Any mechanic or craftsman will tell you that the most important thing they have is their tools. The right tools can make the difference between loving a job and hating it with every fiber of your being. New tools can also open up a world of possibilities for any maker. So what do you get your maker for the holidays?
The hot new technology … that’s been around for years. 3D printing has been used in manufacturing and product development for years and now home versions are getting cheaper and cheaper. These home printers will create plastic parts based off of 3D models you can download or design in software yourself. It may not sound like much, but it can be the start of home repairs or model making and may eventually transform into a whole new world of digital fabrication. I was really thankful I had one a few months ago. Mere hours before I was getting on to a plane to go hiking in Yosemite, the shoulder-strap buckle on my hiking pack broke. Within an hour, I had downloaded the file for a new buckle and printed it out. That buckle held firm through Tioga Pass and beyond. 3D printers will run from $300 and up depending on quality and options. There are many guides online that can walk you through which printers are the best and what you should look for. A few good starting points are the Simple Metal from Printrbot (printrbot.com) and Replicator from Makerbot (makerbot.com). Alternatively, RI has its own group of dedicated 3D printer enthusiasts who love to talk about the hobby and can advise you on what to buy and how to get started. A few of them have even written articles for national publications about 3D printing. You can contact them through their website at 3dppvd.org
Not just for home economics anymore. The humble sewing machine can be the gateway to unbounded creativity and adventure for your maker. Comic cons and gaming cons are quickly gaining in popularity, with the most recent RI Comic Con attracting over 50,000 people! While some of the appeal of these events may be comics or games, a majority of it is the cosplay. A sewing machine can ensure that your maker can make their own costumes as real as they can imagine. Sewing machines start at less than a $100 and go up from there. Don’t skimp on quality with this tool. A bad one can lead to many lost hours detangling thread, bobbins and pulling out hairs. Read the reviews online and look at retailers like Jo-Ann who have guides for beginners and can give you in-depth advice.
Beer Brewing Kit
As someone who primarily covers the beer scene for Motif, I’d be remiss if one of my articles didn’t make at least some mention of it. If you have a maker in your life who loves to cook and loves craft beer, you might want to think about introducing them to homebrewing. Homebrewing is super simple and you can get into it for less than $150. There are super cheap kits out there like Mr. Beer, which is available at retail stores, or the next step up is a full homebrew starter kit. The Mr. Beer kit comes with a small 2 gallon fermenter and a powdered mix, yeast and a few small tools. They also sell ingredient kits for further batches. The homebrew starter kits can be purchased online or at local homebrewing stores such as Blackstone Valley Brewing Supplies in Woonsocket or Craft-Brews Supplies down in Wyoming (yes there is a Wyoming, RI). These kits include 5-gallon buckets, sanitizers, brushes, a hydrometer, a bottling wand, a bottle capper and caps — pretty much everything you need minus a large pot and ingredients. For the large pot, make sure it’s 3 to 5 gallons, like that old canning pot you have stuffed away in a cabinet in your kitchen. As far as ingredients go, local homebrewing shops have kits premade and will do custom kits if you have a particular kind of beer you want to brew. To the novice brewer, it can be a bit intimidating when you’re getting started, but I recommend talking to the guys and gals at the local homebrewing shop. The staff at these shops are all homebrewers and can tell you how they screwed up along the way so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes. If you want to network with other homebrewers in the area, start with the shops or check out homebrewing clubs like RI Brewing Society, RI Fermentation Technicians and the East Bay Homebrew club. They all host monthly meetings and are glad to help new people get started.
Ok so you can’t buy friends or knowledge … or maybe you can. One of the best tools of any trade is a good network of enthusiastic peers who share your passion. There are many groups of enthusiasts around the Ocean State and some charge dues to keep the lights on. Dues are usually pretty cheap as these groups are not out to make money, but instead they’re there to further their craft and support others. There are also organizations such as AS220 (industries.as220.org), Ocean State Maker Mill (oceanstatemakermill.org) and Tinker Bristol (tinkerbristol.org), that provide community and space as well as access to tools that may not be normally affordable, like a laser cutter or 3D printer. A membership to any of these spaces could take your maker’s game to the next level by providing tools, knowledge and community.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully it will give you a few starting points. Happy making.