I recently made a whirligig that also serve as a house sign. This is planted in our garden and I think the postman have no problem with finding our house.

The best way to experience the whirligig I made is to watch the gif below:


Whirligig in action

I always wanted to make automata but wanted them to be powered in some natural way. The idea to make a whirligig as house sign came from Jimmy Diresta who had a video where he made one from metal (here). I felt inspired and copied his idea but used wood as a medium rather than metal. The whole process of building mine can be seen here:

As with many of my projects I start with a plan that remains mostly in my head with only a few key measurements written down.  In this case it was partly because I had a clear image from Diresta’s video of what I want it to look like at the end. I also wanted it to be reasonable modular to be able to exchange/fix parts if required. The whole thing thus comes apart with only a few pieces glued in place permanently.

I started with the wind mill blades. I wanted cloth sails and made the hub and arms first using wood. After a quick test (using paper) I made some changes to the angle of the blades. I spent a few hours stitching the sails and assembled the wind mill part.


Cutting the hub


Blades of the windmill


Paper sails  for testing


Cloth sails being attached

The frame was made from wood left over after our deck was installed. I made a jig for finger joints and this is the first project where I used it. I am extremely impressed how easy it is to make and how nice it works and looks.


Simple finger joint jig


Kameel inspecting the frame


The frame

I drilled the holes to fit some PVC pipe for the axle to rotate in. The holes for the moving bars was also drilled and cut.


Holes with pvc glued inside

I decided to add some gears. I am not sure why I initially  wanted to do this. I am however extremely pleased with the gear reduction ratio since the wind in our area is quite strong and the speed of the windmill this high. The high wind-speed will not directly translate into direct fast rowing movement  (which would have looked a bit strange) but will be reduced 4 times. At the same time, the  gear setup does allow for weaker gusts to move the whole thing.


Cutting the gears on the band saw


Testing the gears

The main crankshaft was made from a maple branch. I cut it into discs of different sizes. The size of each disk relates to the placement of the numbers and boatman. I drilled these disks at various positions to offset the point of rotation and put the whole shaft together. Dowels were used to connect the various disks. The remaining discs were cut in half to be mounted when the arm and number was connected.


Main disks used in the crankshaft


Assembling the crankshaft


Testing the crankshaft and gears


Rods for numbers and boatman mounted

The numbers and tail fin and waves were cut on the scroll saw.


The fin

I was worried that the movement of the boatman would be tricky to get right. I thus made a prototype and found that it is actually straight forward. I replicated the boatman parts.


Boatman prototype


Stained gears, numbers and all the parts for the boatman


Boatman in action

After all the pieces was made some were stained. I coated all pieces with linseed oil and hope that it will help with protection against the elements. The whole whirligig was then assembled and tested.


All the parts except the windmill

The final step was to mount it. I found the center point of the whole assembly, drilled a hole and added some extra support. We went to the garden to find a spot that is reasonably open to the wind and visible from the road (since it is intended as a house sign).I planted a stake and drilled a hole in the top. The whole thing simply mounts on another dowel that fits into the stake and the bottom of the machine.


Planting the whirligig

Often my projects grow (in size and/or complexity) while I am in the process of building the parts (see also the dart board that I made). The whirligig was also one such project and has become more complex than it needed to be. I was a bit worried that this would be seen as a monstrosity whirling away in the front of our garden rather than a moving house sign. Currently, I think it looks fine.



Mood Barometer

DIY, New Item

I was recently asked to make a Mood Barometer. Here is an image of the one I made:


Completed Mood Barometer

The customer who approached me indicated that she had safety concerns for her colleagues and other people that she work with during the day 🙂 One way to help them would be for her to have an indicator on her office door. This indicator will provide some information regarding the risk that they place themselves in when approaching her at that specific point in time. We thus discussed the possibility of this mood indicator and and after a few draft designs she approved the construction of the mood barometer shown here.

Following is the a video of the building process. Below I provide some additional images and details for building this or a similar mood barometer. The plans for this item is available here (Pattern for sale on Induku on Etsy).

The process starts with cutting the Baltic birch plywood blanks. I decided to use 6mm for the back and 4mm for the front. Plywood are often bent and I found that the 6mm sheet I had in stock was a bit warped. Treatment for this is to apply some water with a sponge to the concave side. I placed it against the heater in my shop with the convex side towards the heat. After a few hours the board was more straight and I clamped it between two flat surfaces overnight to help it flatten out a bit more. The following day it was flat enough to start cutting.


