Walking Wooden Poodle Automata / Karakuri Machine

jchismar Poodle Dog Automata Karakuri

Yesterday was my super-sweet standard poodle Fleur’s thirteenth birthday. To commemorate the occasion I dug in and built an automata in her likeness. Loosely defined, an automata (or Japanese karakuri) is mechanism that imitates the movement of a living creature. This project has been on my to-do list for several years and I thought it was about time I gave it a go.

The mechanism is based on a popular design that’s been around for a while. In the early 2000’s Theo Jansen, either refined or invented the linkage for his very popular wind-powered walking machines. Each part of of Jansen’s mechanism is carefully specified, elegant and mind-boggling in it’s function. Me? Well, I just sort of guesstimated the dimensions and ran with it.

jchismar Poodle Dog Automata Karakuri

I first made templates out of cardboard of each part. Each template was transferred to 1/8″ plywood and cut out using a scroll saw. The holes for the pivots were made with the drill press. I then used 1/8″ wooden dowels to assemble the mechanism.

Assembly was tricky at times because I didn’t have an assembly schematic. I just went with the flow. I made sure the dowels were plenty long to allow me to put the puzzle together on the fly. Once everything was in place the excess was trimmed from each dowel.

All in all I’m pretty impressed with the complete mechanism. This was the first, but certainly not the last machine of this style I build. I already have tweaks I’d like to try to give this girl a little more life. Watch the machine in action in the video below.

How to Design and Make Automata or Whirligig Gears Using the Power of Geometry

“…Chemistry is not an exact science” ~Mario Andrada

jchismar How To Make Wood Gears

In this post I will do my very best to simplify the process of designing and making gears from wood and other materials. The process to build a simple Spur Gear and Pinwheel Gear will be explained.

Thanks to my background in 3d animation I have a rudimentary understanding of geometry and mathematics. I would love to be a math magician but like many people I get lost with anything beyond algebra. Thank goodness for the internet and calculators!

jchismar N-Gon Automata GearAs my math magician friend Charlie reminded me, “To get the teeth to mesh, the spacing BETWEEN the teeth need to be the SAME on all gears.” With this in mind, using the n-gon is ideal to design a gear, the spacing between each vertex is uniform. Simply stated, an n-gon is a polygon with “n” amount of edges. The image to the left is of an eight sided n-gon. The n-gon has two radius measurements: circumcircle (rc)and incircle (ri). If you need a refresher, the radius is the distance from the center to the outer edge of the n-gon, the diameter is the complete distance from side to side (through the center). Vertices are the angular points where each edge meets (the white “edge” arrows point to vertices).

When designing gears we will focus mostly on the circumcircle radius (rc), the vertices are positioned along this radius.  The vertices will become the teeth of our gears.  If the desire is to use a gear to turn another gear uniformly each gear will be identical resulting with a 1:1 ratio. To use a drive gear to rotate a second gear at half speed the second gear needs twice as many teeth as the drive gear, a 2:1 ratio.

Below I have included a calculator to do all the hard stuff for us.

Say you want to make a pair of gears with a 2:1 ratio, the drive gear turning twice for each turn of the second. You also want the drive gear to have a 1″ radius (2″ diameter). You also want the teeth to be separated by 0.5″. This is easily accomplished with the use of the above calculator. The calculator’s default settings are Edge Length (a): 0.5 and Number of Vertices (n): 8 resulting with radius (rc)  of 0.6535. This radius is just over half of what we desire. We can’t change the Edge Length because in this example we want the tooth spacing to be .5″. Instead, increase the Number of vertices to 12. Now radius (rc) is 0.9664 just under the 1″ radius we were looking for. Perfect!

The 2:1 ratio requires the second gear to have twice as many teeth. This doesn’t mean twice the teeth makes the gear twice as large. Let’s see. In the calculator change the Number of Vertices to 16, doubling the amount of the drive gear. Radius (rc) is 1.9162.

This is important! When I started designing gears I was under the impression that to double the ratio, the radius simply needed to be doubled. This is NOT the case (thanks Charlie)! Let’s examine our calculated radius values:

  • 12 vertices Drive Gear (rc): 0.9664
  • 24 vertices Second Gear (rc): 1.9162

That’s double, right? No. It’s not double. By doubling the drive gear radius (rc), 2 x 0.9664 the product is 1.9328, a difference of 0.0166. Doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but a .0166 error can, in fact, impede the smooth operation of the gears. To emphasize this point let’s examine a more extreme 10:1 ratio example.

