Portland’s Maker Faire, hosted at OMSI, returned for its fourth year on September 12 and 13. The event coincided with the opening of a beautiful new bridge right next to OMSI that is designed for light rail and pedestrians to cross over from the city. It is one more element of an argument that Portland is the most livable city in America. Like the city itself, Portland’s Makers are thriving and it was evident from an expanded Maker Faire this year. It’s become Makerlandia, a place to be if you are a Maker, because making has become integrated into the city’s identity, a place that supports making things in small batches.
Kelley Roy, founder of one of Portland’s major Makerspaces, ADX, is crowdfunding her book called Portland Made. She says her book will cover the “creative renaissance” that’s happening in Portland. “The Maker Movement is gaining momentum across the globe,” she writes, “and everyone is looking to Portland to uncover the who, what, why, and how of this critical resurgence of artisanal manufacturing.” There is also a related website, Portland Made, that tells the stories of the city’s new Makers. More than most cities, Portland celebrates making as a new form of artisanal production.
At Maker Faire Portland, I saw rock polishing, cuttlebone casting, 3D printing, primitive fire-starting, laser cutting, cider making, robotics demonstrations, tinkering challenges, a DeLorean, Cyclecide Bike Rodeo, cheesemaking, beekeeping, soft circuit designs, felted shoes, solar cars, rockets, Dorkbot, unusual musical instruments including a theremin and a piano connected to an LED display, circuit board design and a Pirate ship built for Burning Man.
OMSI organizer Andrea Edgecomb was happy with the growth of Maker Faire in Portland over four years, and she said this year it seemed to be really successful, coupled with the bridge opening. Others at OMSI told me that they are integrating making more and more into OMSI and it is shaping how they think about their own future development.
A 3D Model Home
Joey Edwards helped his parents build their home in more ways than one. An artist and designer, he used TinkerCad to design the house and then 3D printed a model of it using a UP printer, which he said he chose based on Make:‘s review of it in our 2015 3D Printer Review. The 3D model, which opens up to show the design of each floor inside, allowed his parents to visualize the house they wanted and he iterated over it many times. Then, Edwards took the design to an architectural firm to have drawings made for the house, which would be built on the Oregon coast. In a note Edwards displayed at his exhibit, he wrote that he was now on the construction crew: “We are 80% done with the framing process, and we expect to be done by February 2016.”
The first major project featured in Make: Volume 1 was kite aerial photography, written by Charles C. Benton. It involves building a rig that allows you to suspend a camera from a kite or balloon. Our first issue showed you how to build a simple rig from popsicle sticks and had the wonderful “silly putty viscous timer” with a ping pong ball. It’s been hard to find affordable kits that allow you to build rigs that employ servo motors to position the camera to take shots from different perspectives.
Portland’s well-regarded Public Lab was demonstrating a 3D printed rig from Kaptery and they added an Arduino to control the servo motors. Public Lab also has a kite and balloon mapping kit. They recently updated their popular Spectrometer kit, now called Desktop Spectrometry 3.0.
C4Labs makes Raspberry Pi cases. However, what caught the eye of Genevieve Bell of Intel was the laser-cut cut-out wooden book of the YT-1300 Light Freighter — the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. Bell brought me over to see it. We talked to Brent from C4Labs who told us that he had the idea for the project last Monday, and proceeded to work on it Tuesday and Wednesday. It is amazing work.
A highlight of Maker Faire was a demonstration and talk by two people who work in the rigging department at Laika, a stop-motion studio that has produced movies such as Coraline and The Box Trolls, which was released last Fall.
Ollie Jones and Chris Gough gave a presentation on the history and techniques of stop-motion filmmaking. There is a world of making in their films as the filmmakers are creating everything that appears in the film. “Everything you see has to be designed, and built, by hand,” says Travis Knight, CEO of Laika, in this featurette. Jones and Gough talked about how they had to create fire and rain for different scenes.
One of the models they brought was the Mecha-Drill, a steampunk machine for Archibald Snatcher, at four and a half feet the largest puppet they had built. (He said they call it a puppet because it has to move.) It consists of laser-cut acrylic and other parts that are 3D printed with a goal of using the most lightweight materials, which makes the movements easier.
The level of detail and craftsmanship is amazing. Jones said that this work is “not just a puppet but a mixture of old craft and new craft.” They showed a short video, “On the Shoulders of Giants”, that details the making of the Mecha-Drill. “It was a fabulous collaboration between the rigging department, and the model builders, and the paint department, the art direction, and it was just really exciting to see everything all come together,” said Curt Enderle, Art Director for the film, in the video.
It is magical to see what they do, and to see the puppet/machine in person. Jones and Gough are wonderful explainers, who clearly love what they do, and gave us insights into a whole new world of world building.
CymaSpace LED Piano
An open piano is always a good idea at a Maker Faire. This one from CymaSpace was even more inviting, as I came across a woman playing what she said was the only song she knew.
Cymaspace’s mission is to make the performing arts more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. It perhaps explains why they modify a piano to visualize its sounds.
I always see things that amuse me, even though I don’t necessarily know what they are. One of them was a local musician known as the Unipiper balancing himself and his bagpipes on BB-8. An R2D2 stood by watching.
In the background was a Supertruck, a more efficient truck cab. Another unusual sight was seeing Simran Gleason doing “plein air” painting, and I spotted him painting a Dalek.