Slightly warped 6mm Baltic birch plywood

After the templates are cut, I sand both pieces. I find it very useful to sand all before using the scroll saw for many reasons. In this case the first reason is to remove all the irregularities caused by the water. Also many of the pieces, after cutting, are quite small and having an initial sanding on the larger banks is much, much easier. The time sanding after cutting is generally reduced and the main area mainly needs only touching up, rather than complete sanding. This does not mean that there is no sanding after cutting, on the contrary, most of the sanding is done afterwards (see below) but an initial sanding helps a lot!


Initial sanding

The next step is to add the templates to both pieces. I like to wrap the wood in masking tape (painters tape) since it is very easy to remove once the wood has been cut. It also prevents a lot of the tear-out and fuzzy edges forming. I stick the pattern on the masking tape and cover it with clear tape (this helps to keep the image edges sharp and not smudge during all the handling, it also helps to lubricate the blade).


Preparing the blanks

Once the preparation of the blanks are done I drill the hole in which the indicator arrow will pivot. This is quite important to do separately on both pieces while the plans are attach since this will allow for easy alignment later on when the patterns are removed. After this is done I drill all the entry holes for the internal cut areas on the front piece.


Drilling the pivot hole

I start the cutting with the the backing piece. This is only one big piece and I cut it with a #5 reverse tooth blade. With this piece cut I stain it using a “Dark Walnut” a water based stain. I add 3 coats with of several hours drying and light sanding in between.


Backing piece cut and stained – first coat

Then the main part of the project starts – the sawing of all the pieces of the main image. I cut the top diamond and the arrow (the arrow is stained in the same way as the backing piece). I continue cutting the characters by removing the bulk of the demon.


Demon and a few of his pieces

After this I cut all the pieces of the demon, including the internal cuts. I do most of the cutting with a #2 reverse tooth blade. Some of the cuts are a bit challenging since the pieces are quite small.


All the pieces of a demon

Even more challenging is not losing pieces through the gap in the saw table insert (I have done so with previous projects). A simple trick to prevent this is to make a zero clearance base by taking a flat piece of wood (I use a 4mm piece of plywood), cutting into it and clamping it in place. I saw this trick on the jimmydiresta’s youtube channel (Bandsaw Tips) and applied it to this, very similar, problem.

zero clearance

Zero clearance “plate”

A second issue is that with this many small and odd shaped parts it is difficult to quickly know which piece goes where. To help with this I marked the back of the wood with a pen. Much less time is thus spent turning the pieces over in your hand trying to figure out which side is up.


Back of the front piece marked with pen

I did, unfortunately, encounter another problem commonly found with plywood: tear-out of the top layer. This happend only on the demon’s right hand and I had to cut another hand. Luckily I had a kept the scrap wood and used a piece coming from just next to the original hand and the shade and grain is thus extremely similar.


The demon’s second hand

Once the demon was done I repeated the process with the angel. The angel is a much simpler character and took much less time to cut and there were no problems with any of the pieces. The next step is to cut all the letters. This font is very angular and quite easy to cut.


The wing of an angel

After all the sawing is done I spent quite a lot of time sanding (I find this is true for most projects involving wood). I remove all the fuzzy edges from the back and sand up to 240 grit. I also use various strips of sandpaper, home made scroll saw sanding belts, emery boards etc to sand between the cuts. I sand the front of all the pieces to 800 grit with a very slight rounded edge. To remove all the dust I place a mesh net on the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner and go over all the pieces with it. It is an effective way to remove the sawdust from between the cuts.


Dust removal

I did several dry builds on the pattern to make sure that all the pieces fit and have the correct look. When I was satisfied with everything I commenced the glueing. I mentioned that the pivot hole is pivotal in aligning the pieces. To do so I placed a skewer (later also serving as the axle of the indicator) into both pieces after applying glue to the back of the front piece. Once in place I clamped these pieces overnight.


Clamping the main pieces together

Again I arrange all the pieces in their places before adding glue and then one by one I remove them, add glue and replace to ensure the image remains as planned. This process took approximately 3 hours.


Doing a dry fitting of the characters


Gluing done!

I also made two wooden washers for the indicator and started the assembly of this part. I also made 3 small legs from a piece of dowel.


Large washer for the back


Freshly sanded wooden legs

To add some highlights to the images I paint the demon’s eyes red and white and the angels halo yellow.


Preparing to paint

To finish the mood barometer I coated the back and front (and indicator arrow) with several coats of glossy lacquer. The last step is of course to add the indicator arrow and the shop logo.


Angel closeup – after 4 coats of lacquer


Back of Mood Barometer with shop lable

I am quite happy with how well the image in wood reflects the original design. I usually spend quite a lot of time designing pieces and often make only one. This item was commissioned and I will probably not stock these. I do however think other people may find inspiration from this design and make their own mood barometers. If you, however, want to make the same one the design is available for sale (Pattern for sale on Induku on Etsy).