Top Tips from 17 Amazing Makers

Maker News Workshop
Top Tips from 17 Amazing Makers


For our 50th issue of Make: (April/May 2016), we decided to talk to a number of people who have contributed to the magazine, shown at Maker Faire, written for the website, and who have basically been a huge part of the success of Maker Media, to share some of what they’ve been up to recently. We asked them about current projects they’re working on, some of their favorite tips (on everything from practical shop workings to a maker pro’s bottom line), and any inspiring memories they’ve had during their time in the maker movement. You can see the full feature piece in the magazine.

We got responses from 28 people. As you can imagine, we received way more material than we could fit in the magazine. Since many of the tips were too good not to share, we decided to share the rest of them here on the website. Enjoy.

Steve Hobley (, created the laser harp project (seen above), featured in Make:. He has also worked on numerous Weekend Projects and other DIY projects featured here on the site.

Steve’s Top Tips:

Finish things!: The one thing being a maker has taught me is how to finish things. Divide a task up into “chunks” and do one chunk per day (Sunday was always my making day) and feel good about making progress. Additionally, learn to recognize when you are trying TOO hard. There comes a point where you want to get finished at all costs, and you start to get sloppy. Learn to recognize that moment and STOP, take a break.

Harbor Freight is your best friend: There are so many inexpensive tools available from Harbor Freight.

Learn how to use a CAD program: I have solved so many problems within a CAD program that, when it comes time for the actual build, I can pretty much sail through it. If you draw everything to scale, you can estimate materials properly, move pieces around, link entities, and test the mechanics — all from the comfort of your armchair/bed/bath. Saves you so much time in the long run and “additional” trips to the hardware store. Which brings us to:

Order extra!: Always order 10% more than you need.


Jie Qi ( is a doctoral candidate in the Responsive Environments group at MIT’s Media Lab. Her work with paper circuits and “circuit stickers” has been written about in Make: and she has contributed projects to the the website.

Jie’s Top Tips:

What will you trade off in product dev?: Commercializing a project can be both beautifying and digestive (i.e. an idea loses some of its original “nutrients”). A prototype moving into manufacturing gains positive qualities (e.g. durability), but features get cut, too, due to cost issues. Often, you have to wonder if the trade-off is worth it. If getting rid of a quality allows the product to reach 1000 more people, will you do it? How about 10K? I find it worth clarifying, for yourself and your project, as it really helps guide your fragile and precious idea through the “real world” birth canal, on its way to a viable and marketable product.

Making things is puzzle-solving: Making things rarely works the first time. A lot of folks get really frustrated in the process of creating something complicated (or seemingly simple!) when it doesn’t work.  Actually, most things don’t work the first time and it’s patiently solving every little puzzle, or bug, that is a huge part of the process of making. Embrace the wrong and the weird. It just means you’re pushing yourself into new territories. 

It’s surprisingly easy to prototype on paper: Make robust and flexible circuits on paper. Stick down copper tape instead of wires (which conduct just as well but lay flat and keep themselves in place), use flat surface-mount components, and solder your connections for sturdier connections. You can build iteratively– just unsolder and unstick to make changes and separate traces with scrap paper if you need traces to overlap. Once placed down on paper (or cardboard if you want something more physically robust), you can annotate your circuit for clarity or decorate it to express yourself.


leahBuechley_2Leah Buechley ( is an artist, engineer, and educator exploring the intersections of “high” and “low” technologies. She is the creator of the LilyPad Arduino, widely used in wearable/soft circuits applications.

Leah’s Top Tip:
Don’t forget the laser cutter: Though 3D printers get more attention, I think laser cutters are the most powerful tools in a high-tech shop. They’re much more versatile, incredibly fast, and most importantly, flexible. You can use them to work with paper, rubber, wood, plastic, fabric, etc. I just got a giant (and surprisingly inexpensive) RedSail machine from China. The customs process wasn’t that hard. Hire a safe-mover to get it (or a Bridgeport) into your shop :)


KippKipp Bradford ( is an entrepreneur, technology consultant, and educator. He has written for Make: and the website and organized several Mini Maker Faires.

Kipp’s Top Tip: Here’s a prototyping trick that I use a lot when designing electromechanical devices. I export a DXF file of my circuit board from Eagle and open it as a 2D sketch in a Solidworks Part. I can then go through and extrude each component outline to the height of the actual component, save as an STL file, and 3D print the circuit board to make sure it has the right mechanical fit before I spend the money to build it. A lot of the high-end programs like Altium do this more seamlessly, but it can be useful for all oof the folks using Eagle.



Jim Newton is the founder of TechShop ( Jim has regularly participated in Maker Faire and frequently been covered in the magazine and on the website.

Jim’s Top Tip:
Dissolve ShapeLock in chloroform: We all like using ShapeLock plastic for lots of projects. ShapeLock, also known as polycaprolactone, becomes moldable at around 160° F and hardens to a nylon-like plastic when cooled. But did you know that you can dissolve ShapeLock in chloroform solvent? This allows you to do things like dip objects into it, cast it in a mold, or paint it onto surfaces to form thin sheets. You can buy chloroform online.


bethany_1Bethany Shorb ( is an artist, product designer, and owner of The Cyberoptix Tie Lab. Her work has frequently been covered in Make: and she has exhibited at numerous Maker Faires.

