It was the scrappy, cobble-it-together-and-make-it-work attitude that helped define his generation in car racing in the late nineteen fifties and sixties. They certainly didn’t have the technology we have today; it was backyard ingenuity that kept them going consistently – nothing more.
So he had the maker spirit, but in the nineteen-seventies his advancements in the trade came from working formally in corner garages and automotive dealerships. He also found his family growing and so he settled into his career by obtaining advanced schooling in auto-mechanics. Those advancements in education established him at a time when debugging electronics was becoming more of the day-to-day, and the need for concocting a fix on-the-fly was seemingly going away.
While his daily tasks in his career drifted away from his roots, he was still able to find ways at home to quench the urges of Yankee Ingenuity. Garage door snapped its chain? He’d patch it with some left-over bicycle chain and the right tool. Pool filter blew a gasket? He’d have some cork-sheet-intake-manifold gasket material for fixing that. The leaf strainer in that very filter was made from an old window screen. I even remember some of his more outlandish home-improvement efforts. One of which involved automotive leaf springs bolted into the wall for some reason or another – the only reason I know this story is because I heard it while he was telling a woman that was looking to buy our house. Yeah, she didn’t buy it. I don’t wonder why.
Ingenuity is an integral part of the definition of “maker”. I can paint a picture of a skilled craftsman working late into the night in their basement shop or garage on beautiful work pieces. In those cases, the client may have given a rough sketch, or even full CAD renderings in order to obtain the desired result. It becomes up to the maker to use tools and materials to achieve the end result.
Take CNC machining for an example – in order to achieve the customer’s dimensions within tolerance, the same work piece could be looked at a multitude of ways. Mill from flat stock, turn from round stock, rough mill, split, semi-finish mill, finish turn, finish mill – all in a particular sequence that suits available machines, machine power, available tooling, and even the number of pieces desired – each permutation of how the piece could get made could be the “right” one, but depending on how the maker decides to use his or her talents to do the work as efficiently, as accurately, and as imaginatively as possible is what makes it “right” in the end.
What if you work for a large manufacturer? Are you a maker, or just a cog in the works? I think the level of ingenuity you bring to your daily role is what makes working with your hands transcend from cog to maker. A CNC machinist might need to run many parts to meet internal demand for an assembly (like an automobile), but when ingenuity kicks in and the machinist looks at more efficient tool paths or combining tools for single operations, I dare say they are makers as well.
But what about the makers that bring together amazing new contraptions, seemingly on a whim, without a client order to back them up? Their devices are designed deep from within the imagination – a culmination of years of experience and cobbled-together ingenuity. These gizmos are made on-the-fly to solve a problem.
There certainly has been no shortage of social media coverage on this dubbed “makers movement” in recent months. Many are suggesting that this home-grown ingenuity is going to hold the keys to answering society’s greatest woes – from famine, to energy independence, to climate change, just to name a few. But I think this is a mere turning of the spotlight from corporate giants toward the makers. If dad’s days of running race cars and jury-rigging our house tell me anything, its that makers have always been, and always will be a deep part of solving life’s problems.
Have you ever done it? Can you say you are a maker? Is it a special category of person that only the “unchosen few” fit into? Let us know what you think by sharing a similar story in the comments below.