Basic automata and mechanical toy making



Welcome to the magical world of automata, the perfect synthesis between craftsmanship, engineering and artistic expression.

At the beginning of this one-day, face-to-face course you will learn some basic theories about the most common mechanisms used in mechanical toys and their different building techniques.

Based on a design provided by the tutor, each student (maximum 2 participants per course) will then start building a one-shaft toy, drawing and cutting cams, cranks and mechanisms, using different type of wood and a vast range of tools available in my workshop (band saw, belt and circular sanders, pillar drill and other power and hand tools, see attached pictures).

Once assembled, you can paint your toy with any of the many acrylic paints available. This course is designed to be fully hands-on, and students will learn by building every single piece of the toy under the constant guidance of the tutor, who will provide additional information and explanations at each step of the process.

At the end of the day you will understand the basic movements of a mechanical toy and how to design and build eccentric cams, snail cams, lobe cams and cranks. Participants can expect to finish the day with a lovely, fully functioning one-shaft mechanical toy.

Suitable for absolute beginners as well as those who may already have some experience.

Please note that due to the potentially dangerous use of power tools, this course is unsuitable for those aged under 14. Children aged 14 and over may attend if accompanied by a participating adult.

My name is Stef, and I’ll be your tutor. I am Italian and because of my previous job I lived in many different Countries. I moved to the UK in 2017. I started designing and building automata in 2013, when I was living in Bangkok. Since then I designed, built and sold dozens of automata.

Please note that the course is held in my workshop, which is located at “Freestone Studios”, a warehouse in the St Philips area of Bristol home to an eclectic mix of artists, fashion designers, makers and creatives. My workshop is located on the 1st floor (accessible only by stairs, no lift available). On the ground floor there is the restroom and a common kitchen area with a microwave and a fridge.

Please get in touch for additional information.

Cancellation and a full refund can be obtained up to 2 weeks before the course starts. Start dates may be amended on request.

What's included in the price?

All material (plywood, wood, dowel rods, acrylic paints, paint brushes) and use of all hand and electric tools.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): safety glasses, dust mask and ear covers.

If you drive and provide in advance the registration number of your car, I can arrange visitor free parking at walking distance from the workshop.

Please bring your own lunch as there are no shops at walking distance from the workshop.


Stef Palazzi at Penlan Crafts

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Freestone Studios
Freestone Road

Suitable for

  • Adults
  • Christmas
  • Easter
  • Fairs, festivals & exhibitions
  • Father's Day
  • Mother's Day
  • Parking provided
  • Pet lovers
  • Romantic
  • Seniors
  • Suitable for beginners
  • Teenagers


6 hours (flexible times to suit)

Gold Badge
What does this mean?

This craft course provider has been awarded Gold status for receiving 10 or more 5 star ratings from previous students.

The Students' Choice award ensures that course providers get recognised for their efforts in the teaching and practice of UK craft.

They also allow tutors to gain valuable feedback on their courses and for new students to find the course that's right for them.


Christa Kontozoglou - - #36390

We had a wonderful time in this automata toy-making course. We enjoyed using the woodworking power tools to create the pieces of the mechanical toy and Stef was a brilliant teacher guiding us all the way through. He created a relaxed atmosphere with his friendly manner and his attention to detail meant that in the end, we came away with a very professional looking toy even though some of the tools we had never used before. It was definitely one of our favourite craft courses!

Response from Penlan Crafts:

Dear Christa, thank you for your kind review. It was a pleasure to meet you and Ed and I’m sure your lovely daughter will love the beautiful mechanical toy you built for her! Warm regards, Stef

Alice K - - #35838

This was the most enjoyable day I have had in ages! Stefano was such a wonderful tutor - he was patient, informative and very encouraging. I made the fishing cat and each stage was so much fun - from cutting and sanding the mechanical elements to carving and painting the decorative cat and waves etc. The time simply flew by and I didn’t look at my phone once! It was very therapeutic! And I got to take home a lovely handmade toy to enjoy (or maybe, maybe, give to a friend with children, 😉). I would definitely recommend this course and may even have to come back myself for something more complicated! 😀

Response from Penlan Crafts:

Dear Alice, thank you so much for your enthusiastic, very kind review! It was a pleasure working with you… and you’ll always be welcome if you decide to come back for the advanced course 😀

Geoff - - #34276

Thanks Stef for a brilliant day.
I was a bit dubious at the start whether I would be able to complete the Frustrated Fisherman as there were numerous intricate parts to cut out, clean up and paint before assembling the automaton.
Stef was very patient and meticulous in making sure that I had copied everything exactly as per his written drawings and instructions.
He is a very cheerful and attentive tutor and I thoroughly enjoyed my day out.
Thanks to Stef, he made the final inking-in outlining the expression on the Fishermans face and changing my painting into a real work of art. It all works perfectly and I will proudly show the Grand- Children when they next visit.

Response from Penlan Crafts:

Dear Geoff, thank you very much for your kind review! Your positive comments are even more important since they are coming from an expert woodmaker like you... thank you again and I'm sure your grandchildren will love "The Unlucky Fisherman"!

Kate Daly - - #33969

A lifelong wish to build an automaton was brilliantly delivered by Stef. Great location, workshop, tools, advice, help and tuition. All proper wood, so the final toy is beautiful, and the personal achievement immense. You have to choose one of the standard designs, but perfectly possible to have dancing elephants if you prefer to dancing sheep…. Just ask Stef. I wanted something complicated - and we did it.
I had a lovely time.

Response from Penlan Crafts:

Dear Kate
Thank you for your kind review. I am glad you had a lovely time, I really enjoyed working with you! Your enthusiasm and commitment paid off, your automaton is beautifully made (although I’m still debating within myself the right position of the black sheep!). All the best

Andrew Smallbone - - #33757

The tutor, Stef, was very organised contacting me in plenty of time to arrange The Day with does and don'ts.
On the day of the course, which was just Stef and myself, he explained Health & Safety and then we started the build.

The workshop is big enough. All the tools were clean and he unwrapped new hearing muffs and goggles for me.

Whilst I chose to build what looked to be a simple fisherman it did in fact take until 5 pm to finish with lunch eaten on the go.
Stef was at pains to make sure that I made all the parts and I was instrumental in putting it all together at the end. I also had to paint the fisherman. Stef tried his hardest to make sure that I enjoyed the day.

I had a fantastic day. Stef was easy to get on with and he was very attentive to the construction and my wishes.

The course was bought for me as a birthday gift. It was brilliant. I’ve now got an automaton

Thankyou Stef

Response from Penlan Crafts:

Thank you Andrew for your kind review. I am very happy you enjoyed building your mechanical toy. It was a pleasure working with you! All the best

Robert Taylor-Steward - - #33489

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Response from Penlan Crafts:

Dear Rob and Lou, thank you very much for your kind words! It was really a pleasure to have you in my workshop. Your passion, hard work and commitment paid off, your automata are beautifully made! All the very best

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