  • 12 vertices Drive Gear (rc): 0.9664
  • 120 vertices Second Gear (rc): 9.5552

Multiplying the 12 vertices Drive Gear (rc): 0.9664 by 10 (0.9664 x 10) results with a product of  9.664. That’s 0.1088, or a tenth of an inch, larger than calculated (rc) value.

Making Spur Gears

Right about now you’re probably thinking, “Hey John. I thought you were going to show me how to make gears, not bore me to death with math.” Well, you’re in for a treat, let make some gears! We’ll start by making a pair of spur gears: one 1:1 and another 1:2. A spur gear is a gearwheel with teeth projecting parallel to the wheel’s axis, this is the sort of gear everyone is familiar with. For this example we’ll be making wood gears. You’ll need paper, wood, glue, drill (or drill press), saw, an accurate caliper gauge and a quality pencil compass.  If you don’t own these instruments you can find them at any hardware store – or you can be like me and score vintage beauties at flea markets and estate sales. Cheap tools may work, Harbor Freight – cough, cough, but I often find cheap tools more frustrating than productive.

jchismar How to Make Wooden Gears 01
Step 1

Step 1: Layout the Gear

Laying out the gear is the most important task of making your own gears. I own a few sets of old drafting tools I picked up estate sales for a few dollars. The compasses in these sets are fantastic quality and several of them have an adjustment lock. I use several compasses, and once their settings are perfect, I don’t change a thing until every gear is marked on on wood.

First, calibrate the compasses by drawing on paper. To layout the drive gear use a pencil to draw a small dot on paper, this is the center of the first gear. Set your caliper gauge set (rc): 0.9664 (or as close to this value as the gauge allows) match the pencil compass to this value. Place the compass needle on the pencil center mark and draw the circle. Reference your caliper gauge from the center of the circle to ensure the drawn circle is correct.

Set the caliper gauge to the Edge Length (a): 0.5 and adjust a second pencil compass (preferably locking) to match. Using the circle as reference, draw ticks across the circle (rc) at .5 intervals. When you’ve gone all the way around the circumference your last tick should match the first tick exactly. Refer to the Step 1 image to see my terrible first result (red circle). If it’s not perfect, something went amiss in your settings. You’ll need to start again. This requires patience and practice. The width of the pencil line complicates creating accurate marks. You’ll need to get a feel for the process.

Once you’re comfortable laying out the gear, layout the pattern for each gear on the wood you’re using. This also may require a few tries. Working on this example required about two hours to layout eleven gears from start to finish.

jchismar How To Make Wood Gears 02
Steps 2 & 3

Step 2: Cut Out the Gear

Now you’ll need to cut the round gear from the block of wood. Generally I use the band saw or jigsaw for the task. You can use whatever works best for you: hand jigsaw, Dremel, router, etc. Cut to the outside of the radius (rc) line you created with the compass. Try not to remove the line! Once the gear is roughed out, use a disc sander to shape the circle precisely to the line (bottom left Steps 2 &3 image).

Step 3: Drill a Hole

I generally use 1/8″ wire to mount the gear to the project. The wire serves as the shaft for the gear to rotate about. I use an 1/8″ drill bit in my drill press for the task. Drill an appropriate sized hole centered on the depression you make with an awl. This is the middle of the gear.

After the gear is complete I use a small round file to enlarge the hole to make it rotate more easily on the wire shaft. But that’s the last step!

jchismar How To Make Wooden Gears
Step 4:

Step 4: Add the Teeth

This is where personal preference, practice and experience comes into play. For this example I will be using poplar that I’ve planed to .125″ thickness. The strip of .125″ poplar is ripped on the table saw to .75″ width. Individual teeth are crosscut from the strip to a .75″ length. Each tooth is .125″ x .75″ x .75″.

I’ve constructed a miter bar jig for the table saw to hold the gear while cutting a dado for each tooth around the the gear. The dado I cut is .25″ deep and .125″ wide.  With the table saw jig I am able to center the vertex ticks drawn in Step 1 spaced at .5″ around the gear. I center the tick to the blade, cut the dado. The gear is rotated to center the next tick and the next dado is cut. This process continues until each required dado is cut.

