David Lang, something of a reluctant maker, is on a journey, intensively immersing himself in maker culture and learning as many DIY skills as he can, in part through a generous arrangement with our pals at TechShop. He’s regularly chronicling his efforts in this column — what he’s learning, who he’s meeting, and what hurdles he’s clearing (um… or not). –Gareth
Throughout my Zero to Maker journey, I’ve prided myself on how much I’ve been able to accomplish without actually owning many of the tools I’ve needed. As someone with a tight budget and an even smaller studio apartment, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much I can accomplish through collaborative outlets like TechShop and Noisebridge. However, last week, my strategy fell apart.
While working on building a standing desk in my room, the cheap, electric drill I was using totally gave out on me. I was building the desk out of large pieces of reclaimed wood, the drill was a critical part of the equation, and hauling the entire project to TechShop made no sense. If only there was an easy way to borrow a tool. Turns out, there is, but not for me because I live in San Francisco. If I lived across the Bay in Berkeley or Oakland, I could swing by the local Tool Lending Library and get what I needed.
Tool Lending Libraries work just like book lending libraries, except they allow the temporary use of tools instead of books. They allow a community to access the tools they need, without needing to purchase and store the equipment. For many makers, the use of tools at home doesn’t justify the purchase price, and tool lending libraries can help fill the gap.
Aside from the great service of providing makers with tools they might not otherwise have, Tool Lending Libraries can serve as an important nexus for maker communities. In areas that don’t (yet) have makerspaces, starting a Tool Lending Library is a great way to start organizing and catalyzing the makers in your area. A flurry of resources have emerged to make starting a Tool Lending Library easier than ever:
Shareable.net’s “How to Start a Tool Lending Library” – Shareable put together a wonderful blog post on the subject. It includes interviews with a number of experienced operators as well as new entrants. The post adds a lot of firepower to the “why?” question about Lending Libraries.
Guide to Sharing - The Center for a New American Dream. in collaboration with Shareable.net, put out a Guide to Sharing, which includes a 10-Step guide to starting a Tool Lending Libary.
Gene Homicki, Co-Founder of the West Seattle Tool Lending Library, had a few other important considerations and steps that he would have liked to see added to the Guide to Sharing list:
Thanks to people like Mr. Homicki, starting and operating a Tool Lending Library is easier than ever. If you’re looking for a way to catalyze the maker community in your area, this is a great strategy.
Earlier this month, we announced the publication of This American Life contributing editor Jack Hitt’s newest book, Bunch of Amateurs, published by The Crown Publishing Group. Now we’re following up that announcement with the first of my two-part interview with Jack, discussing the history of the word amateur, influential makers, and the institutional versus entrepreneurial approaches to American amateurism. Read on!
MAKE: If a “Glossary of the American Character” existed, certain words come to mind that reference actors in your book: rascal, outsider, homebrew, to pioneer, even rebel. Likewise, certain terms like “home movies,” referencing an era of Betamax and VHS to America’s Funniest Home Videos and now YouTube, seem to suggest an “only in America” phenomenon. Meaning “lover” or “lover of,” what made you settle upon the word amateur?
Jack Hilt: The word itself is a beautiful thing. It comes from Latin — amo, amas, amat — because the base meaning of amateur is one who does it, not for pay, but for love, obsession, because there’s no way they cannot do it. But the word in Europe still suggests, simply, a non-professional. Once it crossed the pond, the word became a wonderful muddle of contradictions. It runs the gamut from novice (amateur painter) to incompetent (rank amateur) to near connoisseur (amateur art collector). This tangle is American, too, reflecting that deep truth of an immigrant nation (starting from scratch) and our anxiety about it.
Jack: Amateurs gather where some discipline is in distress and where innovation is waiting. So, I went looking for those places. Consider my own world of journalism. In the last few decades, the stately media have become high-born press agents, carefully reciting reports handed to them by a semi-permanent bureaucracy in Washington, DC. Then, along came bloggers, swarming the fortress of official journalism, painfully reminding the inhabitants what afflicting the comfortable actually means.
