Five Slat Message Board #1
Project Sheet
creation started February 2021

This automaton is being designed with the intent of it displaying a message on rotating slats.  It is very probable that this automaton will be replicated many times, each time with a different message.

September 22, 2021: The Case is being constructed

The cases that I build are not shipping containers…they are simply transport/storage cases.  The cases keep the dust-out, keep busy fingers out, and if handled gently permit the transportation of the automaton.

The case for 5 Slat Message Board #1 is being constructed. September 22, 2021

August 4, 2021: A New Message

I’ve added a new message to the slats.  It is easier to read, however I am not satisfied with the spacing between the slats and am considering creating another message board so that I can experiment with correcting the slat spacing problem.

If the problem is defined as “the spaces between the slats take up too large a percentage of the image”, then I see these possible remedies:

  • Make the entire image larger.  This will cause the slat space precent to reduce.
  • Make the slat spaces smaller.
  • Add some sort of ‘bellows’ arrangement, so that the stack of slats can reduce in size.

I think that my next message board automaton will incorporate the first two.

Five Slat Message Board #1 is completed on August 4, 2021

July 19, 2021: Almost completed

I’ve been remiss, not post progress with the Five Slat Message Board.  This post will be an attempt to catch up.

The Message Board itself has been both simple and difficult.  It is composed of 5 stainless steel shafts onto which are glued spur gears and triangles that will hold the message slats.  The 18 spur gears 3D printed reliably.  I also 3D printed the brackets that the axles sit in.  Using the pitch diameter, I was able to space the axles perfectly…no binds in the gear train.  

The components that were 3D printed for the Five Slat Message Board. 9 June 2021.

That said, when doing the 3D (software) design I got in a hurry with the triangles and they ended up being not symmetrical.  This means that the magnet holes for each slat must be custom measured (and drilled).  This is ‘bad practice’ on my part.  I use FreeCAD and am attempting to use a spreadsheet for all measurements.  Using the spreadsheet takes a bit longer but in the end, makes things more precise.  Had I been using the spreadsheet (parametric) this error would not have happened.

This is the slat assembly, with the slats and images mounted. July 9, 2021.
The 5 Slat Message Board biped is being painted. July 8, 2021.

As I approach the end of this build everything must be painted.  This is a process that I used to detest, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.  The paint adds a lot of character to the automaton.  I typically use spray paints and hand-applied acrylic paints.

The thing that has caused me the most grief with this automaton has been the timing.  The timing involves the cut of the cams, the lower bellcrank, the s-shaped connecting rods, and the upper ratchet assembly.

This assembly (cam, lower bell crank, connecting link, and upper ratchet assembly is what causes the slats to rotate. July 12, 2021.

I’ve rebuilt these parts at least several times each.  If I did not love what I do it would be frustrating.

Anyway, to bring a close to a long post, the 5 Slat Message Board is almost completed.  I have it running on my workbench.  The timing is reliable.  All I need to do is paint a couple of components and put new images on the slats.

June 6, 2021; Working on the Messageboard
Five Slat Message Board #1

The lower sections of the 5 Slat Message Board are primarily completed.  I am now spending time creating the actual message board itself.

It is slow going.  For several reasons:

  • I’ve taken some time to resurface my workbench.  In the image, you see the old surface.  That black surface has been replaced with vinyl flooring.  It’s a nice change…and it does not shed small black particles.
  • I’m switching my 3D print filament from PLA to PETG.  It’s a learning process.  At this point, I have learned enough to commit to the change.  The PETG is a better filament for my purposes.  It’s stronger, has a tougher surface,  and has a higher working temperature.
  • I’ve had to order some stainless steel shafts and some magnets.  The magnets arrive tomorrow.

I am also learning how to build components that are partially 3D printed and partially handcrafted from wood (etc.)  My 3D printing software skills are still in the beginner stages.  Curved surfaces are my challenge now.  

Anyway, the next two weeks should see the message board functional.  Then I’ll need to disassemble and paint it, and will need to add the message.


