Saturday, May 24, 2014

Scavaging Parts

I found this printer at a garage sale for $2.
I like to find old mechanical/electrical devices and take them apart with my kids.
In addition to just having fun and learning how things work, we were able to salvage the stepper motors.  I want to try hooking them up to the Arduino ( that my brother gave me for Christmas.  If it works, we are going to try and make a reprap ( using parts printed from my Ultimaker 2 (

- Dirk

Ultimaker 2

For years my wife has listened to me think about buying or building a 3D printer.  At heart I am a cheapskate and can not justify spending a lot of money on a toy.  I even had a account and would spend time "liking" things I would print if I only had the printer...

Well, I think my wife got sick of me talking about getting a printer. She not only purchased it for me, but she got what I consider to be one of the top of the line hobby printers: the Ultimaker 2 (  I think one of the things that finally convinced her is when she started checking out thingiverse and found stuff she wanted me to print.

I have only had it for about three days, but I can truly say that the Ultimaker 2 is a joy to work with. Although expensive, it came fully assembled and I had it out of the box and making my first print in less than an hour.  It has been printing almost non-stop since then.  I have made over 24 prints and the thing keeps running: puddle jumper, toy daleks, keychains, hooks, 3d puzzles, all kinds of stuff. Here are a few pictures:  

I am sure more is to come...

- Dirk

Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire

A few weeks ago we caravaned a group of family and friends down to the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire.
This was my first Maker Faire, and we went as a trial run for the Detroit Maker Faire ( It was everything I had hoped: there were plenty of robots, 3d manufacturing devices and other things to touch and play with.  My oldest daughter (with help from her papa) even got to do her first soldering using one of the "learn to solder badges" from the maker shed ( I heard a lot about this kit and it was better than I thought it would be:

I really like the size and the enthusiasm at the event and am looking forward to the Detroit Maker Faire.

Can't wait until the next one.

- Dirk

Garden Fortress

I love the idea of gardening. Specifically vegetable gardens where we can grow, harvest and eat some of our food.  I've had a few gardens before, but in our current house it is difficult to have one because our beautiful four legged neighbors (deer) like to snack in our yard.  

I got this idea from a community garden just down the road.  They used an old glass door as a small green house.  I am using the same idea but as a screened-in space for a little garden.  

I got the door from our local Habitat resale store and it works great. 

Here is a picture of the final product. Note, that the door opens for easy top access and the back can be easily removed also by lifting it off the screws I use as hooks.

Here are a few pictures of my kids and me making the garden.  

I also recently posted this as my first project on instructables:

Send me pics if you make your own.

- Dirk

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Light Box

In addition to making, I love to take pictures. Photography has been a passion of mine since I was my daughter's age. I remember one vacation in Lake Michigan with my family: my Aunt Pat gave me a 110 cartridge camera and basically just let me loose. I was hooked. The only problem with my habit was the cost of developing film, which I tried to pay for in high school by working at a one hour developing store and in college by working on the newspaper and yearbook. Finally, even though the resolution was poor, digital cameras allowed me to feed my habit - and as they continuously get better I haven't looked back.

I found the plans for this light box on the internet ( and thought it would make a good project for me and my kids. A light box will also come in handy if we need to take pictures of the things we are making.

The first step was to measure and cut the box. This is where we got stuck because the cardboard paper I had was a little old and yellowish. I wanted something cleaner so I had to set this project aside until I could by some better cardboard (and cloth, while I was at it).

I ended up buying Bristol board as recommend in the blog post. It has a nice smooth finish and I think it will work well.

My daughter and I cut out strips of the board and glued them to the box.

Once glued, we added the cloth and tested it out on my android phone.

This looks okay, although I think I need some better (and brighter) lights - but this looks to be a good start.

Reverse Making

I paid a visit to our university's surplus store. This is a wonderful place where the university can recycle and reuse some of its vast equipment and supplies. It turns out to be a big junk store. My goal was to find something useful that I could take apart with my kids; I came across this $3 drill that someone had already modified. You can tell by the after market trigger switch.

My daughters and I took this drill apart to see how it works. The girls loved the activity.

We had some trouble getting the chuck off, but overall it was a great way to spend an hour on Saturday. I was just going to throw away the drill, but I think the motor and gearbox may come in handy for a future project.

I like the idea of reverse making. This is an activity well-suited for younger kids. I plan to hit the garage sales this summer looking for things we can take apart and recycle or reuse for parts. Maybe we will build a robot!

Maker Family Time

Lately, I have been inspired by the Maker movement.  At heart I have always been a maker and have called myself a tinkerer, engineering, hacker, mad scientist, inventor, etc.  I have tons of ideas for projects I want to try, things I want to do and gadgets to play with. 

I also really need a hobby; I need something that is creative and allows me to decompress.  My life is busy and between work and kids I need something to keep me grounded.  However, I always have a hard time with “hobbies” there is always much more “important” things to do with my time.  I should be reading important books, working on projects around the house, catching up on my work.  Also, I have four kids under the age of 7 and frankly I feel guilty about spending time by myself when I could be spending time with my kids (which I also really enjoy).

Anyway, I had an epiphany: why can’t I mix my ideas for being creative and building and share that with my kids?  Quite honestly this was a revelation, many of the projects I discard because they are “silly” and not practical. However, with kids many “unpractical” projects become learning experiences and just plain fun.  

Looking back at play time with my kids, we are already a Maker Family.  I am putting together this blog to help remind me of some of the wonderful projects we have already done and hopefully inspire some new projects.  

Please let me know what you think.

- Dirk