MAKE: And what allured you to the notion of amateurism in the first place?
Jack: I spent a while hanging out with the Kansas City Space Pirates, a team of amateurs competing in a NASA competition involving power beaming. The goal, ultimately, is to build a space elevator — a 60,000 mile long ribbon built of carbon nanotubes, a slightly-but-not-entirely cracked idea that would permit us to easily escape the gravity of earth and more handily domesticate space. After some time with the Pirates, it struck me that the world of backyard tinkerers was not a halcyon time that has passed but one that has come cycling back around.
MAKE:The word amateur to me is quite positive, but I can see where others might disagree, thinking the word undermines their character (I would take the time to discuss, and attempt to convince them otherwise!). Did you encounter anyone who took offense to the word, or the notion of “rank amateurism,” and what was their feedback?
Jack: Actually, I was the one who was the most troubled. Amateur is one of those complex words with so many meanings that it’s easy to offend. In the bird chapter, I slyly refer to David Sibley as a kind of amateur. Sure, he’s a Cornell dropout — so it’s technically true — but I felt almost idiotic referring to the greatest bird painter of our time as an amateur. He knows more about any single bird — its feathers, coloration, movements, songs — than any credentialed ornithologist alive. It’s just that his knowledge is autodidactic; he taught himself, by spending a lifetime out of doors, looking. That’s a different, older kind of knowledge — born of a passionate intensity — than the focused know-how, positively re-inforced by elder approval, learned in a school. Still, it felt pretty weird, almost offensive.
MAKE: To me, the chapter about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker – IBWO – revolves around this notion of enthusiasm. Lots and lots of people being really enthusiastic about what is essentially a “mythic” bird. At what point does one’s enthusiasm bubble up and become a type of amateurism?
Jack: Well, “enthusiast” is just another, older word for amateur, right? (from the Greek, “divinely inspired”). But the bird chapter is a cautionary tale for both amateurs and professionals — a long (very long, I admit) parable about how enthusiasm can be its own delusion. The most credentialed birders in the world, the Ph.D.’s of Cornell, found themselves caught up in a bubble of pure excitement, and as a result, managed to see, hear, and even videotape a bird that we now know was never there.
That concludes the first of a two-part interview with Jack Hitt. And now for the prize giveaway! Up for grabs is another piece of Orion hardware, this time, their UltraView 10×50 Wide Angle binoculars, complete with soft carrying case and neck strap. Portable and light, these binoculars are great for stargazing, bird-watching, or field sports, and offer 10-power viewing through 50mm lenses, with a rubber finish that is easy to handle.
To enter to win: All you have to do is leave a comment below! Comments left before May 31st at 11:59pm PST will be eligible to win this prize. Be sure to leave a valid email so we can contact you if you win. Feel free to tell a story about your own amateur pursuits, although it’s not necessary for a chance to win. For complete rules, click here.
Be sure to check back on June 12th to read the rest of my interview with Jack Hitt, and for our final giveaway. And congratulations to MAKE blog reader Landisb who won the first prize giveaway!
These prizes are provided by The Crown Publishing Group, publishers of Bunch of Amateurs.
Over the last year I have been finishing a project to convert my X2 manual mini mill into a fully enclosed 3-axis CNC milling machine. Once I had the stepper motors mounted and running, I worried that the wire connection at the base of the motors might be a potential weak point in the design. Eventually I want to use mist coolant when machining parts but I do not want to run the risk of shorting out the wiring due to spotty connections. At first I though of a few ways to fix this issue and sketched out a few ideas on paper, but the designs were large and bulky and looked like over-engineered boxes. I wanted a simple and practical solution that would securely anchor the wires to the motor while preventing liquid damage from mist coolant.
