Introduction: Violet Flying Dragon Automaton

Hi! My name is Kim and this is my violet flying dragon automaton. With some time and dedication, this project is fun to make and easy to customize. It may have taken a lot of trial and error, but once I finished it I could not be prouder.

The idea for this instructable came from my engineering class where one of our assignments was to create an automaton. I had so much fun making my first one I thought, why not make a second, more detailed one. When I needed an idea for a theme, I was inspired by my little brother and his love for dragons. He loves dragon shows and reads books about them all the time. I wanted to find a way to make a little origami dragon my brother could admire. In the end, he loved the automaton and thought it was a fun and enjoyable piece. When I heard about the rainbow contest, I knew this project was the perfect idea to submit.

When you turn the crank on the side of the box, the origami dragon on top will “fly” up and down. The thread attached to the wings makes the wings flap as the dragon soars. Adding the terrain below creates the look that the dragon is soaring high above the mountain tops. The mechanism that creates the movement is hidden inside the wooden box so that the dragon and the scene on top hold the viewer's attention. I chose to color my automaton violet because of how mysterious and magical it looks. The result is a mystical and imaginative setting all done with just one small box, an origami dragon, some other tools.

I hope to win one of the 3D printers because I’m very interested in 3D printing and design. I plan to become an engineer and winning a 3D printer will help me pursue my passion for engineering. So, if you enjoy my instructable, please give me a vote!


The first step is to gather your materials and tools. Below are the supplies listed in categories for each component.

Box and mechanism:

  • 2 wood pieces measuring 4x4 inches
  • 2 wood pieces measuring 5x4 inches
  • 1 wood piece measuring 4x4.75 inches
  • Wood glue or hot glue
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Electric drill or hand drill
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • About 2 feet of thick and flexible metal wire
  • Small pliers
  • Wire cutters

Violet origami dragon:

  • 8.5 x 8.5 inch violet paper
  • Hot glue
  • Wire (optional)

Violet mountain tops:

  • Air dry clay
  • Violet acrylic paint
  • Red acrylic paint (optional)
  • Blue acrylic paint (optional)
  • Paint brushes
  • Water (to soften clay)

Violet sand:

  • Violet acrylic paint
  • Sand
  • Plastic bag
  • Container

Other stuff:

  • Sewing thread

Step 1: Make the Box

To begin, arrange all 5 wooden pieces to make a box with one side open. This will allow you to see the working mechanisms of the automaton. After you've arranged all of the wooden pieces, glue them together with wood glue or hot glue. If you're using hot glue, keep in mind that some of the faces you've glued together will be visible and the glue can give a messy appearance. To make these places/creases look better, I personally like to use the nozzle of the hot glue to smooth out the visible glue.

Step 2: Drill Holes

Once the wooden box has completely dried and you are satisfied with its overall look, you'll need to drill holes on the top of the box (where the dragon will be) and on the left and right sides of the box (where the crank and axle will be).

Before drilling, make sure to mark the center of the wood where the holes should be drilled. To do this, grab your ruler, find the middle of the horizontal and vertical edges of the left face and mark them with your pencil. Then draw lines across the face along the centers using your center markings as references. The two lines should meet in the center of the face. Mark the center with a dot. Look at the 1st photo for reference. Repeat this for the right and top faces of the box. The vertical lines crossing the left, right, and top faces should all connect to form one long line crossing the three faces.

Using an electric drill or hand drill, drill holes in the left and right center marks. These holes are what the axle and crank will pass through so make sure your drill bit is just big enough to hold the wire but small enough to keep it secure. Once the side holes are drilled, drill a hole into the top center mark. This hole will be used for the wire holding the dragon (lead) so it should be slightly bigger to allow movement. To achieve this, use the same drill bit, but move it around in circles while drilling. This will create a hole slightly larger than your drill bit. I don't suggest using a bigger bit because it may be too big.