I squirt out a puddle of wood glue on a scrap. I dip the point of a wood skewer (the grocery store kind) into the glue and spread glue into a gear dado. Then, using the skewer, add a little glue to the end of a tooth square. It is important to insert the tooth square into the dado so the wood grain is perpendicular to the dado. If the tooth is attached with the grain parallel to the dado you run the risk of the tooth breaking with the grain.

Continue this process until you’ve completed the gear.

Step 5: You’ve Made a Spur Gear!

Congratulations on making your first gear! Repeat these steps for the second gear (keeping in mind the second gear is larger: 24 vertices Second Gear (rc): 1.9162).

Making Pinwheel Gears

Let’s say your project requires the drive shaft to power another element or shaft at a ninety degree angle. Enter the Pinwheel Gear. You’ll need wood, drill (or drill press), saw, an accurate caliper gauge and a quality pencil compass.

jchismar How To Make a Wood Pinwheel Gear
Step 1: Layout the Pinwheel Gear

Step 1: Layout the Gear

The layout for differential gears is the same as spur gears above. Use an awl to mark center. Then draw the circle with radius (rc) using a compass. Use the compass again to draw evenly spaced vertex ticks around the circle. Because we’ll be using nails as the teeth on these gears we’ll need to draw another larger circle outside radius (rc). In this case radius (rc) is 0.9664, I generally add an eighth of an inch (0.125) resulting with a radius of 1.0914.

Step 2: Cut Out the Gear

Cut the gear to the outside of the largest circle. Then sand precisely to the line.

Step 3: Drill a Hole

This is exactly at Step 3 for the spur gears. I drill a 0.125″ hole centered on the awl mark.

jchismar How To Make Wood Pinwheel Gear
Step 4

Step 4: Add the Teeth

I use the drill press to create an appropriately sized pilot hole at each vertex cross tick. The pilot hole should not be completely through the gear, only as deep as the nail will be driven into the wood. Here, I’m using three penny nails. Start the nail in partway then place a scrap of wood against the nail as a depth gauge. Then hammer the nail until you’re hammering the wood scrap. Continue adding nails in this fashion until your pinwheel gear is complete.

Step 5: You’ve Made a Pinwheel Gear!

You’re an expert gear maker now. Let your imagination run wild! I’d love to see the mechanical creations you’ve built.

A Note About Gears

I started the post with a quote that originated from the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, “…Chemistry is not an exact science…” This was an Olympics official’s response to questions pertaining to why the pool smelled rotten and the water was green. I’m here to say Chemistry is and exact science. What does this have to do with making gears? Well, making gears is an exact science also. This post, however, is the groundwork to understand how to construct gears, not exact science.

Earlier I posted about building a Pegasus whirligig kit. Assembling the kit was a fun distraction, but I honestly didn’t learn much from the task. I’m a tinkerer. I enjoy spending time considering how to make things, and how things work. I find little satisfaction in following a detailed design – robots do that. I like to build the plane while it’s in the air, as they say. It’s fun to start something, and troubleshoot and modify along the way. This is how I gain a full understanding of the project. I often build many test projects before I tackle the actual build.

Creating mechanical machines is challenging. There is a lot of trial and error involved for the novice (myself included). There is more to designing precision gears than I’ve mentioned in the post. I’ll be honest, I don’t understand most of the technical mumbo jumbo, big words like dedendum, addendum, clearance and working depth versus whole depth. If things don’t work – that’s normal. It’s an entertaining learning experience. I personally find as much enjoyment in the flops as in the successes. When the project is complete, the challenge is over – and that can be a bummer.

Making gears using this method will require trial and error. The space between the gear positions will be an issue. The heads of the nails and the lack of a taper on the ends of the spur gear will likely cause these gears to jam. Consider using a metal cutting wheel to cut the heads off the nails – and taper the metal end. Also consider sanding a taper on each tooth before assembling the spur gear.

For those makers that want a detailed, guaranteed plan you can visit http://geargenerator.com/ to design and print precise gears. This post will get you started making functioning gears. Please take what you learned here, build on it and make it your own. There’s more than one way to make a gear.

I am planning a follow up post regarding making wooden gears. There will be more information and project ideas to be found in the follow up post. In the meantime, be creative and have fun.

