Essential maker skills

Uptown Maker's "18 Essential Skills for a Maker" is a damned good list; reminds me of Heinlein's "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
2. Spot valuable salvage- Not only knowing where to get it, but knowing it when you see it. Finding it isn't too hard- curbs, alleys, and the classic dumpster dive. Deciding whether to keep it is the real trick: can it be broken down? Are there useful things inside (gears, motors, electronics, hardware, salvageable wood, springs, etc.)? Is trying to salvage parts of it a wise thing to do (upholstered items left outside are a great way to get bedbugs into your home)?

3. Spot eminently hackable, cheap Chinese crap- The glut of crap from China occasionally brings some real gems with it. Woot.com recently sold some rotating LED-based "police lights" for $3, which connect to USB and can be turned on and off by pressing a key on the keyboard...

7. Know which glue to use, when- Elmer's white, spray mount, Uhu glue sticks, JB Weld, cyanoacrylate, and two-part epoxy all have their uses.

8. Know which tape to use, when- Duct, masking, Scotch, foam-two-sided, and (occasionally) electrical tape all have their uses...

14. Create fairly neat holes of arbitrary size and shape in sheet metal, plastic, and wood- Nibblers, step-bits, tin-snips, chisels, awls, drill bits, and the appropriate Dremel bit all play crucuial roles here...

18 Essential Skills for a Maker (via Make)

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  1. When my car’s GPS boots up, it displays a photograph of the blackboard in Richard Feynman’s office at the time of his death:
    What I cannot create, I do not understand.
    Know how to solve every problem that has been solved.

    From Mike’s list:
    17: Solder. Learn how to solder. Know the difference among a cold solder and a good joint and an overheated joint. This applies to sweating copper pipe as well as electrical/electronic connections.
    and mine:
    19: Make your work clean. This applies in programming as well as building stuff.

  2. Love the list. I would add “20. Level, plumb, and square: Know how to measure and create straight lines, flat surfaces, and accurate angles.”

    Can’t stand the Heinlein quote (I normally have a soft spot for the Heinleinian ‘cool-but-wrong’ vibe, but the way this one gets tossed around…).

  3. Oh, and forgot:

    20: Learn how to read and mostly understand specification sheets, parts lists, and schematics.

    1. Cory Doctorow + “Reminds me of Heinlein’s…” = highest. compliment. ever.

      Not if it’s from a woman.

  4. ” Know which glue to use, when- Elmer’s white, spray mount, Uhu glue sticks, JB Weld, cyanoacrylate, and two-part epoxy all have their uses.”

    All true, but GORILLA GLUE should be on any short list. Very useful stuff – have recently started to use it a lot.

  5. I’ve always wondered how many of those things Heinlein could actually do, or had even attempted. Me, I’d rather not have a bone set by an amateur who’s trying to prove how versatile they are.

  6. Find, read, and understand a Materials Safety Data Sheet: MSDS.

    If you don’t know what an MSDS is, learn.

    Knowing that it is called an ‘MSDS’ makes it dead-easy to Google. (And if you don’t, you’ll be dead, easy.) Sort of like adding the word ‘lyrics’ when you are trying to identify a song. (Wrapped up like a douche in the middle of the night.)

  7. Halloween Jack, I wonder the same. I mean clearly he never actually got to carry out an invasion he planned, so he doesn’t really know if he’s capable of that. I agree 100% in spirit, but the specifics are a bit out there.

    I prefer to substitute “change a lock” for at least one of those. Maybe “rebuild an engine?” Although that’s really exercising a pretty similar part of the brain, but with a lot of project management thrown in. (Changing a lock takes about five minutes, rebuilding an engine takes a lot longer.)

  8. PaulR@2:

    20: Learn how to read and mostly understand specification sheets, parts lists, and schematics.

    Amen.

    21: Existence precedes essence; i.e., look at the object, not its label. Think of it in terms of its function, not its product name.

    22: Know your materials. It helps you understand and predict their behaviors, and adapt them to your own uses.

    23. Habitually over-engineer. You’re a lot more conscious of tolerances when you’re building something than you will be when you’re using it.

    Jim Terr @4:

    Know which glue to use, when – Elmer’s white, spray mount, Uhu glue sticks, JB Weld, cyanoacrylate, and two-part epoxy all have their uses.

    All true, but GORILLA GLUE should be on any short list. Very useful stuff – have recently started to use it a lot.

    True, that. You can never have too many kinds of adhesive. More for the list: 3M Super 77 spray adhesive, silicone caulk, and the brilliant and essential Pro Poxy 20.

