My favorite maker tips for 2021

I do a weekly tips newsletter for DIYers of all kinds. For the third year on Boing Boing, here is my year-end round up of my favorite newsletter entries. If you want to see more of this sort of content, please subscribe. It's free.

Here are my tips round-ups for 2019 and 2020 (part 1, part 2).


Stop Motion Animation Tricks

In this Edu Puertas video, he shows eight simple and effective stop motion animation tips and effects tricks. The light effects tips were the big eye openers for me.

Sprue Hacking

Anyone who's done any scale or game modeling, dungeon crafting, or other plastic modeling is no doubt familiar with sprues, those ubiquitous frames that hold plastic model parts and are part of the injection molding process. In this four-part video, game modeler Jon of Miniature Hobbyist, shows close to 40 different things you can make from this plastic waste material, from doors, walls, and cobblestone streets to piles of treasure, tents, barricades, cages, and even tools for your workbench, such as painting sticks and paint-pot holders. In part 4, he shows how you can turn sprue material, broken down in acetone, into a goopy plastic material (that he's dubbed "Ooey Gooey Spruey") for casting, gap-filling, turning into pipes and thick cables, miniature bases, and more. Fascinating stuff.

Delivering a Liquid to a Set Spot

On Jimmy DiResta's Instagram stories, he shared this tip (taken from Derek Forestier). If you need to deliver a spray liquid to a set spot (and avoid a lot of overspray), use a wooden skewer or similar. Spray the liquid onto the stick and let it drip down to the desired location.

In Praise of Single-Use Super Glue

Confession time. I've had the worst luck with CA glue bottles. I've wasted so many expensive 1-2 ounce bottles of Bob Smith Industries and similar "professional glues." The long, tapered nozzles get clogged no matter what I do and I spend way too much time trying not to stab myself as I jam needles and other pointy bits into them to get glue to flow. Half the time, I end up just taking the nozzle off and applying the glue with a toothpick. My glue life has improved a lot since I started using tiny single-use tubes of Super Glue. You can get a dozen 2-gram tubes for under $7 on Amazon.

The Rodney Brooks Research Heuristic

Artwork by Mark Frauenfelder!

From my 2003 book, Absolute Beginner's Guide to Building Robots:

Innovation often comes from looking at things differently, heading down roads less traveled. Or re-traveling old roads to notice what you and others might have have missed. I call this the Rodney Brooks Research Heuristic. In his book Flesh and Machines, maverick scientist Brooks reveals how he came upon many of his radical ideas regarding robots and artificial intelligence. He would figure out what was so obvious to other researchers that it wasn't even on their radar any longer, and he'd put it on his. Essentially, Brooks would look at how everyone else was tackling a given problem and what assumptions were so implicit to them that these assumptions had been backgrounded and were no longer being questioned. He would question them. As an example: In designing the Roomba, everyone was stuck on the idea that it had to have a vacuum in it (it was, after all, a robot vacuum!). Vacuum was a backgrounded assumption. Brooks realized that a robotic broom was far easier, cheaper, and quieter.

Saving the Best for Last

On KamuiCosplay, Svetlana shows off the amazing "Demonic Brigitte" outfit she spent a year and a half working on. In the video, she shares a great tip: When doing a long and complicated project, don't be tempted to build the part that you're most excited about first. Save it for the end. That way, it'll power you through the less exciting parts. In her case, she was most excited about making the shield, so she saved that for last.

The C-Thru Triangle

This video from Adam Savage tweaked my nostalgia circuits. Like him, I started my adult worklife as a graphic designer and some of the first tools I fell in love with where the rulers, triangles, mechanical pencils, and pens of that trade. Here, he celebrates a favorite of mine, too, the C-Thru brand (Westcott) gridded triangle. The grid on this thing is perfect for alignment and it has a metal edge so your razor knife doesn't cut into the plastic. I think I still have mine around here somewhere.

Paint-On Copper Plating?

In a follow-up to her recent video where she electroplated the gas tank of her motorcycle with copper, Laura Kampf decided to try a much easier platting method of simply painting on a copperplate solution. She saw a video demonstrating the technique and wanted to try it out herself. It appears to work. As she points out, this could lend itself to all sorts of applications.

Using Aluminum Foil as Faux Chrome

Most scale modelers and game crafters, when adding chrome accents to their models, use special products like Bare Metal Foil. This stuff is ridiculously expensive ($14 for a single 6″ x 12″ sheet!). In this video on Custom Scale Models, Brandon shows how you can get the same, some argue even better, results using the cheapest aluminum foil you can find and some white glue. You can get super thin (which is good) rolls at the dollar store.

