San Mateo Maker Faire 2014

I got my hands on some photos from the San Mateo Maker Faire 2014 after all. These are from May 17th.


Tools! fret cutting jig, bench clamp and carpenter’s plane, fret press, ball-peen hammer, curved anvil, and sample tins in the process of shaping.

I was not presenting as a commercial maker this time so I did not bring instruments to sell. Instead, I focused on providing sample instruments, encouraging people to try strumming a uke or sliding on a canjo, and I laid out some of my tools to help answer the universal question, “How do you make these?”
MF2014.2Lots of people went away smiling after hearing tuna cans and cookie tins make marvelous twangy music, and a few may have been inspired to try their hand at making a hillbilly instrument of their own.

MF2014.3If you have never been to the Maker Faire or have never heard of it, you are sure to have more opportunities. The San Mateo event happens every May and there are more and more Maker Faire events around the world every year. Interested in seeing what your crazy creative neighbors are cooking up? Then have look at what’s been happening and what’s coming up. There are events in New York, Detroit, and Kansas City just to name a few in the U.S. Yes, the bug has spread internationally too. Paris, Trondheim, Tokyo, Istanbul, São Paulo, and Oaxaca have all had Maker Faires so look for one near you.

SLO Mini Maker Faire 2014

SLO MMF 2014.1 The second annual San Luis Obispo Mini Maker Faire has come and gone and a couple of instruments left the “available for sale” category. There were lots of impromptu ukulele lessons and canjo sessions.
SLO MMF 2014.2 There were paper sculptures, a frisbee chucking bot, and shrinky-dinks among the many activities and demonstrations.
SLO MMF 2014.3 The following weekend I traveled to San Mateo for the big Maker Faire. It was two whole days of surprising people with the sound that can come out of a hillbilly instrument. I am happy to say that lots of folks left the Tinkers Damn booth smiling. My special lady friend did not come along for the big show so I am short on photos, folks. Here’s a video that gives a drone’s view of some of the Faire. If you’ve never attended it will give a little taste of how big the event is.
SLO MMF 2014.4If you want to see more of the SLO event, have a look at the iFixit SLO Maker Faire video (and though it makes me writhe in pain to see myself on tape, it includes a short clip of me and the cans.) A couple of the Faire volunteers jumped right in to ukulele lessons and did so much to spread the magic to more of the Faire visitors than I could have ever done on my own. Sorry for all the cut off heads here and above (I prefer to avoid showing faces of people who have not given the go to use their likeness on the interwebs).

It’s Official!

I’ll be sharing my instruments, tools, and methods at the San Mateo Maker Faire May 17th and 18th. Tinkers Damn is exhibit #20264. In addition, I’ll be at the San Luis Obispo Mini Maker Faire May 10th. I’ll have a very limited number of instruments available for sale at the San Luis Obispo event, but I will not be selling instruments in San Mateo. I’ll be far too busy demonstrating how to make your own instrument and giving beginning lessons on the ukulele and canjo.

If you live on the central coast, I can’t encourage you enough to join us for the San Luis Obispo Mini Maker Faire. Last year was a swell time, the event isn’t nearly as overwhelming as the big show in San Mateo, and it’s free!

If you are a tinker, maker, or thinker, the Maker Faire in San Mateo is two whole days of creativity overload and probably worth the trip from just about anywhere in North America. I’m just about to pee myself with excitement that I get to participate this year. Get your tickets before you get to the gate! Don’t miss it!

black rose

black rose 1 black rose 2 black rose 3Boy, I tell ya, I am starting to really like these medium size tins for concert scale ukuleles. They work like a charm. I suppose I will have to start working the big 10 inch tins into baritone ukuleles instead. Don’t miss the wild colors of the polka-dot liner inside this silk neck-tie strap. You can just see the pattern peeking out of the right side of the top photo. The mottled patina in the steel of the cookie tin bottom gives black rose a world-wise personality, and the fleurs-de-lis on the tin and arm rest give her a mild, regal bearing. She’s a special gal!