The lower section of the 5 Slat Message Board is almost complete. The actual message board itself is what is being worked on now. 6 June 2021.

May 14, 2021; First Life
Five Slat Message Board #1

Five Slat Message Board experienced first life this past week.  It’s always an exciting time for me.  A lot of work goes into the mechanisms, and it is not until first life that I learn how well I’ve done with things.  This automaton, so far, is functioning very smoothly and reliably.

My 3D printer is part of the reason for my success.  For example, I designed and printed the bearing holder for the four bearings that hold the right angle drive in alignment.  They are extremely precisely manufactured and therefore the mechanism runs very well.  It would be difficult for me to create this same precision with wood.

And then continuing in the week I have started to install Proximity Sensor Mk 2 into the 5 Slat Message Board.  It’s going well.  I continue to learn…but things are getting easier.

Here is a video of Five Slat Message Board first life:





The Drive Frame for the 5 Slat Message3 Board is nearing completion. May 10, 2021

May 10, 2021; The Lower Unit is almost completed.
Five Slat Message Board #1

It has been a good week.  I ran out of filament last week and USPS took its merry time getting my new order to me.  6 days to go about 150 miles.  I’ve got another order (magnets) that is now 11 days into being delivered by the post office and it’s still on the east coast.  Something is not right with the postal service right now.

In the middle image, you see the 5 Slat Message Board as of today.  The lower drive motor and electronics shelf is in place.  The pedals have been installed, and the biped is ready to go to work.

It’s coming together like I am envisioning.

I am currently experimenting with replacing my gear motors with stepper motors (going forward).  This past week I was successful in smoothly controlling a Nema 17 stepper motor in the 0-24 rpm speed range.  Smooth as silk.  Quiet. Very strong.  You see the two in the bottom image.  The gear motor is to the left.  The stepper motor on the right.


The Biped for the 5 Slat Message Board tries to get comfortable. May 5, 2021
The Drive Frame for the 5 Slat Message3 Board is nearing completion. May 10, 2021
I’m considering using Stepper Motors instead of gear motors. May 8, 2021.

April 29, 2021; The Biped Pedals
Five Slat Message Board #1

It has been a productive week.  I have completed the creation of the pedal assembly and am pleased that it works well.

Top image: Here are the components of the pedal assembly.  I’ve taken the time to create spreadsheet-controlled designs for these parts so that I can easily modify them if required at some time in the future (for other automata).  Wood and metal work well for many things, but I can get better precision by 3d printing these particular parts.

Next image: Part of the challenge when creating the pedal assembly is to ensure that it is aligned properly as the glue is setting.  I’ve built a fixture that I use to keep shafts aligned.

Third image: This image is simply a photo of the biped with the ring gears…to give me an idea of how things will fit together.  When finished, the ring gears will be located somewhere proximal to where you see them.

Fourth and last image: This is the biped seated, reclined at his final angle, and with his feet on the pedals.  Just before leaving my studio this evening, I filled in some of the voids at the top edge of the knees.

I’m not sure what my next step will be.  I need to sit and stare at this thing for a while and run possibilities and options through my mind.

I have been playing with Arduino and stepper motors this past couple of weeks.  I have been wanting to know if I could use 12v stepper motors to power my automatons instead of the 110vac gear motors that I’ve been using.  Thus far my playground suggests that the 110vac gear motors are the best.  I will be using a 110vac gear motor for this automaton.

The 3D printed components that make up the pedal assembly. April 29, 2021
The pedals for the 5 Slat Message Board are in the fixture being glued. April 29, 2021.
The biped is test fitted to the ring gears. 29 April 2021
The 5 Slat Message Board biped relaxes in what is most likely his final position. April 29, 2021

April 26, 2021; The Biped is Seated
Five Slat Message Board #1

It sure feels good to be hands-on again.  The biped is mostly shaped.  Knees are nylon bushings with hardwood axles.  Hips and elbows utilize leather for hinges.  The head is a 3d printed skull that uses a modeling sculpting putty to add muscle, fat, and skin.  The hair is wood filler.