Step 3: Add Wire Axle

To create your axle, cut off roughly 9.25 inches of wire from your 2 feet. Place your 9.25 inch wire on the horizontal line drawn on the top of the box earlier, making sure to leave 2 inches sticking out on the right and 1 inch on the left. Mark the wire where it meets the previously drilled hole. This is where you will create the bend seen in the 3rd photo.

Create a small bend in your wire where you marked it (the bend should be centered over the mark.) It should resemble a horseshoe and be roughly .5 inches long and .25 inches wide.

It's time to put it in the box! From the inside, insert the left side of the wire through the left hole. Pull it through until you can insert the right side as well. Recenter the wire so that the bend is directly under the top hole. There should also be 2 inches of wire sticking out of the right, and 1 inch on the left.

Step 4: Add Crank

To make the crank, make sure the horseshoe bend is aligned with the hole on the top of the box. The right side of the box should have an extra 2 inches of wire sticking off. Bend the 2 inches of wire to a 90 degree angle using your pliers. Then, bend 1 inch of wire on the 2 inches of wire you've just bent to a 90 degree angle. This will be the crank. Look at the 1st photo for reference.

To finish it off, go to the left side of the box which should have about 1 inch of extra wire. Pull the wire towards you to tighten the wire on the other side, making sure that the wire is as secure and in place, but not so much as to make it so tight the wire can't turn. With the extra wire you have just pulled, bend it to a 90 degree angle. This will act as a "brake" or stopper and will keep the axle aligned with the top hole. This side should look like the 2nd photo above.

Step 5: Add the Wire Follower

Now that the middle wire has been secured, the follower (the wire that holds the dragon) needs to be added. To do this, cut off about 6 inches of wire and insert it into the top hole. Using your pliers, loop the end of the wire around the horseshoe bend to make a closed circle like in the 1st photo above.

When the crank is turned, the follower above of the box should be able to move up and down. If it doesn't, (something I had a problem with many times,) try cutting off any extra wire from the wire looping on the horseshoe bend. It could be preventing the crank from turning. Keep bending the wire until it's perfectly centered in the middle of the horseshoe bend. Look at the 1st photo for reference. With enough changes, the crank should smoothly turn and the follower should go up and down in response.

Step 6: Fold Origami Dragon

Now that the mechanism is up and running, it's time to work on the decoration for the top of the automaton. To make the origami dragon, I took a normal piece of 8.5 x 11 inch violet paper and cut it into the biggest square possible: 8.5 x 8.5 inches. Using the square of paper, I followed this youtube video on how to make an origami dragon.

When creating my dragon I did not follow the instructions exactly. Instead, I made it to my preferences! For example, I didn't fold the legs to make feet, I kept them straight to make the dragon look like it was stretching its legs out ready to fly. I also made a smaller head because the one in the video was too complicated and I didn't make the fancy indents in the wings either. Feel free to customize your origami dragon however you like!

Step 7: Attach Dragon to Follower

Before attaching the dragon, bend the follower on top of the box to a 90 degree angle. The bend should be about an inch or less from the top of the box. This is shown in the 1st photo above. Make sure when folding the wire that the "tail" is pointing towards the open side of the box. This will ensure that the dragon faces the correct direction when attached. To make the dragon easy to put on the wire, impale the dragon through its body. The 2nd photo above shows where you should make the hole.

The next step is to attach the dragon to the follower. Push the wire through the hole previously made on the dragon. Stop when you have reached the bend in the wire. The dragon should now have a wire traveling through its body and you should only be able to see the vertical part of the wire. To straighten the dragon, align the middle fold on its back with the wire. Look at the 5th photo for reference.

Now it's time to secure the dragon. To do this, squirt hot glue between the middle folds of the dragon's body where the wire is. Look at the 5th photo for reference. Once it is secure, hot glue any other folds together that may come loose later on (such as the neck). Don't glue the insides of the wings together because they'll be needed later.

