MAKE Asks: is a weekly column where we ask you, our readers, for responses to maker-related questions. We hope the column sparks interesting conversation and is a way for us to get to know more about each other.

This week’s question: There are often common skills that we can bring to the table when working on a project, whether they be in fabrication, mechanics, programming, and more. What is a skill that you have that comes out of left field to aid you when making something?

I am a musician in addition to a maker, and I find that this background comes into the fold when I least expect it. Whether it’s how I think about sequence, signal routing, and of course in building musical instruments, that skill can be relied upon to pop up in my aid again and again.

Post your responses in the comments section.

Michael Colombo

Michael Colombo

In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens’ educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.

  • Ryan Turner


    It’s nice to have the knowledge that no matter how badly you mangle a project, there will always be a second chance. Or you can just pay someone else to do it.

  • tonyv

    Persistence — Never give up!

    I don’t know how many times I have botched a step in a project, sunk into a funk, taken a break, and then figured out a way past the problem.

  • JerryB

    Music wire. A couple of pins across a glue joint make a world of difference.

  • Len Cullum

    I have two – Blind Faith and Dumb Luck

  • J. Brown

    If you are only building one of something, the manufacturers instructions are really just suggestions.

    I made a cool pantry shelf from a garage shelf unit by installing the shelves on a slant so the cans would roll to the front.

    Cross boundaries – just because the shelves are metal doesn’t mean that the uprights can’t be wood. Combine two sources of material to make one project.

  • Michael Hutchens

    I solder and otherwise manipulate very small parts (like SMD’s) using a dissecting microscope. I figured this out because I have small animal surgery skills; but you don’t need those to use a ‘scope, you just need steady hands (they’re steadier than you think) and good tweezers.

  • Keith Violette

    “Design Inversion” – Whenever I design something I always take a few minutes to think of how the design could be inverted – inside out, moving parts vs. non-moving parts, hot vs. cold, order of assembly, etc. Many times the design can be simplified greatly. A former coworker had noticed that I would think this way, and suggested that I read “And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared”. This book does a great job of explaining and even teaching of this thought process, even if the title is repeated endlessly within the book…

  • mat

    I have this weird ability to catalog parts in my head. I can’t remember why I walked into a room half the time but I can remember the contents of junk piles I have gone through days to months ago. I’m also pretty good at jury rigging things. The two skills go together because I will say “oh I know what we can use to fix this” and go pull a random part of drawer or junk pile.

    • Andy

      I share that same ability.. Growing up we had a great workshop in the basement. All sorts of bits and pieces from drawers of screws, spools of cable…. Appliances with semi-working guts… Always found a way to re-purpose something from somewhere, and I knew precisely where it was. I was sure that the 80s’ show Macgyver was spying on me.

  • Adam

    I cannot tell you my weapon under consequences of law, but let’s just say it uses a car battery, 2 raspberry pi’s, lots of metal, plastic, a large motor, dry ice, and wheels (And maybe a radio for on the go, mission impossible style!) XD

    • Adam

      JK. Mine is actually don’t get freaked out if you mess up, just remember where the fire extinguisher is. Oh, ya, and also persistence. That could help.

  • MikeScott

    I was challenged by my aged father to put a tune on a piezo speaker attached to my Arduino. I’m new to this sort of stuff, and also can’t read music at all. I could have cheated and found an example tune somewhere but I wanted to respect the intent of the challenge itself. I used to play guitar, so I made an include file which translated all the String/fret positions to Hz. I’m decent with spreadsheets, and used it to write/calculate the tedious string/fret positions into a file which I pasted into the editor.

    I then had no problem putting Slayer’s “south of heaven” intro on there, with proper “dropped tuning,” and even got the timing right, including the trill of the last two notes before the repeat, and also quickly added intros/sections of several other songs I used to play.

    I love my spreadsheets when it comes to specifying resistors and suchlike.

  • DS Vinson

    I build 3D models well. This allows me to communicate designs without words. A good model can describe things, places, and systems across languages. They require me to see the problems before they can derail a project. The process of modeling gets that idea picture out of my head and into the world where it can be tested, used, and hopefully appreciated. The emergence of 3D printing has made this an even more valuable skill.

  • Eiki Martinson

    My minor art skills have served me well. You can make a lot of progress on a problem if you can draw it with tolerable clarity.

    That, and McMaster Carr!

  • DTL

    Finding alternate strategies: sometimes you have to take the hole from the pin, not the pin from the hole!