    Pro Poxy is a two-part putty epoxy that comes in stick form and looks like a dark-gray Tootsie Roll with a lighter gray inner filling. You just pinch off the amount you need — the proportions are guaranteed to be correct — and knead it until the inner and outer layers mix.

    You now have several minutes during which the Pro Poxy can be worked and molded like Fimo, and will stick to anything, including damp or wet surfaces. Twenty minutes after mixing it’ll have hardened enough to drill, sand, file, and/or paint. When it’s fully cured it’s good up to 300 F., has a compression strength of 18K psi and a tensile strength of 6K psi, is resistant to acids, caustics, fuel oil, gasoline, and other solvents, and is safe for use with potable water. You can even use it under water, though it’ll take longer to harden.

    How can you not love a product like that?

    I highly recommend ThisToThat.com. You specify the objects or substances you’re trying to stick together, and the site tells you which glue to use.

    For several years the site’s owners were also doing short “glue of the month” reviews. They’ve stopped doing them, but their archive of past reviews discusses the properties of Mr. Sticky’s Underwater Glue, P.C. Woody, Weld-on Adhesives and Cements, Krazy Glue with Skin Guard, Permatex Bullseye Windshield Repair, UHU “Twist & Glue”, Aleene’s Platinum Bond Patio and Garden Adhesive, Gloozit Marine and RV Gloo, Jones Tones Plexi Clear Glue, Silicone-Be-Gone, Eggs, Rabbit Skin Glue by Gamblin Artist Colors, LePage’s new Easy Flow System, Scotch Tape, Daptex Foam Sealant, Gelatin and Glycerin Glue, Crayola Project Glue, Waterweld, Yes Glue, Little Red Cap, Weldbond reprise, Stoneco Padding Glue, PascoFix, Quick Grab, Coccoina Colla Bianca, Royal Icing, Good Glue, Pros-Aide, Elmer’s Galactic Glue, Microcrystalline Wax, LePage’s Universal Adhesive, Tear Mender Fabric Leather Cement, Shoe Goo, Magic Goo Gone, Sure Hold Plastic Surgery, Gorilla Glue, Casein Glue (milk), Aleene’s Original “Tacky Glue”, Weldbond Universal Space Age Adhesive, Kryolan Spirit Gum, Elmer’s Washable School Glue, Seal-All, Loctite 349 Impruv, Sikaflex, Yamato Sticking Paste, No More Nails, Chair Doctor Glue by Veritas, and Juicy Fruit Gum.

    Trippcook @5:

    Am I the only person on Earth that thinks the term “maker” is fucking ridiculous?

    Probably not, but you’re in the minority, and the people who need a word like that are the ones who use “maker” a lot. Give up. you’re not going to win, and no one’s going to care.

    What’s fucking ridiculous is using “fucking ridiculous” to describe an inoffensive word like “maker”. I’m guessing you haven’t checked the OED to find out how long it’s been in the language.

    Some words, like “proactive”, are mildly ridiculous. Some, like “orientate”, are plainly ridiculous. Very few words are fucking ridiculous. I suggest you save your ammo for the day one actually turns up.

  9. @ #5 posted by trippcook

    No, not really. It is as self-indulgent, pretentious and divisive as “creative”. This list of course is nothing like Heinlein’s as it just states “do the same thing (tinker) many many different ways”. That sentiment is a good one, but orthogonal to the reference.

    But, hey, any excuse to bring up sci-fi, right?

  10. @ #12 posted by Teresa Nielsen Hayden

    I knew you were going to say that. (Well, not really, but you see it’s a joke based on the premise that we are in fact of one mind. I know, it wasn’t that funny, especially since I found it necessary to explain the joke, but that’s just me.)

  11. DBarak, slight jokes can be funny if you strip down the presentation to the point where the text doesn’t outweigh the humor. In this case, immediately posting the line “I knew you were going to say that,” and nothing else, would have worked.

  12. @ #14 posted by Teresa Nielsen Hayden

    Oh, I know, but I was mocking myself with all that extra gibberish. That’s what happens when I’m sleep deprived. ; )

  13. Maybe it’s implied and unspoken, but I think ‘know when and when not to’ is a good rule. But then, i’m more of a hacker than a maker, and I like to modify things to make them better rather than making from scratch.

  14. #5, trippcook:

    Am I the only person on Earth that thinks the term “maker” is fucking ridiculous?

    Well, I find its use ridiculous in this context, when the word “bricoleur” is both more apposite and more elegant.

