Fabricating Motion Automata Workshop – October 2022

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A hands-on 6 week automata making online workshop for curious and inventive makers exploring mechanisms & low-tech kinetic engineered art.

Tickets are available on EventBrite

About this event

A mechanical dog made from wood and metal parts
Example project 


Cabaret Mechanical Theatre is thrilled to be able to offer this pilot of a new automata making online workshop, and that there continues to be a huge appetite for sharing and making online since we first launched our online workshops in 2020. It’s so exciting to be able to take this tried and tested workshop that we have been delivering in-person since 2013 and to develop it into an online version – Fabricating Motion – to share with our community of makers from around the world.

Tutor and automata-maker Stephen Guy will guide you through how to accurately construct core mechanisms and how they can be applied to create simple and playful kinetic designs. Starting with the Fabricating Motion kit and construction materials that will be sent to you ahead of the workshop, you will be supported to explore and develop your own automata projects.

Workshop Content

In the first four workshops we will look at particular types of mechanisms and constructing methods in detail. We will also experiment with materials, found objects and your own designs to explore how you can capture the creative potential of the mechanical movements. You are encouraged to test and play around with the mechanisms and materials between each session and share your discoveries. In the final two workshops you will create and construct your own machine with help from Steve.

WEEK ONE – Tuesday 11 October

Factors to consider when automata-making, including useful tools and extra materials you may need.

  • Design of the support structure
  • Driving mechanisms: crankshaft, cams, gears, drive wheels
  • Axis/plane of rotation and ways to change it
  • Gearing ratios of handle to shaft(s)
  • One shaft or more shafts?
  • What kind of linkages may be required? (transferring movement from one component to another).
  • Friction or positive drives (how important is precise timing of components?)
  • Weight/load
  • Drilling accurate holes
  • Sequence of assembly
  • How to get a mechanism to return to its original position
  • How to connect another shaft
  • How to keep a shaft in position

Practical work: Assemble the kit and think about it in terms of the above points.

Homework: Play around with the kit including making simple designs.

WEEK TWO – Tuesday 18 October

Precision Control – introducing cams

  • Types of cam
  • Cam followers
  • Ways to stop a cam from spinning
  • Controlling the movement of cams

Practical work: Experiment with making different types and shapes of cams.

Homework: Continue to work on cams and simple designs ideas.

WEEK THREE – Tuesday 25 October

Power Transmission – shafts, cranks, connecting rods and gearing ratios

  • What are cranks, shafts and connecting rods ?
  • Speed ratios
  • What you can do with a crank and shaft
  • Ways of constructing cranks and connecting rods
  • Adding another shaft

Homework: Continue to work on these, and simple design ideas.

WEEK FOUR – Tuesday 1 November

Other linkages and changing the plane of rotation

  • Increasing the complexity of the machine
  • Methods of introducing new planes of rotation – bevel gears, pin wheels, linkages.

Homework: Continue to work on your mechanism(s) and simple design ideas.

WEEK FIVE – Tuesday 8 November

Start constructing your own machine, discuss ideas.

Homework: Continue with your project.

WEEK SIX – Tuesday 15 November

Continue constructing your own machine, discussion of progress and troubleshooting.

Final appraisal of how the course went, what we learned and future project ideas.

All the kit components laid flat on a table
Kit components



The online course is being delivered as a real-time class, where participants and facilitators will interact live. The maximum number of participants will be 10, to ensure a low facilitator to participant ratio.

The sessions are recorded for later viewing and a week-by-week online resource is available to all participants that documents each session with practical advice and tips.

The workshop will be conducted in spoken English with audiovisual materials such as slides, examples and video. All classes will be held over Zoom.

You will need a computer with a good internet connection and a place to work (kitchen table, workshop, garage).


This course is for people with reasonably good woodworking and constructing skills, perhaps access to a workshop but certainly access to workshop tools, ideally such as a band and scroll saw, pillar/bench drill, and hand tools.

However, it will be informal, hands-on and relaxed so be ready for some fun.

We generally limit the age to 16 years old+ though exceptions can be made where appropriate.


Every Tuesday from 11 October to 15 November 2022

  • 4pm-6pm GMT/BST 
  • 8-10am PT
  • 5-7pm CET


As part of your registration you will receive by post a specially designed Fabricating Motion Workshop Kit before the sessions begin. The kit provides everything you need to get started in the workshop, however the suggested materials list will enable you to develop the scope and complexity of the mechanisms. The kit includes:

  • wood frame
  • metal crankshaft
  • dowel shafts
  • MDF drive wheels/cams
  • screws and wire supports


Access to some key tools:

  • Cross head screwdriver (essential for Week One)
  • Small/medium pliers (essential for Week One)
  • Wire clippers suitable for 2mm wire
  • Ideally a pillar/bench drill, or at least a power hand drill
  • Drill bits: 6mm, 4.9mm, 3mm, 2.5mm, 2mm (or Imperial equivalents)
  • Ideally a band and scroll saw, chop saw, or at least handsaws
  • Hacksaw for cutting alloy rod
  • Wire clippers for 2mm wire
  • Craft knife
  • Larger pliers (for bending 5mm ally rod)
  • Soldering iron (for bonding drive belts)
  • Glues – superglue, PVA, general crafting

For creating stories, characters and designs:

  • assortment of selected objects, junk, toys, curiosities
  • assortment of card, your preferred art/craft materials
  • materials you enjoy working with

Suggested extra materials (partly depends on the requirements of your own design):

  • Small sheet of 6mm MDF or similar (for cutting out cams)
  • Odd bits of wood/plywood/MDF (for making cranks, general use)
  • Thread/string
  • Barbecue sticks
  • Wire (around 1.6mm for linkages, plus a drill for a hole that provides a tight fit)


Early Bird until 19 Aug 2022 £425.00

Full Price until 18 September 2022 £475.00

Tickets are available on EventBrite

Registration closes 18 September 2022 to allow for materials to be sent to participants.

A clock face on a mechanical base
Example project 


Stephen is a designer-maker and artist specialising in mechanical art. He generally works as Fire the Inventor and runs workshops, events and produces educational resources, and builds interactive automata for exhibitions, science festivals and schools in the UK and around the world.

His creative process is bricolage and hands-on prototyping. Much of his time is spent hunting down curious objects, components and toys, which are categorised and stored as a library of resources. The creative process is about composition, about finding striking, funny or weird juxtapositions of objects, adapting and hacking them, and constructing mechanisms that heighten the visual impact of the sculpture.

His first introduction to automata and the world of mechanically driven entertainment was at Cabaret Mechanical Theatre when we were in Covent Garden from 1985 and has continued to collaborate with us since then.

Recent workshops and events have been run with Sligo Engineering Fair, West Dean College, Hauser & Wirth (Somerset), the Institute of Physics, Tower Bridge Museum, Hackney City Farm, the Institute of Imagination, Craft Central, Wilton’s Music Hall, Warwick University in collaboration with Indian Gond artists, and Rose Bruford College of Performance and Theatre.

Stephen Guy surrounded by his handmade automata
Stephen Guy
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  1. Karen says:

    Is this event sold out ?

Our mission is to promote engineering and creativity through workshops, exhibitions and automata kits.

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