MAKE proudly presents a gift guide for the holiday season with listings you certainly won’t find anywhere else. We asked a few MAKE staffers and pals to send in their favorite maker-friendly gift ideas for mostly under $100, as well as Associate Editor Phillip Torrone’s personal picks…happy holidays! May all of your warranties be voided!
MAKE’s Mostly Under $100 Gift Guide 2005
Mark Frauenfelder, Editor-in-Chief of MAKE
I just got a new gadget from Griffin: the RocketFM. This tiny device is an FM transmitter that connects to any USB-equipped computer (Mac or Windows), and transmits the output to any FM radio in range. You can transmit over any FM frequency. (The USB connection also powers the device, thank goodness.)
A great thing about it is that you can open it by unsnapping it. The PR guy for Griffin told me to try it. I unsnapped the plastic housing and unbent the antenna to increase the range (which is advertised as 10 to 30 feet). With the antenna sticking out, the range is at least 50 feet, and it goes through walls.
The RocketFM is hooked up to my eMac in the laundry room. Now I can play iTunes on our living room stereo. At $25, it’s an excellent, cheap, solution to integrating your computer with your stereo system.
[Editor’s note: I also like the iTrip from Griffin. You can crack it open, add wire, and increase the range too. Read more here. –Phil]
Case Mini Blackhorn Small Lockback knife
David Pescovitz, special projects editor, MAKE, co-editor BoingBoing.net
A good pocket knife is an essential maker’s tool. The first Christmas I spent with my now-wife’s family a dozen years ago, one of the gifts her father Brian gave me was a Case Mini Blackhorn Lockback knife. It’s lightweight, ultra-sharp, and the Zytel handle is hard as rock. For $12 or so, it’s a great value. The best part of this gift though is the way my father-in-law gives it. He includes a lifetime insurance policy–if you lose it, he’ll happily replace it. I’m still on my first one.
Every maker needs a good soldering iron and this one fits the bill. With its fine tip, you can tackle the trickiest surface mount soldering, and its temperature control allows you to dial in just the right amount of heat. It comes with a sturdy stand and even an extra ceramic heating element.
This is the perfect book for a maker with a backyard and a love of bread, pizza, or roast chicken. Bread cooked in a home oven never gets near the perfect crusts and deep flavors of bread cooked in a wood-fired stove, and the author (a doctor by training) explains why from the ground up (literally). Looking at bread-making recipes, the biology of yeasts and sourdoughs, the history of masonry ovens, and the plans and materials needed to build your own backyard wood oven. This book is an intellectual feast.
The gumstix is a tiny XScale-based Linux-powered computer. It is inexpensive (between $99 and $200), can be expanded with a CompactFlash card ($25 expansion board required) or MMC ($60 expansion board that includes Ethernet), and can talk to devices via serial port, Ethernet, Bluetooth, USB (supports usbnet), or wi-fi (via a CompactFlash adapter).
There are also expansion boards, such as the robostix, that have an embedded microcontroller that can interface with the core Linux system. The gumstix has brains and brawn, and it can talk to almost anything. I think of it as a Linux PDA without a screen, stylus, or buttons. There is also a fantastic wiki that answers all my questions.
Stanley Wonder Bar
David Albertson, Creative Director, MAKE; Principal, Albertson Design
I’m going for low-tech, but I really love my Stanley Wonder Bar. This sort of crude-looking tool is one of the most satisfying demolition weapons I’ve had the pleasure to use around the house. No nail of any size has resisited its awesome power, and I can rip up carpet strips like a pro. No instructions needed.
Simon St.Laurent, Editor at O’Reilly
These bridge the gap between Dremel tools, which are always necessary but not quite powerful enough sometimes, and the Dremel’s much larger, big brother, the router. Laminate trimmers traditionally stood between these tools, but they seem, well, too focused on laminate, and the tools feel weak for other applications.
Earlier this year, I bought an old router-style workhorse of a laminate trimmer, the Porter-Cable 310, and loved working with a router I could safely control with one hand. Bosch seems to have caught on to the possibilities here, and introduced the “Colt” PR10 and PR20EVS palm-grip routers this year.
If a Dremel isn’t enough for a project, but you don’t want to leap to a much heavier router, take a look at one of these lightweight but powerful tools.
Here are many of the gifts I’ll be giving this year. If you’re friend/family, don’t read on if you want to surprised!
The CVS Disposable Digital video camera was intended to be a one-time-use, low-cost digital video camera, returned to the store with the videos you shot, and then transferred on a DVD for a fee. Makers from around the world quickly and efficiently turned this little camera into an entire platform for amazing DIY projects: helmet-mounted videos, night-vision videos, radio-controlled plane videos, rocket videos, low-cost video activism, and citizen journalism.