Mize Mini-Mize Whirligig Automata Pegasus

Mize ME07J Mechanic Series jchismar

As you probably figured by now, I can’t sit still. Yes, I have a zillion started projects in my workshop and plans for more in my mind and hard drive. I may get around to finishing some of these projects but I have such little time! I’m not a humongous fan of 3d printing and laser/cnc cut stuff, but every once in a while I scratch the creative itch and dabble with this sort of thing.

I decided to purchase a mini automata whirligig kit manufactured by Mize, based in South Korea, online for $21.00 including shipping. There wasn’t a whole lot of information about this item in the description, but judging from the single image of the item it looked like it was going to be small. The package arrived from South Korea and I thought it was a thick holiday card, roughly 6″ x 9″ x .75″.

Mize Mini-Mize Pegasus Instructions

I opened the package and looked at the instructions. Yup, as assumed all the instructions are in Korean. Not a problem though because the images tend to explain everything clearly (enough). Curious, however, I photographed the instructions and uploaded them to i2ocr to translate. I don’t think it translated too well. Here’s a few selections from the translation:

  • The city is divided into cities
  • Excessive stress on the stomach can damage it
  • You have to do the complexion
  • I want to be a transit agent, too.
  • Sennepusa Seeking Confession | Do not be sick
  • The lungs are soaring
  • Even if I left you, I would like you to be my best friend

For real. I can’t make this stuff up.

jchismar mize pegasus translated

Lucky for me I work with Heeman, a talented Korean designer. Heeman was kind enough to translate the pertinent information in the image above. Thanks!

jchismar Mini Mize Pegasus

jchismar wood automata gears
A few gears from the project

Above are the three panels of parts that create the project.  Along with the instructions this is everything in the package. Excited, I retrieved my Loctite Go2 Glue, a toothpick and a paper towel. I reviewed the assembly instructions for the first few parts. I carefully removed the necessary parts from the panels by first scoring each sprue (the little piece of material holding the part in pace on the panel) with an Exacto, then carefully nudging the part free.  After test fitting the parts together I squeezed a small puddle of glue on a scrap of paper, applied a small amount of glue to the joints with a toothpick and reassembled.

The image at the top of the post displays the assembled crank box and completed project. This was an enjoyable and easy project to build. It’s important to be patient and clamp the pieces together (when possible) as you wait for the glue to cure between steps. I’ll admit, when I was attaching the pegasus to the gearbox, pretty much the last step, I carelessly broke the propeller off the gearbox. Luckily a dab of super glue came to the rescue and worked flawlessly.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say the pegasus whirligig is not suitable for prolonged outdoor use. The material is MDF or something similar. I am surprised at how smoothly the mechanics operate because the drive shafts are simply square cut MDF material positioned in round holes. Birthday cake candles are provided in the kit. These are used to lubricate the moving parts. The lubrication the candles provide also works much better than I anticipated. The video clip below is of the complete kit operating outside in relatively gentle gusts of wind. Most likely I will be purchasing more of these Mize kits in the near future.

Magic Designer : Gear Driven Mechanical Art Machine


jchismar Magic Designer Mechanical Art Toy

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.

jchismar Magic Designer

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.

jchismar Magic Designer Gear CuttingI 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.

jchismar Magic Designer Gear Mechanism 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.

jchismar Magic Designer Art Machine

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.

Wooden Pendulum Drawing Machine

jchismar Wooden Drawing Machine

I’ve received confirmation on my application for the 2017 Greater Newark, NJ Maker Faire Saturday May 6, 2017. This year my exhibit is titled Art Through Motion and I’ll be building various mechanisms to create Spirograph like drawings. The Wooden Pendulum Drawing Machine is the first prototype I’ve created.

This simple mechanism suspends a canvas from wires over a stationary Sharpie marker. The artist urges the canvas into a swinging motion then drops the marker into position. When the swinging of the canvas ceases the artist removes the marker and decides if more drawing is required. If so, the artist starts the process over again and may choose a different color marker.

The drawing above was created on this mechanism. I’ve titled it “Galaxies” and it’s available for $2000.00, only kidding, it’s not for sale. It’s priceless. I couldn’t make another one just like it if I tried.

But seriously, stay tuned for more news about my projects for the Greater Newark Maker Faire. I have many more cool drawing machines in the works.

