Introduction: Partridge in a Pear Tree (Automata)

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Bob your partridge to the tunes of Twelve Days of Christmas with your automata creation. A playful way to explore simple machine elements while creating a mechanical sculpture.


  • Cardboard
  • Satay or kebab skewer sticks
  • Straws
  • Tape
  • Coloured paper
  • Glue
  • Scissors

Step 1: Prepare the Frame

Cut the cardboard pieces to make the frame of the automata.

Use Automata_measurement as a guide or print out Automate_template to help with manual cutting. If you have access to a laser cutter, download the .svg files and laser away!

Step 2: Frame

Let's assemble the automata frame;

  1. Pinch the top of the side pieces so that it becomes more manageable to bend
  2. Slot the flap into the top frame
  3. Do the same for the other side of the frame
  4. Slot in the bottom piece of the automata

Step 3: Cam

Let's assemble the cam;
  1. Cut a 4 cm / 1.57-inch piece from the satay stick or kebab skewer stick.
  2. Insert the stick into the top hole of the first cam with two holes.
  3. Insert the other end of the stick to the bottom hole of the second cam with two holes.

Step 4: Camshaft

Assemble camshaft of the automata

  1. Poke a stick that's at least 15 cm / 6 inches through one of the side pieces of the frame (Step 2).
  2. Insert the cams that we did in Step 3
  3. Continue to poke the stick through the other side piece of the frame.
  4. Adjust the cams to be centralised to automata

Step 5: Follower

Assemble cam follower;

  1. Squeeze a small piece of straw through the top hole. This provides a smooth surface for the stick to glide along.
  2. Thread the stick through the top panel.
  3. Attach a circular piece of cardboard on the bottom of the stick. This is the cam follower.

Step 6: Adjustment

We'll need to do some testing and adjustment now;

  1. The stick on the cam follower should bob up and down as you rotate the stick on the side panel. If it does not, adjust the cams and cam follower.

  2. Glue the sticks to the cams and cam follower.

  3. Test your automata; if it works well, wrap the ends of the cam shaft (on the side panel) with scotch tape to prevent it from sliding out.

Step 7: Decorate

You're almost there! Decorate your automata with a partridge and a pear tree!