Next up is the pedal mechanism.

The biped for the 5 Slat Message Board sits in his new seat. April 26, 2021.

April 21, 2021; The Head
Five Slat Message Board #1

These heads all turn out differently…even though they are very similar on the inside.  I don’t have enough command over the medium to control their looks as much as I would like…but I’m getting better. 

Just like in life…we are all different.

The Head is completed. 16 April 2021

April 14, 2021; The Feet and Head are Happening
Five Slat Message Board #1

Today I finished and hinged the arms.  The tennis shoes have been 3D printed and attached.  The head and ears have been 3D printed and are being ‘fleshed out’.

Before I started 3D printing heads I was able to create heads that were sort of comical, not anatomically correct, and a distraction.  Since I’ve started creating heads using a 3D printed skull as the base I’ve been much more content with the entire process.  And I need to mention the ears…my hand-created ears were a joke.  I now 3D print the ears and then glue them onto the skull. I then apply skin using a two-part sculpting epoxy called Apoxy.  In the image, you can see that I’ve got the eyeballs installed and the nose formed from Apoxy.  Tomorrow, before I start to apply more Apoxy I’ll flatten the eyes and do some forming of the nose.  Then the Apoxy will be applied, pretending to be muscle and skin.  And wood filler will be applied to the scalp which will pretend to be hair.

At the end of the day, even though I’m using a 3D printed skull, each head will be its own little creation…all of them will be different.

One of the 3D printing techniques that I use is ‘size changing in the slicer’.  For example, the next time I want to create a head I can print the skull 5% wider than I printed this skull (or 10% narrower, or whatever).   The point being that I can modify the 3D printed skull to fit my intent.  And then I apply muscle and fat and skin.

The tennis shoes have been 3D printed and fastened to the legs. 13 April 2021.
The head has been 3D printed and has received eyeballs and a nose. April 14, 2021

April 13, 2021; The Legs are Hinged
Five Slat Message Board #1

I have been wanting this biped to be a bit obese.  My prior bipeds have all been skinny. 

Pictured you can see the legs and torso have been carved and sanded.  And you can see that I’ve hinged the knees (using hardwood and nylon inserts) and the hips (using leather).

Hinging is an important component of an automaton.  I create my automatons with the intent that they will each last for generations.  I, therefore, give a lot of thought to the things that move.  For example, using leather for the hips in some respects seems like an irresponsible way to create a joint.  On the other hand, my experience with leather and my perception of the sturdiness of leather let me use it with a clear conscience.  It is my belief that leather is very strong and supple and flexible and that it will last for generations where I use it.  Additionally, should the hinges need to be repaired or replaced it’s simply a matter of cutting out the old leather and replacing it.

At this stage in the construction process, none of the joints have been permanently joined.  The final joining will be done after everything has been painted.

The legs for the 5 Slat Message Board have been carved and hinged. April 13, 2021.

April 7, 2021; Carving the Biped
Five Slat Message Board #1

Each biped stands about 11″ tall.  Pictured is the beginning of the biped carving.  The basswood has been rough cut-out with the band saw and drill press.  The only carving knife that I will use can be seen sitting on this guy’s stomach.

Between the last update (February 23) and now I have been designing Proximity Sensors.  Included with this automaton will be a Mark 2 version Proximity Sensor.

The beginnings of carving the biped for 5 Slat Message Board #1. April 7, 2021.

February 23, 2021; The Ring Gear
Five Slat Message Board #1

At the core of this automaton will be a biped pedalling, which will cause a large ring gear to revolve.  The ring gear will in its turn cause the message board slats to move 120°.

Pictured are the ring gear and the spur gear that will drive the ring gear.  Also pictured are the three grooved pulleys that will hold the ring gear in place.

There will be two ring gears…one to the right and one to the left of the biped.

It is envisioned that the biped will be reclined in a recumbent sort of position.

Prototype ring gear for Five Slat Message Board. 3D printed using MatterHackers Tough PLA. February 23, 2021.