Holiday Gift Guide 2011: Park’s Picks

My holiday picks this year run a wide range of things I love to geek out on — from maker fashion to music makers, from machine shop memberships to steam engines, from beverage kits to time keepers. I hope this guide will help you find that perfect something for someone on your list. Or, maybe a little something for yourself!

Six legged!
This super quick hexapod uses Dynamixl servos and the Arduino-compatible ArbotiX micro controller to deliver open source arachnid robotic fun. Sure, this isn’t the cheapest thing on the list, but think of the wow factor!
PhantomX AX-18F Hexapod Comprehensive Kit, $2,250

I carried a Spyderco Dragonfly with me for over a decade, using it nearly every day, until I recently misplaced it. This slightly larger model, the Delica, with its quick-deploying combination blade looks like it would make a perfect replacement.
Spyderco Delica 4, $95 (street $50)

Noisy little fellow
This is a fun kit to build, and an even funner kit to play with. Repatch the jumper wires to adjust the drones and noise loops of this alien synthesizer critter.
Bit Blob Jr. Kit, $55

Cooking the joe
Makers love coffee. Makers love making things. Why not make your own coffee beans? Growing them can be difficult if you don’t live in the right part of the world, but buying green beans, which keep for over a year, is the next best thing. Roast them on demand and you may improve the quality of your coffee, cut the cost, and have fun doing it. I love this particular roaster — I make a pound of coffee in it every weekend and get consistently great results.
Behmor 1600 Coffee Roaster, $300

Tooling around
TechShop says:

This holiday season, TechShop is offering our best deal of the year. For only $49, you can become a full member of TechShop for one month with access to all TechShop locations. Plus, we’re throwing in not one, but TWO jumpstart classes! It’s an exciting and inexpensive way to get in and see what TechShop is all about. This offer is running from November 25 – December 31, 2011.

TechShop One-Month Gift Certificate, $49

Helmet cam
Originally intended for extreme sports enthusiasts to record their exploits on the ski slopes, this camera can add rugged, lightweight video capabilities to your robots, rockets, and other maker-ish projects. I love the realtime Bluetooth preview mode, which adds remote wireless vision on your iPhone or Android device.
Contour+, $500

This is the simplest, safest way to control scary, 110V AC devices, such as lamps, fans, and blenders with your Arduino or other micro controller. This new version requires no driver circuit and can be plugged directly into a 3-12V DC control signal.
PowerTail Switch II, $27

Mightier than the sword
Three words: Titanium writing implement. This is a tough, no-nonsense pen that uses Fisher Space Pen refill cartridges. It looks good, has a nice weight to it, and I’m pretty sure was designed to double as a kubotan or stabby tool if you’re in a secret agent sort of bind. Also available in aluminum, stainless steel, and copper.
Titanium Embassy Pen, $40-$85

Homemade suds
The Brooklyn Brew Shop 1 Gallon Beer Making Kit is the perfect introduction to brewing for the quality-conscious quaffer. Instead of the typical can of malt extract, you’ll learn about the true steps of making a grain mash, sparging, hopping, yeasting, fermenting, bottling, and then drinking a delicious homebrew. I made a tasty IPA, though they offer many other styles. One of the most inspired things about this kit is its size — small enough to do on a stovetop, more manageable than the typical 5-gallon size. Includes malted barley blend, hops, yeast, glass fermenter, airlock, tubing, thermometer, tubing clamp, sanitizer, stopper, and blowoff attachment.

Beer Making Kit, $40

Wireless transfer
This SD card contains an impossibly small WiFi transmitter, thus freeing you of the shackles of USB cables. Thanks to the Eye-Fi, my SLR now automagically posts my project photos to Flickr and my computer moments after I snap the shutter.
Eye-Fi Mobile x2, $80 (street $60)

Role play
Here’s one for the the kid (or kid at heart) on your list. Imaginative play is fantastic, but can often involve grabbing anything handy to act as a sword. Sometimes that something is more dangerous than strictly necessary. This gorgeous leather sword, holder, dagger, and shield are safer and more stylish than the typical stick or fire poker.
Handmade Leather Sword, Holder, Dagger, Shield, $145

Fresh brew
I’ve brewed many interesting types of beer before, but never with ingredients such as peanut butter, lavender, grapefruit, or carrots. The brewing recipes in this book are unusual, innovative, and often delicious. The Peanut Butter Porter and Lady Lavendar samples I tasted were excellent; I can’t wait to make some Mustard Brown Ale.
Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Beer Making Book, $20

