Moving Paper part 1

To get a better understanding of basic automata for a writing project in progress. I don’t really have the space or money for a wood or metal workshop, so, although there are some differences due to the materials, the basics of the mechanisms are same for all materials and so I decided to try my hand at some paper automata. I’ve read a couple of books about mechanisms for mechanical movement and I was lucky enough to find the websites for Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, Flying Pig, and Rob Ives. I joined the Rob Ives site, paid for a membership, and have since downloaded several projects to try out.

Yesterday, after some false starts with my printer that suddenly wouldn’t print, I finally got the first two projects printed and made up. (You can click on most of the photos to see larger versions–short sequences don’t link.)

Two Paper Automata

My first 2 paper automata

The one on the left was actually my second project, Agreeable Sheep. The one on the right was my first project, Simple Crank Slider. I’ll start with the Simple Crank Slider, since I built it first, but a word about tools and materials first….

In order to make them, I collected tools and appropriate card stock (as well as new ink cartridges for my ink jet printer and a few hours spent cleaning the stupid thing’s print head first.) These are the tools:


Tools for making paper automata

A straight edge ruler, a pair of sharp scissors, a craft knife (the red thing with the safety cap on), wooden tongue depressors (bought as “craft sticks”) and cut in half as needed to make glue spreaders, cheap bamboo chopsticks round at one end and square at the other (used for holding things in place, like glued surfaces), liquid glue (good old Elmer’s washable school glue), stick glue (in this case Elmers X-treme hold), a small cutting mat.

I also needed appropriate card stock. Rob’s site mentions “230 micron” cardstock or “light card” at 230 grams per square meter (gsm). But being an American, I had trouble finding the right stuff. After a lot of poking around online and experimenting, I finally settled on 65 lb Cover stock (175 gsm) for lightweight pieces and 110 lb Index Card stock (200 gsm) for heavier pieces. The heavier cardstock makes a sturdier finished piece, but it resists scoring and bending more than the lighter stock, so I’m not yet sure which I think it really better, but I have both, so I’ll find out more as I go.

And I needed a “scrap box” to put the cut-off bits into. Not only does it keep the place a lot neater, but I found I wanted the scraps for glue shields and experiments. Also, cutting off the pieces into the box keeps them from ending up in the dog–who loves to eat paper. I used the bottom of the box my tablet computer came in and it’s about perfect for catching paper and storing the tools all in one place. Here’s the box full of tools with an uncolored print out for the Agreeable Sheep on 65 lb cover stock:

Work box and printout

The workbox packed with tools and a project printout

Before I started, I spent some time reading up at and looking over his paper projects tutorial at YouTube to get an idea of what I was doing. But I still made a mess initially. I started with the Crank Slider project printed on 2 colors of Astrobright 65 lb cover stock.

The first thing I discovered is that liquid glue is terrible when you’re making double-thick parts that have to be glued together for stiffness. Even using the spreader and applying only a thin coat of glue, the 65 lb card was saturated, cold, and didn’t dry well, even after an hour under a book near the heater. The point of the brand-new craft knife dug in and stopped, then ripped and gouged the moist paper as I tried to cut circles out of the push rod ends. Circles aren’t easy to cut anyway, but this was such a nasty mess I threw the first rod end out, reprinted the whole page, and tried again with the stick glue instead. That worked great. If you look closely at my finished Simple Crank Slider, you’ll see one shaft end is blue and the other is the original green.

Crank Slider at 12 o'clock

Simple crank slider mechanism at 12 o’clock position

I don’t have a video of the crank slider in action, but it does actually work: when you turn the handle on the crank, the pushrod goes up and down with a slight back and forth movement that is restrained by the slider tube at the top of the box just like it ought to.
Crank slider at 3 o'clock position Crank slider at 5 o'clock positon Crank slider at 6 o'clock position Crank slider at 7 o'clock position Crank slider at 11 o'clock position You can also see I put the handle on slightly wrong and it drops below the bottom of the box at the 6 o’clock position and makes the model list to the side. Oh well… not bad for a first try, though.

Crank Slider Profile

Crank slider mechanism in profile from handle side


About Kat Richardson

Writer, editor, eccentric pain in the tail, bestselling author of the Greywalker novels.
This entry was posted in automata, paper craft, paper engineering, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Moving Paper part 1

  1. sharonstogner says:

    that is really cool. there is a neat website where you can get paper projects for free, nothing movable but so awesome!
    I must admit I am partial to the sheep

  2. sharonstogner says:

    oh, I am going to share the Sheep with my I Smell Sheep facebook group

  3. The Agreeable Sheep is even a free download, so they can try it themselves if they want. Down in the comments, you can see someone modified the Agreeable Sheep to be a Disagreeable Sheep who shakes his head “no,” instead of nodding “yes.”

  4. Colleen (MizBehavin1) says:

    Love these projects! As a paper crafter, your heavy cardstock scoring problem can be easily resolved by purchasing a bone folder at a local scrapbook, art, or crafts store. Go for the standard size versus a smaller one and that should do the trick!

  5. mhmoore says:

    stupid question??? I know you live on a boat, what are you gonna do with finished projects?

  6. Right now they are sitting on a shelf in the main cabin. Eventually I’ll probably throw them away since they will rot or get crushed otherwise.

  7. Tez Miller says:

    *squee* I love Agreeable Sheep and his Aardman-animation-style eyes 🙂

  8. Ives’s work all has that quality. Take a look around the site for “The Dog Ate My Homework”….

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