2014 in Review

Mark Evans talks about the 4H robotics workshop he attended and was planning to bring to Putnam County. Below the screen you can see several examples of the Area 30 Robotics Club robots that they have built. The Castlemakers November event included speakers from the DePauw Robotics Club, Putnam County 4H, and the Area 30 Robotics Club.
Mark Evans talks about a 4H robotics workshop he attended and was bringing to Putnam County. Below the screen you can see some of the Area 30 Robotics Club robots they built. The Castlemakers November event included speakers from the DePauw University Robotics Club, Putnam County 4H, and the Area 30 Robotics Club.

With everyone being so busy for the holidays, December is a good time to reflect upon what’s occurred during the last year.

Personally I’m encouraged by what all happened in Putnam County related to making things. There were many others besides Castlemakers involved: Area 30 expanded and won their Robotics competition, TZ started a cardboard creations making club, Putnam County Library started a summer making series, DePauw Robotics club hosted a making event for area kids, 4H held a robotics workshop … the list could go on and on. Castlemakers grew too, a lot of it is in our blog, but even that didn’t cover it all.

We don’t have makerspace/fab lab yet locally but I wouldn’t be surprised to see one in 2015. And the physical space/equipment shouldn’t be the main goal anyway IMHO, that’s only one of the tools that can help. That can be a ‘build it and they will come’ kind of goal.

It’s more about getting kids and adults to learn-by-doing; some often call it a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture. Actually, I’m going to rephrase the DIY and instead call it DIO – Do It Ourselves! To me the real goal should be creating, making, and innovating things in our community. Developing and using the skills that you have, along with sharing them with others.

Then everyone gains; harnessing one of the strengths of teamwork and groups. Infusing a culture of learning into our youth and adults; that way you’re better prepared to face challenges & issues that you may not know how to solve. Maybe too just to have some fun while working on something… or maybe even creating new things that can help others.

Castlemakers reached an important milestone in 2014: we formed a working group to create an official organization. The ‘Knights of the Castlemakers’ met and agreed to do a filing with the state. And as a January update, we’ve got our articles of incorporation accepted by the State of Indiana. We’re not a 501c3 yet (the IRS makes that decision), but we’ll be working on that in 2015.

Tabletop Catapult First Build

castlemakers tabletop catapult build
Cutting 2×4’s for the catapult base and throwing arm.

This afternoon we built our first round of table-top catapults. A great turnout and thanks to the parents that helped out. With 15 kids there we ended up with 4 groups building a ‘quick and easy’ wooden catapult… well sort of. Like many projects there were some imperfect/missing parts and since we hadn’t tried the plans almost everyone made modifications. But we were able to get all 4 launching racquet balls in a couple of hours and I heard lots of ideas on how to improve the design.

catupult throwing arm tensioner
Trying to figure out using bicycle tube tension versus the bungee cord tensioner far group used.

Learning to use hand saws seemed to be a big hit with the kids, everyone that wanted got to try a back saw or the hand rip saw. I heard several kids comment that they could see why adults like using the power saws! Everyone also got to drill and use power screw drivers to assemble the 2×4’s. We tried both bungee cords and some bicycle inner tubes for the throwing arm. No clear winner with the designs we had, more experimentation is needed for the throwing arm tensioning. One thing we learned, the cup that holds the ball makes a difference – if it’s too deep the trajectory of the ball changes.

castlemakers catapult testing s
Group shot outside of all the kids where we tried the catapults.

I’ll put additional pictures on our catapult project page later & more comments on what we did – the one we built today was based on an Instructables project. It turns out some of the dimensions were wrong and the lengths didn’t add up correctly. But that’s part of the learning, how to adjust when things don’t work and to figure out a way to make do with what you have on hand.

Although the hydroponics group wasn’t there today, they do have sprouts and will be moving them to their float tank soon. Special thanks today to Bob Hershberger for letting us use the Robert Bottoms (Southside) Community Center & to Brian Cox for getting the wood.

Next up for the Catapulters – table top torsion catapults for comparison purposes. And of course the larger group build: the Behemoth trebuchet. We now have a stack of 4×4’s to start cutting mortise and tenon joints along with a trailer for the big one…

Robotics Competition Overview

Kicking off our Make it on Mondays series we have arranged for a brief overview of 4 common robotics groups; VEX, Lego, FIRST, & SeaPerch, including what some of the local Putnam County programs are doing.

Area 30, Putnam County 4-H, and the DePauw Robotics Club will be there talking about what they’re doing with Robotics, along with some information about other regional competitions. If you’ve heard about VEX kits or Lego Mindstorms in Putnam County;  or maybe just heard/wondered what is FIRST Robotics or SeaPerch from friends in other parts of Indiana, we’ll try to have some more information for you at this event.