  • tin: 185 x 65 mm, 7 1/4 x 2 1/2 in.
  • scale length: 380 mm, 15 in.
  • head to tail: 620 mm, 24 1/2 in.
  • G .010, C .015, E .011, A .008
  • maple neck
  • cocobolo fret board
  • stainless fork and rest
  • silk neck tie strap

Sorry folks, Black Rose was sold at the San Luis Obispo Maker Faire, May 10, 2014. We had a really swell volunteer for the day who picked up a uke for the first time at the Faire. She learned a few chords from me and many more plus a few songs from other uke players who happened by. By the time she had to go for the day she was ready to make this uke her own. If our volunteer is reading this… thank you so much for all the help and enthusiasm getting other people to try out an instrument and I hope your new instrument brings years of strumming.

Maker Faire 2014

MFSLO8May is on its way, and with it comes the Maker Faire. This year, if all goes as planned (if they let me in, that is) I will be participating in both the San Luis Obispo Mini Maker Faire on May 10th and the San Mateo Maker Faire on May 17th and 18th. I will once again be selling ukuleles, canjos, and dulcimers at the SLO Mini Maker Faire (if I can manage to make a few more by then) by cash or check. Sorry folks, I just don’t have the means or the technology yet to accept credit cards. For the San Mateo Maker Faire I will not be selling anything. It’s the weekend right after the SLO event and I don’t expect to have more than my good ol’ backup demo instruments left by then. In addition, I will be way too busy in San Mateo demonstrating and teaching to be able to deal with sales at all (not to mention that Tinkers Damn just can’t afford the commercial maker fee). If you will be attending and want to see what a Tinkers Damn uke sounds like in person, it will be a fine opportunity. You can always look me up to buy an instrument after the event.

Lapp Woman

Lapp Woman 1 Lapp Woman 2 Lapp Woman 3The lid of this tin depicts a scene from the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Lapp Woman and the Finn Woman, a part of The Snow Queen. Gerda, carrying a dried cod (it looks more like a sturgeon to me), is riding a reindeer on her way to see the Finn Woman. Oddly, the fish has a message written on it. Be that as it may, the resulting ukulele came out of the shop sounding really swell, and what’d ya know, no fish odor!

  • tin: 190 x 90 mm, 7 3/4 x 3 1/2 in.
  • scale length: 380 mm, 15 in.
  • head to tail: 620 mm, 24 1/2 in.
  • G .010, C .015, E .011, A .008
  • maple neck
  • paduak fret board
  • stainless fork and rest
  • silk neck tie strap

All for just $350. Contact me if you are interested.

starting to beat a tin into shape

As promised, someday is here, and I am finally getting around to posting a little about the work that goes into the instruments I build.
measured drawingAfter selecting and cleaning a tin I think will make a good instrument (not too many dents or corrosion, a tight fitting lid, and good artwork) I always make a measured drawing to plan the instrument. Then I mark out the center, the axis of the neck, the bridge location, and several concentric circles on the tin bottom to guide shaping the steel.
hammer tin 4I do all the hammering to shape the tin before starting work on the neck or any other parts. Shaping the tin is the most iffy part of the process, and if the work fails I don’t get stuck with a neck that was custom made to fit a bad tin. In the picture above you can see concentric circles marked in black ink. I have already hammered down the outermost ring using the ball end of my hammer to start the downward part of the curve, and the center bulge is starting to rise as I work out from the center.
hammer tin 3This picture shows the curved top of the anvil I use to shape instrument bellies. Starting in the center of a tin, I stretch the steel by striking it between the flat side of the ball-peen hammer and the anvil head. As the steel stretches in the center it bulges up and I work out toward the edges little by little. It takes a countless number or hammer strikes. A heavier hammer or harder blows would make the work go faster, but I find that the result is less even and more likely to collapse when the string tension is applied to the belly of the instrument.
hammer tin 1The resulting steel instrument body must have a very even and rigid dome shape to stand the pressure of the steel strings and be flexible enough at the outer edge to resonate with the plucked strings. The steel work-hardens and becomes more brittle as I hammer so there is a limit to how far I can stretch things. The bigger the tin the more hammer work is required and the more sensitive the dome is to small flaws.

Next time I’ll get into the nit-picky work of adjusting the belly of the tin for the off-center bridge foot print.