1983 Tour with Gordon Bradt
Kinetic Sculpture Clocks
Gordon Bradt & Kinetico Studios
This is a transcript of a videotaped tour of Kinetico Studios led by Gordon Bradt in 1983 for a group of three young boys.
Read for yourself in Gordon Bradt’s own words how he manufactures his products and how he has made his small business a success.
“Hi Boys, welcome to our studio. This is called Kinetico Incorporated where we make these clocks and these sculptures and I’d like to show you how to do it. OK? Alright, now, you’ve seen our clocks and this is the small clock, what we call Clock Jr. with the three little men who move around inside, and this is the Clock Sr. that has six little men. And then we have of course, here’s some of the sports figures, like the Fisherman who catches the fish. And why don’t we start over here and we’ll show you how we make these bases for these fishermen. Because we think that’s pretty interesting. Want to come over here?
“We’re here at the part of the shop that we make the bases for the sports figures. And they’re made out of these little plastic cups which are actually the kind of cups you buy at a grocery store for cocktail glasses and so on, and we spray them with special black finish paint, and then in these fixtures over here we fill them half way full of concrete, so that we have a position to mount the motor in, and hold it in place. And that’s what all these bases along here are, have a motor already assembled in them. And they’re ready to be filled again with concrete right up to the top, and that holds the motor in place and that also gives it all the weight that’s needed to have the sculpture not move around when it’s working. And, most of the things that you’ll find here in the shop, we have to work with low cost ways of doing things, like having these disposable plastic cups that are our bases. Because in a small business like this, you can’t have big hundred thousand dollar machines and special tools and so on, so as you go through here, you’ll see the kinds of things that we’ve done to keep our costs down, so that we can sell these at a reasonable price. So, let’s go into the other room now and see some of the other operations.
“The basis for an awful lot of what we do here, boys, is made out of brass. You see all these little brass parts all over the place, and the way we get these parts shaped and fastened together is with a little acetylene torch like this, that heats the brass up enough so that it actually melts. For example, here’s one of the rockers on the clock that rocks back and forth, and that’s made all of parts of brass. And I’ll show you what happens to a piece of brass when you start to get heat on it. You see how it’s starting to ball up? Can you see that? And we can shape that up into a big ball like that, let it cool down, it will just take a second. It’s still red hot, but that’s the way we shape up, for example, you can see these ends here on this rocker, and here’s some of the gears for the clock, you see that axle right in the center, the spokes, is the same way, we’ve done that with the torch. And we make the heads on the sports figures, you’ll see those, and the heads on the men of the clock, so that many of the things that we do are shaped by either balling up the brass into pieces, or fastening the pieces together, or brazing the pieces, which is what we call the operation when we fasten two of these pieces together. Here for example, this big frame part for the clock is all brazed together, and later on we’ll show you how we make those all shiny and polished. OK, we’ll walk around this room and see some of the kinds of parts that we make here, I showed you these, these are the parts of the clock, these are actually kind of springs around a wheel, but they are used for gears. And when we run one spring against the other, all of a sudden, we’ve got two gear wheels. And that’s the secret of all the mechanism that’s inside the clock.
“We have all sorts of operations when you have to make these figures, they have to run by electricity, so we have to take all the cords and put switches on them, and we have to fasten them to the motors and that sort of thing.
“OK, boys, about how we had to really come up with some low cost ways of making this business run. And here’s one of them. See here, this is an old discarded hand drill that came out of a junk pile, and by fastening the motor to it and a shaft, we’ve turned this into a spring winding machine. And we wind these kinds of springs on it out of straight rods of brass. And you’ll see after a little bit how’s that’s done, but I just want to show you around the room here, the kinds of low cost ways that we do things. For example, you’ve seen these in a hardware store. You buy these for about fifteen or twenty dollars, and these are normally just used for cutting wire and so on, but we mount these with special stops and so on, and we cut our various lengths of brass to the right lengths with that. And then, over there, are two machines that we call humidity chambers, and actually they’re just a couple of old dishwashers, where the heating element is turned on to keep the humidity down inside them. And that’s the kind of equipment that we have in here that keeps our costs down. Now, if you want to walk down to my other shop with me, why, I’ll show you how we wind our springs.
