MAKEcation Family Challenge — Technojunk Teardown

MAKEcation Family Challenge — Technojunk Teardown

Our last major MAKEcation initiative this year is a family challenge contest, sponsored by Maker Shed, with some sweet prizes. Here’s your challenge:

  • Choose a piece of technojunk, some cast-off electronics that you’re willing to take apart (modem, cassette or CD player, printer, VCR, scanner, answering machine, TiVo, etc.). DO NOT touch TV sets and steer clear of any power supplies inside of PCs, TiVos, etc. TVs and power supplies can hold dangerous charges inside of them long after they’re powered down! If you’re unsure what the power supply is on your device, look it up online.
  • Gather the family around (whomever wants to participate), take the item apart, and catalog all of the parts you find. You’ll need good lighting and a magnifying glass to find all of the parts numbers, manufacturer logos, and other identifying marks and clues. You may even need to desolder some of the parts.
  • After you find out as much as you can from the parts themselves, fire up a search engine and see how much you can find out about each component. With some good digital detective work, you should be able to scare up datasheets for most of the parts, and you may even find circuit diagrams, parts lists, and repair manuals. If you do, still go ahead and grab the datasheets for each component and delve deeper into their functions.
  • With all of the data you’ve collected, and spending some time studying the parts and the PCB, you should start to piece together a decent picture of what does what and the basics of how the machine works.
  • Once you know what all of the parts are, you’ll likely think up some good ideas for what other projects you can make from them. The last part of the challenge is brainstorming these new project ideas.

This may not sound like the most exciting family activity, but once you get into it, the investigative part is more fun than you might think. I did this very activity on a Series 1 TiVo, when I was writing my TiVo hacking book, and I had a ball. You learn a lot about how a piece of consumer electronics is constructed, about the components involved, and it’s fun to figure out how they all work together — it’s like a big, geeky puzzle. You also get a good feel for the far-flung world of global electronics parts manufacturing, how to read component datasheets, and how to think about reusing old electronics. I did all this by myself, but I can imagine it’d be fun to sit around as a group and discuss what you find and to collectively figure out how it all works together and what you can make from it.

For the contest, we’re looking for great documentation (text, photos, links to relevant resources), surprising discoveries and learning experiences (telling us what unusual things you figured out and what you learned during the teardown process), and fun ideas for what sorts of projects you can build from the parts you scavenged. Massive brownie points for actually building something with the parts and showing us that too.

The contest launches today and will run until 11:59 p.m. PDT on September 24, 2010. Winners will be announced on September 29, 2010. The prizes, provided by Maker Shed, are:

Grand Prize (1): A Make: Electronics Toolkit (valued at $110)
Second Prize (1): A Make: Circuit Breaker Leatherman tool (ES4) (valued at $36)
Third Prize (1): A 54-Piece Bit Driver Kit (valued at $19.95)

The next top 10 highest scoring entries will receive a Maker’s Notebook.

You can enter as many teardowns as you like, as long as they’re all different.

(Note that you don’t have to actually be a family to participate. If you want to do this as a hackerspace activity, or even as an individual, that’s fine. We’re just hoping that families will partake.)

Full contest details, and a link to the entry form, are on the MAKEcation Family Challenge Technojunk Teardown page.

If you need some inspiration for what a productive teardown and documentation process looks like, check out these links:

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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