  15. “Bricoleur” sounds good, but I’ve heard from some of the good folks at Studio Bricolage that, to a Frenchman, bricolage has undeniably negative connotations.

    We would liken it to “bitch-rig”, “half-ass”, or any of the projects on the “There, I Fixed It” blog.

    I agree that Maker is not the -ideal- term, but it’s essentially what we have.

  16. #19, uptownmaker:

    I’ve heard from some of the good folks at Studio Bricolage that, to a Frenchman, bricolage has undeniably negative connotations.

    Really? There are certainly plenty of shops in France using ‘bricolage’ to describe DIY/home improvement, including one massive chain. I shall quiz my French friends for their opinions…

  17. Mmm, yes, rebuild a 4-stroke combustion engine, wind an electric motor, and pick a lock.

    Perhaps an interesting anecdote: I broke one of my toes last year. Spiral fracture compressed (don’t know if that’s the right medical term because I’m an auto-didact) by almost half an inch. I couldn’t get the leverage to set it myself, so I coached my spouse through it, and now it’s fine. Our male friends without exception frankly admired our handling of the situation – self-reliance and cost containment, rapid effective treatment, etc. Our female friends were uniformly appalled both that I would insist on my spouse doing such an “icky” thing as set a bone, and that I would consider having an “amateur” do something normally reserved to the medical priesthood.

  18. I’d prefer ‘fabricator’ or even ‘tinker’.
    And I’d like to add to skills a familiarity with solvents and coatings, and fasteners- pop rivets, velcro, snaps, sewing, and especially screw types and screw threads, pilot and clearance holes, length of engagement as related to materials, material compatabilies, press-fits and torque values.
    Then we move on to tools: clamps, cutters, saws, blade types, wood and metal lathes, milling, grinding, routing, drilling, sanding and finishing.
    [I’m not even gonna go into forming processes.]

    I can tell you that no matter how many years you spend as a maker, you’ll never stop learning and creating cool new ways to do something. It’s a career-long infatuation with me, tho I’d never had much use for planning and leading an invasion (except maybe invading an existing market with a new technology).

  19. Um… I’m back with an apology / correction. I did plan and lead invasions: in my second book, a mother and her young son defend an entire planet against two invading armies. My bad.

  20. Since my surname, Mason, (from Frankish ‘makjon’) tranlates to ‘maker’ I’ve never found it all that ridiculous. Little awkward maybe. Tinkerer definitely sounds better.

  21. “Spot valuable salvage” is only useful when you have the SPACE to store stuff until you need it. I see “valuable” stuff all the time, but have to pass since I just don’t have anyplace to keep it. I appreciate this kind of thinking, but it leads to one becoming a pack rat.

  22. That’s putting it a bit strongly, Trippcook, but the term maker is interesting as an ideological marker, a signifier, cultural imaginary, etc. It seems slightly nostalgic: certainly few would think of this as a privileged term in preindustrial societies, when so many more people handmade so much more stuff than we do now. Makers and making were the stuff of the everyday, whereas now it’s a sign of something else: creativity, know-how, self-reliance, nonconformity, etc. So it’s cultural valences are indeed fascinating: constructed and rhetorical and ideological, sure, but not “fucking ridiculous.”

    21: Existence precedes essence; i.e., look at the object, not its label. Think of it in terms of its function, not its product name.

    Like the concept of arete (“skill, virtue, purpose, use”) in Greek culture: a knife’s arete is to cut…. Nice!

  23. @11 TNH: “21: Existence precedes essence; i.e., look at the object, not its label. Think of it in terms of its function, not its product name.”

    Beautifully stated! I think I’m going to make an “Existence precedes essence” sign for my work space.

    On the term “Maker”:

    I like it on the whole, but it does sometimes make me wince.

    Sometimes it feels like a yuppie (hipster?) re-labeling of something we already had good terms for (tinker, handyman, DIY, etc.) Growing up in rural New England we would have maybe just said “Yankee Ingenuity”, and pretty much everyone I knew would have qualified as a “maker” although they may have balked at the term. In this way “Maker” feels like re-inventing the wheel by a tribe that has become so alienated from the means of production that when they figure out the basics of how the world works they think they’ve found something new and need a new word for it.

    “Maker” also sometimes feels a little Proud Kindergartner to me: “Ooohh, Johny! Look what you made there! You did it yourself! You’re a maker!”

