Wood that works

My friend Ian invited me to an art social last night. We chatted bit and found out we had a bit of a common interest in kinetic sculpture.

He showed me the http://www.woodthatworks.com/ Web site.


Not sure if any viewers have been to old Fridays on Elgin (Ottawa, Ontario).

If not, this is what you’ve been missing:

Electric Rooster, Kinetic Sculpture

I made a kinetic sculpture called “Electric Rooster”. I installed it at Atomic Rooster Pub in September. It sold and has apparently changed hands one more time since then.

The idea is that you have to crank a generator to make the rooster dance/run etc. In the original design, I was going to have a generator and a battery. You use the generator to charge the battery and then connect the battery to the rooster. Or just crank the rooster directly with the generator. This would add an educational payload about electricity storage and usage. I decided that was too complicated and just went with the generator.

I fastened the generator with two wires each of which has a break and is twisted together. This makes it fidgety and makes people aware that it takes two wires to transmit electrical power. Also if someone drops the generator they pull apart. The timing belt on the generator is unreliable and the crank system is also fidgety. I really liked that aspect of it and wanted to see how people would deal with it.

The result was quite interesting. Some people were able to understand the “maintenance” of the generator. Others would do things like remove and hide the generator and pretend nothing’s happening if they couldn’t cope with it. It gave rise to lots of interesting interactions with staff and observers.

I had initially wanted for the use of the generator to travel by word of mouth. I’d show a few people and then they would share that with others and I could observe the viral nature of it. The art directory added a label saying to “wind me up” so rather than being a viral meme, it was being engaged by lots of careless people with an attitude of entitlement (“if it’s in the public, you have to make it robust enough for clumsy people”). I let that ride for a while but eventually removed the sign so that the meme (including information about how it works) could take over instead.

The motion of the parts is as follows. Head and Tail bobbing, wing spinning, left leg a compound pendulum and right leg is a simple pendulum.

The mechanics are a collection of pulleys that I made from balsa. I rough cut some circles of two sizes. One size slightly larger than the other. I took all the larger disks and drilled a hole through the middle. I put a bolt and some washers through the hole and then tightened down with a nut. I mounted the bolt into my drill chuck. I turned it against sand paper to bring the disks down to a reasonable circle. I repeated for the smaller circles. I then sandwiched a smaller disk between two larger to make a pulley and glued them together. I added brass bushings to the center. I mounted the pulleys on an acrylic plastic block by drilling and taping holes and then using bolts to secure the pulleys. I added a tape drive motor and a rubber band. All the little bolts and fasteners and such are from broken down laser printers.

Next I made various bearings and levers to mount the moving parts. I added pushrod and other linkages.

That fat thing in the picture above is my arm. 🙂

I made the generator out of a DC motor from a printer. This is the motor that moves the paper through the printer. I attached a timing belt by mounting the whole thing to a chunk of acrylic. I made a crank by taking a piece of plastic and tying it like a pen tied to the counter at the bank (this is my favorite part).

I found a dresser on the side of the road and the press board underneath the drawers was in perfect order and was such a nice brown. I made the rooster’s body out of that. The moving parts are made from heavy grade balsa sheet with paper and ink glued on.

Here’s what it looks like installed. It’s pretty clear that it causes people around it to have a good time. 🙂 Also note the coper tubing rooster to the right if it! It’s an awesome sculpture!