5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Things About Rick Schertle


San Jose, Calif.-based maker Rick Schertle is a father, middle school teacher, coordinator and mentor at his local Young Makers program, and an all-around swell guy. Rick’s enthusiasm for making is contagious. He loves things that fly, and he loves to share what he knows. On the pages of MAKE, he’s shown us how to make compressed air rockets, a folding-wing glider, high-pressure foam rockets, and a catapult glider launcher. He also wrote a great essay on how he became an MAKE author and kit maker, and says, “What I love about the MAKE movement is that it’s a learning culture, moving people from users and consumers to creators and makers. Plenty of school districts (including mine) have ‘life-long learner’ in their mission statements, but how many are actually living it out? I see it loud and clear in the maker movement.”

One project you’re particularly proud of:

1. The Compressed Air Rocket I designed for MAKE Volume 15 seems to have started it all. Seeing reader comments (even one in this past issue of MAKE) really gets my psyched! I’ve heard from people all over the world who have had great experiences with the rockets. One science teacher told me that building rockets with his students, saved the end of his school year. As a teacher, I can relate to that. The project is fairly simple and does not require highly technical skills, which makes it accessible to a wide audience. Through my ongoing relationship with MAKE and Maker Faire, thousands of people (mostly kids) have launched rockets from the New York Hall of Science to the Henry Ford in Michigan.

Since the Compressed Air Rocket, I’ve written a step by step how-to on a folding-wing balsa wood glider in MAKE 31, a historic reproduction of a catapult launcher in MAKE 32, and soon-to-be-published glider drop project where the balsa glider is dropped using a servo mechanism from Breck Baldwin’s flying “Towel” wing from MAKE 30. My kids and I built a Towel with Breck in his Brooklyn studio this past summer and I have since then become accomplished at R/C flying.

IMG_2971Breck Baldwin with Rick and his son and daughter, homemade “Towel” R/C planes in hand.

Two past mistakes you’ve learned the most from:

1. Not getting expert help when needed. I’ve always loved things that fly, and from an early age have experimented with R/C airplanes. I often learned the hard way with busted-up airplanes and broken flying dreams. Since then, I’ve gotten some help from masters of the hobby and have become a competent R/C pilot. Getting help from the experts can certainly save you lots of time and often money too. Making is about collaborating, offering feedback, and improving upon what you’ve started. That’s why folks love the making community so much!

2. Getting too many projects going and not finishing them tends to be a problem that I’m sure many can relate to. I have so many interests, It’s hard to narrow it down. I’m learning to prioritize and even put projects that don’t seem to have much potential on the back burner. This holds true for “maker-related activities” as well. Here in the Bay Area, we could be busy every weekend with cool events, but I’m learning to say no in order to stay more focused.

Rick flying his folding-wing gliders with his son, Micah.

Three books you think every maker should read:

1. Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology. Author Erik Brende, as a graduate project at MIT, along with his new wife, lived for 18 months in an Amish community to examine how technology affects their lives. This was an awesome book that helped me evaluate the role of technology in my life. While I’m far from technology-free (as I’m pounding this out on my laptop), I tend to think more about the relationships around me and the importance of living in the moment.

2. College Without High School is a DIY approach to education. As a public school teacher and parent of homeschooled kids, I’ve really wanted to inspire all kids to follow their interests. While so many kids graduate from high school passionless and uninspired, it doesn’t have to be that way! This book features independent high schoolers who are finishing ready to pursue a university or college program with an attitude of passion, adventure, and leadership.

3. Made by Hand by MAKE’s editor-in-chief, Mark Frauenfelder, weaves together many stories of making things together as a family. I can relate to a lot of his experiences from backyard chickens to alternative fuel projects. I had dabbled in a lot of these things before reading his book (like my 1980 Mercedes veggie diesel conversion). It was affirming to see another family making cool stuff together.

DSC_1097-1Rick and Angie Schertle yarn-bombing with the kids.