And of course there was the Pirate Ship, known as Clock Ship Tere.
There was an exhibit of making unusual musical instruments. Here a gentleman was explaining how this instrument was designed.
Cyclecide Bike Rodeo
San Francisco’s Cyclecide Bike Rodeo, a fixture of Maker Faire Bay Area, brought their entire fleet of rides and a full crew to Portland for Maker Faire. All their colorful bicycle-powered rides were set up south of OMSI, adjacent to a celebration for the bridge opening.
Activities were available throughout Maker Faire. The Tinker Challenge asked the question: how can you use cardboard to make a costume?
Marie Bjerde organized a table where you can make pop-up card circuits. Bjerde, a former mobile technology executive who got involved in education, has been doing this project for all four years, now assisted by her daughter, Annika. Bjerde was in the building that houses OMSI’s exhibit design workshop, and she was right next to the Tesla coil demonstrations.
The 3D printing area had a lot of hands-on activities. One of the more popular activities was a row of computers set up for learning 3D design. In the photo below, I was amazed at just how many people can actually “use” a computer at the same time. These girls were learning how to design an object in TinkerCad.
As a cider maker myself, I was glad to get to the cider tasting for Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider. “Reverend Nat is a single-minded cider evangelist who searches the world for superior ingredients to handcraft the most unusual ciders that no one else will make.” I like trying cider with hops added, which made me think I should try doing that myself in the next batch. Handcrafted food and drink is part of what makes Portland, well, Portlandia.
Some things just catch your eye. These felted boots are just beautiful in color and texture.
Laen and OSH Park
“The hardware community in Portland has exploded over the four years that Maker Faire has been here,” said James Neal, better known at “Laen.” His own business, OSH Park, specializes in small-run printed circuit board fab for the open source hardware community. Laen said that he now has five people working for him and they were proudly showing off “landshark bots.” Laen was featured Make: back in 2012, with Phil Torrone calling him an “Open Source Hardware Hero.”
Laen has also been involved with Dorkbot (“Fun with Electricity”) and he has seen attendance grown at their events. He also mentioned others who started hardware projects on the side in the Portland area and have continued to grow.
- Paul Stoffregan of PJRC who developed the Teensy board.
- Robert Gallup of XOBXOB (BoxBox spelled backwards!), an Internet of Things platform for Makers.
- Erik and Jenni Kettenburg run Digistump and produce the Digispark product line.
A group of students from Oregon State started Fused Machines. One of them, Michael Williams, was at Maker Faire showing a prototype of Orsus, a 3D printer and CNC hybrid — essentially offering an extruder head and a drill bit on the same machine. While still in the early stages, Orsus can combine both methods to make things that couldn’t be made easily with either a 3D printer or a CNC machine. We’ll have to see how that turns out.
Mark Keppinger’s card describes him as an “electronics go-to guy” who has “no cell, no kids, no life.” He told me that he teaches electronics workshops on how to make things with vacuum tubes. He demonstrated a theremin, plugged into an amp he made with vacuum tubes soldered onto circuit boards.
Mark also had a rare video game arcade designed by Nolan Bushnell in 1971 called Computer Space. Slim and sleek, with blue trim, it is unlike the boxy arcades that came before and after.
There are a number of Makerspaces in Portland but ADX Portland, started by Kelley Joy, stands out. I spoke with Matt Preston, Communications Director for ADX. He was then joined by David Lewis, who had started his business, Veteran Bicycle Company, at ADX in a 10′×10′ space and only recently moved out to get his own larger space. A machinist and a veteran himself, David wants to engage veterans in building bicycles.
As a space, ADX seems to focus on Makers who are serious about getting into a craft or trade and making something for a living. Looking at a list of class offerings on their site, one can see that their focus in more on industrial arts such as metalworking, welding, and woodworking. There’s an upcoming 8-week class on making a shaker table.
ADX has been a place to start a Maker business for many like David. When he moved out, he got space with another company that came out of ADX, Portland Razor Company, which produces handmade straight razors and strops. The founder, Scott Miyako, writes on the website: “Starting Portland Razor Co. has been a way to combine my love of American manufacturing, my passion for straight shaving, and my love of working with my hands.”
I also met John and Linda from PDX Hackerspace, a relatively new space that open last October. They have about 50 members currently.
BrainSilo, which claimed to be the oldest Makerspace in Portland, closed down last February. It is hard to manage and fund a community space.
There was a wonderful exhibit about rocks and another about gems. I could watch this rock polishing machine for a long time:
Portland’s Creatives Produce Makerlandia
Whether you call them Makers, creatives, crafters, or artisans, Portland has plenty of them and they all do different things based on their interests and their own idea of what makes sense to do. The producers of Portland might be making hard cider, felted boots, straight razors, digitally fabricated puppets for stop-motion films, homemade cheese, theremins, circuit boards, science kits, tiny houses, and so much more. They are also creating their own culture, which I will call Makerlandia, a culture for culture. It is something to celebrate and that’s just what Maker Faire is designed to do in a hands-on fashion.
If I can choose one final image for Makerlandia, it is this one: a woman in a lovely felted hat starting a fire with a magnifying glass.
Postscript: Portland is the residence of my friend and author, Dr. Frank Wilson, who wrote The Hand: How its Use Shapes Our Brain, Language and Culture. If you’ve ever wondered why we are wired to be “hands-on” and want to understand its deeper significance, check out his book.