Big Wheel Lift #1. Completed July 9, 2019.

Project Sheet
Big Wheel Lift #1

created January 6 – July 9, 2019

View the YouTube video here.
View Big Wheel Lift Sales Details here.
View the Construction Journal here.

9 July 2019, Completed
Big Wheel Lift #1

Big Wheel Lift #1 is completed and operating beautifully.  It is smooth and quiet and colorful and is providing an excellent workout.

Measuring approximately 25″ wide, 21″ high, and 9″ deep, and weighing about 8-1/2 pounds, this automata has both an electric motor and a hand crank.  It will operate continuously, or in cycles of 12 marble drops, or can be hand cranked.

Many bearings have been used in the construction of this automata…which operates very quietly.

If you would like to purchase Big Wheel Lift #2, a commission can be arranged.  $4,000.  Delivery within 3 months of finalizing the commission.

Here is a YouTube video that shows Big Wheel Lift #1 in operation:



Big Wheel Lift #1 completed 8 July 2019

13 October 2019: In Public
Big Wheel Lift #1

Big Wheel Lift #1 is enjoying being on public display.  In 2016 I created a 20 Pipe Street Organ and I have been playing it in public 2-4 times a month.  I’ve started taking Big Wheel Lift #1 with me to the venues where I feel I can control access (young folks) and to where I can actually transport.  It takes two trips to the car.  At some of the venues where I play the organ I simply cannot take two trips.

Anyway, using the battery pack (that I mentioned 14 August) I turn on Big Wheel Lift #1 and start playing the street organ and people cheer up.  When they stop to visit the organ they almost always notice Big Wheel Lift #1, with many becoming fascinated.  The meter now reads 31,644 marbles cycled.  Big Wheel Lift is proving remarkably reliable…rarely dropping a marble or missing a beat.  If memory serves in the last 4,500 or so marbles…none have been tossed out.  Not bad.

Regarding “automata”, when people stop to chat and I speak the word “automata” many have never heard of the word…so discussion happens…which is good.  It’s good bringing this automata out in public.

Big Wheel Lift #1 displays alongside Misty, the 20 Pipe Street Organ. At the Bernardo Winery Farmers Market.

6 September 2019: New Carrying Case Completed
Big Wheel Lift #1

Big Wheel Lift #1 is completed and operating beautifully.  It is smooth and quiet and colorful and is providing an excellent workout.

I have completed the carrying case.  It’s nice having a safe way to transport and/or store this automata.  The case is made of 1/4″ and 1/2″ Baltic Birch plywood.  The exterior is painted a Dark Forest Green camo color.  The case is practically airtight and the automata is cradled at each end so that it will not move around.

Big Wheel Lift #1 Carrying Case

28 August 2019: A New Carrying Case
Big Wheel Lift #1

Big Wheel Lift #1 is completed and operating beautifully.  It is smooth and quiet and colorful and is providing an excellent workout.

As I need to do for all of my automata, I am building a carrying case for Big Wheel Lift #1.  Not a shipping container…just a carrying case.  This will help me transport past curious eyes, and will keep the automata dust free.


The new case (still under construction) sits behind Big Wheel Lift #1.

14 August 2019: Power Up
Big Wheel Lift #1

Big Wheel Lift #1 is completed and operating beautifully.  It is smooth and quiet and colorful and is providing an excellent workout.

In August 2019 I purchased a portable power bank that has a 110vac outlet on it.  I plug Big Wheel Lift #1 into the power bank and it will run for 12+ hours.  Sweet!  

I street perform with my 20 pipe street organ 2-4 times a month.  I’ve taken Big Wheel Lift #1 with me the last three times…people love it.  It’s a great addition to my performance.


110 vac To Go. Acquired August 2019.

