Make your own whimsical and wonderful creation using a few simple materials! Cranky Contraptions are wood and wire kinetic sculptures that animate a character or scene when the handle is turned. These tiny automata are powered by a simple crank slider mechanism which provides basic motion. With the addition of a few linkages complex movement emerges.
Make Cranky Contraptions at home
Here’s a list of useful parts if you want to explore Cranky Contraptions at home
A sturdy base for your crank slider mechanism. We use plain 1” x 2” boards cut into 4” lengths, but there are a lot of options available. One alternative is to glue together several cardboard rectangles, and use the space created by the corrugations to hold the wire in place!
Stainless steel wire. We use 18 gauge and precut it to 6” lengths, but you can experiment with longer or shorter pieces and see what additional possibilities they open up
Thick craft foam (6mm). This can be used to join the crank wire to the slider wire when cut in small squares, but has lots of other uses too: to shape characters, as bushing for moving parts, as spacers to get things to just the right height, etc.
We recommend gathering a few tools that will help shaping the wire, creating characters, and generally working with Cranky Contraptions
There are many possible starting mechanisms to choose from. The video above will give you some ideas, and you can get more information from the PDF at the top of the page, but nothing beats direct experience. Try making a few yourself and you will quickly learn the little tips and tricks that make construction easier; pay special attention to which parts need to be glued together, and which ones need to be able to move freely!
As always, keep in mind that frustration is part of the process, don’t expect your first few Cranky Contraptions to come out perfect, and keep learning from each iteration — you will soon develop skills and expertise and your ideas will become more complex and satisfying!
Cranky Contraptions can evolve in a new direction by limiting the movement mechanism to a simple crank slider, and focusing instead on developing linkage-based movement with top part of the contraption. This idea came from working with artist in residence and automata expert Keith Newstead, and is inspired by the way he builds most of his pieces.
A linkage-based Cranky Contraption typically has only one part connected to the moving crank slider, and everything else moves in relation to it by way of pivots and constraints. This is definitely more complicated to work out, so we have built a few examples and devices to help learners experiment with motion in a low stakes way. Give it a try!
We are passionate about sharing our work and developing a community of people interested in these activities, practices, and ideas. The guides below are free to download and use to help you get started with tinkering, whether it's at home, or in your school or educational institution.