They’re almost indestructible and loads of fun. Grab one at CVS for under $20 with coupon, print out the dozens of how-tos on the web, and give the gift of hacking.
Used 3G Apple iPod
Cost: As low as $30! Maybe free if you ask around!
The iPod 3G is the weird mutant iPod with the four round buttons that was quickly natural-selected off the iPod evolutionary chart almost as quickly as it arrived. Why in the world is this *the* iPod to get? It’s cheap, you can replace or extend the battery that’s likely dead, and best of all, you can install Linux, making it into a 20GB+ high-quality voice recorder. That’s right–the iPod comes crippled, but the iPod Linux project not only unlock it but offers dozens of new games, applications, and more. We’ve collected all the how-tos and links to get started, if you plan to give the gift of the musical penguin.
MiniPOV 2 kit
The MiniPOV kit is a simple and fun project kit that anyone can do to learn about electronics, soldering, and “Persistence of Vision.” When the LEDs from this project flash, they can be programmed to spell words in mid-air; this can be used on bikes, people, pets, shoes–whatever.
The best thing about Adafruit (the company that makes these kits) is the promise that their kits are more fun than blinking Christmas tree kits!
Oh, for more kits, be sure to check out our extra’s page, too.
Cheap GPS tracking and a phone!
Using the free site Mologogo, you can get your loved one a cheap $60 pre-paid boost mobile phone, register on the site, download a Java app, and you’re pretty much done. The phone will transmit your position to a server (uses Rails, Linux, Google Maps), and you or your friends can view your location in real time, or the location of the person you give this to (just don’t stalk them or anything). I’ve hacked up tons of solutions to do the same thing (post my location, that is) and this is the simplest and cheapest ($60 for the phone and for pre-paid + $0.20/day).
A year in a “virtual world”
Second Life is a big virtual world where just about anything goes. Everything in this virtual world is created by other “residents.” If mashing up hardware isn’t your giftee’s thing, here’s the soft-craft way of making things. There’s a built-in scripting language, and everything is for sale; make something cool and you could be the next Lindenaire (Lindens are Second Life’s form of currency). Basic accounts are free, so that’s not really a gift, but premium accounts get land and weekly virtual cash to blow.
LEGO Robotics Invention System 2.0
Cost: $199.00 ($100 on eBay or less!)
A recent news blurb said that Mindstorms isn’t a great commerical success, but it still makes one of the best gifts you can give anyone. At $199 (or less in retail), it’s a little pricey, but out of the box, you can build a Candy Sorter, a Robotic Arm, and an Artbot; program your creations on your computer and tap in to a huge LEGO community. Just look at all the things the person you give this to could make!
High-quality precision screwdriver set
These little guys will keep your little guys and girls busy all year. These screwdrivers are used for disassembling and reassembling electronics. Comes in a set of 7 screwdrivers: 4 slotted and 3 Phillips blades with precision handles. Imagine the fun and the hours of entertainment from taking apart all the crummy gifts and making better ones, or just exploring how things are made!
Magnifying 22W work lamp from GC Electronics
OK, so since we suggested that set of screwdrivers for taking apart stuff, it’s our duty to also mention that it’s an extremely good idea to gift a long-reach florescent magnifying work lamp. Not only does it light up the work area, but it has a super lens that magnifies all the junk that’s being worked on. A 22-watt circular florescent bulb even supplies shadow-free light, and the lamp attaches anywhere it’s needed via a little vice grip.
Third Hand tool
It’s really not a secret that, most of the time, someone who makes things is going to spend a lot of their time alone. Well, at least I did, but oh man, that’s another story. What got me through those solitary days of making things? Being able to put things together without bothering someone at 3 a.m. because I simply *had* to solder something that required two people to hold tiny parts in place; that’s where the Third Hand comes in. This little helper has adjustable arms with alligator clip jaws, a 2-inch-diameter magnifying lens, and it won’t hurt your feelings.
For the *next* holiday season, we want Digikey to do gift certificates. I’d send those to all my friends before I’d even think of some music or book store gift card deal. Digikey is pretty much the best place online to get any part a maker needs. I know it’s not a gift, since they don’t have a gift certificate program, but I’m going to lobby for this for next year! While I’m at it, we’ll hit up Jameco too.
It goes without saying that a soldering iron (cheap, under $50), wirestripper/cutters, voltmeter, solder, and little tool knick-knacks are good stocking stuffers; all can be found just about anywhere, including Digikey and Jameco.
