Sunday, May 24, 2020

"Hands" - A Rolling Ball Sculpture - of sorts..... 2019

Sometime last Spring, (2019) for some reason I started thinking about my old college days.
I went to school for Industrial Design, and one of our projects sophomore year was the infamous 'Time Machine'. The idea was to build any kind of machine that would have a definite start, run for 2 minutes, and make some sort of signal at the end of the two minutes. I really loved this assignment and got to work on it right away. I guess if I really thought about it, my idea of using ball bearings in the project probably came from me playing with the vintage Pachinko game I'd purchased just a few years earlier. I use the Pachinko balls in the piece.

My Time Machine consisted of 2 clear plexiglas panels, with axels crossing the span, and multiple arms (levers) with scoops on one end and counterweights on the other. I made a multi-channeled hopper at the top, and the last lever on the bottom was connected to a release back up at the hopper. So each ball would be released one at a time, until all the balls ran out - the last one would ring a bell. At least that was the plan. 
Pretty much everything was made of clear plexiglas. I will say it worked pretty well, but only ran on it's own for one short time in my parents basement. During the critique, it didn't really do what it was supposed to do, but people really like to see it work, and I was happy with what I'd accomplished.

Fast forward 35 years - and I had the idea to remake that (failed) piece, (which was thrown away, and I have no pictures of), and use the knowledge I'd gained over the years making automata, to make it work properly. Instead of plexiglas scoops I decided it would be more interesting to carve basswood hands, (like I do), and have them be the scoops. I added lead weights on the other end of the levers to act as counterbalances. One new element that I didn't have back in 1982 - rotary dampers - that slow the movement of the levers.

Here is "Hands" - it measures 23" x 42" x 12", and is sold.
There's really not much to the piece, physically, and that's how I wanted it. I was looking for minimal support and structure. The chain lift on the left continually feeds the BBs to the hands - not just for two minutes.

A closer view of the ramp on the bottom. 
The last hand gently drops the ball bearings onto the ramp, and the BBs quickly take a U-turn and go the other way. 

At the end of the ramp there's a chain lift to take the BBs back to the top. They wait here until the hooks on the chain pick them up. 

One of the basswood hands, carved, painted, and aged. They are each about 2 1/2" long; and I used 5/8" ball bearings.

Here is the special component of this piece - a rotary damper, AKA a speed limiter. It's that black thing you see with the slotted screw in it. It makes the levers move slowly - both up and down. So instead of the levers catching the BBs, lowering them down, dropping them, and having the lever shoot back up, the levers return gently to their original place. I love how they work.
The notches on the brass piece indicate where the lever goes. This is #5, the bottom lever.

My friend Tom Harold actually make the hooks and welded them to the chain. Here's is the drawing I sent him. As you can see, things changed along the way. Tom is a RBS artist living in Indianapolis. 

Here I am laying out where the levers will be, how much they will arc, and where the pivots points need to be.

This is my drawing for the hands - and my notes about the counterweights. I needed to figure out which hands were left and which ones were right. 

The basswood hands, cut out, but yet to be carved.

One of the hands, carved - and sealed with thin CA glue, for strength.

Six hands. In the final piece I only needed 5 - again, I think things changed along the way.

Five hands, painted, aged and ready to go.

A few of the inner parts of the lead counterbalances. I made a small wooden form and cast lead over these, up to the point of the collar. (See pic with rotary damper above.)

The video..... (watch full screen).

Thanks for looking!


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