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The Nutcracker: Christmas at Mottisfont

November 24, 2014 by  

Some of our automata are appearing at Mottisfont, National Trust, as part of their Nutcracker Christmas event.

Saturday 29 November – Sunday 4 January 2015

Start your visit with a peek into a twinkling Christmas party, then ascend the staircase to the sound of ticking clocks, to enter the dream mechanical world of the Nutcracker. Have a go operating life-size puppets and all sorts of weird and wonderful automata from the famous Cabaret Mechanical Theatre. Beautiful little lantern theatres reveal more of the story. Watch out for the exciting battle between the Mouse King and the toy soldiers before heading out to the gardens to explore the Land of Snow and ice and land of Sweets.

Mottisfont – National Trust
near Romsey

Banana Boat

The Turk by Pierre Mayer

November 24, 2014 by  

The Turk by Pierre MayerThe latest piece from Pierre Mayer is based on the famous life-size automaton, The Chess Player Turk.

‘It was a project that was in the back of my mind many years ago.
I consulted my late friend Christian Fechner who advised me to use moving
gears inside the cabinet. Then I asked the legendary John Gaughan, creator
and restorer of large scale magical automata. Finally Abdul Alafrez,
magician, actor and theatre special effects consultant came with the
solution I needed.
With my talented co-worker Cathy Rivers we then solved the different
problems one by one.
The effect is the following: the crank is turned, the left door opens
showing an empty cabinet all the way inside except for the moving gears. The
left door closes, the right one opens and a little man is seeing activating
a lever supposed  to lift the left hand’s automaton.
It is my favorite piece, until the next one maybe!!’

Each order will also include a signed photograph of Pierre Mayer with his latest piece, The Turk.

28 cm high, 19 cm large and 9 cm wide

£2650 (Excl. VAT)

Add to Cart

Click for more pictures.

Working with Brass, Part 2 – Bending Brass – Dug’s Tips 14

July 14, 2014 by  

Various tools for bending brass rod, tubing, bar, and sheetsIn the last instalment of this column, we looked at some of the many ways you can cut brass for your automaton project. Once cut, there is a good chance you will need to bend the brass in some way to suit your needs. Let’s take a look at some of the methods for bending brass rod, tubing, bar, and sheets.

How to Bend Brass Wire and Rod

Needle nosed pliers are used here to make a straight bend in brass wireBending Brass Wire with Pliers
For the thinner gauges of brass wire, you may be able to use your hands alone. For the heavier gauges, pliers are an indispensable tool. Use the pliers to hold the wire in one hand, while manipulating the other end of the wire with your free hand. To create curved shapes, crimp, bend, and release the rod at intervals along its length. The closer together these intervals are, the tighter the curve will be. Round-nosed pliers are great for creating tight curves and loops. Simply bend the rod around the rounded jaws. Sharp bends can be made with a pair of pliers in each hand.

These specialized pliers are used to create a curve by crimping the wire at intervals along its lengthVarious types of special metal-forming pliers are great for bending shapes in wire. While these pliers are useful, most of these bends can be made with a pair of flat needle nosed pliers and a pair of round-nosed pliers. If you find that any of your pliers are leaving a lot of unsightly tool marks on the rod, buy some pliers with nylon pads on the jaws or wrap masking tape around the jaws.

Bending Brass Rod with a Jig
Making straight bends using the grooves of the jig and curved bends using the pinsFor complex bends, or bends in wire that is particularly heavy, a bending jig can make the job much easier. The jig can be mounted to a bench or a board, which can then be clamped down if necessary. The jig features a series of slots and pegs. By placing the rod into the slots or between the pegs, you can use your hands to bend the rod to conform to that spot in the jig. In addition to allowing you to use both hands, this tool minimizes the number of tool marks left on the wire.

How to Bend Brass Tubing

The spring tubing bender is slipped over the outside of the tubing and then bent with both handsBrass tubing can be tricky to bend because it has a tendency to kink and crush. One type of tubing bender consists of a coiled metal spring which is wrapped around and/or placed inside of the tubing while bending it. The coils of the spring support the walls of the tubing, reducing the chances that it will crush. They come in various diameters which correspond with many common tubing sizes. To use a spring bender, select one that just fits over the outside of the tube to be bent. Slip it over the tubing so that it is centered on the spot where the bend will be. Using both hands, bend the tubing by pressing your thumbs into the bend. The likelihood of a successful bend are even better if you are able to use another spring that fits within the tubing. These can be made from common extension springs found in most hardware stores. Model airplane enthusiasts and those who work on heating and cooling systems often use a different type of tubing bender. Check out the resources section at the end of this article for more information on these tools.

Bending Brass Bar

Stages in bending a 90 degree angle in a piece of brass barFor thicker brass bars, consider scoring the bar prior to bending it. By removing some of the metal on the inside of the bend, you create space for the metal to fold in on itself. The scored line also ensures that the metal will bend at the spot you intend. Use a permanent marker to draw a line where the score will be made. You can use a triangular file or a square file with one edge facing down. File a groove along the marker line starting at one edge of the bar, working to the opposite edge. You want an even 90 degree trench running from one side of the bar to the other, a little bit deeper than half the thickness of the bar. Once you’ve finished scoring the piece, place it in a vise with the scored line exposed. Bend the piece to form a neat 90 degree angle. Because you’ve removed so much metal, you may even be able to bend it by hand at this point. The finished bend has no visible seam on the outside and a tidy partial miter on the inside. This joint can be soldered if additional strength is required.