Your local hardware store
Cost: $2 or so per foot
Is there anything PVC *can’t* do? I know at first it sounds like a bum gift, but there are sooo many cool projects you can make with with PVC pipe. Imagine the surprise (and fear) when there’s a 10-foot-long present all wrapped up (or stuffed) with pages of printouts for PVC projects like:
A tin of Altoids
Cost: Less than a buck
Everyone’s favorite tin encapsulated mint treat isn’t just for getting rid of bad breath: a few tins of Altoids make excellent project cases. Pick up a dozen or so and include instructions of making iPod cases, amps, optical mice, cell chargers, and more. Mmmmm, minty.
Phidget Starter Kit #1
Cost: $244.70 (smaller kits under $100)
Making sensors, robots, RFID, and making it all work is pretty hard. If the maker you have in mind for the holiday season is just getting started with electronics or knows a little bit about programming, Phidgets are a great way to get started. You can get some of their kits for under $100, like the RFID kit, but this package of all their bestsellers is a pretty good deal.
Here’s what you get:
Phidget Interface Kit Pkg #1
8/8/8 Phidget Interface Kit
- 1 Touch sensor
- 1 Force sensor
- 1 Slider sensor
- 1 Rotation sensor
- 1 Light sensor
- 8 Various switches
- 8 Red, 8 green, 8 yellow LEDs
- 6-foot USB cable
- 1 6V power supply to power the 8/8/8 IFK mini-USB hub
Phidget USB RFID Kit
- 1 Phidget RFID reader
- 6 30mm disc RFID tags
- 2 Credit card sized RFID Tags
- 2 Keyfob RFID tags
- 1 6-foot USB cable
- 1-Motor Phidget USB Servo Controller Kit
- 1-Motor Phidget USB Servo Controller
- 1 Servo motor
- 1 6-foot USB cable
One year of MAKE
Cost: 50% off if you use the code CMAKE, $29.95!
This is the best gift of all: the print edition of MAKE, including all four issues for the year plus the digital edition! MAKE OUT! and give the magazine devoted to digital projects, hardware hacks, and D.I.Y. inspiration.
You can also give it to your goat as a present.
MAKE Limited Edition 4-Volume Set
In this special, limited re-release, all 4 volumes of MAKE’s first year are combined in a special edition 4-volume boxed collector’s set.
High-Speed Flash Photography kit
As seen in MAKE Volume 04:
Take “impossible” pictures, leaving everyone wondering “How did you do that?” Capture high-speed events: a splash, popping balloons, breaking glass, and more. This kit includes a high-speed flash, disposable camera, flash controller, and fully assembled flash trigger that synchronizes the high-speed event and the flash. Also included is a 6-foot cable that connects your high-speed flash to the flash controller, and all the tools needed to precisely time your high-speed picture. The flash controller is adjustable, so the flash can be triggered by soft sounds, loud sounds, a laser pointer, or a flashlight. The flash controller also includes digital output that can trigger other external flashes, such as the SnapShot II strobe light.
See some of the action before you gift it out.
Makers: the book!
Meet The Makers…Now on the heels of MAKE’s wildly popular inaugural issues, O’Reilly introduces “Makers,” a beautiful hardbound book celebrating DIY inspiration and the people behind the projects. “Makers” introduces you to a brigade of citizen engineers making their own cameras, clocks, airplanes, submarines, musical instruments, weapons, medical equipment, energy-saving devices, robots, houses, and more. They create their own tools to explore the outer atmosphere, the deep sea, and the behavior of tiny flies in their backyards.
A Fab Lab
OK, this totally blows the budget for the next 200 years of holidays, but your kid can be the first on the block with their own “Fab Lab”! What’s that?
“Fab Lab” is an abbreviation for Fabrication Laboratory. It is a group of off-the-shelf, industrial-grade fabrication and electronics tools, wrapped in open source software and programs written by researchers at the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT.
That’s right, you can make your own things that will make things! From a Thermal Dynamics Cutmaster 101 Plasma Cutter to an Epilog Mini 24″ x 12″ 35W lasercutter, you’ll be making a protein folding machine and etching PowerBooks in no time!
If you really want to max out the credit cards, check out the Squid Labs video tour.
Please keep in mind that unless indicated (or it’s made by us), MAKE isn’t affiliated with any of these suggestions, so feel free to hit up eBay, Froogle, or anywhere else to find the goods!
Have ideas? Post them up in the comments! We might send out some free gifts for really great suggestions!