Making a Better Tape Dispenser with Adam Savage and Laura Kampf

Making a Better Tape Dispenser with Adam Savage and Laura Kampf

Collaborative projects can be very exciting, to engage in, or even just to watch. It is one thing to bring your own expertise to bear on a design problem. It’s another to bring two or more different sets of skills, experiences, and eyeballs to a task. When a collaboration is good, it can be amazing, almost alchemical in how what you get is so much greater than what each individual person would bring to the task. Some of the greatest experiences of my life have been collaborations that worked far beyond anyone’s expectations. (Of course, there’s the inverse of a collaboration where the egos, personalities, and working styles of the parties involved mix like oil and water and fireworks ensue.)

I am always excited to see maker collaborations on YouTube and am happy to note that there seems to be an increasing number of them among video makers these days. The latest of these that I’ve run across is Adam Savage of Tested and German YouTube maker Laura Kampf. While Laura was in the Bay Area for Maker Faire in May, she stopped by the Tested studios and Adam’s shop to shoot a video for Adam’s “One Day Builds” series.

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Laura brought the design challenge. She wanted to have a tape dispenser for her shop which could hold multiple rolls of the colored gaffer’s tape that she famously uses. She wanted to be able to operate the dispenser one-handed, to easily remove an individual roll one-handed, and she wanted the whole unit to be portable so that she could easily take it to a job site.

And with that, the two of them began figuring out a design and set to work. I loved watching them figure how how to go about it and how each contributed good ideas and shop work to realizing the overall design. You can tell how well they worked together.

They decided to cannibalize some industrial-strength handheld tape dispensers for the central mechanism and added some thrust bearings to them that Adam had. To make each roll removable, they created rocker arms for each roll that lift and lock above the dispenser. A welded metal handle allows the dispenser to be carried.

In the end, they ended up with two dispensers, one for each of their shops. The resulting tool may be overly expensive, over-engineered, and required a shop full of high-end tools to accomplish, but the result is a lovely object and it appears to work like a charm.

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One of the things that I enjoy most about these YouTube collaborations is how they frequently inspire others. When Clemens Mayer responded to the video by saying that he had a much simpler, cheaper way of achieving the same result, Laura challenged him to show his work in a video. He did. You can tell that the resulting dispenser is much funkier in operation than Adam and Laura’s, and it will definitely not be winning any design awards. He also ignored one aspect of the design brief: portability. But as a proof of concept and minimalist response, there are some clever ideas here.

Looking at the Tested video and Clemens’ response, I also wonder how many solutions to this problem other viewers have at least dreamed up? Or actually made. What are your thoughts and ideas for solutions? Share in the comments.

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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. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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