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Make:Cast – How Hard Can It Be?

Tim Deagan on Flame Effects, Propane Patio Heaters and Ham Radio During Covid-19


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Tim Deagan’s Workshop

In this episode of Make:Cast, I talk with Tim Deagan in his garage workshop in Austin, TX.  He says his lifelong motto has been: “How Hard Can It Be?”, even though he has repeatedly learned that most things are indeed harder than they initially look.

I wrote Tim recently to ask him a question about outdoor patio heaters.  With winter coming on, and outdoor dining the rule for most dining establishments during COVID-19, restaurants are having a hard time renting or buying outdoor heaters.  I wondered: “how hard can it be” for makers to fabricate these propane-based heaters.  I asked the guy who has written the book, “Make: Fire – The Art and Science of Working with Propane.”

Connecting via Zoom, our conversation covered many aspects of his life:

  • what’s in his workshop
  • getting a job at Dell Computer thirty years ago
  • getting started with flame effects
  • how building patio heaters is problematical for legal reasons, not practical ones
  • how he’s been getting into analog electronics recently because of his fascination with Ham Radio, which he says is “magic.”
  • how his second book, Modern Leatherwork for Makers,” covers using digital fabrication tools for leatherworking.

I think you’ll be surprised and delighted by Tim’s boundless enthusiasm for learning and trying to do things.

Here’s Tim Deagan on the value of persistence, in this video excerpt below.

Tim is working on new flame effects project, which we talk about in the podcast, based on using liquid propane instead of vapor.

Almost all flame effects are vapor based. These are easy to build but suffer from pressure loss as the cylinder freezes up from pulling vapor too fast. The alternative is to use liquid propane effects. The classic device that does this is a hot air balloon burner. These devices can be constantly used without losing pressure because the vaporization is in the coil rather than the cylinder. I’ve used decommissioned balloon burners in effects for a couple years, but they’re hard to score and expensive. My most recent project is to learn how to make my own version so that I can build an 8-burner Arduino-controlled (MIDI, DMX) effect. I completed the proof of concept build this last week and verified that the approach is viable. The PoC version uses a propane torch pilot but the prototype version I’m building now will use hot surface igniters as the pilot and be tunable for the best looking effect.

Tim’s books are available in print and PDF on Maker Shed as well as Amazon.

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

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