While searching the online CNC forums for ideas, I stumbled across these professional looking NEMA 23 Stepper motor covers. These plastics covers incorporate a threaded panel mount pin connector to secure the motor wires to the side of the motor case and only cost $13.50 each. Intrigued, I printed out the motor sizing guide to see if my Probotix stepper motors would be compatible, and emailed Jeff Birt at Soigeneris.com to inquire about the different options. In no time, Jeff responded with the following:
After a few emails back and forth to verify that my motors would fit, Jeff recommended the standard IP40 covers (since my stepper motors were not sealed) and offered to send me three covers to test and review. Before I could begin the install I had to source my own eight pin connectors for wiring up the unipolar stepper drivers to the motors. If you are using bipolar stepper motor drivers, then you can purchase the optional 4 pin connectors when ordering the motor covers from Soigeneris. Since my motor drivers from Probotix are unipolar, I had to use eight pin connectors. (awesome quick MicroChip video on Unipolar vs Bipolar). You can find these connectors online or at a local surplus electronics store. Getting all eight wires in the connector is a challenge, but with some patience and a fine-tipped solder iron it is possible.
Designed by DY Engineering in Israel, these covers were originally made to meet the functional and aesthetic demands of the inventor and DIY CNC hobbyist Daniel Yosefi:
Besides wiring the pin connectors, the installation is extremely simple and the instructions are well documented and available for download. The covers mount to the rear of the motor using the threaded screw holes in the end of the motor case and come predrilled with center marks for drilling out the mounting holes. During installation you may need to shorten the machine screws that secure the motor case together. This is easily done by removing each stepper motor screw one at a time and grinding off a few millimeters at the end to allow adequate clearance for the shorter motor cover screws that are included with the cover.
These covers are also compatible with stepper motors that have a rear shaft. The design incorporates an internal sleeve for protecting the rear shaft of the motor from interfering with the wiring during operation. After following the instructions and soldering all the wires to the pin connector, simply wrap the motor wires inside the cover and use the four machine screws to secure the cover to the back of the motor. An overhanging lip completely covers the gland where the wires exit the stepper motor.
Whether it’s to use them as an adjustable wrench in a pinch, or to break free a stripped bolt or screw, my Vise Grips are always close at hand. It’s a versatile and durable tool that has a special place in my toolbox.
This week’s question: What is your go-to tool when working on a project, whether it be for fabrication, electrical work, crafting, or anything else?
Post your responses in the comments section.
As much as I love Engineer Guy videos, I am especially partial to Series #4, because it is themed around the chemical elements—each installment features a different element and a remarkable bit of engineering based upon it. And this week my two personal favorite elements are in the spotlight. Though it is utterly common, today, metallic aluminum was once among the most precious metals in existence. Books can and have been written about aluminum’s wonderful history and properties, and as for titanium…well, who doesn’t love titanium?
Here, then, is the third installment of Engineer Guy Series #4, in which Bill Hammack (and his behind-the-scenes teammates Patrick Ryan and Nick Ziech) take us through the constructive use of corrosion to create durable, colorful surface finishes on, for example, Apple’s laptops and iPods. Great, as always. [Thanks, Bill!]
TodBot has both 25mm and 35mm versions up on Thingiverse but you could easily stretch the case enclose almost any circuit or shield you need.
Daniel of Valencia, Spain, built this clever waiter bot to dispense (warm?) beer:
[Translated by Google!]
One of the first projects I ever wrote for MAKE was about setting a coil in a factory-straight electrical cable or cord using a heat gun and a metal form. A recent comment on that project hipped me to this short video segment from the Science Channel’s awesome show How It’s Made:
In it, a technician in a factory that makes coiled retractable cables demonstrates a second step in the process that I didn’t know about when I wrote my original guide: after the initial “perm,” the coil is reversed by a machine that grabs both ends and twists it in the direction opposite the thermoformed helix. The industrial machine is apparently a bit of a trade secret, but the trick can be performed on a one-off basis using a bench vise and a hand drill.
Besides being a lot of fun to watch, I can now report that this process is a lot of fun to do. And works essentially as advertised on home-curled cords. The “inside out” cord, which started as a regular straight instrument patch cable, is now considerably tighter than before.
Thanks to Bart Patrzalek for the tip, and Brian Adams for linking to the instructive video segment.
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