“This is a lathe, that we wind all these coiled gear springs on. These are the kinds of springs that go into the clock. And what we have is just a simple, what is called a screw cutting lathe, in other words, when you turn this on, and when you put it in gear, why, the bed will travel across at a certain speed. And, as it moves across, we’re feeding straight wire in against the mandrel, and we wind the coils up. And we’ve got special switches on here that it automatically shuts off at the end of the coil. And you can see, with all the springs we have in our clocks, and the bodies of the figures, and the shoulders of the figures, we have to make a whole lot of springs all the time, so we have to have a machine like this set up that’s pretty simple to make them. And that’s how we do it.
“We told you about some of the things we do that are low cost. These are like ice cube trays, and that’s actually how we started out, and that’s the way we make all these plastic heads for the figures. We cast them with polyester resin, which is a thermal setting plastic that you add a few drops of catalyst too, and you pour it into these trays, and it generates a little chemical heat in there that sets these up, and out pops these little plastic heads. And, aren’t they pretty? And they add a lot, we glue them to each side of a ring, and here’s a typical head assembly with spring shoulders, and a baseball cap, or this guy could be a baseball player or golfer, or this could be a hockey player too. But that’s how we make the plastic heads for the figures. Now, I want to show you how we get them so bright and shiny. OK, so let’s go over here.
“These are our tumblers, which are actually just five gallon drums turning by means of a gear box like you can find in an old washing machine, and they’re filled full of a plastic polishing media, which has polishing compound embedded in the plastic. And, as that’s going around, we put some water and some soap suds and this special media in there, and then we throw all of our parts in there, and as the plastic wears away from the media, rubbing against the parts, it polishes them, because the polishing compound is exposed, it keeps rubbing against it. And that’s how we get everything so shiny. OK, that’s how we do the polishing, but now we have to keep them polished, you know, so they’ll stay shiny after we finish. So, over there, we have a booth, that if you want to walk over there, we’ll show you how we do that.
“All this is, is a big pan of clear lacquer. And we take the parts and we just dip them right down in the lacquer, and then we hang them up. And, we let them dry, and now they are coated with lacquer so that now they’ll stay nice and shiny from there on out. And, so that’s how we keep our parts, how we get them shiny and how we keep them shiny. Just a plain metal lacquer that we dip down in a pan and hang them up till they dry, which just happens in a few minutes. We give them a little bit of heat so that they’ll dry a little faster that way, and we have fans to vent the plastic fumes outside so that they don’t smell up the shop.
“I just want to give you guys and idea of how a business runs. You know, you’ve got all these parts that start together, you’ve got people working on torches to get the parts the right shape, then you bring them up to the point where you solder them together, you put the springs together, and then you polish them, then you have to do some final assembly. And then we’ll take you around here, we have a little shipping department, a little packaging department where we box things up so we can send them all over the world without them breaking, and then we have a little place where we ship them. And that’s the end. And then of course, we send out invoices, so that people will send us money, so that then we can go and pay the employees, and then turn around and make some more parts, so the whole cycle can go again.
“But, just to show you a little bit around here, here for example, are some of the frames for the clocks you saw earlier, it’s just a box, you know, we’ve brazed up these corners, and we’ve drilled and we’ve fastened up the posts. Here’s some frames ready to have the gears and the little men put inside the clocks. Here’s some of the bases down here, ready to have the sports figures put on top. And, over here is where we do the final assembly, we put the sports figures together, and we adjust them so that, like the baseball player hits the ball just right, at the right position, or the tennis player, or the fisherman catches the fish in his net every once in a while, he doesn’t always do it. And then over here we’ll show you where we do the packing.
“Here’s the baseball player, here’s the baseball bat. Incidentally, we turn those bats on a little wood lathe, just like Louisville Sluggers are turned out, except we make them a little, little bit smaller, but we make them the same way, turned out of hardwood, and then it’s finished.
“We do parts in a batch, so that once you get the habit of doing one part, you can go ahead and make twenty-five, and it’s a lot faster if you do them batch by batch.
“Here’s some of the clocks that are all packaged up and ready to be put in boxes. Now, we have to be very careful when we package these. We put them in a box with a whole cushion of these white popcorns, you know like you’ve seen, that looks like peanuts or popcorn, to keep it all cushioned so that we can ship it anywhere in the world, and so that it doesn’t break. And that’s how they’re all packaged up ready for the customer when he takes them out of the package. And over here is where we do the shipping, we put them all together in big boxes, and that’s when we send them out.”