router bit and the pivot on which is spins.

John English came up with the ingenious jig you see in the photo above. It doesn't rely on a pivot point, which means it can be used to cut range of circle sizes.

Here is the article on How to Make a Circle Cutting Jig for a Router

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Carving Facial Expressions Book

Carving Facial Expressions Book
Here is a short book covering the details of carving the human face, showing a range of emotions. Though only 64 pages long, it includes details on the muscles of the face and some step-by-step examples of carvings. There are also reference photographs to serve as the basis for your own carvings. The author's obvious skill is enviable.

At about $10 USD new, I think you might want to consider getting the book Carving Facial Expressions.

For those more interested in carving caricatures, check out Dave Stetson' book Caricature Carving from Head to Toe and Pete LeClair's book Carving Caricature Head & Faces.

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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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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Screw & Bold Removers, Screw Extractors & Plugs

I hate to admit it, but even I mess up sometimes. A lot, actually. I use mostly brass screws, and they can strip easily if I use a cordless drill to drive them. Here are two options for saving the day. I own both. I NEED both.

ProGrabit Screw and Bold RemoverThe first is the ProGrabit Screw and Bolt Remover. I use this piece when I have stripped the head of a phillips head screw. This 3 piece kit contains everything you need to remove screws (sizes 4 thru 14) and small bolts.

To use it you, place the appropriate sized extraction tool in you drill in and run it in reverse to create a cavity in the screw or bolt head. You then flip the extraction tool in your drill so that the screw end can be inserted into the cavity. Again, running the drill in reverse, you back-out the screw or bolt.

Screw Extractor for Broken Headed ScrewsThe second option is the Cut-around Screw Extractor. I use this when I have snapped the screw head off of the screw completely.

You simply chuck this miniature hole saw into your drill, center it over your broken screw, then cut a plug out of the wood with the embedded broken screw in it.

Tapered Plug CuttersWhen finished, you have a nice clean hole where your mistake once was. You can then plug the hole with standard size dowels or plugs cut with a tapered plug cutter. Cutting your own plugs will allow you to match the wood type, color and grain closely if you have some scraps from which to cut the plugs.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Aging an Authentic Working Wood Catapult Kit

This is the second in a two part series reviewing the working wood catapult model made by Pathfinders. In the the first part, I reviewed the the kit and gave you some assembly tips. In this part, I'll tell you how I went about making the catapult look like it truly belongs on a medieval battlefield.

What is the Kit and Where Do You Get It?
The catapult kit is sold by by the name of "Wooden War Engine Kits". offers more than one model; this article refers to the one advertised as "Catapult Kit". It sells for $19.99.

Getting Ready to Get Old
Once the kit is assembled, you should have a bit of fun testing it out. I recommend throwing small grapes at a pyramid of empty aluminum cans. If you would like to make your catapult look old, read on. For this process, I used the following tools and materials:

* Carving knife
* Small wire brush
* Furniture finish touch-up markers
* Coarse twine
* Elmer's glue
* Sandpaper - 100 grit
* Minwax wood stain - Early American
* Round wooden disks
* Wooden wheel pegs
* Popsicle type "craft" sticks
* Soldering iron with wood-burning tip
* Gun bluing
* Portable hand drill
* Ball-peen hammer

None of these things are essential. You should feel free to use whatever tools and materials you have on hand or can obtain easily.

Making the Catapult's Wood Beams Look Old
The first thing I did was removed the string and washers from the model.

I used a carving knife to take the corners off of the straight edges of the wood. I didn't remove a lot of material because I didn't want to compromise the strength of the wood.

I just shaved off small, irregular shavings to make it look a little less perfect and perhaps as if the beams had been hand-hewn. I also rounded the spoon-shaped end of the throwing arm.

Next, I added the wood knots to the beams. I have a set of three wood finish touch up markers. I used the second darkest color. By gently resting the very tip of the marker on the unfinished wood, pigment from the marker is drawn into the wood fibers in a way that looks something like a real wood knot. Use the underside of the model to perfect your technique.

The knots may look a little too dark at this point, but don't worry. After placing knots of various sizes on the beams, I gave the entire model a coat of Minwax wood stain. I used "Early American" simply because I had some around. You can use whatever color you like, so long as it is considerably lighter than the knots you have made with the marker. This allows the knots to show through the stain. At this point, you should give your catapult some time to dry.

Later, I used a wire brush to give the catapult some scratches and wear marks to make it look like it had been used for years. I also used a wood-burning tool to add some grain lines and cracks to some of the beams. Make sure these lines follow the grain of the wood so that they appear natural.

I dipped the the string that comes with the kit in the Minwax and wiped the excess off with a rag. This makes the "rope" look old too.

Adding the Twine to the Crossbar and Throwing Arm
I am not sure if it is authentic or not, but I thought some cordage wrapped around the throwing arm and crossbar would look good. I also figured this would provide a bit of cushioning. I used a coarse three strand twine for this. I unraveled the strands so that I had a single strand. I tied one end of twine around the crossbar.

Next, I spread some Elmer's glue on the section where the twine was to be placed. I then wrapped the twine in a tight coil around the crossbar. I tied off the end and put a drop of glue on it to keep if from coming off.

This process was repeated on the throwing arm where it meets with the crossbar.

Making the Wooden Wheels for Your Siege Engine
I purchased a set of round hardwood discs that are 2 - 3/4 inches in diameter. I also purchased some wooden toy axle pegs and some craft sticks -- really they are just Popsicle sticks. All three items can be found at craft stores.

I used a soldering iron with a flat wood burning tip to create parallel lines on the wheels to make it seem as if they were constructed from individual planks. I also burned the edges of the wheels a bit to simulate wear and wood grain.

Next, I glued two short lengths of Popsicle sticks to the outside of each wheel to model the boards that would hold the wheels together.

I drilled a 1/4 inch hole in the center of each wheel and in the four corners of the catapult base. I sanded flat sides on the axle pegs and darkened them with marker.

Using the toy axle pegs, I mounted each wheel to the catapult. I glued only the holes into which the pegs go, so the wheels can move freely. Finally, I gave the wheels a coat of wood stain.

Finishing Touches to The Antiqued Catapult
The catapult was starting to look pretty old at this point, but the bright metal washers on the outside ruined the effect. I used the rounded end of a ball-peen hammer to dent one face of each washer. I then rubbed some gun bluing on the surface to give it a dark, oxidized look. DO NOT get this stuff on your tools.

In the end, I spent 30 to 40 minutes making the basic functioning catapult kit, and 4+ hours making it look old! I had a lot of fun doing it.

Where to Get the Kit and Other Supplies
Most of what you need can be found at your local hardware store, craft store, or hobby shop. If you have any difficulty finding these items locally, here are some online sources:

* Catapult kit
* Wood carving knife
* Sharpie Touch up Markers - 3 pack
* Sisal Twine
* Elmer's Glue-All
* 100 Grit Sanding Sheets
* Minwax Wood Finish - Early American
* Wood toy wheels
* Wood toy wheel axle pegs
* Cuisipro Frozen Pop Sticks
* Woodburning and soldering tool set
* Perma Blue, liquid gun blue kit
* Cordless drill
* Ball peen hammer

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