Steampunk Valentine from MechaniCards

Bradley Litwin of Philadelphia is the inventor of hand-operated kinetic sculptures called MechaniCards. Brad wrote to ask if I thought readers would be interested in learning how he makes these unique cards. Valentine's Day is approaching; good timing!

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I hope you'll enjoy seeing a bit of the behind the scenes operation that takes place in the workshop of this interesting and self-taught engineer, artist, and musician.

The Making of a Steampunk Valentine

Brad's first step is to create an illustration that he prints on adhesive paper and adheres to high-density paperboard.

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The first few MechaniCards prototypes were cut by hand with a #11 razor knife, including the gears. Now he uses a computer-controlled, high precision, CO2 laser cutter/engraver.

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Including the rivets, crank, and corrugated mailer or wooden display box, this Valentine model has 48 parts that are assembled in a reliable, repeatable way.

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Where slot and tab assembly isn’t practical, custom gluing jigs are made to accommodate precise parts placement. Design of these can be a challenge due to irregularly shaped parts. All of the glued assemblies are put together with high viscosity cyanoacrylate.

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The transparent graphic panes are laser-printed polyester, ordinarily used for overhead projection slides. Aluminum rivets provide the pivot for linked and rotating parts. A custom-made pressing tool flares the end of the rivet just enough to secure the paperboard part without crushing it or permanently binding the two parts.

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Forgive me... I've made the executive decision to skip ahead many steps to the happy ending where one gear smoothly turns another and another - a hand crank is rotated, the panes cross, and a Be Mine message appears. Sweet!

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Brad signs and numbers each card, glues it to either a wooden display box or corrugated mailer, includes simple operating instructions, and sends it on the way to a special someone.

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Enjoy seeing the Valentine in action and find a variety of card designs at MechaniCards. Learn more about Brad at Kinetic Works.

Ann Martin
Ann Martin

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