    On the whole though I think the term works very well for what it does, and I’m happy to use it. “Maker” is a very nice opposite for “Consumer”, and I like that resonance very much. I also really like the encompassing inclusiveness of the term; welders, circuit benders, fiber artists, experimental gardeners, video producers, etc, all qualify as “makers”. Seeing all these disciplines as part of the same “Maker” movement leads to wonderful cross-fertilization and hybridization, which for me is the really exciting part of “maker” culture.

  24. @6 and 10: RAH was an engineer and a naval officer, so he probably could have done quite a lot of those. I don’t know about the curriculum at the US Naval Academy in the early 1930s, but military strategy was probably on there somewhere.

  25. “Maker” in this context also has connotations of mechanical and electrical eptitude, and a (to me only, perhaps) bit of snobbery as well. Occasionally it feels like something is put on display not because it is a particularly good or novel solution to a problem, but because the designer wants a public pat on the back for being so clever. I can do most of that stuff, but don’t require publicity, just having the *(^%%! thing do what I want it to suffices. I’ll go with Nosehat: it’s a good term, but sometimes the cultural cruft that accompanies it makes me wince.

  26. In this way “Maker” feels like re-inventing the wheel by a tribe that has become so alienated from the means of production that when they figure out the basics of how the world works they think they’ve found something new and need a new word for it.

    Well put.

    It’s also a consumerist word: if someone’s a maker it signifies that their stuff is “well-made, good, won’t break, etc.”, which can all read as ways to advertise the consumption of said stuff. Tools you can use, sure, but an aesthetic, ideology, and lifestyle that you consume as well.

    It would be fascinating to see the class vectors for the term: my blue-collar mechanic and woodworking friends would laugh themselves silly over it, but I hear it a lot in the tonier parts of Brooklyn. Someone do a study?

  27. The trouble with bricolage/bricoleur is that in English-speaking countries, and especially in English-language art criticism, “bricolage” tends to signify a style of surface decoration made of innumerable bits of broken tile, colored glass, and other found objects, pressed into wet plaster or cement: one, two, three, four.

    The English equivalent of the French meaning of “bricoleur” is “bodger”.

    I think maker’s a good word because people who make things don’t tend to stick to a single craft or approach. Look at Troofseeker’s comment: what word describes all that? We all know we’re talking about a type. One day they’ll be making an orthopedic bicycle seat out of molded-foam insoles, nonslip carpet lining, synthetic sheepskin, eggcrate, duct tape, and a couple of old t-shirts (bodger/bricoleur), next week they’ll be planning and building from scratch some rebar tepee garden supports (builder), and a few weeks after that will be reprogramming a Bigmouth Billy Bass (hacker), or making freestanding guipure lace using 100% cotton machine-embroidery on acetate backing fabric that’s then dissolved with acetone (no idea what to call it). We make things easier on ourselves by saying “maker”, which neatly covers all their activities.

    Ito Kagehisa @23, you’ve discovered something about your circle of friends, not about women in general. I’ve done minor surgery at home that would have made my husband faint, if I’d let him watch.

  28. It’s also a consumerist word: if someone’s a maker it signifies that their stuff is “well-made, good, won’t break, etc.”,…

    what? no.

    …which can all read as ways to advertise the consumption of said stuff. Tools you can use, sure, but an aesthetic, ideology, and lifestyle that you consume as well.

    what??? NO.

    it’s about being able to fix your stuff, and make other stuff.

    It’s not about a tribe “discovering” technology and claiming it as the newest cool.

    It’s about a cohort educating themselves in ways the previous generation FAILED to do.

    I watched my High School literally BOARD UP the ‘shop class’ area of the school in 1987.

  29. Bricolage also has a textual, literary valence for English-speaking academics and lit types: it means textual pastiche, complexity, lotsa quotations, etc. A text composed of other texts, and foregrounding this textiness. Like Ulysses.

  30. Occasionally it feels like something is put on display not because it is a particularly good or novel solution to a problem, but because the designer wants a public pat on the back for being so clever.

    that is no more true of makers than it is of architects, doctors, or any other sort of people who actually DO things.

  31. @Mad in #36l; yeah, but the funny part was watching the administrators hit their thumbs repeatedly with the hammer.

  32. It’s that, too, MDH, but you’re going to fail at containing any word within a stable set of meanings that you’ve privileged over other reasonable meanings that you don’t like. I’m talking more about the significations of maker than about what we’d probably agree is its original meaning as “someone who makes”: its cultural vectors, the ideologies and assumptions re: the same. It’s emphatically NOT just about being handy or being able to make stuff.