Bending Brass Sheets

After clamping the sheet in a vise between two blocks of wood, a third block of wood is used to bend itMaking straight bends in metal sheet can be difficult, but some tools and aids make the job easier. To bend brass sheet, sandwich it between two wooden boards within a vise. Use a third piece of wood to apply pressure to the metal for the bend. The block of wood helps you apply pressure to the entire edge being bent and prevents the metal from be being marred. You can also tap on the wood block with a mallet or hammer.

You will probably find that in many cases you will need to ‘overbend’ the metal — going a bit beyond the shape you want, in order for the metal to retain the desired shape. As with Part 1, this article only covers some of the many methods for bending brass. I recommend that you research other trades, crafts, and hobbies that use brass. You might be surprised by how many techniques you find!

Dug’s Automata Tips, Techniques and Tricks
A quarterly column by automaton-maker and enthusiast Dug North
Copyright 2014 Dug North

Warning: The topics covered in this column include the use of tools and materials that have the potential to cause damage to property and/or bodily injury. Your safety is important and it is your sole responsibility. Always read and follow the safety instructions that come with tools and materials you use. Wear safety glasses, use guards and other forms of safety equipment, follow safety precautions, and use good judgment. Seek the guidance of experienced outside sources whenever required.

Further Reading
Metalwork for Craftsmen
Amazon UKAmazon US

Fundamentals of Shopwork
Amazon UKAmazon US

Complete Metalsmith: Professional Edition by Tim McCreigh
Amazon UKAmazon US

Tools and Their Uses by U.S. Bureau of Naval Personnel
Amazon UKAmazon US

Brass Rod
Amazon UKAmazon US

Brass Tubing
Amazon UKAmazon US

Brass Sheet
Amazon UKAmazon US

Mini Plier Set, 8-Piece
Amazon UKAmazon US

Convex/Concave Forming Pliers
Amazon UKAmazon US

Nylon Jaw Pliers
Amazon UKAmazon US

Sheet Metal Pliers
Amazon UKAmazon US

Wire Bending Jig
Amazon UKAmazon US

Tubing Bender Set
Amazon UKAmazon US

Du-Bro 785 1/8″ Tubing Bender
Amazon US

Klein Tools 89030 Professional 4-in-1 Tube Bender
Amazon UKAmazon US

Triangular File
Amazon UKAmazon US

Bench Vise
Amazon UKAmazon US

The Science of Conversation

July 2, 2014 by  

We’re delving into the archives to take a closer look at some of Paul Spooner’s automata. This piece is from 2010.

“Although it’s tempting to think of ways in which I might have been foreseeing the current double-headed political situation in Britain, I actually thought of this machine while talking to my dad. I realised that, in many conversations, the listener is just marking time while the talker is in action, waiting for his turn to engage his brain and put in his twopence-ha’porth. (US 10c)”

The man on left possesses the brain so he talks while the other one stares blankly. Then the tops of their heads open and the brain migrates to the other man’s cranium. The other man (Reg Hughes) is now able to speak. While the brain is in transit both men are struck dumb.

The Science of Conversation by Paul SpoonerPaul’s description of the mechanical details: “The way the brain is made to travel is very silly and time-wasting. One cam lifts the brain out of the brainbox and another, moving at half that speed, makes it go from right to left and back again. Both cams are geared together and work on a linkage to which the brain lever is attached. The resulting movement is rather floaty and imprecise but is better, I think, than a regular arc, which would have been the obviously sensible way to do it”.

The lifting camshaft also carries the head-opening cam so both heads open every time the brain is lifted. Another cam, driven by the input shaft, which goes at 4x the lifting speed, works a linkage that causes both jaws to chatter constantly, while 2 more cams on the traversing camshaft cancel the jaw action of the head whose brain is out of the office.”

Height 27 cm (10.5 inches)
Width 26cm (10 inches)
Depth 9 cm (3.5 inches)

Materials: English oak and plastic

The Science of Conversation by Paul Spooner

Finding the Value

July 2, 2014 by  

In 2011 Peter Madsen left his estate to York Museum’s Trust. Amongst is bequest was his art collection. Finding the Value is an exhibition in which commissioned artists respond to items from the collection and open up questions of the inheritance of cultural values.

Artist Simon Venus has created a mechanical tableaux for the exhibition.

Simon Venus describes Passed On as a eulogy, or tribute, to Peter and Karen Madsen. Items from their collection are arranged in three animated tableaux, which play with the dramas of life, death, identity, depiction and portraiture in miniature theatre dioramas.

Passed On explores mortality and transition in both the spiritual and secular worlds. A triptych, referencing religious altarpieces that often included ‘donor’ portraits to commemorate individuals and their families, there are also elements of ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’ with their usually tightly packed, eclectic mix of interestingly labelled objects.

The artist was intrigued by the fact that the collection was given quietly, with no meeting between the donors and York Museums Trust, accompanied simply by a solicitor’s letter and a second, personal letter from Peter Madsen. The importance of these letters in the transfer of the collection from private to public ownership features in the central tableau.

4th July – 2 November 2014
Open daily 10am – 5pm

Free admission

York St. Mary’s

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