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This blog features the current woodcraft, Art and Graphic work of David Stanley.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Designing the Whimsical Wood Automata

Like a lot of people, I am fascinated by the sight uof the pre-digital, the pre-miniaturised-electrical-hidden-mechanism, devices in action. My comprehension of 'what makes them tick' is slight enough to allow mystery to enhance the experience.

When I was young steam trains still ran. They had moving parts that were not just wheels. They had visible moving parts. Lots of visible moving parts. They had many turning bits and linkages, choreographed to the exuberance of their exhilarating sounds. Riveted rhinoceros hiss-thundered past and then into the enveloping, billowing and dissipating doppler-effected past, they quickly went, while Into the wake of their memory, followed the slick, the smooth, the concealed and the 'less is more'. And in their wake we began to mourn the loss of mystery and wonder, their performance evoked.

The sealed unit might be more mysterious in one sense, without visible locomotion, but it's movement is easily taken for granted, it just goes. Visible mechanisms that achieve by complicated means captivate because work fascinates us.., we can sit and watch it for hours.

Perhaps mechanically minded people are just as fascinated with the visible workings of early machine age constructions because they can see and understand what they are doing and could be made to do. I can only see what they are doing already as a visual experience, an aesthetic rather than an understanding of the physics. I just like the way machines look.

So so back to the digital age. Mechanically minded people have made animations of the mechanical devices from the Industrial Age and there are sites that can generate gears to be printed, cut and used in a functioning machine. For a whimsical automata such as I envisaged for Whimsical Wood. I only needed to see what each mechanical element was already doing and if it looked nice and looked interesting it was a candidate for participating in the final construction. Plenty of time to figure out what it might do when it's finished.., so long as it looks good.

So with with a supply of print-outs that could be cut and assembled I mocked up a working pattern to begin the automata. My lack of mechanical ability meant simply assembling a chain of mechanical events with some characters tacked on here and there. The characters would include an elf-like character to drudgingly do the winding, a Cheshire Cat, an attentive dog meant to contrast with the disaffected elf, a chameleon and whatever else could be made to work.

Not a lot in the way of add-on characters could be made to work in this long chain-of-events whimsical automata I found. So I have kept it to its purpose as a complex looking simple automata useful for generating visual interest with movement both on the web and at shows. It's other purpose is to learn a bit about automata construction through experiment and perhaps design and build simpler more narrative based automata in the future.

From the beginning of this project I realised that any automata I built would depend on visual appeal rather than mechanical ingenuity. So I decided to make the larger gear wheels and pinions with heavily carved decorative spokes and to complete the whole construction with a high finish.

In the next post I will describe the process of cutting the decorative but still functional gears and other mechanisms for this automata.

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