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Making Paper Automata Toys With Rob Ives's Fabulous Book

Make fun moving toys out of paper! Here's how.

Make fun moving toys out of paper! Here's how.

Our Paper Automata Experience

Interested in making paper toys? Look no further.

First, let me say that I am not a paper automata expert! I'm only a beginner. If you are also a beginner, you might enjoy reading about our first paper automata experience.

I stumbled upon this paper craft completely by chance. I was searching Amazon for another item when I saw a book entitled Paper Automata by Rob Ives. I knew right away that I would order it. Not only because the projects looked amazing, but because I have a 12-year-old paper craft aficionado on my hands, and I'm tasked with finding projects of increasing difficulty to keep her challenged.

As you can see from the above photo, we have successfully completed one of the projects from the book. Here's our story.

The Book Contains Four Working Models

We ordered Paper Automata from Amazon. Here's the product description from the site: "A collection of working paper models to cut out and make. As the mechanisms are operated, the hopping sheep hop energetically, and the pecking hen pecks into its feeder. The motley man bows and acknowledges the applause he has earned and the flying fish flaps and undulates its wings. Each of the mechanisms uses a different principle to generate motion."

"Paper Automata," by Rob Ives

"Paper Automata," by Rob Ives

Ordering the Book

When we ordered the book, it was unfortunately on backorder—so we had to wait two weeks to get it. My child asked me every day if I had checked the mail. After lots of "no" answers, I was finally able to say "yes!". Apparently, this is a popular book. And I can understand why.

There are four projects in the book:

  • Jumping Sheep (the one we made first)
  • Flying Fish
  • Pecking Hen
  • Motley Man

I'm not sure what a Motley Man is. I need to look that up.

Automata directions

Automata directions

The Instructions Looked Overwhelming at First

From our previous paper crafting experiences, I knew we would have the initial deer-in-the-headlights feeling at first glance at the instructions and paper automata patterns. Yes, I was right—but at least I knew what was coming and took a deep breath first.

Did it look intimidating? Yes! But like all intricately detailed paper crafts, I knew we would just take it one step at a time. Here's a picture of the inside cover giving basic directions that apply to all four projects in the book such as how to fold dotted lines, etc.

Paper automata pattern example

Paper automata pattern example

The Patterns From the Book

Cutting these out perfectly is very important.

Note: I took photos of the actual jumping sheep patterns before we cut them out, but my camera deleted them. Just for an idea of what to expect, here's a picture of similar patterns to The Flying Fish.

Some notes:

  • Cutting: There's a lot to cut out! Four pages to be exact. We used plain scissors for some cuts, and my favorite tools of all time: a metal ruler and my X-Acto knife for more detailed cuts. Cutting out the insides of circles was the hardest cut we made.
  • Scoring and folding: All dotted lines indicate folds. These lines must first be scored. You can use a lot of things to score the paper. The book suggests using a pen that's out of ink. Getting just the right pressure when scoring is important. Too hard and the paper will tear, too little pressure and the paper won't fold on the score line.
  • Glue: As far as the glue, the book suggests "UHU All Purpose Glue," the gel version. It says "Bostick Clear" also gives good results. However, we used regular 'ole craft glue because it's all we had and I didn't know beforehand to purchase it. I don't suggest using regular glue since too much can cause the paper to warp. So if you order the book, pick up the correct kind while you wait for it to arrive.

Fun Project!

How long did it take to complete? We worked on the sheep for about three or four days, one hour or so at a time. Since we used regular glue (see my notes above), we had to wait on the glue to dry between some steps. Note that in one of the photos above you'll see where I used a loose rubber band to hold the paper tight together while it dried.

What was the hardest part of the project? Gluing the parts together! A lot of thought went into every single part of the printing of the patterns—this became very clear as we started gluing pieces together. Rob Ives went to great lengths using colors and labels to make assembly as clear as possible for the crafter. Still, we had to be very careful to fold tabs in the right direction and not glue things backward, etc.

Will we make the other projects? Definitely! We had a lot of fun with this one.

Had you heard of paper automata before reading this article?

anonymous on October 09, 2010:

Welcome to the wonderful world of paper automata. Your entries here have only begun to touch the tip of the iceberg. I have been doing this craft for many years now. Half of the experience is seeking out that which you currently do not know. Use the internet to your advantage. Search. Find. Learn. The models shown here are by Rob Ives. Start by checking out and Then, let your journey go from there!

Indigo Janson from UK on May 11, 2010:

Looks like you did a fantastic job with your paper automata! I'd like to give this a try.

emmaklarkins on March 30, 2010:

So cute! Congrats on reaching 50!

Tonie Cook from USA on March 25, 2010:

Love paper art! Especially functional paper art! Congratulations on your 50th lens. This is adorable and informative.

JoyfulPamela2 from Pennsylvania, USA on March 20, 2010:

This looks like so much fun!

WindyWintersHubs from Vancouver Island, BC on March 19, 2010:

Congratulations on your 50th Lens. I haven't seen this paper craft before but it looks fun for kids. :)

KarenTBTEN on March 19, 2010:

Congratulations on getting to 50. The projects look like they'd be fun for kids to complete.

inkserotica on March 19, 2010:

I've never heard of this although it has similarities to origami which can be made to move too :) 5* Keeping my fingers crossed for you for Giant Squid!

Joan Hall from Los Angeles on March 19, 2010:

Congratulations on your 50th lens!

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on March 19, 2010:

Totally awesome! The videos really do bring this craft project to life for all of us. Wonderful! Congratulations on publishing your #50. Angel Blessed and added to my Squid Angel Mouse Tracks

Sue Dixon from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK on March 19, 2010:

No. I'd not heard of it either, but it looks great! Hope you make Giant now you've got the 50!


Heather Burns from Wexford, Ireland on March 18, 2010:

no, but it looks fascinating! Congrats on 50!