Crayon Machine




Introduction: Crayon Machine

About: I like to make things exist with my mind. And, you know, tools. When I was very young, I remember thinking that crayons were like magic. Suddenly, from the tip of the crayon and my moving hand, my ideas were...

Because when you're 7 years old, keeping crayons organized is a great stressor in life. It's true when you're grown-up, too. Except maybe by then you've become less particular about the arrangement of the crayons. Then again, maybe not.

Step 1: Be Seven Years Old

Sorry, guys reading this who aren't seven years old anymore. It's too late for you. Especially you eight year olds.

In seriousness, this machine exists because I found a sketch my seven-year-old-self made of such a device. And I thought, "I could make that. Yeah. Yeah, I think I will." Sadly, I no longer have the original blue prints, and they were drawn in pencil. (Organizing crayons is a serious business.)

Step One: Get a kid to invent something cool for you. Or remember something you wished existed when you were one yourself. For now, I'll give you this blueprint for the Golden Goat Bridge. It was invented by a friend of mine.

If you're into sorting crayons though, read on.

Step 2: Ideation!

So, my seven year old self didn't give me exact measurements, and I think she assumed it'd be pretty small. She also had the right idea, but didn't think to include an axle.

Step two, therefore, is back to the drawing board. Get your box of crayons (What? You don't have one? What are you doing here?) and get to work. Measure the crayons, figure out how big the crayon-holder dowels need to be, think about how you want the mechanisms to work, come up with a supply list, and most importantly, in this step, DON'T GET GROWN UP ALL OVER IT.

I had some suggestions from friends which were, frankly, heart-wrenchingly terrible. "What if you used lipstick instead of crayons?" "I don't wear lipstick." "What if you put it inside of a suitcase, to talk about being an adult now?" "I'm not. I refuse." "What if you made it out of tinker toys?" "Look. I invented this when I was seven. And it was a serious invention. Serious inventions are clearly made out of wood, not tinker toys."

After thinking through the mechanisms and measuring my crayons, I came up with this supply list:

2 boxes Crayola Crayons, 24 Count
1 Sketchbook
1 sheet of plywood, 1/2 inch
1 sheet of plywood, 1/4 inch
1 3/4 inch dowel
4 1/2 inch dowels
1 1/8inch metal rod
Toaster Oven
Super glue or hot glue
Drill, appropriately sized drill bits & driver bits
Table Saw
Drill Press, 5/16" driver bit
Chop Saw or Vice Grip and Pull Saw
Large Wire Cutters

It's a very simple machine with a lot of tiny, tiny parts. It's two rows of twelve crayons, the second row made of parts that are, simply, larger than the first row's parts. In theory, you have this machine on your drawing desk, and when you get a new pack of crayons, this is where you keep them. When you want to use the scarlet crayon, you press the scarlet button, and the scarlet crayon pops up out of the set, making it easy to pick up from the bunch. This is accomplished with a very basic lever and fulcrum/axle mechanism.

Step 3: More Designing!

So after I had what I thought might be my cut-list and preliminary sketches, I didn't want to over-purchase or under-purchase materials, and I wanted to be sure of the measurements. I found Google Sketch-Up would be a good tool for this, and became very acquainted with the program. I recommend using it to help envision your project (or crayon machine) and to get excited about the prospect of your invention looking more like a real, potentially do-able machine than messy sketches can allow.

Step 4: Prototype! (& Build!)

I don't have an image, unfortunately, but I first made one large and one small crayon-unit before proceeding, and tried them in the hacked together cardboard stand set up you see before you, on the larger model, to make sure I had the right idea, and to make sure they weren't going to hit each other when lined up vertically.

I cut the crayon holders from rectangular dowels, very carefully, on a chop saw. Yes, I had a lot of splintered wood and unusable pieces. So I cut the button-extension and crayon-extension pieces from round dowels using a pull saw, a vice grip, and lots of patience. The flat, long piece of wood that connects the button extension and crayon holder ideally would've been laser-cut, as well as the top and front panels, where the crayons and buttons are exposed. Unfortunately, I did not have access to a laser cutter at the time, but I did my best to cut them very carefully on a table saw. (And measured out and drilled all of those holes.) I don't recommend it if you have access to a laser cutter, but it worked.

I suppose I never really made a "prototype" of the entire machine, because it was way too finicky for cardboard, and using exposed wood was the end goal vision anyway. Were I to do it again, I would definitely use a laser cutter and maybe CNC mill to build the components. Also, ideally it'd be made of something with less friction and more long-term usability than plywood, but that was my seven year old dream, and so plywood it was.

The most dangerous (read: exciting) process was lining up the tiny crayon-holder pieces in a grip beneath the 5/16" drill bit on the drill press. But again, it worked out. I only busted three.

You can also see in the above pictures where I began affixing the crayon holder pieces to the crayon extension dowels. This helped coalesce the machine as a growing single unit, as before, the crayon extension dowels were slipping through the holes because gravity, and it was all I could do to hold it together long enough to test it's functionality.

I measured out the plywood housing structure to what the machine needed at this stage.

Step 5: Housing the Mechanics and MAKING BUTTONS!

Step 5 is just housing the mechanics in plywood, measured and cut accordingly. I used a hand drill and small screws so that I can theoretically take it apart to fix as needed in the future. Version 1.0 ended up being 11*14 inches, where the back casing is 10" high and the front of the button plate is only 4" high. The "Why?" answer to almost any design question you may have about why the buttons are angled or the lever system doesn't allow the crayons or buttons to move freely up and down or in and out (it works more like a see-saw and lets the front and top coverings guide it), is "I was seven. And I thought of something that'd more or less work. So I built it."

