Lap 2 - Fabrication

One of my favorite descriptions of FABRICATION which I’ve adapted from Warren Berger and Bruce Mau is “making hope visible and giving form to ideas.” You might say that fabrication is why we are here. We want to make, and to do so we have to learn about materials, tools, joinery, work sequencing, sketching and planning.

Podcast Companion Episode(s):

MVIFI Blog Companion Post(s):


Warren Berger’s book Cad Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies, and T-shaped People is one of my very favorite books, particularly on the topic of Design Thinking. In the preface he notes:

“Designers are also makers. They sketch and build, giving form to ideas. They take that faint glimmer of possibility and make it visible and real to others.”

Berger, W. (2010). CAD monkeys, dinosaur babies, and t-shaped people: Inside the world of design thinking and how it can spark creativity and innovation. London: Penguin Books.

At its core, fabrication is really a process that, in no particular order, includes being inspired to build, sketching, formulating a plan, choosing materials and tools and finally doing the making itself. The truth is, part of the secret sauce to successful fabrication and making is the desire to make. You (and your students) have to be excited about your build which often means preferencing choice over prescription. So, the fact that you really want to make that giphy speaking robot will do as much for your fabrication skills as some other skill-building laps because you will want to seek out and practice new skills on your own.

The Driving Cog

Think about the last thing you made. It can be a piece of IKEA furniture or dinner last night. How would you teach someone else to recreate that exactly? Would you include pictures or sketches? Do you need to list materials? Will it take a whole weekend or a few minutes?

If your answers sound like the cooking recipe, then you are on the right track. In MakerED circles, the "how" is essentially an Instructable and in our own MDE language, it is a BUILD PERMIT. We’ve used Build Permits as an assessment tool, a means of creating shopping lists and most of all as simply good practice.

Build permits like these are used constantly with the Lower School creators – and beyond – at Mount Vernon. You can view nearly all of them in this in this digital folder.


Places to wander and wonder

Ok. You really want to 3d print yoda / craft a holiday present / lasercut your next phone case. The good news is that all of that is possible with a relatively low barrier of entry. The bad news is that YOU will need to do the research. Each of those project deserve their own research on equipment, tips and techniques. In fact, it might be more applicable to jump over to the lesson on IDEA EXCHANGE for a better sense of how to DIT (do it together) not DIY (do it yourself). That gem - DIT - comes from David Lang, author of Zero to Maker. While the book is not a “how to”, per se, it IS a narrative about how to get excited about making. As mentioned, we’ll talk more about that in the IDEA EXCHANGE lesson. In terms of starting to fabricate for perhaps the first time, Lang describes a conversation with Jesse Au - an employee/advocate at Autodesk - who notes:

“If you give passionate people the tools and time to play - learning just enough to play - then they’ll get it every time.”

Lang, David. Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Just about) Anything. Maker Media, 2014.

Below, then are some places to get inspired and learn enough to be dangerous - not “ouch!” dangerous, but “aha!” dangerous. Trying to replicate someone else’s build, especially if you are excited about it and extra especially if you are trying to alter or hack it a bit, is great way to earn “laps” in fabrication. BUT….

Beware of the tutorial culture. I heard Golan Levin speak on this and other STEAM as part of his keynote at NAEA18. He noted that in association with the following slide that this is “a loving critique from the inside of STEAM thought leaders....but one to watch out for.” In sum, following tutorials like the ones you will find in the links below should be in service of finding one’s own artistic/maker identity, not a primary means of teaching and learning.

Additive Fabrication (3D printing)

  • Ultimaker blog and Prusa Blog - These are the printers we currently use in our spaces.
    • Side note: We get asked all the time “what is the best 3D printer?” We don’t know ;) The technology changes fast, and budget and desired outcome are important factors. What we do know is that we’ve been really happy with the reliability and quality of these printers, but are fairly convinced ALL 3D printers require some significant maintenance and upkeep.
  • Thingaverse - We would be remiss to leave this ubiquitous resource for 3D models off the list, but we don’t love the idea of simply downloading, printing and calling it a day. How might you contribute your own designs?
  • Instructables 3D Printing class

Subtractive Fabrication (Woodworking)

  • Rockler - It is our local source for fine woodworking tools and materials. They offer some great project plans, too
  • Instructables Woodworking Course - or search projects tagged with woodworking

Microelectronics (Bits to atoms)

Digital Fabrication (everything else ;) )

  • Easel Live – The YouTube Live series hosted by Mo, one Inventables’ incredible creators and most darling personalities! This playlist has something for every Easel user, no matter their experience level.
  • Carvey in the Classroom – A collection of images and excerpts from the “Tales Not Yet Told” PhotoJournal, showing students utilizing the Carvey 3D-carving machine as part of their fabrication work.
  • Instructables CNC classes - or search projects tagged with CNC and laser cutting
  • Zero to Maker, by David Lang - Chapter 6 - Digital Fabrication

Don’t forget other fantastic “low tech” ways of making. There are SO many options out there for sewing, bookbinding, working with leather, metal working, glass, etc, etc, etc.


Your Turn to Play


Glance back up at the “driving cog” section in the background of this lesson. What would YOUR version of a build permit look like? Do you need a visual reminder of projects going on? Is it a checkpoint for students? Is it a tool for project teams to collaborate on? Are links to your bill of materials necessary, or are you simply asking students to choose from what is on hand? Focus on needs for your particular class and don’t make kids jump through hoops that they don’t have to.

HELPFUL HINT: Sketching is fundamental to a successful build...particularly if you sketch includes dimensions, key features and perhaps joinery or assembly instructions. Remember, you aren’t creating a work of art necessarily...just visually communicating an idea. Just start! I believe so strongly in this core skill as a maker that I’ve used something called Monday Morning Sketching. It is a form of weekly calisthenics that invites students to sketch something (often off the top of my head) using a variety of rotating techniques. It has worked wonders in terms of building creative confidence with sketching as well a reinforce the importance of this skill. You might also try other ways to sketch like:

ALTERNATE ROUTES: Another way of practicing the skills of FABRICATION like material choice, joinery and work sequencing is to use thinking routine MVIFI developed called Ihttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/209146633 - Ingredients, Imagine, Improvements. This thinking routine helps to build your X-ray vision superpower. How about THAT?!!

I3 is really helps students realize just how much of the world around them has been intentionally designed and fabricated. The way I typically use I3 is while out on an expedition with students and simply call out “Freeze! I3!”. This is a cue to students to recall the last human designed object they touched. From there, they consider (or right down in a journal):

  • Ingredients - What is this object made of? Are they man made or natural materials?
  • Imagine - How was this thing assembled? What tools and techniques were necessary?
  • Improvements - If I were to make this, how would I do it? Are there ways to make better or more efficient?
The full season of Build In Progress is available on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or wherever you go to get your podcasts.
In each episode of the Build in Progress Podcast we ask our guests what they are listening too. Here it is...in all its eclectic glory for you to tap your toes to. It is a collaborative playlist, so we invite you to add your own Maker Tracks to this list!