16th Century Replica Book Wheel

An artist approached me requesting help with the engineering of a conceptual art piece. As they began to describe what they wanted, I realized that their project involved building something very mechanically similar to a design I had saved to my “to do” project list – an elliptical gear bookwheel, as visualized in Agostino Remelli’s 1588 book “Le diverse et artificiose machine“.

The bookwheel is designed to hold multiple open books and allow the user to rotate through them, all while retaining a constant orientation – similar to a Ferris wheel, but instead of using counter-weights to orient the platforms, the bookwheel uses shafts connected to an elliptical gear mechanism to maintain the platform orientation (this method also prevents the platforms from swinging or deflecting due to acceleration and weight).

Sketch of original bookwheel design taken from Remelli's 1588 text.

The design in Remelli’s text (represented in a single picture) elegantly communicated all critical design elements and could be made out of a single material (note the varying geometry along the axis of the gear shafts, all carved into a single wood piece).

The commission project deliverables were CAD design files and material/supplier lists – (the final project was machined out of metal & plastic on-site in Switzerland) & utilized bearings, screws, & other modern components – but in the scale prototyping I did, I tried to stick to the traditional design & assembly methods as much as possible.

I created a 6 inch 3D-printed plastic miniature to share with the client, then later a larger, 2 foot wooden model to demonstrate functionality (using a rotary indexer on a CNC router to achieve the unique shaft geometry).

The final design was produced at a scale of approximately 6 feet per wheel (had to modify all final design dimensions to fit European material stock sizes – if I had considered the final production environment earlier, I would have saved myself a bunch of work!).

Check out the artist, Flint Jamison, & their artwork

Aaron Flint Jamison, Opportunity Zone, 2019. Photo: Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Sebastian Schaub

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