This is part four in my “Making a Makerspace” series. You can catch the other articles here.
Makers use stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Sylvia Libow Martinez & Gary Stager dedicated an entire chapter to the various materials necessary for a makerspace to function in their book, Invent to Learn. I’m just going to go for five: the top five materials in an educational makerspace!
The best materials are cheap, easy to work and plentiful. Cardboard fits that definition easy. Cardboard can be used for furniture, art projects, prototypes and semi-permanent structures. Construction sets like makedo and strawbees let a budding maker go even farther.
To get the most out of this resource in the STEAMworks, I tend to cut large sheets up into smaller sheets, about 4 – 6” wide by 12 – 24” long. This size seems to strike a balance between size, storability & usefulness.
As plentiful and cardboard, far more durable and strong. Wood can be cut, sanded, shaped, bent and twisted into robots, furniture, classroom demonstrations, anything. Lumber comes in a variety of sizes thin or thick, long or short and in a variety of shapes, from rods to boards to sheets. If you have an application, there is a way to make it from wood.
Educational makerspaces want wood in sizes that are easy to work with and stick together. I like to use thin dowels, 1/4 to 3/4 in, and thin strips as my main building blocks. I make my strips from salvaged 2xanything or 1xanything. My favorite strips are 1 1/2”W x 3/4”T and 3/4”W x 3/8”T. I cut the wood on a table saw, but you can also buy these sizes at a hardware store. For large sheets, I use 1/8” or 1/4” thick sheets of plywood from the hardware store. I then cut the 4’x8’ sheets into: 1 @ 4’ x 4’, 1 @ 2’x4’, 3 @ 4” x 4’. This combination of squares and rectangles cuts up the material quite well, but still leaves plenty of room to make enclosures, scroll saw designs, robot arms, platforms, etc.
When wood and cardboard won’t do, go for plastics. Actually, this material is a top 5 because two instrumental and popular machines use it best: the 3D printer and laser cutter. Whether in the filament PLA form or sheet acrylics, plastic take what could be done with a sculpting tool or fretsaw and bring it into the future.
I haven’t use this material as often as I should have. Your sheet plastic for the laser cutter should be acrylic, as Lexan gives off fumes. ABS on the 3D printer might be stronger, but it gives off fumes. Without good ventilation, I wouldn’t even try. I’m not giving my student’s cancer. JUSTPLA works great, comes in a lot of colors, and looks to be the cheapest on the market.
Fasteners & Glue & Tape
You need and want a tape or glue for every occasion. Super glue, wood glue, white glue, glue sticks, hot glue, silicone glue, rubber cement, PVC primer & cement, contact cement & plastic glue. I have literally run out of nearly every glue for two years running. I start making glue out of rice during May. I will buy glue sticks by the thousand next year.
Fasteners are a different story. For odd jobs, it helps to have a bunch of random nuts and bolts lying around. Larger jobs & class sized projects, require more standardized fastener fare. Maize 1-1/2” trim nails make great go-too nails. I like keeping 5-lb boxes of 1-1/4” and 2” exterior screws to attach 1x and 2x construction material together. #6 x 3/4” wood screws are plentiful, cheap and perfect for screwing two 3/8” thick wood strips together. Walmart sells incredible, cheap assortments of machine bolt kits, but I’m sure specialized vendors like Grizzly, McMaster-Carr or Grainger can do better. 1/4” coarse thread seems to be the perfect size between quality, price and ubiquity. Lots of objects, from furniture to cameras, seem to use 1/4” coarse threaded screws.
You will use more tape than you think – scotch, painters and duct tape. I use electrical tape to label objects. Duct tape labels tools. Projects get wrapped in tape, made of tape, hung up on walls by tape. Art is created of tape. Buy in bulk, buy early. As many kinds as necessary.
Rope & Twine & String
“I’ve got too much rope. Throw some of that away,” said no one, ever. Not once. Ropes are integral part of most moving structures, decorations, tool handles and tons more. Entire articles of clothing are weaved together from rope. I use mason’s twine, clothesline, jute string/twine and cheap polycarbonate ropes, sisal rope and yarn. There’s a rope for every need and I have a need for every rope. Projects using rope abound: bracelets, machinery, rube goldberg machines, tool handles, weavings, rugs, etc.
There you have it – the top 5 materials of my makerspace. What are yours?
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