Using 3D Printing Infill as a Design Feature

I absolute love this idea of using infill structures in 3D printing as an artistic design. (Infill is the patterned support structure used inside of objects to provide strength while cutting down on printing time, weight, and filament). Joe of Makes'n'Breaks decided to foreground the usually hidden patterns of infill in a series of coasters combining the 3D printed infill structures in a wooden frame. The results are beautiful.

Recreating Adam Savage's Loc-Line Lighting

I have written several times here (and in Make:, Adafruit, and HackSpace magazine) about my love for Adam Savage's LocLine LED light panel bench lights. One of these on my painting bench has been a game-changer. One of my readers in the UK, Mark Hewitt, created a tutorial on the process of building one of these and has links to all of parts on Amazon for UK makers. Thanks, Mark!

Work, Work, Work, Put-Away, Put-Away, Put-Away

In this video, Adam Savage talks about the anchor points of a shop (the machines and workstations that the rest of the shop orbits around), the fact that you can never have enough casters on shop components (and on-hand), and other useful tidbits. For me, the pearl here is how he keeps his shop cleaned and organized as he works. As he puts it: "work, work, work, put-away, put-away, put-away." By taking periodic breaks and cleaning as you go, you don't end up with an insurmountable mess when you're done. I've never done this, but I plan to start. Adam also talked in one of his previous organization videos about "giving a gift to your future self" by doing a thorough cleaning and organizing at the end of a project so that future you is ready to roll when starting the next project. Wise words.

Retrobrighting Chucks

Retrobrighting (or Retrobriting) is a process for whitening/lightening old plastic computer cases and other consumer electronics enclosures that have dimmed with age. The formula is usually hydrogen peroxide mixed with some OxiClean and then left under UV light (aka the sun) for several hours (8 is often recommended for electronics enclosures). On the VintageChucks website, they applied the same technique on the sidewalls of a pair of old Chucks, mixing salon-grade hydrogen peroxide cream with OxiClean and leaving the sneaks in the sun for three hours. The results speak for themselves.

Making a Table Stable

You know the drill. You're at a restaurant or bar and the table wobbles, so you or your server shoves a matchbook or napkin under a leg. Wrong! As this video explains, it's not the table legs that are likely different lengths, it's likely the floor that is uneven. To stabilize, simply turn the table a quarter turn to find more level ground. Coincidentally, right after seeing this video, my fiance Angela and I were at an outdoor restaurant with a wobbly table. Our server came up, twisted the table a few inches. Problem solved.

Edge Gluing Tip

North of the Border is a YouTube channel where crafter Adam makes really clever book nooks (little dioramas that go on bookshelves). During this Mines of Moria infinity mirror episode, he shares a great tip. When gluing two pieces of material together (especially something you want to keep clean and glue-free, like mirror glass), don't apply the glue all the way to where the two pieces will join or smear the glue down along edge (as it will accumulate as you go). Apply a thin bead of glue along the edge and then smear it out and over the over the edge. This way, when you join the two pieces, there will be no glue squeeze-out along the seam of the join. (See the video if this to too confusing).

"Lessons Learned"

Recently, my wife and I visited her bother and sister-in-law in western Maryland. They do a lot of camping and they keep a journal of their travels. At the end of every trip, they include a "lessons learned" section to remind them of things they can do to improve their next trip. On the way home, Angela and I did a "lessons learned:" ALWAYS carry bottled water in the car, don't forget the pain relief cream, and keep an insulated cooling bag in the car.

Doodling on a Theme

In a recent video, Bill Mullaney of the YouTube channel, Bill Making Stuff, offered up some useful advice on what he does when he wants to spark and sustain his creativity. In talking about the joys of keeping a sketchbook, he offers a fun drawing exercise. He creates a grid across two pages and starts anywhere on that grid by doodling a creature or object (he likes drawing robots). After doodling the first robot, he picks some aspect of it that he particularly likes and carries that over to the next square. Drawing the second bot, he carries a favorite part of that into a third square, and so on, until the entire grid is full. Wonderful idea. Boing Boing's Mark Frauenfelder does similar doodling on a theme.

Ten 3DP Tips from a Seasoned Maker

On Alexandre Chappel YouTube channel, he offers up ten top 3D printing tips. His advice includes:* Upgrade to a .06mm nozzle. * Increase perimeter (wall thickness) over infill to improve part strength and reduce print time.* Don't get distracted by all the fancy filaments out there – most everything you print can be done with PLA.* Use glue stick for better bed adhesion.* If you have a large or complicated part, print out a small section of it to test fit and function before committing to a full print.* You don't have to 3DP everything. Create hybrid objects with 3D parts and conventional hardware (bolts, screws, threaded rods) – saves time and adds strength.* When designing parts, avoid support structures as much as possible.See more details and the rest of his list here. [H/t Kevin Kelly]