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, 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
This year marks my first Maker Holiday Season. As I wrote about in my last column, it’s given me an opportunity to reflect on what the last few months have meant. It’s also opened up a whole new world of possibilities: gifts I can make!
What I made: A cribbage board shaped like the state of Minnesota (where I’m from). Cribbage is a card game where score is kept on a pegged board. My parents love playing cribbage, and whenever I visit them, it’s my favorite thing to do. I can play my mom and dad in cribbage for hours and not get tired of it. We sneak games in before dinner, in the morning while drinking coffee, or block off a whole night and play. It’s fantastic.
I decided to make them a custom cribbage board. A gift that looked great, would get a lot of use, and highlighted just how much I’ve learned in the past few months.
How I made it: I envisioned a number of different designs, but settled on the Minnesota option due to relative ease. I downloaded the vector file of the state online and added all the peg holes to the state outline. Once I had the design I wanted, I had to decide on the material. I thought I might make it out of plastic on the laser cutter, but eventually decided to carve it out of wood on a ShopBot. I’d taken the ShopBot course before but needed a quick refresher on the process. As usual, Zach Johnson at TechShop came to my rescue, helping with the different feeds and speeds and suggesting bits for the different aspects of the project. Zach made some suggestions on router bits – 1/4 inch for the state outline and 1/16 inch to drill the peg holes. Unfortunately, TechShop was out of 1/16 router bits. Zach said he could order one, but it wouldn’t arrive for a few days, and I didn’t have any days to spare until my trip back home.
What happened next is something that I’m sure could only happen at a place like TechShop. In a stroke of extremely good luck, Martin Horn overheard Zach’s and my discussion about the 1/16 inch router bit dilemma. Martin, besides being a part-time instructor at TechShop, is a wizard on the CNC machines. Martin said he had an idea that might work – using a custom brass rod to modify a 1/16 inch drill bit. Martin and I took about twenty minutes to try his idea, creating it as he explained it. Pretty soon, we had a part that looked like it just might work – good enough to give it a try, anyways.
It ended up working beautifully. The peg holes looked great and the 1/4 router bit was the right endmill for the outline.
Thanks to Martin and Zach, I have an great looking gift for my folks. Also, Martin’s makeshift part was an incredible learning experience.
What I would have done differently: The cribbage board looks great and my parents are going to love it. However, the project took up a lot of time, and unfortunately, not too many others on my gift list would be thrilled about a Minnesota-shaped cribbage board. Next year, I’ll definitely make all my gifts – it’s awesome! Next time I’m going to make something great, but reproducible – something that everyone I know will love getting. I need to improve my time-investment-to gift-ratio.
What I recommend: This year, I’m giving the meta-gift of making. I’m amazed at the incredible deal that TechShop is offering: one month of membership and two free classes for $49! For something that has completely changed my life, I can’t recommend this enough. If you live (or know someone) in the Bay Area, Detroit, or North Carolina, jump on this!
Also, I’ve had a chance to look through the MAKE Ultimate Kit Guide and there are a bunch of cool gifts there. The nice part about the Kit Guide is that it rates the difficulty, so you know exactly what you’re getting into. I’ve got my eye on the ArduCopter (if anyone I know is reading this).
How you can help me: Please don’t tell my parents what I made them. They don’t read anything I write, so I’m not worried about that, but I’m worried someone is going to foil my plan and forward them this link. Please, don’t be that someone.
More: Follow David’s Zero to Maker journey