This will be an open question/sharing session at the end, so if you have information you’d like to share about other Putnam county robotics groups please let us know or simply show up and share it with everyone! We’ll be meeting in the Community Room at Area 30 next Monday November 3rd at 7pm where you can see one of the robots that have competed at regional events.

Making in Art

In a recent trip down to Berea, KY I got to see firsthand how the Arts community is starting to converge with the making culture, kind of putting the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering Arts, Math) in to STEM!

Artisan using a loom to create fabric with a weave/pattern for the upcoming Christmas season. The control mechanism is fairly complex that allows the flying shuttle and the proper heddles in place.
Artisan using a loom to create fabric with a weave/pattern for the upcoming Christmas season. There is a fairly complex mechanism that moves the flying shuttle and puts the proper heddles in place at the right time.

Berea of course has been known for years as an artisan center and you can see the maker culture/impact there even if it is not always called that. Artists have always been makers at heart, you only have to watch the mechanics of someone weaving fabric or tapestry in a large loom or listen to someone  describing the pickling process when silver soldering a necklace or bracelet to realize there’s a fair amount of STEM that artists can use in their craft. One studio I was in had a period table of the elements on the wall next to their casting area.

One studio creates pewter casting molds using table-top CNC machines and 3D printers.
One studio in Berea creates pewter casting molds using table-top CNC machines and 3D printers.

What I found interesting was how the personal fabrication tools that makers are embracing are being used by artists, and vice-versa. Smaller CNC machines, laser cutters, and 3D printers are all being used to create art, but then anyone that’s been to a Maker Faire knows/has seen that already. That jewelry or napkin holder may be made with something that could be built in makerspace!

There’s a core group of Castlemakers that are working towards creating a more permanent place, a makerspace, for us to create things. And to hold some of the parts and fabrication tools we’ve started collecting, including some best shared, that would allow people to make things – young and old. If you’re interested in helping, send us an email.

If you’re interested in finding out more about making your own artwork, Berea now has a series of art making workshops that you can sign up for. The biggest is their Festival of Learnshops in July, but there’s an upcoming Holiday series called Make It, Take It, Give It that starts the end of November which looks to be really good also.

Making at Feast of the Hunters’ Moon

Hunters' Moon Craftsman
Using a tree limb for tension, some rope, treadle, and his leg a craftsmen shows kids how pioneers used a simple pole lathe to make table legs for furniture.

This weekend in West Lafayette is the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon festival, which recreates what it was like in the 18th century at Fort Ouiatenon in Indiana. This was my first visit to the event and I was surprised with the how much effort people went into recreating the life at a trading post/military fort in the 1700’s and also with how many ‘making’ things going on there! There was blacksmiths, furniture making, soap and quilt making demonstrations and we only saw a small part of everything that will be going on there. Thursday & Friday it was only open for school trips, but this Saturday & Sunday (10/4 & 10/5) it’s open to the general public. A lot of fun and there’s even authentic food from the era there at the event. With the nicer weather this weekend I suspect you may want to get there early…

We’ve also forming our second making/build project – actually it’s going to be 2 projects: Catapults/Trebuchets & Hydroponics. It’s still early in the process and all are welcome to join us. Next general group meeting will be Sunday evening, 10/5, at the Community Room downtown above Eli’s Bookstore. We’re still very much in the idea stage, but as things develop there will be more information on the Projects page.

Downtown Shovercrafts

kids_shovercraft_downtown_greencastleOn Labor Day weekend we had our first public Shovercraft showing – what a great time for the kids!! A huge thanks to the Greencastle Farmer’s Market for their assistance. And for letting us shove the kids down Washington next to them while they were on Indiana Street downtown that Saturday.

shovercraft_youth_downtownWashington Street Hovercraft overshootAll of the craft hovered, some of them maybe a little too well if you look through the pictures! The kids loved it & the part I really enjoyed was the excitement seeing the kids helping each other and showing those walking by how their craft worked, even letting some of the other kids see what it was like to ride a leaf blower powered hovercraft.

There was a little on-the-spot fabrication work needed on some of the craft, part of the experience, but they worked remarkably well. I’m setting up a photo album of photos, but there’s also a lot of pictures on the Farmer’s Market page and a fair number of pictures and even a video on Facebook from some of the people there.

greencastle farmer's market hovercraft
The Shovercraft pit area next to the Farmer’s Market.

We even took one of the craft down to the Bloomington Makevention later in the day and did some runs in their parking lot. Not as far as the twinkie cannon that was going off near our launch point, but still another fun event. Bloominglabs Makevention was an incredible event by itself, I’ll post more information on that event later.

