Saturday, May 6 2017 and the Greater Newark Mini Maker Faire will be here in the blink of an eye. My exhibit Art Through Motion, is coming along slow but sure. The Magic Designer is the first apparatus I’ve nearly completed for the exhibit. It is based on the Magic Designer toy which came on the scene in the 1950’s. It is a relative simple, yet complicated mechanism which creates Spirograph-like designs.
When I decided to make this machine I turned to Ebay to purchase one of these toys. There are several different varieties, likely made by different manufacturers. I opted to buy the cheapest one available. Probably not the best idea. The majority of these toys were made of metal. I was surprised when mine arrived and was made of mostly plastic.
The image above is of the Magic Designer I purchased. The design on the paper arrived with the item. I give props to the person that drew it. I couldn’t get the darn thing to work much at all. However I was able to extract the required information to build my own. The mechanism is simple. The gear the artwork is attached to with little metal clips revolves six times for every one rotation of the three other gears. That’s basically all I needed to understand to get started.
I only made one major change to the original design. I changed the gear ratio on the drive gear with the handle so it revolves three times for every one turn of the canvas gear. The ratio of the upper and lower disc crank remain the same, rotating six times for every one rotation of the canvas gear.
I created a template for the gears using GearGenerator.com. Three gear templates were needed using 1:1, 2:1, 6:1 ratios. I laser printed the templates on label sticker paper with the stickers removed. The smooth surface of the paper makes it relatively easy to transfer the ink to plywood using a clothes iron. That is, once you have the knack for the process. Practice, patience and pressure are required.
With the templates transferred to 1/2″ plywood I went to work on the scroll saw and cut out the gears. My workshop helper did her thing in the behind the scenes. The crank pins are 1/8″ brass rods cut to length. My original crank pinks were perpendicular and straight up from the gear. Later, I decided to change the crank pins with a bent offset to exaggerate the sweep of the drawing arms.
The base of the unit is created from 3/4″ plywood. I used a router to remove the material under the canvas gear to allow the upper crank disk to travel without interfering with the canvas gear. The drawing arms are made from maple wood. The pivot, which doubles as the Sharpie holder, is 1/2″ brass tubing. The tubing is almost a perfect fit for holding a Sharpie. To reduce the wobbling of the Sharpie in the tube I glued a little piece of foam rubber with crazy glue inside.
Wobbling. Ugh, it’s my enemy. Every little bit of wobble is exaggerated as the Sharpie draws each pattern. There is a little wobble in the fit of the gears, wobble at the contact of the drawing arms on the crank pins and the Sharpie wobbles in the holder. Some of this can be tightened up, but I’d rather have a smooth operating machine that’s easy to use because it’s for the Maker Faire and kids of all ages are encouraged to try all the machines I’ll bring.
And speaking of ease of use. I abandoned the idea of using metal clips to hold the paper on the canvas gear. Instead of using metal clips I embedded three rare earth magnets into the canvas gear. This allows metal washers (image at top) to hold the paper in place. No wobble there! I’ll hopefully add more colorful design flare to the device and most certainly tweak the mechanism until I run out of time.
Please come to the Greater Newark, NJ Mini Maker Faire on Saturday, May 6 to play with my art machines. There’s more on the way! And of course there will be many other talented makers at the event to inspire and keep you busy for a day of fun.