Introduction: Piano Man With His Cat - Automata Project

This year for my wife's birthday I wanted to make her a special gift that would be unique and that would represent her interests well. I usually end up just getting practical gifts, so this time I wanted it to be different. I have recently taken an interest in Automata Projects and have never attempted making one, so I thought, why not? The worst that can happen is I totally botch my wife's birthday present and end up in the doghouse. Good thing she is awesome and very forgiving. I also thought, hey-when the zombie apocalypse arrives we will need light and entertainment while we hide out. So I now introduce you to the one present that fulfilled all of the above criteria.

This project wouldn't have been possible without the inspiration and plans provided by The Scrollsaw Workshop. I stumbled upon this amazing treasure trove one day by chance. if you haven't seen it, you should check it out. I don't know Steve but I wanted to give him credit and share his amazing resource with the Instructables community.

Step 1: Materials

As with any project the materials and tools used can vary widely. You can probably do this with what you have; I will list what I used. Be sure and use proper safety equipment and know what you are doing.


I like to have contrasting wood. For this I used cedar, aspen, and russian olive

Stiff Wire (I used a metal coat hanger)

Hand Crank Dynamo with USB port

USB Light with Flexible Shaft



Metal Washers


Small Metal spring

Sheet Music


Music Box

Music Box Cover

Key Extender

Small Screws

Rubber Pads



Band Saw

Scroll Saw

Cordless Handheld Drill

Drill Press

Miter Saw





Step 2: Piano Side

Since I mostly just followed the plans and tips from The Scrollsaw Workshop, I am not going to go into much detail about the Piano Man part. You can view Steve's tips here. He has a couple good videos. You can also download a .pdf of his plans from here. That includes the dimensions for all of it. I followed his dimensions for the Piano Man part.

I made the box out of some yellow cedar pieces that I had left over from a different project (an indoor playhouse entertainment center, someday maybe I will make an instructable for that.. They are actually the dog-eared fence boards that are 1 x 6 x 6 that you can get from any big home improvement store. Since they are fairly rough, I ran them through a planer on both sides to smooth them out and make them thinner. For the man, I used some aspen log cut-offs that were left over from my Log Toddler Bed Project. For the piano, the cat, and the cams, I used Russian olive wood.

For the piano I decided to give it some character by sanding down the top of the piano body to put a bit of a slant to it where the music rests. I simply held the board against an oscillating belt sander at an angle as you can see in the pictures. I also wanted to make the music be a book and include more than one song, I thought it would be fun to change out the music box sometimes. So I have sheet music for Pachelbel's Canon in D, and Silent Night. I will include a .pdf of the sheet music and how I set it up to punch the holes.

I then drilled two holes at an angle that I could put a piece of wire through the spring to hold the book on the piano and allow the pages to turn.

For the music book, I reduced the size of the sheet music, and then made a hole template that I have provided here. I then printed out the music, cut it out, glued two pages back to back and then laminated them. I could then punch holes with a 1/16th inch hole punch, and then thread the spring through the holes making a binding.

Step 3: Man

I followed Steve's method of making the man out of three pieces of wood glued together. To make them smooth and fit together after gluing them, I did a lot of sanding with a sanding disk on the end of a flexible shaft on a Dremel tool. That worked really well for sanding the pieces and shaping his nose and hat.

I rough cut these pieces out of a round aspen log on the band saw, using a fence guide and a push stick.

Step 4: Light and Dynamo

My wife is very light-sensitive and likes to have lights and lamps everywhere, so I thought it would be fun to make it light up even though it is mechanical. I didn't want to use batteries, so I got the hand crank Dynamo that I thought I would be able to attach to the cam shaft that moves the arms and cat's head and tail. I removed the plastic handle that came with the dynamo by pushing out the pin that holds it on with a small nail. I then used a small round Russian olive branch to try to match the way the plastic handle attached to the dynamo. I did this by marking the size and then cutting out notches on a band saw. I then drilled holes through the notches and attached the wood block with the same metal pin. I was then able to epoxy the wood block on to the end of the dowel that runs through all the cams and attaches to the hand crank. The dynamo is a bit loud, but not too bad when the music box is playing.

Step 5: Cat

Since I needed the dynamo to be at the very end of the cam shaft I decided to add the box at the side and put a cat on top of it, as my wife likes cats and I don't let her have one in the house. I took inspiration from this youtube video, but I couldn't figure out how they made the head move, so mine is kind of jerky.

Step 6: Finishing Touches

I thought that some day I might need to be able to get into the box where the dynamo is, but I wanted to put a front on it to help quiet it down, so I glued up the sides, bottom and front and made the top removable. I did this by drilling holes around the top and inserting a dowel. I then cut the dowel off flush with an oscillating cutter.

I then attached the sticky rubber pads as feet on the bottom, to keep it from sliding around when you are trying to crank it. They are definitely worth it; they made a huge difference after attaching them. Don't skip them.

I also found it easier to crank by adding a small piece of plastic tubing over the crank dowel.

Step 7: All Done

Thanks for looking at my project. It has some issues and it is kind of hard to turn with the 4 cams and especially the dynamo, but it works! The arms move, the cat's tail moves, his head has spasms, the light lights up, and most of all my wife likes it. If you like this project please vote for it, and remember if you need entertainment during the zombie apocalypse come join us and we will have a classical music dance party.

I also think it is a fun way to show how easy it is to make electricity and you can have fun doing it. It is a fun science / make energy project to incorporate making electricity into something of entertainment. Since the Dynamo has a USB port on it, the light can be unplugged and the Dynamo can be used to charge any electronics that charge via USB. Thanks for looking and please leave comments if you have any questions or suggestions.

Apocalypse Preparedness Contest

Participated in the
Apocalypse Preparedness Contest

DIY Audio and Music Contest

Participated in the
DIY Audio and Music Contest

MAKE ENERGY: A US-Mexico Innovation Challenge

Participated in the
MAKE ENERGY: A US-Mexico Innovation Challenge