    I mean, have you ever seen maker used in a negative way? I’ve actually never seen it without some sort of positive moral valence: not just handy, but good for being so. This is rhetoric, and there’s no rhetoric without an attendant ideology, lifestyle, politics.

    Your generational discourse is part of what I’m talking about: what, you think all “makers” are somehow under thirty years old? There are a lot of older folks who can obviously build all sorts of things. Hence, an ideology, cultural signifier, what have you, not simply a descriptor of one’s ability to make things. QED.

    Sorry about your shop class, for what it’s worth.

  33. Following your contention that maker has NO commercial, consumerist valances or uses, I dug up this little gem from the Make Magazine online store:

    From the creators of Make & Craft Magazine comes the Maker’s Notebook. Put your own ideas, diagrams, calculations & notes down in these 150 pages of engineering graph paper. We’ve also included 20 bonus pages of reference material, from useful stuff like electronics symbols, resistor codes, weights and measures, basic conversions and more, to really useful stuff like the amount of caffeine in different caffeinated beverages and how to say “Hello, World!” in various computer languages. The covers of this hardcover book are printed in cyan “Maker” blue with a white grid debossed front and back. Grab one today!

    “Grab one today!”=”Buy one today!”: they didn’t say “Make one today!” So chill. This is maker kitsch, maker porn, sure, but there you go. Maker even has a color, a lovely cyan blue, who knew?

    Not to diss makers: love the term, love the culture, love its products most of all. But pretending that there aren’t other senses to the word–some of them quite revelatory of the ideologies and assumptions of those who use it–is wrong.

  34. But pretending that there aren’t other senses to the word–some of them quite revelatory of the ideologies and assumptions of those who use it–is wrong.

    Is that at all similar to how you just pretended I made the “contention that maker has NO commercial, consumerist valances or uses”?

    ‘cuz i didn’t.

    Your assumptions reveal your ideology. The words you put in my mouth say nothing about me.

  35. uptownmaker @ 21:
    Re.: ‘Bricoleur’ to a Frenchman has undeniably negative connotations.
    A French-Canadian would use the word ‘patenteux’. A person who makes ‘patentable’ things, who invents things, who solves problems with things, usually out of what’s lying around the workshop. What used to be called a hacker.

    Re.: Heinlein’s quote. Well I, for one, agree with the sentiment.
    But another of his good-to-remember quotes is “Store beer in the dark”. Words to live by, I tell you.

  36. Perhaps “pretend” is the wrong word, MDH, but your response to me @36, the allcaps NOs, the “it’s not about X, it’s about Y,” constitute an attempt, deliberate or not, to limit the senses of maker to the ones that you proffer in the same response. That’s what I was talking about: the words you typed, not the ones I put in your, um, keyboard-mouth (or whatever: the metaphor becomes strained).

    So we’re agreed, then, that maker has both of the senses we discussed above, and no doubt quite many more. Good day.

  37. I will ignore whatever’s been said so far to indulge my smug re: “2. Spot valuable salvage.”

    Last month someone left a 42″ Panasonic plasma television leaning against the dumpster in my apartment complex. So, I hauled it upstairs (plasma TVs are hevv-eee). It powered on, but had no picture…so, a bit of model-specific research later, I had identified the likely problem and happened to score the exact part I needed from a BuyItNow on eBay (which means it was destiny).

    Now I have 42 inches of Dumpster TV goodness.

    Cost when new? $3700.

    Cost to me? $136.

    Yay!

  38. Great! A list that tells me that I can’t be a maker because I don’t have the skills!

    Just once, I’d like to see a list like this that actually provides links to books, sites or whatever to tell you how to acquire the skills in question.

    Seriously people, is that too much to ask?

  39. Daemon @ 47: Weren’t you paying attention in high school geometry, chemistry, and physics class? Did you not find any of what you were being taught (even if poorly) even a little interesting?

    Or don’t you have any friends that paid attention in geometry and physics class?

  40. Iwood, wouldja come fix my 55″ Sony? POS! Dang! I paid $2400 for a two-year TV?! Here I paid extra, thinking I was getting “da kine”. I can mutter thru electricals, but I don’t do electronics. I hate when electricity gets on me.

  41. I still think the good old phrase ‘craftsman’ best describes a maker.
    Now before Teresa or Wolfie’s mom pull on the pink boxing gloves, remember that there are two kinds of Man in this world: the plain variety, and the man-with-womb. You can call yourself craftsmen.

  42. Sure, Anti, ‘craftshole’ works, we’ve each got about nine. Plus, it’s so close to what I’m often called anyway!

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