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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)

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

£350 (excl. VAT)

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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

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

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