Turned Robot


Turned Robot:
Colwin Way looks to the future of turning with this fun project.

Colwin Way looks to the future of turning with this fun project

I’m a massive sci-fi fan and have been since I was a kid and I thought it might be a giggle to use this fascination with space and the future to inspire our turning project – a robot. I thought it woud be fun to go right back to the old tin toy robots of yesteryear and be inspired through your thoughts on space travel and turn a multi-piece figure just for fun. Warning! Warning! These figures are pure indulgence on my behalf and have no use or functionality apart from paper weights, bookends or doorstops, but they
are great fun and make you feel good, if not a little nostalgic. This piece is not intended to be a child’s toy, but if you are making it for children extra thought concerning construction methods, materials and finishes used must be looked at. If you sell children’s toys then a whole raft of legislation must be followed to comply with the law on toys. Here is a step-by-step guide to making this fun robot project, but also some colouring techniques with paintbrush, airbrush and felt tip. I encourage you to use your imagination to make your own robot.

• PVA glue
• Thin scrap card for split turning
• 10mm, 18mm and 25mm drill bit
• Skew chisel
• Roughing gouge
• Parting tool
• Callipers
• Dividers
• Sanding disc
• 20mm drum sander
• Paints of your choice
• Wood of your choice – I used lime (Tilia vulgaris) and beech (Fagus sylvatica)  

Drawings and how to resize them
To enlarge or reduce the size of drawings right click on the image to download it and then go HERE to watch a video on how to use paper with a grid to do exactly that.

There is much written and legislated for on the subject of toy safety. The European standard is EN 71 and covers all toys for use by children up to the age of 14. This is for those who make and sell toys and they must comply with all the relevant legislation. Homemade toys for personal use are not subject to the legislation, but there is advice and information that we should all follow and be aware of. For example, what is the age of the child the toy is being made for? Are there choke hazards such as those posed by small parts, etc.? If you are using a string cord and small  handles, there is a strangulation and choke hazard that should be considered, making it not suitable for children under three years of age.  Materials used should be suitable and finishes used should be toy safe. Common sense and a bit of research helps no end. Searching the internet for ‘toy safety legislation’ will help you find lots of useful information. 

We cannot help but be influenced by what we see. I love reading about space travel and, of course, robots and I am also a big movie fan. Inspiration is all around us and what I see obviously has an impact on what I sketch. I make lots of sketches of arms, legs, joints, feet, eyes and so on when trying to come up with something I want to make, but nothing is copied directly. So, when planning your own robot project, you need to think how practical the design will be; can it be turned? Will you need to integrate carpentry and joinery skills? Are other materials and so on needed? Are there going to be any moving parts?
If so, how are they going to be joined to allow them to work as you intend? You also need to start thinking of colour schemes and how you are going to apply the colour to your work. Once you have an idea of what you would like to create, start making a plan of action and concentrate on one design at a time, as it’s easy to get sidetracked.

1. Once you have a design in mind scale up your sketch and draw a rough diagram, which will save a lot of time when cutting your blanks to size. Write the measurements on your diagram in preparation for cutting

2. Start by cutting the legs to size. Note: I’m using a couple of push sticks here and the blade guides are down as close as I can get them to the timber, to keep the blade covered and to support the blade while cutting

3. Here are the main components next to the rough scale drawing. Keep the robot angular, which you may find strange for a lathe project but split turning will help with that (especially on the arms and legs)

4. To prepare the arms and legs for turning we need to cut some waste timber, and glue them onto the sides of the blanks. Using PVA glue, sandwich your blanks with these pieces of scrap wood, ensuring you use a layer of thin card between the three pieces, as this is an important step if you hope to separate your blanks again after turning. Allow these blanks 24 hours to dry before attempting to turn

Turning the body

5. While the arms and legs are drying we can turn our attention to the main body and head. Before turning, drill a 25mm hole in the top of the body blank. This will later take a piece of 25mm beech dowel that will act as the neck. The same size hole needs to be drilled into the underside of the head for the same reason. These holes need to be at least 25mm deep so we can use them as centring holes for the tailstock centre

6. Drill the second hole 10mm, this needs to be drilled through the top of the body to take a 10mm dowel, which will be used later to attach the arms and be a moving part, allowing the arms to swing. You can see here that the hole is around the shoulder area and is 12mm down from the top of the body, but central to the length of the blank. This hole needs to be drilled through from one side in one go, so make sure you have a piece of scrap timber underneath to stop breakout from occurring

7. You can see here the previously drilled hole and how I’m using it to centre over the live tailstock centre. I’m using a pro drive to drive the blanks but either a prong drive or friction drive will also work well

8. Rough the blank down to a round and clean up with the skew. In the cleaning up process also tidy the top and bottom and its end grain. It will be difficult to get a good finish here with a parting tool, so a good clean cut with the skew is important. When happy with the shape, sand to 400 grit

9. Exactly the same process is being used here on the head, including the sanding on the disc sander. Once the head has been sanded drill a 6mm hole in the top and in the side for two antennae to slot into. See the diagram for exact measurement (but I just put them where I thought they looked best)

Turning the arms and feet

10. Turning the prepared glued blanks for your arms and legs should be no different to normal spindle turning. I do tend to have the lathe speed fairly quick (at around 2000rpm). Always wear a face shield just in case. Use a ring friction drive in the headstock and a tailstock centre with the same profile in the tailstock

11. Take small cuts initially, until the blank is down to a solid round and now it’s onto shaping. For the arms cut a fairly simple shape, with a ball on one end to shape the hand later but leave a small amount of waste at both ends to clean off

