Wooden mechanical toy (automata) 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 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


7 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.


Stephanie - - #39964

I can't recommend this course enough, it was just brilliant. The course was a birthday gift for my brother-in-law and he absolutely loved it. Stef was fantastic at communicating with me and organising the gift and Paul my BIL was so thrilled with the day and couldn't wait to show us all what he had made. Thank you Stef, we'll be back.

Response from Penlan Crafts:

Dear Stephanie and Paul, thank you very much for your kind review. It was a pleasure meeting and working with Paul, he is a very talended and commited student :) I am very happy that his baby grandaughter loves "Colin the Caterpillar" and I hope she will enjoy it also growing up! All the very best, Stef

Andrew Whewell - - #38258

What a truly brilliant course. Really enjoyed every minute of it and it helps that Stef is such an interesting guy to talk to whilst learning about his techniques and creations.

Was very pleased with the end product and it will take pride of place in our daughter's room. I feel I learned enough on the day to be able to make creations of my own in future which is all I could have hoped for.

Great stuff Stef. Keep going and look forward to seeing what you create in the future.

Response from Penlan Crafts:

Dear Andrew, Thank you very much for your nice review! It was a pleasure working (and chatting!) with you, I really hope your baby girl likes the toy daddy made for her! All the best, Stef

Sorin - - #36974

It was a really interesting experience. I had to measure, cut, sand and glue everything myself which was what I was looking for. Stefano is a fantastic person, lovely to have around a have a chat. It felt like I've sent the day with a friend doing something that I love.

Response from Penlan Crafts:

Dear Sorin, thank you very much for your kind review. I had a great time too and I am happy you were able to bring back home a nicely built and painted mechanical toy.

paul robbins - - #36271

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Response from Penlan Crafts:

Dear Paul, thank you very much for your enthusiastic review! I’m very happy you enjoyed your birthday present … even more considering that you are an expert woodworking aficionado. It was a pleasure working with you (and thank you for your tips regarding the scroll saw!) and I am glad that I was able to show you the “magic” of automata. Happy Christmas! Stef

Jeremy Arden - - #35839

You just have to do this course if you like making things out of wood. Quite simple techniques using pillar drill, band saw, belt sander and hand tools. But the resulting automated hand cranked toy is an immensely rewarding achievement. Stef is patient and encouraging. He can put right any mistakes which the unpractised student might make. I was so pleased with my effort that I have taken home the materials and instructions to be able to make the dancing sheep toy (with two shafts!!) in my own time. Stef says to bring it back to his workshop if I want to, in order to make sure it is accurately glued together once I have done the initial work so that I don't mess it up. What more could one ask for?

Response from Penlan Crafts:

Dear Jeremy, what can I say…. Thank you very very much for your kind comments. I am happy you had a great time. I enjoyed working with you too. And I am glad I was able to convince you to paint your toy, you underestimated your artistic skills! I look forward to getting in touch with you again to assemble “The Dancing Sheep”… I’m sure it will be another beautiful creation!

Sarah Wallis - - #33987

I spent last Sunday learning about automata and making a ‘grumpy fishing cat’ (at least he was grumpy the way I painted him!). It was the most fun I’ve had in ages, and I loved rediscovering how much I enjoy working with wood to create something, and yes, you do make everything from scratch, learning new skills as you go, so a great sense of satisfaction at the end.
Understanding how a simple story can be told through the use of various mechanisms to produce the desired effect gave me a better appreciation of the fascination with automata; I can see how it becomes addictive.
This is a brilliant course to do, with so many different creative elements to it. Stef is a calm and patient teacher, reassuringly attentive to the safety aspects of using the various power tools, very encouraging throughout, and delightful company.
I can’t recommend this enough. Thank you Stef for a thoroughly enjoyable day!

Response from Penlan Crafts:

Dear Sarah, thank you very much for your amazing review! I’m glad that by building “the fishing cat” you rediscovered your creativity. You are very talented and it was easy (and a pleasure!) to be your tutor and to guide you through the different steps of the automaton construction. Thank you again! Stef

Cat - - #33740

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Response from Penlan Crafts:

Dear Cat, thank you so much for your wonderful review. Your talent and commitment made my task as teacher very easy and pleasant. I am happy you are enjoying your beautifully-made automaton! Best regards, Stef

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