We used to have a problem at the Maker Media offices. Not a dire problem, mind you, but one that lacked an elegant solution. We wanted a way to keep our door from locking automatically during normal business hours, and wanted a way to let our coworkers come and go without worrying about leaving their key at their desk. We were taping over the door strike, propping the door open with trash bins, even jamming batteries into the door strike to keep the door from shutting.

Eventually I realized this had a pretty simple solution — I could design and print a clip that would cover the door strike and prevent the lock from latching. Friction would easily hold it in place, it could be deployed (and removed) easily, which made it far more likely that people would actually use it. After spending a few minutes in Sketchup (and 3–4 hours of print time) I had the solution in hand, and it worked beautifully.

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Want to print one of your own? Here’s the .stl file.

“If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.”

Of course, I approached the solution this way because we have a number of 3D printers at our disposal. I could have just as easily accomplished the same result with some thin wood, a bit of bent sheet metal, or any number of other materials. But I’ve always had an affinity for working with CAD programs, and that process is more satisfying than it’s ever been now that 3D printing makes it easy to design something and have it in your hands in just a few hours.

One of my favorite aspects of learning a new tool is observing how it changes the way I solve problems in day to day life — from creating a customized mount for a piece of camera equipment to designing a hook to keep a kitchen tool close at hand. And this works for just about any new tool or skill. Once I learned to solder and use a multimeter, I realized that I could fix a number of electronics components that would otherwise end up in the trash bin and replaced. It’s building on an opportunity to add several more “Aha!” moments to your day.

To me, this has been one of the most immediately valuable and satisfying takeaways from constantly learning new skills. And while it sometimes results in pushing a particular tool too far (It turns out that 3D printed parts aren’t good for everything!), it helps to explore the fringe uses for any new tool or skill. Nonetheless, it helps to take on projects that will force you to learn new skills and techniques. Not only will you increase your available set of tools, but you can also transform the way you look at other problems.

Testimonials from actual people who pass through the aforementioned door:

“The best thing ever!” —Felicia

“Tyler wins Maker of the Week award. I love seeing clever solutions like this.” —Dale

“Now THIS is why it’s good to have the Lab [inside the office]! Nice work, Tyler.” —Donald