6 July 2019, Almost Completed
Big Wheel Lift #1

The last three weeks have been largely successful and also a good learning experience.  Big Wheel Lift #1 has been painted and is now fully assembled.  I’ve run 1,500 marbles through without incident.  This automata is running beautifully.  In the image to the right you see most everything, missing are the biped and the marble runs.  The marble runs are now in place and the biped is in the final throws of completion, with just the copper leaf and patina remaining to be done.

As I have been painting I’ve most often felt that the process could be easier/better.  I’ve been using acrylic craft paints that I’ve purchased from Michaels.  I’ve been careful to have them creamy consistency and well shaken before use.  I’ve also primed everything with spray paint.  In my quest to improve things I’ve now taken the time to study acrylic paint (the Liquitex family) in some depth and realize that I need to make some changes with my painting workflow:

  1. Instead of spraying primer I need to be using Gesso.  One coat should do it.
  2. I will be using Liquitex Soft Body Acrylics for my next project.  These paints are super rich with pigment.  This combination of Gesso and Soft Body should give me a beautiful paint job with 2-3 coats.  Additionally, there are additives that I can use that will give iridescent and pearlescent effects.
  3. And then a finish coat with acrylic varnish.  This combination should provide a paint job that will last for many human generations.

The undercarriage has been painted with spray on camo paint…using four colors.  I continue to like and appreciate this treatment…the undercarriage falls a bit further out of eyesight and yet is still there if you care to look at it.

The next few days will be spent applying copper leaf and patina to the biped.

July 6, 2019: Big Wheel Lift #1 is almost complete.

13 June 2019, Painting and Leafing
Big Wheel Lift #1

Many components of Big Wheel Lift #1 have been disassembled.  All components of the drive frame have been removed and either painted or copper leafed. 

In the image to the right you see one of the cams that I have applied copper leaf to.  Since this image was captured I’ve added a patina to the leaf using a combination of vinegar, salt, and ammonia.  More on the process of metal leafing later…after I am more adept.

As I disassemble and paint the components I am at times disappointed with the sanding that I’ve done thus far.  It’s far easier to properly sand something before it is glued in place than after.  On the other side of the coin I’m pleased that most of my presanding has been good quality.  My sandpapers of choice are 3M Ultra Flexible sanding sheets (100, 220, & 320 grit).  I cut these sheets into pieces approximately 2″ X 4″ and find that my sanding is better than it’s ever been.  I really like the flexible backing material.  I like to have lots of curves in the art that I build and being able to sand with these extremely flexible yet strong sheets is wonderful.

I’m starting to experiment with metal leaf…in this case copper leaf.

7 June 2019, Disassembly for Paint
Big Wheel Lift #1

Big Wheel Lift #1 has now lifted 9,101 marbles, about 5,000 of them under power.  The mechanisms are performing very reliably.  It’s time for paint!

During the disassembly process I photograph every step and then using a Google product called ‘Slides’ I prepare a record of the disassembly and I print it out and sleeve the pages and keep them in a 3 ring binder.  These disassembly images are important not only for the process of reassembly, but they are important when creating the next version of the Big Wheel Lift.

The painting process will be more fully documented in the weeks to come but is basically this:

  • Fill and sand everything, to 120.
  • Spray paint the 1st coat of primer (black automotive) then sand to 220.
  • Spray the second coat of primer (grey automotive) then sand to 220
  • Spray final two+ coats of enamel on a few pieces.
  • Most all else is hand painted using acrylic paint.  I’ve not finalized the color pallette yet.
  • Some components are copper leafed.
At 9,101 marbles lifted, Big Wheel Lift #1 is ready for paint.

29 May 2019, First Life!
Big Wheel Lift #1

The big day has come and it was good.  I flipped the switch and Big Wheel #1 began to operate, powered by an electric motor.  This is my first automata that is powered with a motor.  I suspect that all future automata will be electric powered.  People seem to expect it.  And I must admit that I enjoy sitting across the room and watching the automata operate.  I don’t need to be up close cranking…I can be at a distance watching and listening.