12. Make the legs from slightly wider blanks and cut a 10mm tenon cut at each end. Use a set of callipers (which are sized off of the drill) to measure the tenon as you cut it. Repeat this tenon on both ends of the blank at 10mm

13. Here you can see the arms and legs turned but not yet split. Splitting is really easy, just lay the blank on a cutting mat or on a piece of scrap wood and use a craft knife to cut down one end of the blank. You will find that the waste timber comes away really easily

14. When it comes to turning the hands, I’d thought for a long time how to do them for the robot but came up with this idea just by sticking to my original drawing. The drawing looked like a circle with a small circle cut out of it so that’s exactly what I did. Using an 18mm Forstner bit, drill a hole off-centre toward the front of the hand, giving a crescent shape

15. Now that the arms have been shaped to this point we can start the clean up by rounding off the top of the arm to create a shoulder. The next step is to clean the face of the arms and the legs. To do this take away the sanding table and sand off any remaining paper

16. Once the arms have been sanded, cut them in half across the length and use a small drum sander to sand in a radius to attach an elbow in the form of a 20mm turned disc. You can see the arm after cutting and re-gluing, and also see the 10mm drilled hole, ready to accept the dowel that travels through the body and acts like a pivot for the arms to move. Use epoxy resin to glue the arms together as this is stronger in small areas. Leave to dry over night

17. The legs also have a disc cut and placed halfway down their length. This is to represent the robot’s knee joints, this time however, the joint is going to be stuck to the outside of the leg and only 3mm thick

This is not a toy, but to be safe, my paints need to comply with British standard EN71, and classed as and carry the toy safe symbol, ensuring all paints are suitable and no small parts are accessible should a child use it.

18. So here we have the final body parts turned, split and sanded, including body buttons, antennae, feet, neck and pivot dowel. Turn the feet the same way as the legs, with a 10mm hole drilled to accept the legs

19. Do a quick dry fit to check that everything fits together and it all looks OK

20. To paint the robot, dismantle all the parts and use scrap wood to mount the individual pieces with dowels and clamps. You’ll see from this picture also that I’ve glued some abrasive mesh to the arms, legs and body to give some texture to the finished figure

21. To start with use a red model-making aerosol to do the base layer. Use a puff technique to apply lots of quick bursts of spray instead of a long jet to avoid over spray and running. It’s also wise to wear latex gloves if spraying close to your hand (it saves a lot of scrubbing later). I’m doing this outside as the weather was perfect for a change (dry with little wind) but if spraying inside make sure you wear a mask and ventilate the workshop well

22. Once the base layer has been applied and is dry we can start looking at the detail. Start with the eyes, you want to get these crisp and bright so use an airbrush and a template. Make sure no other part of the head is exposed and slowly apply layer over layer. There is a big difference between the airbrush and aerosol; airbrush paint should go on almost dry and the continued airflow should help to dry the paint as it goes on. If you get bleed from using an airbrush it usually means you’re putting too much paint on too quickly

23. After the whites of the eyes have been added we can add the black, which I find really easy to do with a black permanent marker. I’m making my robot a slightly malfunctioning robot (something like myself) so I’m giving him some confused eyes

24. Draw a black line with a permanent marker in certain areas of the body, legs, arms and head then use a silver acrylic paint and fine paintbrush to add rivets along these lines

25. Using the same silver paint, but this time dry brush the silver paint over the sanding mesh detail applied before painting to pick out the detail and give a metal effect. At this point cut another template for the mouth in a zig-zag fashion to add to the malfunctioning appearance of the robot

Finishing is a massive subject and one that causes confusion, so I want to have a closer look at some of the colouring products I use and the reasons why. Whether you agree with colouring wood or not, at some point colour will creep into part of your turning. Here are a few pointers to help you choose the right colour for the job:
• There is a difference between dyes and stains: stains very often include dye or pigment with a binder and need to be shaken or stirred before use. They tend to sit on the surface as opposed to soaking deep into the wood like a dye. Dyes have a different consistency to stains and come pre-mixed or in powder form. The big benefit is that they will soak much further into the timber than a stain, but at the same time are far more transparent in appearance, meaning you can get a more intense colour while keeping the grain of the
wood showing through.
• Earth pigments can be added to other substances such as paints, glues, French polish, etc. as a colouring agent they don’t disolve but are held in suspension within the solution. They are naturally occurring minerals found in rocks and soils coming in natural colours.
• Creams and waxes are great to create effects but generally aren’t used to create solid colour. They are applied, then left to harden and burnished off leaving a residue behind. Great for use on textured surfaces, ageing techniques and restoration.
• Airbrush paints come in a huge range of colours and effects from normal primary colours to neon, metallic and glitter, mainly water-based meaning mixing and cleaning is very easy while drying time is very quick, if not instant. Airbrush is easy to control. I would always recommend running an airbrush through a compressor to keep a constant pressure.
• Aerosols come in a huge range, however more ventilation may be required, though nowadays you can easily get water-based aerosols intended for indoor use, which are completely odourless while still giving strong colour.
• Milk paints have become one of my favourite paints to work with, I love the colours and ease of use. They are obtainable in powder form and have completely natural ingredients, are non-toxic and eco-friendly. You simply mix the powder with water to the consistency and intensity you want and apply. Milk paint can be painted onto bare wood and ages really well (actually improving with age).
• Brush on paints could almost describe any type of paint, however, the ones I use for details and small brush work tend to be of the toy safe variety, such as Rust-oleum which are water-based and extremely quick drying with a one coat consistency.
• If you are making toys for children in the UK, paints sold and labelled as toy safe have to have been tested and passed to conform to the UK toy safety regulations 2011, the British Standards EN71 and is the standard mark to look for when buying in the UK. 

Toy safe finishes lacquers, wax oil, paints, brushes and pens


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