Next up for Castlemakers: Pumpkin projectiles. Well we actually have more in mind than that, maybe some hydroponics & RC/electronics projects are being tossed around. Show up for our next general club meeting (9/28 @1:30 pm in the Community Room above Eli’s Books downtown) and find out more!!

Shovercraft Demo This Saturday!

The Castlemaker’s Shovercraft showing/demo Shovercraft under construction
will be this Saturday (8/30) at the Greencastle Farmer’s Market on the square in Downtown Greencastle. These leaf blower powered hovercraft, built by our 9-11 year old Putnam county participants, will be on display a good portion of the morning – so stop by! We’ll fire a few up around 9:30 before the music at the Farmer’s Market starts at 10 am.

prototype hover!

These hovercraft are being called them Shovercraft because they only have a hovering fan, not propulsion , so they have have to be shoved. Well and part of the upcoming competition will be landing the craft on a shuffleboard for points. I’m sure we’ll give demos several other times this Saturday, the kids are pretty excited about their craft. Look for us on Franklin street portion of the Market from 9-11 am Saturday.

The project update page can’t keeping up w/ flurry of activity this week, but there are some photos and a video of the work-in-progress so far.

Regional Maker & Robotics Events

Bloominglabs, a makerspace in Bloomington Indiana, has their Makevention this coming Saturday, August 30th, from 10 am to 4 pm. It’s at the Bloomington, Indiana convention center and you can read more about the event here:

Last year they had FIRST & the FIRST Lego League robotics equipment there, it looks like the local high school team at least has a booth this year. Should be a good opportunity to see some interesting maker projects and if you’re interested in robotics get a feel for what’s involved in fielding a FIRST robotics team.

I’m working on Making speaker series this fall to start in October in Putnam County. The first topic will be on the different robotics team competitions – including have our local VEX robotics team speak about what they’re doing.

There’s also an upcoming Robotics Encounter down in Scottsburg Indiana for kids in grades 3-12  on September 27th. It’s sponsored by the local 4H/ Purdue Extension office down there, but out-of-towners are encouraged for the 10 am to 3 pm workshop. You can read more about it in the flyer or call the Floyd County Extension office at 812.948.5470.

Shovercraft Update

Our hovercraft teams have been hard at work & we’ve got a 4th team that will be joining us at the upcoming event. Several teams now have prototype shovercrafts running, there are links off the project page. Our public showing/competition will be at the Greencastle Farmer’s Market in late August.

Quick reminder for the shovercraft teams that we’ll be meeting as a whole group again Wednesday August 13th, 7 pm, at the Southside Community Center (605 Crown Street).

Un-making & Learning

Usually we think about kids making things, but the other day I realized that un-making things can be every bit as important. Maybe it’s how we begin tinkering & building things, learning how existing things work by taking them apart.

It started with my daughter and her friend asked to watch a movie. IMG_9401_1I suggested they go out in the garage instead to tear apart some equipment that I’d gotten for our maker group to build things with. The old equipment was made mostly of 80/20 extruded aluminum (some call it erector set material for adults) and it was held together with lots of things that needed to be unscrewed and disassembled.

I was a bit uneasy thinking that it wouldn’t go over well. I wasn’t sure they would like it. But turns out I was wrong… they loved it!! 45 minutes later there was nothing but a pile of pieces laying on the garage floor!

In the process, I learned something from watching/helping the kids take it apart. I really never thought about how to use a screwdriver, you just sort of well… do it. But then in watching it hit me at some point I must have learned from someone else.

Little things like knowing how the blade or hex wrench should go into the screw head, keeping the screwdriver straight up so it doesn’t slip out and get the best torque – even using the long side for leverage with an allen wrench to break the screw loose are things that is best experienced. With some occasional guidance and encouragement you also don’t give up on the task and keep learning. Kinesthetic, hands on learning isn’t the same as reading it in a book or watching a video. And the girls started encouraging each other and before long I was hearing “I get to do that one…”  – and they were having fun while doing it!!

So get out and help some kids take things apart. Building things is good fun too – don’t miss the opportunity to help them learn the tactile and hands-on portion of learning to use tools and components whether it’s making or ‘un-making’ things. Goodness knows there’s not as much in schools anymore.
Maker Materials
In fact, we’re going to host a tear down session of more equipment for the Castlemakers group this Saturday @ 11 am. We got lucky enough to get more old equipment to tear apart. Join us if you’d like – I can’t promise how long after that it will stay assembled, but we’re going to have fun tearing it all apart!!


I’ve been negligent by not talking about some other maker events going on here in Greencastle. Putnam County Library has been having Maker Tuesdays – short 1-2 hour events at the Public Library. I’ve only seen a flyer on it posted at the library but I was able to find something on the Putnam County Library online calendar. There’s another event coming up Tuesday July 29th, or stop by and I’m sure they can give you more information.