Orrery Making with Peter Grimwood

Peter Grimwood is one of just two Orrery makers in the UK and he recently spent a day (on November 21st) at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation explaining how to make an Orrery to students.

Orrery making is one of the critically endangered crafts in the UK and requires a high level of mechanical engineering techniques, woodworking and mathematical skills, and a good sense of design. Peter has all of these having trained in engineering and was fascinated in clock mechanisms from an early age. He has been making orreries for many years and has a reputation for the high quality of his models, with a list of clients worldwide.

Peter introduced the subject referencing the solar system and the first orreries, and then explored how to build an orrery through demonstrations of gear cutting machines, depthing tools and the use of jigs. He shared is large collection of different types of orreries and touched on the mathematics involved in the design process.

Michael Martin, 2nd year FdA Clocks student, commented; ‘It was great to see students studying a range of subject at West Dean – furniture, books, musical instruments, as well as clocks, all become engrossed with the subject during the day. Peter was very entertaining and created a real sense of the historical romanticism of a time when orreries were the only means of teaching astronomy.’

Fritzi von Preussen, GD Furniture student, was completely smitten with the objects. He said; ‘I was just fascinated by them and the creativity of each piece was incredible. Each orrery is different and can depict the transit of the different planets – you can focus on what exciting event is happening with them at the time’.

Youra Turceninoff, 1st year FdA Clocks student, said; ‘This day was absolutely fabulous and great fun too. I am hoping to have the opportunity in my 2nd year of study to make a Tellurian orrery, a specialised orrery based around the earth, moon and sun. And the knowledge I gain through making should also help me to restore the derelict one I already have at home!’

A brief history

According to the Heritage Crafts Association, "Orreries were first made as teaching aids to explain how the solar system worked. One of the first known orreries is the Antikythera mechanism, dated between 150 and 100 BC and discovered in 1900 in a wreck off the Greek island of Antikythera. It shows the the diurnal motions of the Sun, Moon, and the five planets known at the time.

Clock makers George Graham and Thomas Tompion built what is considered the first modern orrery around 1704. Modern orreries are still used as teaching aids, but are increasingly collected as artworks. Modern orrery makers push the boundaries of the traditional orrery model to incorporate an orbiting moon."

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