Happy Holidays! Hard to believe that the year is nearly over. I wish everyone a very blessed holiday and and great new year.
I've been working on a piece for quite a while now. It is entitled, Santa's Relocation. I've had this idea kicking around my head for over 2 years. I saw a video of an automaton featuring 2 dolphins. You can see it here. What popped into my head was an idea about Santa Claus finally giving up on the North Pole and heading to a warmer climate. Where else would he go except to one of my favorite places, Hawaii! He retired his reindeer and sleigh and replaced them with 8 dolphins and an outrigger canoe. At the time I made up a dolphin and put it up on the shelf to gather dust. After finishing Deep Sea Tango, I pulled down the dolphin and decided to go for it. With 4 months to Christmas I thought I would have plenty of time. Sadly, that was not the case. With less than week to go before Christmas I know it won't be done. I made a video of the piece in its current state and it is my Christmas card to all my family, friends and followers. You can see it here.
After making the go ahead decision, I started with the 8 dolphin bodies. They are made up using a 3 layer method. Once the layers are glued up I carve and sand them. I cut out the tail fins and attached and shape them. Finally I cut and attach all the pectoral fins. I have a pod of 8 dolphins.
Next I worked on the outrigger canoe. I looked at some reference photos and came up with a design that I liked. I made a keel out of 1/8" plywood and added formers to the keel and filled in the space with balsa blocks. It turned out well. I went with 2 outriggers and carved those and made the arms and attched it to the canoe. It was time to work on the case and mechanics.
Now that I had some physical sizes to work with, I could draw the design on the computer. I knew that this was going to be big but I was surprised that it was going to be over 5 feet long! I struggled with how and with what material I would use to hold all the gears, cranks and axles. I wanted it to be as light and open as possible so I drew up a design using 1 1/2" lumber. I made up the frames and then it was on to the gears.
There are 11 gears so far. 8, 24 tooth gears and 3, 16 tooth gears. I say so far because I came up with another addition to the project. I thought it would be cool to add a music box to the piece and have it play a Christmas tune. Then I thought it would be really fun if it played "Mele Kalikimaka". The only way to do that was to get a 30 note DIY music box kit and punch my own music roll. I ordered one and when it came I set about making the music roll with help from my wife and father-in-law. I found a great program that helped a lot called Music Box Composer. You can check it out here. The music roll will be joined into a loop and will be able to repeat over and over. If I ever get to the point of trying to add the music box to the piece I may have to add some more gears in order to get the proper speed for the music box.
After playing around with the music box I made up all the cranks and axles for the piece. When they were all done I put it all together (except for the outrigger) for the first time and set the dolphins in place. Everything seemed to work well so it was time to tackle the thing I feared most, Santa. In my mind's eye I have a picture of Santa in a Panama hat, a Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts and flip flops sitting in the outrigger with one hand holding the reins and the other in the classic Hawaiian shaka pose. How was I going to do that? I first started with a drawing and then went to clay and made a little model. It turned out OK but a little large for the outrigger. I then tried just the head alone in polymer clay thinking I could add a wooden body to it later like Tom Haney does in his pieces. That didn't work. I have a tendency to get overly detailed. My wife has a collection of Santas and since they were out now (time keeps ticking away) I found one I like and did a clay sculpture of that. It was simple enough that I thought I could do it completely out of wood. I cut out the basic shapes out of basswood and started carving away. I did the head and torso as one piece. I added blocks to act as the shorts and then legs were added to the blocks. Each arm was a separate carving. When it was all together I was pretty pleased. He is a tight fit in the outrigger and before I could add any feet I had to open up the front bulkhead.
Before I could put it all together I had to figure out a way to connect the outrigger to its cranks. Once I had that figured out I was able to connect up all the tail activating wires to the dolphins and see if it all works. It did! To see it all moving the way I envisioned it so long ago is a personal thrill. The one thing I didn't visualize were the reins. I attached some string along the sides of the dolphins to get a sense of what the reins would look like. I knew that I wanted the dolphins in each pair to be in sync with each other. I thought it would look good if each pair was 90 degrees out of sync as they move so it formed a sort of wave motion. That motion does look good but the reins will go from straight out to a slack loop and that doesn't look so good. The only way to avoid that is to have all the dolphins and the outrigger in sync that way the reins stay in the same position. I didn't think that would be as pleasing to the eye but when I adjusted it to operate like that it wasn't too bad. The problem is that as you turn the main crank at one point you are lifting all the dolphins and the outrigger at once and it requires a good amount of force and it puts a lot of strain on that main crank axle. When everything is heading on the downstroke the weight of everything aids the turning process and you have to hold back on the crank to keep it from turning too fast. Cranking it by hand would not produce a smooth motion. To get a smooth motion I would have to put on some sort of motor that could handle the torque. I'm not opposed to motors but I prefer to hand operate my pieces. What to do? I think I will stay with my original idea and let the reins go slack. Maybe down the road I might invesgate a motor control.
Now all I have to do is finish it! Easier said than done. There is quite a lot of work left to do. Sanding, sanding, filling, more sanding, more filling and more sanding. Then it's paint and sand and paint some more. This is my least favorite part of the process. When it is finished I will put up a post. Until then I plan to enjoy the holidays with my family and hope you do as well.