walking man automata


One of the most popular pieces from the small machines series was the walking man from November 6. I received videos and pictures of other people making their own versions and recently a school in Barcelona used the idea for their classes, this really made me happy because it’s really rewarding to inspire others to make something. My intention with first designs was to use common materials and methods to keep them accessible, but I can’t deny my love and appreciation for digital fabrication so I decided to design a version for the laser cutter.

I’m still using wood and paper but decided to skip the use of wire. In this case the simple crank works well made out of wood. I’m using 3 mm birch plywood and some 90 lb paper but the paper thickness doesn’t affect the design very much so use whatever you have at hand. The paper is glued with regular white glue and you might have to glue the wood depending on the kerf of your laser cutter. Download the files from this github repository.

And check out this embedded video for the assembly. I would love to see your builds so please tag me on social media or send me an email.

A new high contrast baby mobile

A previous post described my process for making a plywood mobile. I’ve since added a new tool and some materials to my process so I thought it would be relevant to document this latest build.

This mobile was commissioned by a close friend (disclaimer, I struggle a lot with commissions so I don’t take them easily). I started by drawing several sketches by hand and then putting them into a digital document as a mockup. I made several but I’ll show you only the one my friend chose:

mobile mockup

The fish are a salmon and a flounder since I wanted to have some species from California. I’m particularly proud of the salmon drawing. At this point I converted the images to vector drawings and started cutting them on the laser cutter. I used 1/8″ birch plywood. Every piece was cut in two parts that were mirror opposites. The plywood had masking tape which allowed me to precisely cut the mask for the shapes I had drawn.

In order to glue the pieces, I made registration holes that fit a paper clip. Conveniently I could later use the registration holes for hanging the pieces. The holes were 0.03″ in diameter and 0.03″ apart.

I pre-treated one side of the plywood with spray-on shellac and a light sanding before applying the masking tape. I found that a light coat of shellac allows me to remove the masking tape without raising the grain and it’s a good surface for painting.

two salmon pieces coming out of the laser cutter
Flounder ready to be glued with the paper clips aligning the two pieces.
Never too many clamps when gluing. I used plain wood glue for this part.

The fun thing about scoring the masking tape is that I don’t have to re-trace the drawings and I get to paint one of the colors with a blunt tool. For the black, I did two coats of Montana water-based acrylic paint, and for white two or three coats of Golden high flow acrylic. I like high flow acrylic because it can be applied with a brush or a quill for finer detail.

acrylic paint
acrylic paint
Weeding out the mask to uncover the black sections.
Ready to paint
It’s nice to wear gloves for this step.
Peeling the mask for the white sections.
There was a little bit of bleed.

The bleed wasn’t too much of a problem on this project because I had a two-color palette but, incidentally I just saw this video where they suggest applying a clear coat before painting to clog the edges of the mask. I have to try that next time. On the last picture, I’m applying paint with a small brush and a quill for small areas.

Ready to hang!

I didn’t do all the pieces at once because I wasn’t sure the proportions were right on the mockup. I worked from the bottom up and at some point, I even re-cut the pieces that go on the flounder. The process could be more efficient but at the end, I was happy with the results.

For the lines, I like using bead stringing wire. It’s flexible, strong, and it looks really clean. The one downside is that you need to purchase crimp tubes and a crimping tool. I think you could skip the crimping tool and use regular pliers if you are in a pinch. The crimping tool just gives you a slightly cleaner and more consistent look.

In order to make the pieces face down for the baby to see, I used this triangular arrangement:

Perhaps the most challenging part of this project was taking pictures of the finished product. It’s really hard to convey the experience in still images. Here are my attempts, thanks for reading!



Laser cut posable arm lamp

I started using an inexpensive video LED light for taking pictures and then I realized it doubled quite nicely as a desktop lamp. Adam Savage suggested something similar as a custom workbench lamp.

My first attempt to make some arms was too simple and flimsy so I decided to replicate the classic design of the posable lamp base with materials I had at hand. I got some inspiration from a design by Matthew Phillips I found on Instructables (he also provides cut files if you wanna go that way). He used rubber bands instead of springs which I thought was pretty clever.

I drew mine from scratch because I wanted a specific size and I had a bunch of #8-32 screws to assemble it. I also made a base that fit the needs of my current desk but I can see how this can be improved with some sort of clamp system.

The base is made out of 3/4″ plywood and its wedged in between the wall and the desk.

Accidental Pixar
Rubber band for tension and wing-nuts to secure it when needed.

Feel free to use this SVG file for your own needs and inspiration with some notes and disclaimers:

  • I used¬†#8-32¬†machine screws but I made the holes with a really tight fit to provide some extra friction.
  • Where there are slots they were sized to the plywood I used and the kerf of my machine, so you might want to adjust that to your needs. My plywood was 0.125″ thick.
  • The holes for the rubber bands are sized to the bamboo skewers I had at hand, so as with everything else your mileage may vary.

It’s a simple design so I’m sure you can adapt it to your needs quite easily.

There is a very similar version of this post on the glowforge forums in case you want to glean some extra wisdom from the community.