Step 8: Attach Thread to Dragon and Base

Now that the dragon has been secured, it's time to make the wings flap. There are two ways to do this step: either attaching wire to the wings first, and then attaching thread, or gluing the thread to the wings directly. While the method without wire is easier, I used the wire method and it ended up working very well.

The first step for both of these methods is to glue the thread to the box. Cut two identical pieces of thread about 2 inches long each. Next, tie multiple knots at one end of each thread to make one bigger knot. Then, place the large knot on top of the box under the wings. In the photo above, there’s sand on the top of the box. I originally glued the sand on before I glued the thread. Once the whole project was done, I found that to be a mistake and would recommend it be added after this step. Now here are the two ways to attach the thread to the wings.

With wire:

Cut off about 2 inches of wire for each wing. Poke a hole in the bottom paper layer of a wing. The wing should look like the 3rd photo above. Then, insert the wire into the hole and wing as far as you can. Once it’s as far as it can go, bend the wire sticking out of the wing to a 90 degree angle. Squirt hot glue into the wing and press the two sides together until the glue is dry and the wire is secure. Once dry, bend the wire outside of the wing to create a small loop/hook. Tie the thread to this hook. Repeat this process on the second wing.

Without wire:

To attach the thread without wire, puncture a hole in the bottom paper layer of one of the wings (photo 3). Tie knots on the end of the thread that will be glued to the wing. Once a big knot has formed, insert the knot into the hole in the wing. Then, squirt glue into the wing so that the thread can be secured and the wing can be glued together. Repeat this on the other wing.

After you have attached the thread using either method, test the automaton. Make sure the thread is loose enough that the wings aren’t overstrained, but tight enough to flap the wings.

A photo of the thread attached to the dragon and base is shown above. Ignore the mountains and sand in the photo.

Step 9: Make Violet Sand

Pour your sand into a plastic bag. Next, add your violet (or a mix of red and blue) acrylic paint. Close the bag and massage the paint into the sand. I found rubbing the two sides of the bag together is a good way to spread the color. Once the paint is rubbed in and you are satisfied with the color, pour the sand into a container and shake. This helps break up chunks of sand that may try to stick together. Let the sand sit overnight or until dry.

Step 10: Glue on Sand

Pour a small amount of Elmer's glue onto the top of the box and spread it using a paint brush. Once the glue is evenly spread, pour some dry violet sand onto the glue. Using your fingers, lightly pat the sand into the glue to make sure it sticks. Do little sections of the top at a time.

Once dry, shake off any excess sand that did not stick to the glue. Repeat this process for any bald spots that missed the first coat of sand. After this, the automaton should look like the 1st photo above.

Step 11: Make and Paint Mountains

Now it's time to add the terrain. First, rip off multiple chunks of air dry clay, adding water if clay is too dry. These should be the size that you want your mountains to be. Shape these pieces into little balls, then place your first ball on a flat surface. Press into the sides of the ball with your fingers and turn the clay at the same time. This should form a cone-shaped piece of clay. Make sure your mountains are of varying sizes. This will add to the effect that the dragon is flying over a true mountain range. Set your mountains out until dry.

Once the mountains are dry, use violet (or a mix of red and blue) acrylic paint to paint the mountain tops purple. Before the paint dries, roll the mountain in your violet sand until it is completely coated. Set the mountains out to dry.

Step 12: Glue on Mountains

After the mountains have dried, arrange them on the box. Once you're satisfied with their positions, glue down each mountain using hot glue.

Once the mountains have been glued in place and the glue has dried, glue on extra sand to cover the visible raw edges of the mountains. This will give your automaton a cleaner look.

Step 13: Enjoy the Automaton!

Congratulations! You have finished your violet dragon automaton! Put it anywhere in your house for you, your friends, and your family to enjoy. Again, I have made this project for the Rainbow Contest being held by Instructables. If you enjoyed it, please give me a vote. Thank you and have a nice day!

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Colors of the Rainbow Contest