There are 54 gears on our average Inner Planet Orrery. They range from 10 teeth all the way up to 120 teeth. I would guess the average tooth count at around 45. That is 2430 teeth. Each tooth is cut by winding the milling table one way and then the other whilst indexing round the dividing head.
Engraving takes patience and concentration from set up to finish, one misstep and I lose hours of work.
There are many skills involved in orrery making but by far the most time consuming part of building an orrery is buffing and polishing the brass. It is definitely a skill that probably isn't considered a skill but like any other skill, you can only get really good and really efficient at it after thousands of hours of practice. For best results it can only be done by hand. 10 grades of abrasive paper rubbed back and forth over the surface hundreds of times.
When I have had camera crews and photographers in for various media things to capture me working this part never makes it into the final edit.
No mater how refined the design or how mesmerising the movement an orrery will only be as good as the finish on the brass.
What better way to show of my skills with emery paper than looking at the finish using my brand new Canon camera. I uploaded a new video to Youtube of a finished Inner Planet Orrery...
Making the base for this orrery is featured in an earlier blog post.
Some people ask me why I have no sound in my videos. The answer.. because I am always contending with noise from outsde the house, inside the house, kids, cat, dog, washing machine.
The orreries are quite anyway, only a slight jangling of gears which are pleasant to listen to but hardly audible without volume on max..
Inspired by our recent video by the Michelangelo Foundation I decided to pep this videos up and wow, what a transformation. Some dynamic shots, music and editing bring the video to life.
Prototype for a new orrery.
Psst! I am working on a protoype for a new model, something that I can make in small batches. It is early days but I will keep you posted.
Thank you for stopping by.
Apologies in advance for the curt descriptions in this post. It has been a very busy and of course a very strange week. I am lucky in that the threat of Covid-19 has not impeded my work too greatly. Good luck to everyone in dealing with the virus.
I completed the work on the two orrery bases from the previous week. What was interesting about this process is how, due to their shapes, separate techniques were employed to reach the same results.
Skims on both the top and undersides of the bases are taken. The round base was then taken over to the lathe.
The diameter of the base is brought to size and then a grove is turned on the top face, this is to house the brass chapter ring. A profile is then turned on the outside edge. The last job is to sand the surface down to a smooth finish.
Over on the mill the edges of the square base are squared up and brought to size and the profile is added to the edge.
Various fixing holes are drilled and the grove for the chapter ring is chased out.
The square base is then sanded until smooth. Both bases are cleaned with white spirit in preparation for treatment. The square base is treated with Danish Oil, three coats over a 48 hour period. The round base was finished with a Rosewood stain giving a darker complexion to the wood. Once dry both bases are buffed with wax to bringing them to a shine.
I will be finishing these orreries off very soon. Here is a sneak peak.
I thought that some may be interested in our process in the workshop. Here is a brief description on how we make the wooden bases. This weekend I have made a start on two 10" Walnut bases, one is to be round and the other square. They are both for Inner Planet Orreries that I hope to complete by the end of March.
You may have noticed the way we make our bases is in sections rather then turn from one solid slab of timber. This is to prevent the inevitable rough end grain from appearing on two opposing sides of the base. It also gives the grain on top a nice pattern encircling the orrery.
I put this job off last week because the Mitre Saw is set up in the shed and it has been very cold out there. I bravely got to it on Saturday, first chopping six blocks at 30 degree angles for the round base and four pieces at 45 for the square.
These are only rough cuts, it is vital that each block is machined flat and parallel with each face perpendicular to the next. This means using trigonometry to set up parallels on the mill bed.
After all five faces are machined it was time to glue the blocks the together. I applied PVA glue to the edges and held them tightly together in our purpose made vice. The blocks went together very well. The pitfalls of not machining the edges perfectly square are gaps showing at the seams which would have meant starting again. Another issues I could have potentially come across would be not having the edges of the square base all meeting at the same distance which would not look right when the bases edges were eventually bought to size.
Recent events may have altered the course of orrery making...
The Heritage Craft Association(HCA) is an organisation responsible for pushing endangered crafts to the fore in order to prevent them from becoming extinct, yes that's right literally EXTINCT. Some of the craft that they help to promote I had personally never heard of and there are others that I thought were doing just fine, well apparently not. Check out their Red List of Endangered Craft, you will find us on it.
When we joined the Red List last year I did not expect what came next.... Enter The Michelangelo Foundation. It turns out that we were chosen to be a part of the first steps of a journey to bring endangered crafts across Europe back from the brink of obscurity.
You can read more about The Michelangelo Foundation and their collaboration with the HCA in a press release on their website.
...It began in May 2019. My father and I were contacted and asked to appear in a brief film about us and our craft, this film was to be shown at fairs in the UK and across Europe. Of course we obliged and in September we filmed, over two days, in our workshop and at a couple of other locations near by.
The film crew arrived a little late the first day, not their fault mind you as some of their filming equipment went missing on the flight over from Amsterdam. Thankfully it was retrieved but it did mean we lost half a day and as the crew were on a tight schedule we had no time to waste.
We travelled into Thetford where we found the volunteer staff at The Charles Burrell Museum more than accommodating, letting us film after hours. Whilst in Thetford I introduced our new friends to the local cuisine, looking back on it now I am not convinced Weatherspoons was a good choice. Fed, we pushed on with our mission.
The filming continued back at our workshop. The cameras they use are amazing, so amazing in fact as to work best in minimal light. Not the most conducive method of working on lathes when wanting to retain all 10 fingers but we succeeded with digits intact.
The director, Thibault Vallotton, inspired by the opening credits of Peaky Blinders no less told me that he wanted a Victorian industrial scene as a back shot. Norfolk is a rural setting and the best we could find at short notice was Stoke Ferry which is home to a few old building and one in particular made it into our film. Stoke Ferry Hall is an imposing rectangular red brick building with sash windows and an elaborate stone entrance, it is reminiscent of a time when words like lathe and mill would have been common parlance.
Under the direction of Thibault. my father and I walked up and down a street in Stoke Ferry for what seemed like an eternity for a shot that didn't make it into the finished film. Perhaps that was retributions for our Weatherspoon visit, hmm I wonder. Of course in reality the finished video is only three minutes long. The fastidious nature of the film crew was imperative what with the short time that they had with us. I would do well to remember that fact if a similar opportunity was to arise again.
Fast forward to February 2020. The film was premiered alongside two others at Sommerset House in London. Wow, what a venue. We watched along with a full house, following introductions by HCA Chair and Calligraphy specialist Patricia Lovett and The Michelangelo Foundations co-executive Alberto Cavalli.
You cannot fault the film, the shots looked amazing and it was well received by the room. I left Sommerset House feeling a little taller, not just confident from the warm applause that we had received but inspired by the words of Patrica and Alberto, that our craft can still have significance in a world which is all too busy rushing forward towards the next thing. We need to stop, take stock of what we have. All importantly we need to make sure that we never lose our ability to invent, to craft, to do the things that make us unique.
I need to make more of an effort to share my work, not just finished orrery but also the process we use, tools we make and what we am currently working on. This is my first steps towards doing that. I will be sharing more ideas on this blog and on social media, I am leaning more towards Instagram right now. I would be honoured if you followed us on the journey.
You can see the finale video below, notice my pedestrian sentence in subtitle form in the thumb nail. Note to self... 'must be more inspiring'. The two other films on show were of Collar & Harness Maker Kate Hetherington and David A. Smith who has far to many talents to list.
One busy orrery makers attempt at giving a peak behind the curtain of an irregular job in somewhat regular intervals.