The Shed Logo
Close this search box.

The Shed Useless Machine competition by Mark Beckett

Enter The Shed’s build a useless machine competition and win prizes galore. Its easy.

by Mark Beckett

Make a useless machine and win prize packs of goodies for the ones that impress the judges

Our first prize pack is this collection of car books and special editions, plus a Best Of The Shed

The catalyst for this competition was a video link sent to me by a friend.
For some strange reason these devices fascinate and amuse people and it is not easily explainable.
For those puzzled by the term, you may wish to check out the video placed on The Shed Magazine FB page
According to Wikipedia ( ), the modern version is credited to Marvin Minsky an MIT professor who came up with it as a Graduate Student at Bell Labs back in 1952.
Those of a certain age have commented that it reminds them of a money box, that you placed a coin in a certain position and a hand came up and snatched the coin into some holding container.
Wikipedia suggests that this is not useless since it acts as a money box.
Regardless of the function, the mechanics are similar, which is why people make the association.
How does this useless machine work?

In its most simple form, there is a battery, a motor and gearbox, an arm, and two switches all housed in a container.
When the external switch is operated, the motor powers up, moving the arm, which turns the switch off. The second switch provides power to the motor until it returns to the ‘resting’ position.
The schematics for this useless machine are shown at the end of this article.

The competition
I sent a couple of video links to The Shed publisher (Greg Vincent) and he spent countless hours watching them before asking the question “Well, are you going to make one?”
My response was “No” but we could run this as a competition amongst the readers.
I would give the details, and let them use their creative imaginations to build this or another useless machine.
Once completed, Sheddies could upload the pictures and a video of their useless machine working to The Shed FB page and hey, I also suggested that we give some prizes to selected entries.

Commercial Units
A quick search on the Internet will give the readers plenty of ideas and inspiration. I’ve seen some very clever versions and some artistic versions showing the builder was very creative.
You can even buy one, or just the mechanism for less than a couple of coffees in those cups no one knows what to do with.
However, the idea of this competition is for Sheddies to build your own. I know our readers are clever and I marvel at some of the creations that feature in each issue of the magazine, so I know it can be done.

I can envisage some rather large and powerful creations if someone decided to supersize one of these, but it is important that these creations are safe.
There is nothing worse than having someone injured because they put their finger into the mechanism either deliberately or accidentally, so please ensure that the build is child-friendly.
You may also want to consider the forces operating the external switch, and ensure that little fingers cannot be pinched when the arm comes to operate it.
Post your entry on our FB page and we will authorise your post once we have had a look and a laugh at it. As a responsible publisher we reserve the right to not post or remove anything deemed unsafe or dangerous.


More Posts

3D Printing

Here we’re going to use 3D printing to do a modern twist on “lost wax” casting.
It’s a trick that’s more than 5000 years old: make something in wax, bury it in clay or plaster leaving a hole in the shell. Bake the heck out of it to remove the wax and then pour molten metal down the hole. If everything stays together, you get a metal replica of your wax object.

Make your own Kontiki for fishing

There are several New Zealand-designed and created fishing kontikis on the market but when I thought about having one, I wasn’t going to buy it.
I had the ability, so I did what any good Kiwi would do, I decided I would make one myself.

Let the sun run your pump

I suppose all waterfalls are solar- powered – the sunshine evaporates the water which turns into clouds, becoming rain which pours down into waterfalls. So the publisher’s challenge to make a small solar- powered pump for Greg’s sculpture seemed not too difficult.