Introduction: Santa's Little Robot Helper Mk1

Santa has been dismayed to see his operation getting overtaken by a certain online retailer from somewhere in South America apparently and decided to employ a management consultancy team to look over his operation. As a consequence, he's realised he has to get rid of the old technology and move into the 21st century. So, sadly, the elves will have to go and be replaced by robots.

Here is the final pre-production prototype, Santa's first foray into AE (Artificial Elf) technology. Designed to surpass both elves and his competitors' production rates, the original specification required a robot capable of working at 365E* and capable of sustaining speeds of at least 10x Mach R** whilst efficiently using environmentally clean and ethically sourced Christmas Magic.

So, it's time to move over Jeff, Santa is back to do business 21st century style and he means to reclaim his sky.

*E is a conceptual unit giving an equivalent work rate of one day's worth of TEP (Total Elf Production).

** Mach R is based on the maximum speed of Rudolf.

All photos are either my own, public domain or cc Wikimedia. I'll let you guess which are mine.


SUPPLIES (If you haven't got them all, maybe now is the time to add them to your letter to Santa?)

1x M10 Brass Domed Nut (large) for body

1x M8 Brass Domed Nut (medium) for head

6x M4 Brass Domed Nuts (small) for joints

2x M4 brass nuts for the claws/hands

1x M8 Bolt or short length of threaded rod for neck

1x M4 Brass Thread Rod for arms and legs

A piece of brass strip or offcuts to make the feet


A Drill And Bit (2mm and 6mm)

Junior Hacksaw and a fully grown one

Gas Torch And Solder (or alternatively an epoxy or suitable glue)

Vice (an engineer's kind, not "I eat too many biscuits", although I have one of those as well.)

Needle Files


I also used one of my favourite delicate precision tools, my bench grinder, to shape some of the pieces and also to polish it up when finished as one side has been modified to take a polishing mop. Saves on elbow grease, but if you have a surplus of elbow grease, then please feel free to use a traditional file or cloth.


I used polymer clay for the hat but you can use whatever materials you like to embellish your Santa's Little Robot Helper.

Step 1: The Head

The head is modelled on one of my favourite film robots, Gort from the Day The Earth Stood Still, the real one of course, not the later cartoon version with Jim Reeve's son in.

This was simply done by putting the nut into a vice and cutting a slot using a junior hack saw which I then shaped slightly with a needle file. All you have to decide is if you want a flat bit of the nut in front or a pointy bit. I went for the pointy bit. I was thinking of doing a mouth but who needs a robot that talks? That also gave it a touch of a Cylon about it as well, the real ones of course, from the series with that guy from the A-Team, not the later cartoon version with the B-Team.

OK, the above is true, slightly. In reality, originally it was going to have two eyes but because I don't have a drill stand when I tried using a centre punch and drilling in two eye holes the drill would wander and Santa's Little Robot Helper Mk1 looked like it would have a navigation problem if it tried to use both eyes. And so, Gort became the new model- Santa's Little Robot Helper Mk2. Please don't tell anyone who knows me though as I've deliberately left it as Mk1 in the title because I'm trying not to shatter their illusions that I'm perfect and never make mistakes. And it wasn't even really modelled on Gort, it just ended up reminding me of Gort when I changed it. Just a typical case of "Klaatu barada nikto" design.

Once the head was done I then cut out a length of 8mm threaded rod, long enough to stick out about 4mm (or 3/16" in old money or in Americanese). Its only purpose is to fit into a hole in the body to hold the head on so it's not actually seen and it's there just to give a better invisible grip for the solder or glue. I wouldn't want Santa's Little Robot Helper losing its head mid-delivery, just think of the trauma for children finding an unattached robot head in their Christmas stocking!

The Scene: Christmas morning, a typical house, maybe somewhere near you, maybe even yours. A distressed child rushes in to desperately trying-to-sleep parents' bedroom:

"Mummy (or Daddy), Santa has left me a robot without a body!"

"Don't worry, dear, if you're really nice next year he might leave you the rest."

Footnote: That's what my parents said to me every year, but I never did get the rest of my list so Santa still owes me a bundle, although I did struggle to keep nice for a year and was lucky if I made Boxing Day without a hiccup.

However, I digress, so back to the plot.

Step 2: The Body

The body just needed two holes drilled through it. One 8mm at the top for the neck to go in and one 4mm going from side to side for the arms.

Drilling the neck is easy if you know how to drill a dome headed nut through the centre. The trick is to not drill from the top down but to first drill from the bottom up through the screw hole using a small bit. If you look inside a dome headed nut you'll see the end of the threaded hole is actually conical due to the hole originally drilled ready for tapping the thread. As a result, it effectively self-centres a drill bit when put in there. So, simply put the domeheaded nut in the vice upside down and drill into it with a bit that's smaller than the threads (I used a 2mm). Then reverse the nut and drill down from the top.

