Prototyping swaying branches

I’ve made some progress on a background project that’s quite dear to my heart: a kinetic sculpture representing a beech branch with fresh new leaves. I’d developed some pleasingly fluttery leaf prototypes, but was struggling with how best to articulate the branches to replicate the way that a real tree sways in the breeze.

Given that my sculpture will be situated indoors, it will feel far lighter air currents than a free-range tree, so it must be correspondingly more sensitive. It must also grow up or down from a fixed point on a wall or ceiling, moving easily in the horizontal plane without drooping vertically.

My inspiration has come from a child’s toy – wooden or plastic snakes, with vertical hinges spaced along the body which let them wriggle freely from side-to-side when held up from the tail. These are often constructed using thread or fabric sandwiched between halves of the body, with cut-aways to allow sideways movement.

Antiqued Wooden Snake Toys by wold630 on Instructables
Antiqued Wooden Snake Toys by wold630 on Instructables

Irrespective of the angle of the branch, as long as the line of the joint is vertical, a branch will be balanced and able to swing freely. Smaller branches, down to the level of twigs, can be jointed on and articulated in the same way, and mounted at whatever angle suits. The range of motion of a particular branch is determined by thickness of material removed around its hinge.

This prototype is constructed from balsa wood and double-sided tape, using a ruler, set-square, craft knife, superglue, sandpaper, and a spare pair of hands.

The next stages will include larger-scale and higher complexity prototypes, as well as more materials tests.

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