MINI-14s Compact Organ Kit – Hurdy Gurdy

The video above was filmed before I tuned the unit, the video at the bottom of the post was filmed after some adjusting…

I have always been fascinated by mechanical toys and music boxes. As a woodworking enthusiast I’m interested in building wooden mechanical wonders. I haven’t been able to find plans for vintage machines and often it’s hard to thoroughly examine the mechanisms of items in museums. While poking around the internet I stumbled across Yankee Doodle street organs and kits designed by Anatoly ZAYA-RUZO and was filled with joy. After patiently saving $385 I made the purchase.

When ordering I was given the option to pay an additional $70 for pre-assembly of tracker bar and pipe housing. I will tell you now, if you’re impatient or inexperienced and you intend to purchase this kit, pay the $70 and save yourself some aggravation. The kit consists of laser cut plywood. Assembly requires placing sections of dowel through tiny holes in the parts to align them.  The tracker bar has six of these layers, the pipe housing has ten layers. This in itself is a daunting task, but the dowels don’t really aid in keeping things aligned and square.

Anatoly ZAYA-RUZO tracker bar pipe housing

To worsen the matter, although the parts are computer designed and cut, the internal air channels don’t line up correctly even if the dowels are perfect. So beware! The tracker bar is what reads the notes from the paper reels and directs air to the pipe housing where the sound is created. These parts must be aligned perfectly and airtight or the music will not play as intended.

Yankee Doodle MINI-14s Kit Hurdy GurdyThe kit included a well designed book which includes interesting history about barrel organs and instructions to assemble the kit. However there is a sheet of paper inserted under the front cover notifying the reader the instructions are for an obsolete version of the kit. Don’t despair, there is an included DVD with a .doc file with written instructions and .mp4 video. The .doc of the instructions begins with an important warning. “This project is not so easy!” and cautions the reader to “understand why the part you are making exists… Spend enough time reading Book, Notes, and watching the movies until you fully understand how the organ works…”

Truer words were never said. The video clips start out great, the host speaks and describes what’s happening. By clip #6 of 35 the host stops speaking completely as the assembly continues often pointing at things and pantomiming as though we know what’s happening. By clip #15 the assembly is not visible in the locked down camera shot, allowing only brief glimpses of assembly.  The clips were not all recorded at the same time or even using the same version of the kit so things are suddenly different. Particularity the bellows, the design of the parts are not from the same model in some of the clips. Another thing to mention is most of the measurements use the metric system. Prepare to convert milometers to inches.

The included printed pattern for the bellows material is not correct, Clip #18 begins with a demonstration on how to enlarge it. Be aware of this before tracing and cutting the bellows material. I believe the pattern for the receiver material does not need to be enlarged but that’s not mentioned in the video or instructions.

Yankee Doodle Street Organ Mini-14sThere are several instances where  very similar, slightly different parts are required and no information in the clips or instructions are provided. Some sleuthing is required to determine which part is used for what. When attaching the tracker bar to the cabinet the pre-drilled holes do not align correctly. This is even apparent in the assembly video because his screws were not completely inserted and crooked – exactly like mine.

Unfortunately several parts that were missing from my kit including four mushroom threaded inserts for cabinet assembly, four threaded inserts for the bellows and I only received nine feet of vinyl tubing – where ten feet is required. This was actually a good thing because the included vinyl tubing was of the incorrect outside diameter. I purchased the correct tubing at the hardware store.

The tuning pins for the pipes consist of pre-cut lengths of dowels and bits of leather which serve as gaskets (as in the video above). The book for the original kit show more elegantly designed pins with rubber gaskets. I’m assuming the original tuning pins were too expensive to manufacture. I quickly changed out the included tuning pins with my own (video below).

All things considered Anatoly ZAYA-RUZO did an outstanding job designing this kit.  He is very friendly and promptly responded to each email I sent him. I would not have been able to make a street organ without this kit. I learned many interesting things and woodworking techniques in the process. The intention of this blog post is not to diminish the quality of this product, it’s a fascinating machine. The design of the unit provides easy disassembly for repair, adjustment and maintenance.

My intent is to reinforce this project requires a great deal of patience, tinkering and woodworking ability to do the job correctly. This is not something to be rushed. Mine was built over the course of five weekends. As with many old fashioned mechanisms, I believe this machine requires gentle care and ongoing maintenance for optimal performance.

I’ll also mention the friendly folks at Pipes of Pan make fantastic paper rolls for this street organ. I’ve had great experience with them.