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Novelty Automation

January 28, 2015 by  

The new London arcade of home-made coin operated machines built by enthusiasts – opens February 11th 2015 (twinned with ‘The Under The Pier Show’ seaside arcade)

Tim Hunkin’s new arcade of slot machines, including some old favourites from CMT’s Covent Garden days -The Frisker, Test Your Nerve and The Chiropodist.
Novelty Automation is a mix of humour and engineering. It’s a new home for Tim Hunkin’s arcade machines, with some guest machines made by kindred spirits.

1a Princeton St, London WC1R 4AX

Opening hours – (from Wednesday Feb 11th):
Wednesday 11am – 6pm
Thursday 11am – 7pm
Friday 11am – 6pm
Saturday 11am – 6pm

See more information on the Novelty Automation Website

Mechanicals at Wilton’s Music Hall

January 28, 2015 by  

Mechanicals at Wilton'sOur Mechanicals exhibition will be at Wiltons Music Hall from 12th to 17th February, as part of a series of making events with Fire the Inventor, for adults and children.

12th – 13th February Making Nights, with wine and music.
14th February, Exhibition and Family Workshop
16th February and 17th February Half Term fun and Family Workshop.

Fire The InventorWilton’s Music Hall

Wilton’s Music Hall is in Graces Alley, London E1 8JB

New Valentine’s Automata

January 26, 2015 by  

Cranky Heart by Aaron KramerWe have two one-off pieces from US artist Aaron Kramer for Valentines. 
Aaron writes:
As a child, I fell in love with contraptions, coin-operated amusements and marionettes. The clack and clatter of machinery plus the visual “eye candy” of mechanisms all gave me a thrill. I have always wanted to make things that moved or implied some hidden mechanical purpose. Drawings of Rube Goldberg-like chain reaction machines filled my sketchbook as a 9 year old. Nestled in our basement workshop I would spend hours dismantling old timepieces and re-imagine them as the inner workings of the puppets I was making. If I listened closely enough I could hear the whirring of gears and governors in their chests. Over time I have observed that if a machine does the same exact thing over and over it seems lifeless. Therefore, I like when a machine can generate a certain randomness. By engineering in a little bit of variability in my machines the result is as if there is a spirit in the machine. 

Aaron Kramer is an American artist who relocated to London 2 1/2 years ago with his wife and family. After a 25 year career in Santa Monica, California creating one of a kind art objects primarily from reclaimed materials for a wide range of clients, he has brought his unique vision to the UK for 3 years. See more of his work at

Olive You by Aaron Kramer Olive You by Aaron Kramer
…more info

£240 (excl. VAT)

Add to Cart

Cranky Heart by Aaron Kramer Cranky Heart by Aaron Kramer
…more info

£350 (excl. VAT)

Add to Cart

Working with Brass, Part 3 – Soldering Brass – Dug’s Tips 15

January 21, 2015 by  

Various tools and materials for soldering brass rod, tubing, bar, and sheetsIn previous installments of this column, we looked at some methods for cutting brass and techniques for bending brass for your automaton projects. At some point, you will want to join some of these pieces without the use of screws, bolts, or other hardware. In this, the final installment of our series on working with brass, we will look at some tools and techniques to solder brass parts together.

Soldering Tools and Materials
Here are the tools and materials that I used for this article:

    Tix brand solder
    Tix brand flux
    Butane soldering torch
    Fire bricks
    Third-hand tool
    Metal file
    Brass pieces
    Abrasive pad
    Alcohol swab

Types of Solder and Flux
There are many types of solder and I encourage you to experiment with all of them. For now, we are going to use a soft solder that goes by the brand name of Tix. It is a product used by many hobbyists and clock repairers. Tix is a soft solder with a low melting point. This is important because high temperatures can cause the brass to discolor or become soft via process called annealing.

Principles for Successful Soldering
There are some general principles that apply to almost every type of soldering. Follow these rules and your chances of success are greatly improved.

    The parts should fit together well
    Solder acts a bit like glue. Alone, it’s not terribly strong, but it is capable of holding two pieces together quite well. Do do this, the two pieces to be joined should share as much surface area as possible. Don’t expect the solder to be strong if it is filling big gaps between the parts.

    The parts must be clean
    The strength of the solder bond will depend on the mating surfaces being very clean.

    The parts should be held in place during the soldering operation
    During the process of soldering, the parts should be held still and firmly.

    The parts should be heated, not the solder itself
    This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of soldering. You don’t melt the solder itself. You heat both of the parts to be joined until they reach the melting point of the solder. Then, the solder flows toward the heated area and into seams via capillary action.

    Soldering is Largely about Preparation
    When soldering any given joint, about 98% of your time will be spent getting ready to solder, so don’t rush or neglect any aspect of the task.

Soldering Brass Step-By-Step

A soldering area created with two fire bricksStep 0: Prepare Your Workspace
A safe work area is essential. Remove any flammable materials from the area. Work in a well ventilated area, or use a small fan to blow soldering fumes away. I use fire brick to create a safe surface for soldering. I often use two bricks, standing one up behind another one sitting flat. This creates a barrier for the flame and can serve as a reflector off of which to bounce the heat from a torch.

