The MAKEcation Family Challenge!

The MAKEcation Family Challenge!

Our final main event for MAKEcation 2009 is our “Family Challenge,” as in the Hatfields vs. the McCoys, the Lancasters vs. the Yorks, the Macs vs. the PCs. Okay, we really don’t want it to get that entrenched and bloody. It’s not even that much of a proper competition (in the end, the winner many be judged by us on criteria like who looked like they were having the most fun, whose device looks the coolest, etc.). We want this to be all about the fun, getting your family together to work on a project, and to have a little friendly rivalry between maker clans.

CampCounselorBadgeBill.jpgSo, what’s the challenge? Build a backyard trebuchet! The family that builds our favorite, and sends us the documentation, will get a $100 gift certificate from the Maker Shed. Five runners up will get a Maker’s Notebook and their choice of The Best of MAKE or The Best of Instructables. As with the soldering and cooler hacking challenges, we have a Camp Counselor to help with inspiration, advice, dos and don’ts. For the trebuchet, there’s probably no better choice than our very own Bill Gurstelle. Bill is the author of The Art of the Catapult, Whoosh-Boom-Splat, and Backyard Ballistics. So he knows about flinging stuff through the air. Here, he explains the guidelines for the challenge:


Your MAKEcation family challenge involves building a medieval siege engine. When
it comes to putting the fun in physics, it’s hard to top a homemade trebuchet. A trebuchet is a type of catapult or hurling machine that uses a counterweight to rotate a throwing arm. The arm, in turn, flings the projectile in an arc towards a target.

Trebuchets scale nicely and can range from table-top models sized to fling golf balls, up to the sixty foot high monster currently flinging boulders for tourists at Warwick Castle in

Your MAKEcation family challenge is to get your clan together to build a gravity-powered hurling machine capable of tossing a five ounce projectile as far as possible, using a counterweight weighing no more than 25 pounds.

Send us a video of your machine in action and verify your results on the honor system. Swear that they are truthful and accurate, i.e. play fair, don’t cheat.

Bill will shortly start doing some posts on the project on subjects like constructing a sling and choosing a catapult trigger. If you have any trebuchet building experience, ideas you’re interested in trying out, or if you want to start talking smack about your genius clan in the comments, please do.

Let the MAKEcation solder-fest BEGIN!
MAKEcation Cooler Hacking Challenge

12 thoughts on “The MAKEcation Family Challenge!

  1. Don says:

    This looks like a great little contest.

    I always wanted to start a league type game using trebuchets or other catapults and tennis balls. Pretty much it would be a real life version of the old Scorched Earth game. Hit within the opponents circle and they loose points or you gain points or whatever. Only problem is that I never had other friends as interested in the game as I was.

    If anyone else wants to try this and report it on Make I’d love to hear about it.

    Maybe it’s a good scout or youth activity.

    1. Nate says:

      That would be AWESOME. I certainly would have some friends who would be up for it.

      Unfortunately, there’s not much space around me to do this sort of thing in. Plus, there’s the big question of “safety” that some neighborino will call into question (not to mention potentially calling the cops when they see a bunch of people hauling out medieval siege engines)

      But yes. An Excellent Idea, nonetheless. I would definitely be up for a game :D

  2. rjnerd says:

    Here is a timelapse of a group of kids building a machine somewhat larger than the contest discusses. Its a traction trebuchet (live counterweight, saves having to do a trigger) that throws 20 oz water bottles over 250 feet. (intended use was a Zucchini throwing competition)

    Total build time was about 6 hours, with a group of 12-15 yr old kids that averaged about 6 kids in size.

    I have been considering running a treb build competition as a team building event. (I currently run mini Junkyard Wars builds). If there is a company out there interested in trying it, please contact me. Details at

  3. Tim says:

    I will likely be participating, when’s the deadline for submissions?

  4. brad says:

    Lucas and I are out of town until next week – how long will the contest last? We will do for sure with our Cincinnati Jr Makers club if the contest is still open on the weekend of the 22nd

  5. Anonymous says:

    When do we have to submit by and where to?

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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