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Brian Matthews of Flapping Sprocket creates beautifully intricate machinery, wings, and other contraptions in his Los Angeles studio. For the second year running, he will be at the Maker Faire Bay Area as a mobile exhibit, roaming the Faire with his hand puppet Francis, a metal marvel finely articulated enough to shake hands.

Contraptions by Brian Matthews of Flapping Sprocket

Contraptions by Brian Matthews of Flapping Sprocket

Brian describes himself as “a builder who aspires to create challenging mechanical contraptions whose mystery of operation lies in complexity and whimsy…once someone called me a ‘Gadgeteer'”. He doesn’t usually label himself as an engineer, since he feels there is “a mystique to an engineering degree that doesn’t support an environment where everyone can build whatever they can dream up, with an adequate quantity of scars to prove it.” A lot of his work features mechanical wings, which he regards as “a convenient cross over between sculpture and mechanisms because a requirement of wings is that they either: 1. Flap or 2. Fold up.”

Wings by Brian Matthews of Flapping Sprocket

Wings by Brian Matthews of Flapping Sprocket

He enjoys the Maker Faires for the way they encourage people to “make use of spare human capacity for creative building” and put him touch with other experts in different areas of making, which enhances and inspires his own work. He describes his experience as a mobile exhibit at last year’s Faire: “I had a blast interacting with folks with the puppet I built back in my early days of building things. My favorite episodes with the mobile puppet were with low interactive people who approach the event with some apprehension…they suddenly freeze and become astounded that a puppet is holding onto their finger with the hand the size and articulation of a baby monkey. Kids are always a easy audience. I just felt lucky to be apart of astounding their minds to how open-ended building (whatever you want with whatever is around) can be on a demonstration level, no video games or sly images needed.” For this year’s Faire, he is returning with the same puppet, Francis, some hand sanitizer for the puppet’s hands, and possibly a new pair of servo-motor enhanced wings.

Brian and Francis at Maker Faire Bay Area 2012 (left) and a sketch of wing designs for this year's Faire (right)

Brian and Francis at Maker Faire Bay Area 2012 (left) and a sketch of wing designs for this year’s Faire (right)

I asked Brian what advice he had for people who are inspired by his work and who might want to learn how to do something similar. He has plans to eventually do an Instructable or other such website devoted to wing mechanism design and building. But until that point, his general advice is as follows:

  • Build a workbench with a mounted vice anvil.
  • Tools you must own: Big vice grips, needle nose vice grips, cheap calipers, good hacksaw, heavy duty hand snips, drill bits, good quality battery drill.
  • Read the entire McMaster Carr catalog from cover to cover, all 3779 pages of it, then learn how to order screws, metal, and understand fasteners.
  • Do a monthly visit to great places like Apex surplus in Los Angeles, or your local junk yard/metal recycling center.

Be sure to look for Brian and Francis wandering the Faire next month!

Karen Tanenbaum

I am a technology researcher and designer; a Steampunk prop maker and costumer; a writer of both academic papers and blog posts; a voracious reader/watcher of science fiction. I am currently contributing to MAKE by writing about the Maker Faire. You can contact me via [email protected]

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