This automata has three modes: 1) It is hand crankable. 2) Flip a toggle switch and it will run until you turn it off. 3) Push a button and it will circulate 12 marbles and turn off.

When I first ran Big Wheel Lift #1 under power I noticed several little things that needed attention.  I fixed them.  Since then Big Wheel Lift #1 has circulated more than 1,200 marbles…with just one derailment.  I am very pleased.  Another thing that I’m pleased about is the fact that the motor is quiet…almost silent.  Very nice.

My plan at this time is to let this automata run under it’s own power for about another 4,000 marble circulations.  Then I’ll disassemble it and paint it.  Then reassembly and more testing.

Creating Big Wheel Lift #1 has been a rewarding experience.  I’ve learned a lot.  Future Big Wheel Lifts will be modeled from this one…but will each be incrementally better than the last.  The more creation that I do the better I become.  Too bad that I’ll be dead before I am perfect :-).

Here is video.  Just FYI, captured with my Pixel 2XL and edited with KDenLive.  Enjoy.



Big Wheel Lift #1 is finally under power. A good day.

20 May 2019: Drive Frame, version 2
Big Wheel Lift #1

As I have been adding the drive components into the mechanical frame I’ve run across a clearance problem…the lever cam follower is rubbing on the pedestal drive belt…a bad thing.

To fix this problem I’ve done some tweaking and rearranging…but have determined that the correct way to deal with this issue is to lower the Big Wheel idler cluster.  This mean a very deep disassembly and the recreation of the two mechanical frames.  You can see both of them in the scroll saw, almost completely cut out.  It seems to me that I had the same problem with the Scissor Lift…I had to recreate the mechanical frames for the Scissor Lift also.

Oh well…that how these things go when you build out of your head without plans.  Sometimes things need to be rebuilt 2 and 3 times.  I’m fine with the process.  Each time I rebuild something the whole thing is better than it was before.

Big Wheel Lift #1 Drive Frame, version 2 is in the process of being created.

16 May 2019, The Mechanical Frame
Big Wheel Lift #1

This is the part of the creation process where it gets a bit nerve racking. At this time I’ve got the Big Wheel created and I’ve got the bi-ped created and seated on his exercycle.  What I’m working on now is what I call the ‘mechanical frame’.  This is all the stuff below the ‘floor’ that causes, times, and distributes the motions.  As I’ve been creating I’ve always kept in mind things like timing, and speed, and range of motion.  I’ve been leaving room for things and making allowances for what I think the mechanical frame will need.  And now it’s being completed.  It’s almost time to turn the crank or to flip the on switch.

Within a few days I’ll know if I’ve got a viable automata.  Within a few days I’ll know if what I’ve been working on for 5 months has been a waste of time, a learning experience, or for a good cause.  I remain optimistic…I believe that Big Wheel Lift #1 will be a very enjoyable automata.


Cam Followers for the Arm Levers.

8 May 2019, The Pedal Pedestal
Big Wheel Lift #1

This past week has primarily been the creation of the Pedal Pedestal.  It’s mostly finished now.  In the image you can see the little bi-ped astride, testing the fit.  I need to lengthen the slots in the base a bit, to account for the curvature of the levers.

The Pedal Pedestal is a critical component that I must build carefully.  It contains 6 ball bearing assemblies, 4 magnets, a sprocket.  The assembly is glued, rather than screwed, which means it cannot be disassembled.  So, I’ve got to be very careful and deliberate.  This one has turned out nicely.  No slop…it’s nice and snug…and it looks good.

Now my focus is on powering the automata.  I’ve got the motor mounted and the wiring 10% done.  The thing that will take the most time is the creation of the pulleys for the drive belts.  I’ve also got to fabricate the hand crank.  

Lots going on.  Big Wheel Lift #1 may be under power sometime in the coming week.

The Pedal Pedestal is mounted.

