This clockwork carpenter is an automaton, which is a self-operating machine that can be made out of different materials. Evidence of them dates back hundreds of years, and I’m always excited when I see a new one pop up. I’ve mostly seen them made out of paper, but it’s a real treat to see a wooden one.

Ben Brandt is a Maker and tinkerer from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and he has created an automaton out of a single 2×4 (and a nail). He created it for the “Summer’s Woodworking Third Annual (2015) 2×4 Competition” and outlines what inspired him below:

For a long time I’ve been intrigued by automata, which are essentially mechanical moving sculptures. Having a background in engineering and a creative streak, I really enjoy how automata blend engineering and art together.

For the competition, I had to build something creative using only a single 8-foot 2×4 as my primary source of material. I had never built an automaton before, so I thought this would be a fun challenge and a chance to stretch my skills with my limited tools. I ran into some issues along the way and had to make changes as I went, but I enjoy the problem solving process. Seeing the idea come together in the end makes it worth the effort. Overall I consumed 4’10” of my 2×4, which included 7 inches of 2×4 used for the dowel cutting jig.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 3.31.09 PM

The gif below gives you a closer look at the gears that are making this automaton move. There are three different movements involved in making it work: his head looking side to side, his arm moving up and down, and the movement of the nail.


Take a look at the video below to see him make it starting with just a plain 2×4. What I particularly like about his video is he shows everything he went through and that includes mistakes along the way; after all, nobody’s perfect.