MadSci Network: Engineering

Re: How do you make a simple clockwork toy

Date: Thu Mar 13 13:04:31 2008
Posted By: Calvin Cole, Faculty, Engineering Physics, Northeastern State University
Area of science: Engineering
ID: 1204285110.Eg

Clockwork toys have been around for a long time in one form or another. 
For a brief history, and maybe some ideas, try searching wikipedia under
automata.  The kind most kids are familiar with as windup toys today are
very similar to the metal ones that became very popular for the mass market
at the end of the 1800’s.  If you, like me, are the kind of person who
takes their toys apart then you know what’s in there.  Even aside from the
clockwork, or spring drive, which is not that easy to build yourself from
raw materials, there’s all those other fiddly bits of gears, levers
ratchets and pawls and so forth.  If I wanted to make a clockwork toy I’d
probably start with a Meccano, or LEGO set because they already have plenty
of gears and bars with which to work.  I have also found that small
hardwood sticks (like popsicle sticks or bamboo skewers), hot glue (the low
temperature kind), and string attach fairly well to LEGOS and can usually
be removed later without too much risk of damage to the LEGOS.  As far as
the clockwork drive is concerned you can sometimes find or order them
pre-assembled from hobby stores, otherwise you may have to remove one from
some other device. You can also use a small electric motor with an attached
gearbox to lower the speed and increase the torque instead.  These are also
available at most hobby stores.  As far as what kinds of mechanisms you
could use or modify to get whatever action you want your toy to have there
are plenty of things in the LEGO literature or web site and the same can be
said for Meccano as well.  If you really want to get serious about
mechanisms you could see if your local library or almost certainly the
library at any college with an engineering department has a copy of
“Mechanisms in Modern Engineering” by V. Artobolevsky.  It’s full of all
kinds of ways to get one sort of motion from another mechanically.  I have
always had fun with this sort of thing and hope you do too.  Oh yes, be
careful and wear you safety glasses when messing with spring loaded
devices, they have an amazing way of tossing small parts at your eyes. 
Good luck.

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