1 May 2019, On and Off
Big Wheel Lift #1

The objective is to be able to push a button and have the Big Wheel go through 1 revolution, 12 marbles.  And also, an OFF button.

The mechanism has been interesting to create and build.  This one is a bit bulky but I’m sure that it is sturdy.  It should hold up well over the years.

The mechanism pictured is not final.  In it’s final form it will be completely assembled and painted.  As with all of my “mechanical frame” paint schemes, this one also will be dark camo colors. There will be portions of this assembly that will not be painted…that will be left natural.  These unpainted pieces are the sliding parts which instead of being painted will be lubricated with wax.  The connection to the Trip Lever on the Big Wheel assembly is via a magnet…which allows the Big Wheel assembly to be easily disconnected and removed.

On and Off buttons for Big Wheel Lift #1

23 April 2019, Almost Ready to Power
Big Wheel Lift #1

The Big Wheel is now mounted to the table…easily removable for servicing because it slides into place and is held by just one screw.  Disconnect the chain…unscrew the screw…slide.

In the process of motorizing the Big Wheel Lift I’ve decided that I want the big wheel to make one revolution and then turn off.  To this end I’ve been designing the mechanism that will allow:

  • Push to Start
  • Push to Stop
  • Or, after started, will stop the big wheel after one revolution.

All mechanical.  I had considered using Arduino and magnets but decided that if one of these Big Wheel Lifts ends up in Europe somewhere (220v) I did not want to have to deal with the electronics.  As is…a simple motor switch out will do the trick if 220v is the destination.

There will be a hand crank also…personally I find it pleasant to crank these things.  I have a micro switch on order and expect to have this motor driven sometime next week.  After it’s under power it will be tested for hours and hours and then disassembled for paint.  At this time am thinking pale shades of green with a burnt orange highlight.  We’ll see what my wife says…she has a good sense for colors.

The Big Wheel attaches to it’s table by sliding in groves.

16 April 2019, The Table
Big Wheel Lift #1

Now that the test stand is completed and I have an understanding of the geometry of the powering mechanism, I am able to create the table (on which the automata will sit) and the mechanical frames (below the table that will contain the sprockets and cams and followers and motors, etc).

Some of you may notice that I don’t use a lot of straight lines when I create.  I prefer gentle, organic curves.  I use french curves frequently when I am roughing out a design.

You will note that the table is sized, it’s got legs, and its got it’s mechanical frame.  The first mechanical frame is always the most difficult because I need to anticipate everything that the frame will contain.  One omission and I need to recreate the frame sides, which takes a long time.  

This next week will be spent adding the powering assembly (the biped, motor, cams, chain, etc.).  I suspect that within two weeks I’ll have the entire Big Wheel Lift #2 under power.

In mid stages of creation, Big Wheel Lift #1 and the table and mechanical frame.

9 April 2019, The Test Stand
Big Wheel Lift #1

The image to the right shows just the bare test stand, however as of this writing the test stand is fully operational.  Not pictured are the cams, the bearings, the motor and chain.

I’m pleased with the test stand and feel comfortable that I can use the geometry on the actual Big Wheel Lifts.  

I’ve got a 4 watt electric motor powering the test stand and it seems to be very adequate.  After hours of operation the motor is warm…not hot…and it is very quiet.  The biped does 1,200 cycles per hour and has exercised now for about three hours.  It’s interesting working in the studio and having this little guy exercising on the work bench next to me.  In a weird way it’s sort of like having company.

Here is a link to the video on YouTube.  Else view below.



The Big Wheel Lift series biped test stand (prior to cams, chain, and motor).

2 April 2019, The Pedal Mechanism Works
Big Wheel Lift #1

All of the Jim’s Gym series automata work with the concept of a biped (a Jim’s Gym Club member) exercising. The power for the Big Wheel Lift is generated by a biped pedaling and pulling levers.  I’ve not yet created a biped pedaling…so for a little more than a week have been focused on the pedaling part of this automata.

