Alice In Gearland

—– In collaboration with Natalie Tschechaniuk —–

Alice in Gearland is an exploration of kinetic motion using gears. Alice spins, the Mad Hatter runs in circles, and the Cheshire Cat hides —- as his smile remains.


Adding Alice

In my first adventure of laser etching, I had a frustrating and rewarding time.

I was confused about the difference between Raster and Vector etching, so it took a few tries to prepare the files correctly. Here’s the piece as we showed in class for our midterm:

Next Steps:

Next week, we will put on the finishing touches:

  • Etch the spiral onto the gear in the back
  • Add a tree for the cat to hide behind
  • Add the cat’s smile
  • Possibly add some other characters to the gears under the box

Now that we’ve got GEARS, what are we gonna do…. with it?

Our original plan was to make the gears based on time- the large gear rotating once every 24 cranks (symbolizing a day.) Throughout our brainstorming, the concept morphed into time warping and eventually we landed on Alice in Wonderland. Some inspiration:

So, we changed the gears to the appropriate size, then added a cam to place the cheshire cat.

We built the box to measured specs.

We assembled the gears, taking into account very important things like:

  • The distance between the gears and the floor (propped up with washers)
  • The location of the gears on each dowel
  • What dowels get glued to gears and which get glued to the base
  • The order of assembly

Cardboard Impossibility

And Now, for another *brilliant idea!

IMG_0433*by brilliant, I mean physically impossible (but pretty.)

Prototype #2:

We had the idea that one big driving gear could simultaneously drive a tiny gear and the platform. We thought it would have symmetry and stability….

Looks good right? Well, it’s actually physically impossible. We realized that if we made this out of hard, plumb wood, the center dowels would run into each other, as would all of the gears (not where the teeth should go, but literally run into each other.)


  • Corrugated cardboard is not solid, so it didn’t give us a very good idea of how the gears would mesh
  • We knew that our rear gear and small gear are now correct, and smoothing the gears did help
  • We will need to re-design the gear layout to account for the correctly shaped box

On to the next prototype!

Gears… Gears… Gears…

For our Piecing it Together midterm, Natalie and I teamed up to accomplish a common goal: learn how to use gears.

We decided to make an automata box, using gears to move characters above the box.

Our First Brainstorm

Our First Brainstorm

We sketched out a plan, and made a prototype out of cardboard. We used Vectorworks to create the shapes, and referenced Making Things Move for the gear ratios and math!

Our goal was to make a large gear in the back turn very slowly, and two smaller gears to turn a large gear/platform that would make characters move around on top of the box.

The trouble:

  • The material was too thin to determine the right gear shapes
  • The gears got ‘stuck’ on one another– we fixed it by rounding the gears in Vectorworks by choosing “Involute” for Tooth Profile
  • The 2 – toothed gear always got stuck – it was not meshing because the “non teeth area” was not interlaced with the large gear
  • There was a lot of room for error in the spinning dowels

Ok, we learned a lo, so on to the next prototype!