Make Your Own Cardboard Automata


By The Tinkering Studio

Building automata is one of our favorite activities at the Tinkering Studio. It is a great way to explore how cams and levers work as well as how to incorporate movement into your art.  Automaton tells a story through its motion.   Simple automata are easy to make. We like to use cardboard boxes as a frame, but you can also use other materials such as wood or plastic cups. There are many types of automata. Look on the web for many inspirational works by automata artists who create these amazing moving machines.   Tools and materials you’ll need:   Cardboard Bamboo skewers Drinking straws Pony beads (or nuts, bottle caps, etc) Craft materials for decoration Scissors Hot glue gun and glue sticks     Step One: Find a small box or make a frame Find a box for the frame. Add cardboard triangles on each corner for support.   Step Two: Make the cam and the cam follower Cut out two circles. The diameter of the circles should be slightly smaller than the depth of the box.     Step Three: Add the cam to the frame Put the cam on the bamboo skewer. Poke holes in the side panels slightly below the midpoint and add the cam assembly to the frame. We like to add a bead on each side of the cam to increase the bonding surface area.   Step Four: Add the cam follower support Poke a hole in the top of the frame and insert a drinking straw. The top of the straw should stick out about 3/4-1" from the top of the frame and the bottom of the straw should be about  3/4 - 1" from the cam follower when the cam follower moves to its highest point. Adjust the length of the drinking straw as needed and glue it in place.     Step Five: Add the cam follower Put the skewer through the straw and glue it to the cam follower.   Step Six: Check the movement and make adjustments Adjust the position of the cam and hot glue it in place, then add a bead at each end of the skewer so the cam stays in place. Also add a handle to make your automata work.   Step Seven: Add moving elements and decorate! Use carboard to make an imaginative decoration to dance at the end of your bamboo skewer. You can also use markers, tissue paper or anything you can imagine to decorate the box of your automata. Use your imagination to make your automata all you want it to be!


Congratulations! You've made your first automata. What will you create next?    Here is a video with our own Jackie Valentine to help you see how it's done too.