Four tools you can’t live without:

1. Table saw. I love running wood through my table saw — it’s a meditative experience. Mine was given to me by a neighbor, is over 40 years old, and works awesome. Wood shop was my favorite class in high school. While some of my classmates 10 weeks into the class were trying to still pass the safety test, I was on my tenth project.

2. Glue gun. If you make things with kids, a glue gun can be your best friend. They only cost a couple of bucks and are amazingly versatile. From building cardboard cities to foam robots, the glue gun does it all. I use it for a compressed air foam rocket I designed to go along with my rocket launcher. The foam fins attach to the foam rocket body in seconds.

3. Leatherman/Swiss Army knife. From uncorking a bottle to cutting salami to crimping a wire to fixing my broken glasses, a Leatherman (I like my Micro) or Swiss Army knife (I’ve got the Camping model) are indispensable. Just remember to remove them from you pocket or carry-on when travelling. I’ve made that mistake before.

4. Laser cutter. Since I took a class at the TechShop I got hooked! The laser cutter is a maker’s dream. The laser cutter allowed me to recreate the historic folding-wing balsa glider. Now I contract with Evan Murphy (developer of Skallops) to cut out the bodies of my gliders. It’s an awesome maker-to-maker partnership!

catapult gliderRick’s Catapult Glider Launcher from Volume 32.

Five people/things that have inspired your work:

1. My Family (dad, wife, and kids). My dad is a retired teacher and is a lifelong maker. He taught me to use tools early on and allowed me to work beside him. Now he and I (I’ve got my own car too) ride the rails safely and legally as part of a rail speeder organization, NORCOA. My wife thinks outside the box. She studied engineering in college and now is a textile artist. She learns most things on her own through books and the internet and exudes great confidence in her making. We homeschool as well, which opens up all kinds of making and learning opportunities for us as a family. My daughter once said, “Only in our house would you accidentally get an LED stuck in your hair!” We’ve been to many places around the world and see traveling as an educational experience for us parents and our kids.

2. MAKE Magazine and Maker Faire. Both the magazine and Maker Faire gave me the confidence that I could do it! While so many people who write for MAKE and are involved in Maker Faire have amazing credentials, even as a middle school English teacher, I’ve learned I can do it too. While I may not be able to explain the math and physics behind my projects, I sure know about the fun factor. Through MAKE, I’ve met so many incredible people all over the world who are a part of this maker revolution. This past summer, I got to kick off Maker Camp at the New York Hall of Science, broadcast live on Google+ for the entire day. Google featured Maker Camp on its homepage, viewed by millions! I’ve got a screenshot to remember the moment.

3. The Wright Brothers. We took a trip across the U.S. this past summer and came across a number of Wright Brothers memorabilia. As kids, Orville and Wilbur were encouraged to tinker, and their tinkering projects grew. Failure was always an option and vital to the growth and fine-tuning of their projects. Within seven years, they went from their first successful flight to commercial production of aircraft.

4. Young Makers. This year I’ve taken on the task of South Bay Regional Coordinator for the Young Makers program. As a volunteer, I work with Tony DeRose and many great folks at The Tech Museum in San Jose, Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, and the Exploratorium in San Francisco. These inspiring folks are excited about paring mentors with kids to make really cool things. We meet weekly on Google Hangouts to debrief our Open Make events and plan our grand finale event for Young Makers, Maker Faire!

5. Chris Anderson. I met Chris a couple of weeks ago when we were both speaking at an event for the Young Makers program on the topic of flight. Like Chris, I’ve always loved things that fly. I appreciate the way Chris is able to continually reinvent himself as a scientist to editor (11 years with Wired) and now head of 3D Robotics. Chris has done this all in the midst of raising a family. We connected over our shared experience as kit makers with pictures of our kids assembling kits on the dining room table. While his flight technology is loaded with electronics and more complex, he took a keen interest in the simplicity of my balsa glider. Thanks to our meeting, I’ll be turning one of my R/C airplanes into a UAV. Cheers to that!

Rick and Chris Anderson at a Young Makers event.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at snowgoli@gmail.com or via @snowgoli.

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