Drilling the arms I first centre punched a dot and then drilled a 4mm hole across. However, I realised later there was a better way to do this due to the fact that firstly it was difficult to get the bit to go straight and secondly, when the arms were attached, the shoulder joints/small domeheaded nuts didn't fit flush to the surface and looked odd. So, here is what you should do:

1) Decide where the shoulder and arms will be. I made the nut reflect the direction of the head.

2) File in each side so the nut will be flat at the shoulder joints.

3) Now centre punch and drill out the hole for the arms at the shoulder positions.

Step 3: The Arms

I wasn't bothered about having the arms moving or independent of each other, which is good really because then I'd have struggled to have done it. The arms are simple a length of 4mm threaded brass rod, which I've used before in some of my other robot projects as I like the look of it. The arms look a bit like Robby the Robot from Lost In Space, the classical 50s/60s pre-digital special effect of sticking an actor's arms and legs into corrugated rubber pipes to make them look like more a robot. By the late 80s, through a combination of cliches, budget cuts and technology moving on TV abandoned corrugated rubber and simply painted the actors using emulsion paint, as evidence by the first appearance in 1987 of Data in Start Wreck. However, it finally ended up unintentionally looking like a later TV robot. I'll let you guess which one and reveal the answer at the end, in true Christmas Cracker motto style.

First though, you will need to drill out two 4mm domeheaded nuts. These are drilled out the same way as the body, again drilling through from the inside using a 2mm bit. The next bit though is a bit difficult using a hand drill so expect to try a few times if you haven't got a drill press and a drill vice. You need to drill down through the top but only as far as the start of the thread so it still works as nut. Again, there's a little technique that helps. If you just put the nut into a vice and try drilling down a bit by had it will almost certainly just get to the thread and grab it, so before you can say "No, bad boy Gort, stop!" you'll have drilled right through and ended up with a doomheaded nut. The trick is to first insert a steel bolt all the way into the nut which, when you are drilling down, will act as a bit of a stop. Then, you just screw the bolt further in to clear the hole and it will act as a tap. It's also useful to put a drop of oil on it first when drilling the hole.

You actually need to do this with two more M4 domeheaded nuts for the feet so you might as well just do them all at once now, ready for the feet later.

The arms can then be attached to the body by putting the straight length of 4mm threaded rod through and then simply screwing the nuts into the shoulders. Then, when you are happy with where the arms are simply bend them into position using wither the vice or pliers, but being careful not to damage the threads at the ends where you will be attaching the hands/claws. "But how long is the threaded rod?" I hear you ask. The answer is about as long as a piece of string. I just did it a bit longer than I knew it would be and cut it back when I'd bent the arms to where I thought it looked best using my trusty junior hacksaw. When cutting a threaded rod, it's always best to put a nut on it first and then it will remake the thread when taken off. Alternatively, if you've forgotten to do that and a nut won't go back on, don't force it and risk cross threading it, just simply use a file at 45deg to the end and do a few gentle strokes around the circumference. You aren't trying to remove a lot of metal, just open out the end thread and chamfer it a bit. It should then go on easily. I do that anyway even if I have remembered the nut.

Step 4: The Claws

The claws are made from a 4mm domeheaded nut and a 4mm nut each.

1) Put the domeheaded nut into the vice and cut a slot across the top using a junior hacksaw. The depth needs to be about the thickness of the normal nut (see the drawing). Then make the slot thicker using first a normal hacksaw and then the needle files until it is the width of the normal nut.

2) Cut a slot across the normal nut to create a claw, first using the junior hacksaw and again broadening it first with the full sized hacksaw and then the needle files.

These can then be soldered together and attached at the end, the same time as the feet.

Step 5: The Feet

For the feet you will need two of the part drilled through 4mm domeheaded nuts created when making the arms for the ankle joints and some pieces of brass to make the feet/soles. I used some 10mm wide x 3mm thick bar cut into 15mm lengths and then shaped them into rough feet shape using a file and bench grinder. I then drilled out a 4mm hole where the leg would in to make a firm connection through as shown in the diagram.

Step 6: The Legs

The legs were also a length of 4mm threaded rod, approx. 10cm in length. It needs to be twice the length of the finished legs (plus a bit for the bend inserted into the body, maybe 3cm). The rod is then just bent in half and adjusted so it is a tight fit into the body and twisted in, holding the legs in the vice and turning the body onto them using a spanner. If the legs are too long, get out the junior hacksaw again. The legs don't need any glue or solder to hold, the threads on the body and the legs will just mesh and hold them together.

Now go to the next stage to attach the feet, hands and head to the body and arms.

Step 7: Soldering (Or Glueing) All the Bits Together

Everything is now ready to be soldered or glued together. I will be describing it as soldered using a gas torch as that's what I did but the steps for glueing are the same. I am assuming you know how to solder. If not, use glue or look up how to solder using a plumbers' gas torch and make sure you are OK with how to do it.



Starting with the head, first check that the head bolt is the correct length and holds the head in the correct place. If so then:

1) Clamp the body (e.g. in a metal vice) and make sure nothing flammable is near. Heat up the body and wet the head hole with fluxed solder. At this point the body will be very hot so DO NOT TOUCH IT OR LET IT MOVE UNTIL COOL or even better, if you don't realise this, don't solder it and use glue instead. Did I already mention to let it cool before touching or moving it?

2) Heat up the neck bolt and wet/tin with fluxed solder. Let it cool.

3) Attached the cooled head to the cooled body and reheat and apply solder to the joint. Then let it cool again.

You don't necessarily need to do 1) and 2), you can go straight to 3) if you know what you are doing but I find I get a neater joint by pretinning (tinning=adding a bit of solder to an object, sometimes called "wetting") it first.


1) Screw the slotted domeheaded nuts onto the arms until the arms are at the base of the slot.

2) Tin the claws backs and the dome headed nut slots inside at the arms.

3) Push the claws into place and heat up and solder the claws together. I did this with the robot on its back and the arms vertical so I didn't need to worry about the claws slipping out of the slot or moving out of place.


1) Screw the ankles on and leave enough thread rod though to fit into the feet/soles brass rod holes.

2) Fix the body upside down in a vice with the feet attached.

3) Heat up and solder the feet.

When cooled down, you can then adjust the legs if necessary to make sure the robot is stable when standing and tidy up any solder before giving it a final clean up and polish. Alternatively, if your robot needs to sit down, bend the legs so it can sit on the edge of a shelf or your computer monitor.

Step 8: Ho! Ho! Ho!

Finally, time to for Santa to test Santa's Little Robot Helper Mk1 and get it earning its keep!

In Santa's initial trials the robot performed perfectly, exceeding all design criteria. Due to its increase in productivity, the robot was able to complete all the elf making tasks in a single day compared to almost a full year using elf power. It was also inconceivably fast compared to using reindeers and had an unerring accuracy in delivering parcels on time and at the correct location, no matter how foggy the Christmas Eve.

And so, the elves and reindeer had their contracts cancelled and were made redundant, surplus to requirements and a drag on the bottom line. And that Christmas the deliveries were made so much faster than reindeer speed that Santa got back to the North Pole before he had left due to a quirk in the Robot's Quantum Field Speed Generator and actually had time to make a hot chocolate before waving himself off.

But it wasn't this that caused the downfall of the robot revolution and made Santa rethink his decision and to go back to old school elves and reindeer technology...

Step 9: The Downfall of Santa's Little Robot Helper Mk1

It was sometime in January that Santa was reviewing the surveillance cameras that he saw something that shook him to the very core and caused a severe drop in his jollity. Santa had spent a long time developing his brand and had cornered the market in delivering sacks of children's gifts every Christmas, plus he liked the mince pies and brandy. But then he saw the implications of using a robot: that no-one, not even him, was irreplaceable. He knew, once he saw Santa's Little Robot Helper Mk1 trying on the Santa hat that it was not a question of if, but when once the robot realised it didn't need Santa. After all, Santa is always very careful to make sure no one sees him delivering his gifts and even if someone fleetingly glimpsed the robot, in his Santa hat they would just assume it was Santa. Finally, hearing the robot practising "Ho! Ho! Ho!" and "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!" in Santa's voice meant Santa's Little Helper Mk1 had to go.

And so it happened that Santa rehired his elves and reindeer and gave them their first order:

"Remove that robot's Christmas Magic power supply and deactivate it. Then wrap it up in Amazon brown. We'll not waste it, I know a child called Jeff who has requested one for Christmas, he can have it."

And to be honest, Santa had also missed his elves tap tap tapping and singing as they worked merrily through the year making toys for all the children and he missed the clickety clack of the reindeers' hooves and the rosy glow on Rudolf's nose on a foggy night.

And so, on Christmas Eve, the elves all cheered as Santa set off with a hearty "Ho! Ho! Ho!" and a sled filled with children's elf made toys. A cry of "Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen! Rudolf, get that nose glowing bright! Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!" set the sled lurching forward and the last thing the elves heard was a loud and jolly-

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Step 10: And One Last Thing...

Did you guess who this unintentionally ended up looking like? The answer is in the photo above!

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