The idea

What does it take to make us happy? How do we get to seventh heaven or even up onto cloud nine?

It’s really the small things in life which count and seeing my wife enjoying a swing in the garden outside a mountain restaurant in the Alps I thought that  would be a great start. Originally, I planned to put the swing in a bird cage but then I thought “who’s happy being caged in?” So I decided to swing on a star, carry moonbeams home in a jar, trala and use clouds to swing on instead. There was recently an exhibition in Berlin about hippies and psychedelia, so I decided that a strange bird will sit on my swing, with a psychedelic Mohican haircut, a strange bird who really knows how to enjoy life. To keep him company, I added some heavenly birds who might even be storks just back from delivering their latest load of babies.

Pure happiness

The basic mechanism

I decided to use a crank to turn a small wheel, which then causes a larger wheel to first turn one way and then back the other way.

The basic mechanism. The small central wheel is turned by the crank on the outside of the partition. This causes the big wheel at the left to rock back and forth. Note the black plastic strips in the slot to reduce the friction. These are cut down tie-wraps.

There is a video showing the mechanism working

For an extravagant visual impression, I chose a golden (brass) chain to provide the drive to the top axle. This is screwed to the big wheel beneath the base to transmit the motion to the top of the swing, where it is also screwed in place.

The wheel to make the swing rock back & forth and to pull the strings which operate the birds.

The same wheel at the top which makes the swing rock also pulls the four strings to make the four birds rise up. Strategically placed screw eyes guide the four strings to the four birds.

A string threaded through an eyelet pulls the brass rod up which lifts the bird’s body, the lead weight pulls it down again.

The swinging man

The swinging man has to really enjoy his swing as he is in 7th heaven, so moving forwards he leans back and pulls his legs up with his mouth open laughing. Right at the back, ready for his next swing, he sits up straight with his mouth closed and his legs hanging down.

Like a puppet, he has strings on his legs and a string on his chest. These strings are permanently tied to the framework. As the swing moves forward the strings tighten to pull his legs up, As the swing moves back the string tightens to pull his upper body erect on the seat. Gravity closes and opens his mouth.

His hands are permanently glued to the rods and his thighs are glued to the seat so that his body and lower legs can move freely.



The separate parts of the head and the carved ruff for our fashion-conscious swinger

The head assembled onto the body. Cutting a curved smile into a beechwood egg requires the egg to be held very firmly in a clamp.

One limewood leg, hinged at the knee on a 3 mm dowel.

The arms hinged with screws and plastic washers and the hands which hold the rods of the swing.

The birds

There is a video which shows how the birds move

The wings are hinged to the body using screw eyelets and a piece of bent brass rod. The neck is a piece of white cord which flexes nicely as the body moves relative to the head. My harshest critic, a four year old neighbour asked me why the birds don’t move around in a circle although they are flapping their wings. She is quite right of course and a slightly more complex mechanism would have made that possible. I will tie a knot in my hankie to have a go at revolving birds at some future time.

The heavenly supporting frame

The framework is reminiscent of a Roman temple. The fluted columns are pieces of dowel with round chiselled grooves.

Everything is of course floating on clouds and I chose columns as in an ancient Roman temple to support an ethereally round top. Giant golden hands firmly grasp the ends of the axle for the swing. It is all made of wood, but a lick of gold paint gives things that certain sheen which we would expect in our Seventh Heaven.

The driving wheel was cut with a bowsaw and the groove in its edge was simply chiselled out. Drilling round cutouts supports the impression of a metal wheel when the gold paint is added. The hands could move at first, until trial and error revealed the best position for them to be glued.

The hands were first modelled in plastercine. The hole for the dowel was drilled first and only then was the final shape carved.

Lessons learned

It was fun making this but, as always, I was much wiser at the end than I was at the beginning. Initially I was very casual about the dimensioning of the moving parts and had to beef things up a lot when I noticed my mistake. After some strengthening, the mechanism works, although turning the crank requires a very uneven amount of force depending upon its angle of rotation. The finished item is quite large and the birds are easier to see than the “main” figure on the swing. Of course the columns and round roof are required to support the top axle but they do obscure our psychedelic hero enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures, which is a pity. Maybe a simpler inverted V-shape frame would have been better, without our feathered friends fluttering away up above. I still like it anyway!

Here is a video showing the finished item –