Part of the process is simply figuring out proper geometry and dimensions.  Then the construction process must allow everything to fit and to operate smoothly.  In the Jim’s Gym series I want all of the bipeds to be the same size, and in fact I am hoping to be able to create them all to the same template.  I also want them to be able to easily be removed from the assembly.

It quickly became apparent to me that the axle for the pedals, and the pedals themselves were not going to be a trivial piece of work.  My goal is always to build durably, with smooth operation for thousands and thousands of cycles.  In this case I’m using two ball bearing on the 1/4″ axle, and then nylon bushings for the pedal bearings.  All of this needs to be created to relatively small dimensions.  I realized that I would not be able to use even #2 fasteners because of their bulk and so would use CA glue.  This means that this first pedal assembly must be well thought out before assembly because it will be glued, not screwed, and therefore will not have serviceable parts…but rather will be an assembly that must be replaced as a whole if it develops problems.  The goal, of course, is to have no problems.

The pedal assembly that you see in the image to the right is a portion of a biped test stand which I am making specifically for this Big Wheel Lift series.  The test stand will be to the same dimensions as those on the actual Big Wheel Lift.  The biped will be able to easily be removed because it uses a socket and magnets for attachment.  The test stand is powered by a small electric motor.  The biped will be put through thousands of cycles before it will be placed into the Big Wheel Lift assembly.  I will post a video of this test stand after it becomes operational.

Bottom line…just this evening I got the biped pedaling properly.  I was simply hand cranking…observing…and am pleased with how it all looks in action.  Now to get the levers and the motor installed into the test stand.  Perhaps another week…maybe a bit more. 


The uncompleted “Pedaling” test stand.

23 March 2019, Magnetic Shock Absorbers
Big Wheel Lift #1

I’ve incorporated magnetic shock absorbers into Big Wheel Lift #1.  As of this date the big wheel assembly is essentially completed.  I have started work on the biped section of the automata.  Here is a video that shows the shock absorbers in action.


Magnetic Shock Absorber

17 March 2019, Round and Round it Goes
Big Wheel Lift #1

This is how the big wheel assembly is looking at this time.  Powered only by hand crank at the moment there is still some tweaking to do…but I’m now getting very close to working on the “pedal part” of this automata.  Will have some video up in a couple of days.

I’m very pleased with how this is coming to life.

The big wheel assembly is nearing completion.

6 March 2019, The Countup Begins
Big Wheel Lift #1

For a variety of reasons I include mechanical counters into my creations.  It’s time to add the counter to Big Wheel Lift #1.  I never reset the counters.  For example…this one is going on at 00008.  When this automata leaves me it will most likely register somewhere near 05000.  I plan to do extensive endurance testing with all of these.  It’s important to me that the builds be high quality and that these little machines will operate reliably for a long time.

All of the Jim’s Gym series of automata will include counters

15 February 2019, The Marbles are Rolling
Big Wheel Lift #1

As I freebuild I make changes to the design, sometimes recreating parts of the assembly 5-6 times.  At this time I’ve got the marbles being raised to the top.  Things are not perfect…there is still a long way to go…but I like what I’ve got going here and feedback from the folks in my little world have good things to say.

Marbles in the Big Wheel are moved to the top of the wheel.

6 January 2019, Creation Begins
Big Wheel Lift #1

The idea has been in my head.  It’s now time to start the freehand build.  The concept of this automata is relatively simple: A Jim’s Gym member will pedal a bike which will power a Big Wheel which will raise marbles to the top so that they can recirculate back to the bottom.

A feature of this automata will be magnetic shock absorbers.  In the image to the right you see me sketching the Big Wheel side frames, which will will be cut from 1/4″ Baltic Birch plywood.  It is not unusual to see me using French Curves as I design.  I’m not a fan of straight lines.

Big Wheel Lift #1 begins