Delbert Short uses his imagination and ingenuity to create elaborate contraptions
In the Summer issue of Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts (SSW43, available in April) lifelong woodworker Delbert “Del” Short shows off what he likes to make the most: elaborate gismos, gadgets, getups, contraptions, and whatchamacallits—for lack of better terms. That’s because there really are no words to accurately describe his amazing wooden creations.
After decades of making everything from crafts to fine furniture, Del ran short of things that challenged him. So the woodworker simply let his mechanical imagination and artistic eye run amok. Del makes traditional projects to give away to family and friends. But these days it’s Del’s spectacular, off-the-wall, kinetic sculptures that wow the crowd. In fact, YouTube video demonstrations of Del’s crazy machines have captivated thousands of viewers.
People ask what the machines do, and Del’s answer is usually the same: like any good work of art, they dazzle and inspire us. Del turns ordinary wood into intricate and whimsical structures that move using a variety of mechanical actions and linkages.
“For me it’s all about mechanical motion,” Del said. “I’m absolutely fascinated by it.”
Crammed in alongside his extensive antique tool collection is a fully functional wooden scroll saw Del designed and built himself. “It works differently from any other scroll saw,” Del explained. “It’s pedal-operated, and I made the drive shaft go the same direction as the pedals.”
When building one of these contraptions, which can take up to eight months to complete, Del makes the big gear in the middle first. Everything has to work together within the overall framework
“Everything in there has to be removable, because I might need to take them out and put them back in again fifteen or twenty times until I can get it to work properly. I may have to readjust the mechanism or make something completely different,” Del explained.
Many people want to buy his machines, but Del’s not selling. “I make these for my own amusement so I’ve never drawn up plans for them,” Del said. “Each machine is a true one-of-a-kind. To make another one I’d have to start all over again from scratch, and it would turn out completely different because I wouldn’t remember exactly how I did it the first time!”
Del was born and raised in Eugene, Ore. His father had a large woodshop that supplied young Del with plenty of wood scraps and nails. “Dad always said the neat thing about working with wood was that you could burn your mistakes,” Del explained. “So I was never afraid to try new things.
“For me, creating these things is about mental stimulation,” Del said. “I spend a lot of time thinking things through, trying to figure out how to make this or do that. It keeps me up at night.
“Once I get on something like that, it’s like a dog worrying a bone—I just keep on it till I get it. My wife says I’ve got a screw loose,” Del said with a laugh. “Maybe she’s right.”
Contact Del at email@example.com.