Automata Workshop

I am making another "A Private Conversation" for an exhibition by Cambridge Creative network at the William Gallery in Cambridge . It is open 23rd March till 1st April 2012.
The next few posts will follow the build.
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The frame is cut from high quality birch plywood, drilled to fit the axles and glued together for stability. I often make the frames with dovetails so that they can be taken apart but as this automaton has a fairly simple mechanism I have not down this this time. I started the frame first as i want to paint it and I need time for several coats.
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I have also cut and glued sections of beech that I have sawn on the circulator saw. These will form the home made plywood that I will use for the gears. I make the wood into ply to give it better stability. Wood can change shape with varying humidity levels and making a cross ply minimises this. I will make the cams out of solid wood as the dimensions of these are less critical. The wood is glued together with polyurethane glue which foams as it sets and forms an excellent stable bond.
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The heads will be made from lime wood which is an excellent material for carving. I have cut this from a large plank that I have. As the wood will be left unpainted I have taken care to avoid any streaks of discolouration in the grain. On the righthand side you can see a discoloured streak in the grain but this is in the part that will be cut away.
The profiles have been drawn on 2 sides of the wood. With some pieces i will do this on the computer and use the paper templates but here I have copied the profile from the piece in my collection.
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The eyes have been drilled out on my pillar drill while the block is still square. It is a much more difficult job if you wait until after the carving.
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The trick in the sawing is to follow the profile but not to remove any wood as this would destroy the profile that is drawn on the other face.
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You can see at the bottom of the nose and at the top of the head that a full cut has not been made so that the wood doesn't come away.
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I use a small bandsaw that has given me many years of service. It isn't perfect as it vibrates when making a deep cut but it is adequate for what I use it for.
These saws are still sold and spare parts are still available which has proven useful on a couple of occasions. I have had to replace the bottom blade wheel, replacing a plastic one for a metal one and also a pice of the top blade support broke off and needed replacing. Over 25 years that isn't too bad.
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I try to minimise cut. Here with the use of a vacuum cleaner as a suction device. A ready vac with nearly 30 years of service. Do they still make them as well?
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Here shown cutting the other profile. This time it is OK for the wood to fall away.
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The finished head blanks. Now the work really starts. To carve these into a head, especially around the nose is quite a challenge.
A better way of preparing the blanks is to use a copy carver from the original. Even with a copy carver there is still a lot of final carving to do but it does give a good starting point. If I make many more I will convert to this method as it makes consistent carving much easier.
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