Escape Your Awkward Thanksgiving: Build One of These 6 Projects

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Pico Paso Kit Parts

Pico Paso Kit Parts

I love Thanksgiving. I love the food, my family, and even the tryptophan-induced gluttony nap. That said, there are times when the house is packed with relatives and the only island of sanity left is the garage.

If your family’s home is lucky enough to have a garage, it makes a great Maker escape hatch from an uncomfortably packed family gathering. Of course, it’s even better if you have a project waiting for you.

Here are six quick, satisfying projects that are perfect for tackling when everyone else is passed out in front of the TV. Because my main criteria for these are expedience (you can’t check out from family fun forever) and success rate, all of these projects are in kit form. If you see something you like, best to order up now so that you have everything you need on turkey day.


People won’t give you too much guff for ditching out on family time for a few hours if you return with an awesome toy that the kids can play with. The following kits are relatively quick to assemble and guaranteed to amuse.

Vector Raygun Kit

Raygun Vector Weapon ($40)

This is one of my favorite (and most annoying) kits we sell in the Maker Shed. I have one at home and my wife hates when my son and I play around with it. You can’t help it, though. In spite of its ear-piercing sound, the design is just too cool and the adjustable sounds really take things to the next level. It’s a good beginner project for building soldering skills, as the circuit has a little bit of everything (resistors, caps, ICs, transistors, diodes, and even a speaker). Just be sure to order the optional enclosure with the kit, unless you’re creatively inclined to make your own.

Solarbotics Marble Machine

Solar-Powered Marble Machine ($35)

You could make the case that this machine is more of a kinetic sculpture than a toy. But it’s just as mesmerizing to kids as it is to adults, and the use of marbles makes it fun and approachable. There’s only a little soldering involved here. Mostly it’s a matter of correctly glueing pieces together, and letting the sun do the work. Don’t have sunlight? They’ve got a battery version too.

Audio Projects

What I love about audio projects is that the final result is something you can immediately engage with — twisting knobs and flipping switches to create outrageous and entertaining sounds. The following kits are both easy and quick to make, though some soldering skill is required.

YouTube player

The Pico Paso ($25)

The team at Bleeplabs are inordinately gifted at making pocket-sized noise generators. This little guy is as affordable as it is adorable, and has just enough of what you’d want in a digital noise maker — knobs, buttons, and a pair of photo resistors that alter the sound depending on the amount of light they see. It’s a great beginner soldering project, as there’s not much to it and the payoff is unforgettable.

Atari Junk Console Kit

Atari Junk Console ($49)

Now here’s a digital noise monster for real sonic sadists. You get five knobs, two switches, three audio jacks, and a whole lot more soldering to contend with. Also, you’ll need to supply your own case. I love using these kits to breathe new life into unique garage sale items. If you’ve been waiting for a project for that old broken radio, cigar box, or antique lab equipment that’s been sitting in the corner of the garage, why not turn it into a one-of-a-kind noise machine?


One way to wash away the guilt of taking a few hours in the garage for yourself is to return with a useful or decorative item for the home. That might be a stretch for these two projects, but at least they’ll say your heart was in the right place.

Flickery Flame Kit ($7)

If you lack a fireplace but could use a little warm holiday glow, this inexpensive flickering LED kit from Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories will give you a bite-sized surrogate you can carry with you. This is the simplest soldering kit on this list, containing just six resistors, six LEDs, and a battery pack.

Gakken Minirobot Vacuum Kit

Mini Robot Vacuum Cleaner ($44.99)

If the family needs some help cleaning up after Thanksgiving, save the day with your own mini robot vacuum cleaner. Or, at least you can say that was your intention. I’m not so convinced that this little kit from Japan does much in the way of practical cleaning. The Gakken kits can be especially challenging, since the instructions are in Japanese, but there are great pictures to guide you through the construction. And if you fail, at least you have a good excuse.

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I make stuff, play music, and sometimes make stuff that plays music. Fan of donuts, Arduino, BEAM robotics, skateboarding, Buckminster Fuller, and blinking lights.

View more articles by Donald Bell


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