The pieces to be joined must fit together well before they are solderedStep 1: Form the Pieces to be Joined
Shape your pieces to fit together. This will require time spent with cutting tools and files, making sure that the parts fit together very well. When held up to a light source, you shouldn’t be able to see gaps between your pieces. A mechanical connection used in conjunction with soldering is always a good idea where strength is required. Can the parts be notched to fit into one another? Consider various ways to add a mechanical connection to your joint.

The brass parts are scoured with an abrasive pad, then cleaned with an alcohol swabStep 2: Clean the Surfaces
Use a file, sandpaper, emery cloth, Scotch-brite pads, or steel wool to clean the surfaces to be soldered. A fiberglass scratch brush is good for cleaning hard-to-reach areas. Note that some brass is coated with a clear lacquer to keep it bright. This must be removed if the solder is to adhere. Once the parts have been scoured, they should then be cleaned with alcohol to remove any fine particles or oils. When you are done with it, remove the alcohol from your work area and allow the pieces to dry completely.

Brass parts to be soldered are  held in a “Helping Hand” or “Third Hand” toolStep 3: Position Your Parts
Use clamps or wire to hold things together. Tall T-pins can be pushed into the soft type of fire brick to hold the parts in position. Heavy metallic objects can also be used to hold parts down and together. Bear in mind, that these objects will get very hot. If placed too close to the joint, they may absorb the heat you are trying to apply to the joint.

A thin piece of wire is used to apply flux to the seam to be solderedStep 4: Apply the Flux
Tix solder has a companion flux, which is a clear liquid. Tix flux comes in a bottle with a brush. The brush tends to dispense far too much flux and in the wrong places. Solder will have a strong tendency to flow anywhere the flux has been applied. If you want a tidy solder joint, use a thin wire to apply small amounts of flux exactly where you want it. When a small droplet is applied to a joint, capillary action should pull the liquid between the two pieces. Sometimes it’s easier to apply flux before positioning your pieces together. Tix also makes an anti-flux, which can be painted anywhere you really don’t want solder to go.
Flattening soft solder with a hammer makes it last longer and easier to useStep 5: Prepare and Apply the Solder
Whenever possible, I like to place pieces of solder on the parts. The amount and position of solder is easy to control, and nothing is touched during the operation. Round solder wire is often too thick and prone to roll off your parts. For this reason, I use a hammer to pound the solder wire flat. You’ll be surprised how much solder you save by using these thin strips. Cut a small piece from the flattened portion and use tweezers to place the solder directly onto the seam you intend to bond. Finally, drop a bit of flux on the solder. Don’t get the flux onto any of your good tools! It’s corrosive.
Heat is applied to back side of the piece, so that solder will be drawn through the seam Step 6: Apply Heat
Solder will flow toward the heat created with the torch. Use this to your advantage. If possible, heat the pieces from the side opposite to where you have placed the solder. This way solder is drawn into the seam between the two parts.

Start your torch and turn the flame down to a low setting. Begin to heat the pieces.

Heating both parts to reach the same temperature at the same time can be tricky, especially if one has more mass than the other. The time spent with the torch directed at each piece should be proportional to the mass of each piece. If you are soldering a thick solid piece to a piece of thin sheet or tubing, the solid piece will need more heat. Keep the flame moving, spending more time on the larger piece, moving briefly to the smaller one, and back again.

The moment the parts reach the critical temperature, the solder will “flow” in an instant, spreading into the seam and any adjacent areas where there may be flux. The flowing solder will appear to collapse into the joint and shimmer. Immediately withdraw the flame. Additional heat won’t help much at this point.

Though the solder only appears as a thin, even line, it is quite strongStep 7: Allow to Cool, Rinse, and Clean
Allowing the solder a few minutes to cool might not seem like a step. I regard it as one because, too many times, I’ve moved the pieces before the solder has set. Once it has cooled, rinse the part well under running water to remove any residual flux. Dry your part and clean off any excess solder. If you were careful, there shouldn’t be much. I keep a few old files around specifically for this purpose. You don’t want to ruin your good files by clogging them up with solder.

As with so many subjects covered in this column, we’ve only scratched the surface. Preparation and practice are the keys to soldering well, so…prepare to practice!

Dug’s Automata Tips, Techniques and Tricks
A quarterly column by automaton-maker and enthusiast Dug North
Copyright 2015 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
Simple Soldering: A Beginner’s Guide to Jewelry Making
Amazon UKAmazon US

Soldering and Brazing (Workshop Practice Series)
Amazon UKAmazon US

Brass Rod
Amazon UKAmazon US

Brass Tubing
Amazon UKAmazon US

Brass Sheet
Amazon UKAmazon US

Soldering Torch
Amazon UKAmazon US

Tix Solder
Amazon US

Tix Flux
Amazon US

Tix Anti-Flux
Amazon US

Fire Bricks
Amazon US

Helping Hands Soldering Aid
Amazon UkAmazon US

Swiss Pattern Needle Files
Amazon UKAmazon US

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

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