What’s a geeky woodworker to do? I just happened to plan and precisely time a family visit to San Francisco during the major event for the truly obsessive creatives among us: The Bay Area Maker Faire.
The Faire is a large public event and the creation of Make Magazine. The annual Bay Area show takes place in San Mateo, California for three days in May.
What is it? Maker Faire is a celebration of people who like to make stuff. Just like woodworkers who love to make things in wood, “makers” are people obsessed with making things using every conceivable process, tool, material and any new or old technique available. Though there’s a lot of digital tools in use such as 3D printers, CNCs, laser cutters and computers, there’s plenty to see that’s old school. Metal work using forges and anvils, model builders, woodworkers and carvers amongst countless other passions at the Faire.
Though there’s a technological edge to the event, it looks and feels pretty much like any county or state fair. And, just like a traditional fair where people show off their perfect farm-raised fruit, vegetables, livestock and pets, Maker Faire exhibitors show off their home-made creations. Staged at a community fairgrounds, the exhibits and demonstrations are located indoors, outdoors and under giant tents spread out over a huge area. It’s noisy, crazy, and above all, fun.
To add to the atmosphere, food booths serve the kind of creations you’d expect to see, including hot dogs, garlic fries, waffle cones, churros, cotton candy, deep fat fried Oreos to non-traditonal dishes like Paella, cooked in a 10’ wide pan. It was excellent, btw.
The show is big. It started in 2006 and has grown to over 125,000 visitors during its three-day run. There’s also a large New York Maker Faire and over 190 smaller Faires around the US and all around the world. We have one in my area, Seattle for example.
Like a traditional fair, it’s noisy, distracting, exhausting, more than a little crazy and always exciting. It’s obvious that everyone there is having a very good time. One of the most delightful things about the Faire is the big emphasis on kids and how much fun they can have using science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and learning the craft and developing the skills to make things.
The focus at Maker Faire first and foremost is not commercial, but about what people are creating. There were exhibits of crafts from knitting to electronic creations and everywhere in between. For example, I saw a half a dozen, obsessively accurate R2D2 droids from the Star Wars films moving about, giant movie props from Robocop, plus several incredibly artistic and mechanical creations straight from Burning Man. An art installation by Michael Pedroni called ‘Sitting Ducks’ was a unique masterpiece combining woodworking skills, artistic vision and creative passion.
A moving creation made out of plywood was is Ply-O-Bot. The 7’ tall robot suit with the artist inside walked throughout the show. Massive roller coasters created out dozens of K’nex sets, tiny ones made from 3D printed parts, self-driving robots racing each other on a track, entire city scenes and a large Millenium Falcon made out of masking tape, were just a few of the hundreds of creations.
Another reason I came to Maker Faire was to visit with a few of the companies involved in creating digital tools that woodworkers might use. Dremel, the famous maker of small rotary tools that every woodworker knows, started a digital division a few years ago called DigiLab.
The first Dremel digital products are 3D printers and their latest model, the 3D45 is capable of working with tougher, engineering grade materials like ABS plastic and nylon. These are challenging materials for most 3D printers to handle. Dremel has taken the time to ensure good results right out of the box. I’m currently testing a 3D45 to see how it can make useful things for woodworkers. Much more about that later.
At the show, Dremel introduced it’s first laser cutter: the DigiLab LC40 Laser Cutter. I watched several demonstrations and the machine is fast and simple to operate. Laser cutters are digital tools woodworkers should be aware of because they can precisely cut thin plywood, MDF, veneers and more. If you’re into marquetry, inlays, surface patterning, detailing and other intricate work, laser cutters should be of great interest to you.
Other exhibitors included Shopbot, the famous maker of CNC routers. They had several units on display including their portable HandyBot CNCing Yo-Yos for giveaways. The Glowforge 3D Laser Cutter had a great display with a huge range of things that can be created out of wood, plywood and other materials. Carbide3D, maker of the excellent Shapeoko CNCs had their designer, Edward Ford on hand to answer questions. And, the under $500 CNC kit, the Maslow CNC and its creator, Bar Smith demonstrated that the machine keeps getting better and better over time.
It’s a good thing
Woodworkers have a lot in common with “makers” because, we’re makers, too. We like to learn new things and to make things using our hands and minds. As someone who’s been fortunate to work and live in a world of creativity my entire adult life, I’ve got a great tip for you: getting out to see what other people are creating is one of the best things you can do to stimulate new ideas, open up your thinking and keep your own obsession exciting. So, if you have the opportunity to visit a Maker Faire, I highly recommend it. Bring your family, too. Everyone is sure to have a good time. You’ll find that you’re surrounded by people just like you, driven by a passion for making stuff. And, that’s always refreshing.