Automata, puppets and clocks

Simple automata with Robert Race

Ref: S4D09006

Suitable for all

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About this course

Create designs for an automaton made principally in wood. Discover simple ways of producing mechanical movement while being encouraged to use reclaimed and other interesting materials. The tutor's own work and his collection of automata will provide inspiration.

Course Description

In the first session we will look at a few very simple ways of producing movement. This is illustrated by the tutor's collection of moving toys from around the world that exploit the properties of a variety of materials and use a range of simple mechanisms to produce movement. There will also be a chance to see some simple automata, principally in wood, and including the tutor's own work in driftwood and a range of books on automata and moving toys.

During the course you first make a balancing toy, as an introduction to the materials and tools available. You are then encouraged to develop your own design for a simple automaton. The tutor's collection of automata is all available again on the following evenings when all students have an opportunity to discuss their progress and plans, if required. The aim is to complete this project around lunchtime on the last day, leaving time for a group review and discussion of possible developments and improvements.

You work with wood, plus a range of additional materials such as wire, string, plastic, etc. There is an emphasis on reclaimed and recycled materials, including driftwood, although this will be provided, you are welcome to bring your own contributions of interesting materials. The woodworking skills needed are pretty basic, but include the use of a fretsaw/scroll saw and a bench/pillar drill.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • A range of materials supplied by the tutor and used by the group as a whole.

What students need to bring

  • Notebook/sketchbook and pencil
  • Any small bits of driftwood or other interesting scraps of material you wish to incorporate

Available to buy

  • Available from the tutor:
  • Plywood
  • Driftwood
  • Dowel
  • Wire
  • Soft and hardwood scraps
  • A wide range of fixings, fastenings, findings, adhesives, acrylic paint etc.
  • Metal rod


Robert Race

Robert Race taught science, and ran a Teachers' Centre before becoming a full-time maker. His work includes moving toys, simple automata, kinetic sculpture and exhibition design. It has been widely exhibited in Britain, Europe and beyond. He is a member, and past Chairman, of the British Toymakers Guild.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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