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My Vac-U-Formative years

My Vac-U-Formative years

When these images showed up on Gizmodo, Oh Gizmo! and then started making the email rounds, long-dormant neural pathways lit up like a 60s Christmas tree, the kind with bulbs so big and hot they could roast chestnuts. It was under such a radiant Christmas tree that I found that exact same Mattel Vac-U-Form kit when I was a kidlet. It became my all-time favorite toy (that and Creepy Crawlers). I often think about the impact these building toys had on me as a maker. I was always attracted to toys where you made things, more so than army men or board games or other types of non-build toys. From Vac-U-Form and Creepy Crawlers, I graduated to Gilbert chemistry sets and Estes model rockets. I imagine others reading this followed a similar trajectory.

When we started looking through Instructables for candidates to include in our Best of Instructables book (see below), one of the first projects I put on my list was the vacuum forming rig made out of a peanut butter jar. When the book was edited and published, this was one of the first projects I made. As soon as I smelled that melted plastic stock, the joys of my childhood came rushing back to me like some forgotten Proustian memory.

Vac-U-Form at Sam’s Toybox [via Gizmodo]

You can find the original Instructable for the peanut butter plastic vacuum former here. Below is a video that SheekGeek has added that shows the unit in action:

From the Maker Shed:


Best Of Instructables
Our Price: $34.99
Sale Price: $22.75 has become one of the most popular magnets for makers and DIY enthusiasts of all stripes. Now, with more than 10,000 projects to choose from, the Instructables staff, editors of MAKE: Magazine, and the Instructables community itself have put together a collection of home, craft, food and technology how-to’s from the site. The Best of Instructables Volume 1 includes plenty of clear, full-color photographs, complete step-by-step instructions, and tips, tricks, and new build techniques you won’t find anywhere else.

Highlights from the book:

* 336 pages, 6-5/8 x 9-3/8, same dimensions as The Best of MAKE and MAKE magazine.
* Over 120 projects!
* Projects cover everything from food hacking and making home furnishings from junk to building robots and CNC milling machines. And in-between you’ll find projects on arts, crafts, costume-making, tool tips, themed photo galleries, and tons more.
* There are also the results of the Community Choice contest winners (the best of Instructables as voted by its members) and links to their projects.
* There are key user comments from the site throughout, called User Notes, and even a section in the back for you to keep your own User Notes as you build the projects.

We tried to involve the Instructables community as much as possible in the creation of the book (we were in direct communication with several hundred authors!). We hope the results do this maker community proud. It was a thrill ride to be sure.

6 thoughts on “My Vac-U-Formative years

  1. nomansland says:

    SInce this is posted next to the article about the Klutz book, I wonder which financial benefit the people who posted at instructables get from the book. I hope there are no double standards involved ;-)

  2. zof says:

    They get the credit(and ego stroke) for their work unlike the klutz stuff.

  3. garethb2 says:

    Nice trolling attempt, nomansland. I had to step away from the keyboard for awhile until I was ready to respond sans flamethrower.

    You see, we busted our ever-lovin’ asses on the Instructables book, as we do with everything else here, to serve and expand the maker community, not to shamelessly exploit it. We worked with some 200 Instructable authors (and project commenters) on that book. Imagine what that’s like for a second — within a two month period, emailing some 200 people, back and forth. We got their signed permissions to use their work, we worked with some of them to improve their pieces, get better pictures, we sent them PDFs of their articles for tech editing and overall approval, etc. Back and forth. Back and forth. There were basically five of us doing EVERYTHING. It was an ungodly amount of work, but it was all worth it. What made it bearable was how generous and helpful the Instructable community was. They wanted to help us in any way they could, they wanted us to make the best possible Instructable book we could. They each got a copy of the book for each project we used. Amazingly, only a single person, out of 200, asked for money, and it wasn’t even for a project, it was for a comments photo. Everyone else seemed to understand that we couldn’t afford to put such a book out if we had to pay so many contributors. Being in the book itself, getting a free copy, working together as a team/community, and having the credit/ego strokes were enough.

    So, comparing that to taking someone’s work/project name without their permission, not talking to them, not working with them, and then claiming that you created it all separately, you can see why such a charge feels a little trollish to me. No comparison.

    And also notice that I linked to the original Instructables project above and to a new video update. If I were cravenly hawking the book, I’d conveniently leave out access to the free project so that readers might plunk down the $34.99 to find it in the book. Oh, hey wait, it’s currently on sale in the Maker Shed for only $22.75. Such a deal!

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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. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn
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