I could take a moment here and philosophize about how children ought to be treated as complete people with intelligent, intricate thoughts and ideas and feelings, or I could tell you how I made the buttons. And since this is an instructable, I'll go with the latter.

Frivilous fun! I wanted the button colours to match exactly to the crayon colours. Painting them would've been effective, but might not've yielded results exactly as imagined. Sadly, I don't have documentation of how much fun this process was, and it's a mini project onto itself.

The buttons were more like tiny wooden bowls, drilled out carefully by the same process as the crayon holders but then cut down from larger pieces. This is what Crayon Box #2 is for- I melted each colour and made a melted-crayon button, using an old, already-disfigured metal baking cup, taking the labels off with a pocket knife, breaking them down into a few pieces, and melting them in a toaster oven set to "bake." The wax (and metal baking cup) was VERY VERY HOT. The kind of hot that gets "Get an Adult to Help You" labels put on things. Except hotter. And it got my roommates asking what the strange burning smell was. (Had it set too hot for a few of them and nearly burned the colours.)

Naturally, I had a lot of extra. So I found two extra pieces of reasonably sized plywood lying around, and made colourful wax splatter paintings on them. Not amazing works of art, but fun.

Step 6: Now You Have a Crayon Machine!

Put your crayons in it!!!! : )

And use it! Draw something awesome. Or get a kid to draw something awesome for you.



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    43 Discussions

    Hey, lakshay21!

    I made a sketch for you to better illustrate how the machine works. It's basically like a tiny, tilted, slightly weighted see-saw. It's a very basic lever. When one side is forced down, the other side rises.

    In this case, one side (the crayon side) is slightly more weighted than the other. This means it wants to be down when it's not in use, which allows the crayon holder to rest atop the top panel, and the button to stick out from the front panel. The weight of the crayon is the "load" or "resistance" and the amount of force you use with your finger to push the button is the "exertion" or, simply, "effort." This design sort of just relies on the friction of the wood pieces against each other to ensure that when the button is pressed, the lifted crayon remains lifted when you let go.

    As you see in the drawing, the fulcrum is also off-centre, which means that when the button side goes down a little bit, the crayon side goes up a little bit /more/ than the button went down. In my crayon machine, it is a 2:1 ratio. Which means in theory, the arc made by the crayon-end of the lever is twice as big as the arc made by the button-end of the lever. The crayon travels twice as far as you push the button. Do you follow?

    I have a second drawing for you that shows how the two rows sit inside the machine, with one sort of nested, floating above the other.

    Yes, that means that when you push the top row of buttons, the front row of crayons moves. (That's maybe not intuitive, but it's what I had dreamed up once upon a time, and I committed to making it function.)

    Hope that helps!


    One Question: Have you been in contact with Crayola?

    One More Question: Have you applied for a patent?

    I am asking these questions very seriously because I seriously think there might be a market for this, and variations of it. (such as the aforementioned crayon typewriter.) Just something to think about while you play with your crayons (and I run out to buy some because reading this made me realize I don't have any and now I feel all lost and sad sort of).

    2 replies

    I have not yet done either of those things, but I've thought about them. I am really curious to see if Crayola would reply at all, and what their response would be.

    I think you should go for it. If you can afford to, since patents are a little pricey. I'm guessing. I really don't have a clue what I'm talking about. This is all too grown up for me.

    Now as a machinist/, I can see using this for drills, punches and other bits. Look at your tooling list, push some buttons and snag your tooling. Router bits would be a good use too, just mind your fingers as you snatch them up with glee. Leather tooling would work even better! The key is returning everything to it's spot.

    1 reply

    What a fun idea! But even Crayola (the best, in my youth) crayons are nothing like as beautiful as they used to be. They may LOOK the same in their paper sleeves, but when you try coloring with them, the result is a disappointingly pale, waxy color without enough pigment in it. Just MHO! I'd love to find some crayons that still had bright, clear color.

    Totally genius! Thanks for sharing. ☺

    FYI your creation of splatter artwork using melted wax; the medium is called 'encaustic' in which bees wax is often used.

    Footnote: To the makers of Crayons ...... The ones they have on the market today IMO are nothing like those that have gone before them. Was trying to show my Grandson a technique what I use to do as a child myself where the first layer is done in a rainbow of colours then you apply a solid layer of black crayon over it to create a drawing by scraping the latter off. Unfortunately it was impossible to do with the 'new and improved' unlike those used in "the good old days".

    Signed .... A Grandma

    2 replies

    That's a fun thing to do! I remember doing it when I was young, but we used crayons to make the colourful part, and then covered it with a mixture of paint and soap-- Here, I found a link for the technique!

    Hi Karei: Just popping in to thank you for the link as have book marked it.

    This is a nice "improving skills" project

    but why complicate , if the crayons already display their colors ???

    imagine just the half of your Machine, where the crayons are upside down, and you can push with your finger, and they just pop out ...

    like the back of a pen, =]

    1 reply

    I don't follow, but I am intrigued. Explain further? Like an individual click-to-use crayon?

    Also, the goal of this particular machine was to build the invention to as exact an image as I could the one I imaged when I was a kid, sort of to honor that. So while riffing on it to make an actually more useful version is fun and awesome, that'd be the "why complicate."

    I'm no crayon fanatic, but I love the creativity and engineering behind this device. And the text was very entertaining to read, definitely made me smile :)
    Kudos for a great instructable :D

    I wish I had as much time on my hands as you. I could probably do something like this out of metal and powder coat it and put flames on it and....

    This is totally AWSOME! but my 8 year old self is saying "so it just lifts the crayon up so you can pick it up and use it right?" He's such a drag.

    That's pretty awesome working on a childhood dream like that! You go you!