Bethany’s Top Tip: If you’re a maker pro, don’t DIY your accounting! Leave that to the accounting pros. Pick your DIY battles carefully. Usually, the aspects that you really love are the ones that you should do yourself.


Mister Jalopy ( is a maker, artist, writer, teacher, and shop keeper. He currently runs Coco’s Variety, a one-of-a-kind bike shop in Los Angeles. He was a columnist in Make: for years, a staple at Maker Faire, and one of the maker movement’s more thoughtful early articulators.

Mister J’s Top Tip: YouTube is great, but don’t watch related videos! Watch what you came for and then get the hell out of there. You’ll be able to build an airplane with the time you save!


Sean Ragan ( is currently the Editorial Director of Foundry, an “online discovery platform” designed to assist makers in finding the connections, tools, and services they need to realize products. He’s also a contributor to Popular Science and Make:. He was an editor on Make:’s website for years and the magazine’s former Technical Editor.

Sean’s Top Tip: Probably the most useful general purpose tip is something I saw in an interview with found object artist Nemo Gould. He was taking giving the interviewer a tour of his shop, showing the towering shelves of carefully-sorted industrial junk. He said something like, “Properly sorted, this is a parts library and a useful tool. Unsorted, and it’s a pile of junk and a curse.” Point being: if you can’t throw anything out, you at least need to keep it organized.


MAKERFAIRE_01Anouk Wipprecht ( is a Dutch fashion designer and fashion technologist. Her work has been featured in Make:, on the website, and at Maker Faire. For several years now, she has wowed the crowds at Maker Faire with catwalk fashion shows featuring high-tech wearables.

Anouk’s Top Tip: Learn the language of each discipline that you use. A programmer thinks in code, a designer in how things flow, an architect in how they’re constructed, etc. These are all languages you can learn how to speak, like French or Italian.


Kate Harman ( is an artist, technologist, and educator exploring the fields of physical computing, wearable electronics, and conceptual art. Her work has appeared in Make:, at Maker Faire, and she is the author of Make: Wearable Electronics.

Kate’s Top Tip: There is no right way to make something. While tutorials and DIY kits are great, making is ultimately about experimentation, innovation, and bringing together tools and methods from different disciplines to accomplish new and exciting things!


Bunnie Huang ( is a widely known high-tech maker and small-scale hardware developer. He has been featured in Make:, written for the magazine, and presented at both Maker Faire and MakerCon.

Bunnie’s Top Tip: The strongest advice I could give would be to say: Remember, supply chains are made of people. Never forget the human side of things when trying to scale up your ideas.


markFrauenfelder_3Mark Frauenfelder ( was the founding editor of Make: and has been one of its guiding lights since its inception.

Mark’s Top Tip: Buy a pair of digital calipers and learn how to use them. You can get a decent pair on Amazon for $15. If you are doing any kind of 3D printing, they are a great investment.


Liam Casey ( is the founder and CEO of PCH, designers of custom product solutions for everyone from startups to Fortune 500s. Liam has presented at the Make: Hardware Innovation Workshop, at MakerCon, and has been covered in the Maker Pro newsletter.

Liam’s Top Tip: What I share with hardware entrepreneurs is to think far beyond just the making of the product. Making it is the relatively straightforward part. What are usually the stumbling blocks are things like raising the funds, engineering for manufacturing, getting to market quickly, effectively managing a supply chain, and developing relationships with customers. These are the things that are ultimately important.


Lenore Edman ( is one of the two top labcoats behind Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories. Lenore and her husband Windell have frequently been featured in Make: and on the website, and they have been regulars at Maker Faire since the first event in 2006.

Lenore’s Top Tip: One of the habits that Windell and I have is to brainstorm during driving times. Whoever isn’t driving keeps notes. We work through problems on current projects, flesh out items on our long to-do list, and brainstorm new ideas.


johnPark_1John Edgar Park ( has been a great friend and ally of Make:’s since day 1. He was one of the on-air personalities behind the Emmy-nominated Make: Television, and has been a contribitor to nearly every Maker Media project, from the magazine and the website to Maker Faire and Maker Camp. In his voluminous spare time, he is also a computer animation technical director at DisneyToon Studios.

John’s Top Tip: If you need more hand tools, try vintage. Good, old-fashioned hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, clamps, and pliers are plentiful at estate and yard sales and at flea markets. The quality is better than today’s tools and the cost is lower when compared with many tools you’ll find in big-box hardware stores. And they have so much more character, they always makes me happy whenever I reach for them.


Matt Mets ( is an artist and engineer and the person behind Blikinlabs, a small design studio that develops interactive lighting technology. Matt was a contribiting editor to Make: for years and also a software engineer at MakerBot.

Matt’s Top Tip: Glue down standoffs to make a quick, removable mount for a PCB-based project. First attach the standoffs to the PCB using screws, and then glue the other ends of the standoffs into your project case. Now, if you ever need to swap out the board, just can unscrew it!


Jimmy DiResta ( is a maker’s maker. There seems to be little that he can’t fabricate, out of nearly any given material. His always impressive and clever talents have led to such DIY television shows as Dirty Money, Hammered, and Trash to Cash. Currently, Jimmy is a YouTube maker star, as a regular on Make:’s Workshop video series, on the Core77 channel, and on his own popular Jimmy DiResta channel.

Jimmy’s Top Tip: Want to lean how to use a machine? Make something on it! Among other things, you quickly learn how to hide your mistakes.

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


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