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

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

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

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn