Beautiful complex mechanical puzzles, toys, and tools?
December 27, 2015 7:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for desk objets d'art of a particular kind - beautiful, highly complex mechanical objects. One great example would be a Curta mechanical calculator. Another would be

Price is not a major concern; I'm interested in the "solidness" and beauty of the piece (so, no plastic, no made-by-the-millions jigsaw/blacksmith puzzles.
posted by dmd to Shopping (11 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Both the Minox A and the Minox B are splendidly constructed subminiature cameras.
posted by fairmettle at 7:36 AM on December 27, 2015

You might like some of the items at
posted by crocomancer at 7:44 AM on December 27, 2015

The first thing I thought of was a vintage campy derailleur (link to Ebay listings), but I'm not sure it would qualify as highly complex in the way that a curta calculator would. It does have definite solidity.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:47 AM on December 27, 2015

Maybe an avionics gyroscope?
posted by moonmilk at 8:04 AM on December 27, 2015

Maybe you are looking for a built-it-yourself (or not) orrery or solar system?
posted by jessamyn at 8:52 AM on December 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

I wonder if these mechanical models currently at Kickstarter might fit the bill? Beautiful models of a train, tram, tractor, and other things.

does puzzle boxes, and recently finished an extraordinary desk full of mystery and wonder.

You said desk objets d'art, but you might enjoy looking at kinetic art. Here are Derek Hugger, David Roy, and Kinetic Barn.

Also for walls rather than desks, but scratches a similar itch for me: a kickstarter for handmade wooden clocks. It's too late to get a clock as a reward but this is a guy to keep an eye on.

What about the mechanical Lego creations by JK Brickworks? He's got interesting automatons as well as a working combination-lock safe.
posted by not that girl at 8:57 AM on December 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

A sextant/astrolabe fits your requirements perfectly.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 9:25 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I bought my dad a clock from an old Russian Mig a few years ago. It looks great and it keeps accurate time (it's a winding mechanism), but be warned that it makes an audible ticking noise when operating. It's not super loud and doesn't bother me, but that kind of background noise may or may not be your thing. If you get one, they sell plexiglass stands in which to mount it.
posted by Turkey Glue at 9:25 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've always wanted to get a mini stirling machine for my desk, heres a youtube video of one being powered by the heat of a human hand.
posted by Static Vagabond at 10:13 AM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm going to correct the badness in my earlier comment. I am much distracted by children at all times.

Kagen Shaefer does puzzle boxes and similar things. He recently completed an absolutely extraordinary desk full of hidden compartments and puzzles to solve.
posted by not that girl at 10:34 AM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've recently become a big fan of old sewing machines. There are "toy" chain-stitch machines which, while not extremely complex, are solid, well-built, small, and entirely functional. The Singer Model 20 is most common, but other manufacturers have made them in more interesting shapes. Most of these machines, while tiny, could be used to sew entire outfits if you have the skill and patience.

As a bicycle nut, I appreciate sciencegeek's suggestion of a derailer but would actually recommend an internal gear hub - a planetary gear system (sometimes even stacked planetary gears) controlled by a clever clutch mechanism that can operate outdoors for decades with minimal maintenance. Unfortunately, the complexity won't be apparent unless you can get part of the hub shell cut away.
posted by sibilatorix at 1:18 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

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