Brick education
This subscription to LEGO learning is a gift that keeps on giving. The Master Builder Academy is a fantastic way to learn “insider” techniques from LEGO master builders, such as sideways building, micro scale, and airplane design. Buy set one, then subscribe to sets two-six, which will come to your house throughout the year.
LEGO Master Builder Academy Kits 1-6 Subscription, $100

Lock bypass tools
Picking locks is a useful skill to have, and a heck of an impressive party trick. Grab a good set of fundamental tools, read the classic MIT guide to lock picking, and start practicing.
Beginners Lock Picking Blend Set, $40

Vintage bots
Humans love robots. Especially these fantastically appealing robot sculptures made from reclaimed vintage bits and parts. I’ve got one on my personal Christmas list this year — Doris the Bowler Hat robot pictured above.
Lockwasher Design Robots, prices vary, contact the artist

Muscle wire
Flexinol wire is wonderful stuff. It can be pulled and bent out of shape, and will then return to its original state when a current passes through it. This robot hand kit is a great introduction to working with muscle wire, and will spark your imagination for many other applications.
Muscle Wire Moving Hands Kit, $30

Not knowing is half the battle
Full disclosure: I’m highly biased about loving and recommending this item, because I created it. It’s my baby! The Mystery Box kit is a wooden, laser cut box that I recommend you gift to someone only after filling it with messages and artifacts the recipient is never meant to see. Maddening, but worth it; just ask J.J. Abrams.
Mystery Box kit, $35

Hurdy gurdy
Reminiscent of punch cards and player piano scrolls, this music box kit begs the recipient to compose their own tunes, one hole at a time.
DIY Music Box Kit, $15

Making time
I’ve had this watch for a while now, and I just love it. It’s crazy big (46mm), but functionally minimalistic, in a cool-guy pilot-of-an-experimental-secret-stealth-aircraft sort of way. (Shhh, this watch was contracted by a government agency to have no brand or markings on the face.) It’s an autowinder, so there are no batteries to replace, no need to hand wind it. Also available in a mid-size (39mm).
Maratac Pilot Automatic Watch, $195

Made for walking, standing, stomping, shuffling, etc.
Everyone needs a sturdy pair of boots. This is that pair. Made in the USA, leather, nitrile cork sole, triple stitched. I wear the heck out of mine. They even sent me a set of replacement laces, free of charge, just for asking.
Red Wing Heritage Style No. 8111 Iron Ranger Boots, $280

Soda jerk
Take control of your sweet, fizzy beverages! This kit includes the excellent book Fix the Pumps, which chronicles the history, techniques, and recipes of soda, as well as two key ingredients for making your own soda fountain drinks, acid phosphate and lactart.
Fix the Pumps Soda Kit, $33

Little big truck
LEGO Technics vehicles tend to be marvels of ABS plastic engineering. At 2,047 pieces, and featuring a working pneumatic crane arm and offset portal axle gear hubs, this may be the crowning achievement of Technic sets.
LEGO Unimog U400, $200

Take steam back from the punks
Model steam engines are wonderful. From the tiny Model #85 to the full-blown Model #25G power plant, there is a great range of steam engines to enjoy. Simple to set up and run, these will bring joy to the steam engineer on your list. Or, build your own creation such as my Boiler Bot as seen in the Make Project below.

Jensen Model #85 Steam Engine, $120
Jensen Model #25G Steam Power Plant, $390

Steam-Powered BoilerBot

In the Maker Shed:

Want more? Stop by the Make Shed. We’ve got all sorts of great holiday gift ideas: Arduino & Arduino accessories, electronic kits, science kits, smart stuff for kids, back issues of MAKE & CRAFT, box sets, books, robots, kits from Japan and more.

Holiday Shipping Deadlines in December:

December 14 Last Day to place orders shipped via USPS
December 19th Last Day to place orders shipped via 3-Day freight
December 20th Last Day to place orders shipped via 2-Day freight
December 22nd Last Day to place orders shipped via priority overnight Saturday delivery

Note: We guarantee delivery by Christmas when ordering by the above deadlines, except for USPS, where we simply cannot guarantee. However, we feel reasonably certain based on experience that orders placed on that day will be delivered by Christmas via USPS.

And of course, Gift Certificates and MAKE subscriptions are always available – even on Christmas Day!

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John Edgar Park likes to make things and tell people about it. He builds project for Adafruit Industries. You can find him at and twitter/IG @johnedgarpark

View more articles by John Edgar Park


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