The Beat Box

It’s time for me to get my application in for the 2016 San Mateo Maker Faire. I’ve participated in a few previous Faires and this year I thought I’d add something to my usual offering of cookie tin ukuleles and other instruments. If all goes as planned (and they like my proposal) I’ll be at the Faire in May with a peddler’s cart that will transport several instruments and provide a little treadle powered down beat.

The Beat Box from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.

In the video I demonstrate my first two crude cam sets that play a waltz and a shuffle. I hope to fit up four sets to knock out a variety of beats. So far this is like playing along with a bad drummer, but I’m getting better at it. The cart rolls nicely on the two wheels like a garden wheel barrow, and when it is tipped up on end (as seen in the video) it will display my instruments and offer its wonky rhythm. The wheels, bearings, and sprockets were scavenged from a kids bike a neighbor was about to chuck in the trash. Some of the wood box is left over molding from a frame shop and the shafts are from my lifetime collection of dumpster gold.

There are many improvements and tweaks in the works; including fitting up the inside of the cart to secure the instruments for travel, painting the exterior, improving the cam sets, and adding more mass to the fly wheel. Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

big pink lap steel

Just a week before the big to-do in San Mateo this year I whipped up a big lap steel instrument to have something for the kids to whomp on.

big pink lap steel 2 string
With fat solid steel strings, a neck cut out of a 2×4, and pegs that require a wrench to tune, I knew it would keep the kids busy with nothing to break. The original, above, had only two strings and the tin was flat so it barked quite a bit when the strings were plucked. There is a bit of me fiddling with the beastie at the beginning of the video from the Faire.

I had so much fun with it at the Maker Faire I decided to make some improvements when I got home.

big pink lap steel 1

The revamped instrument has a shaped tin body for better resonance and no bark, an 80cm scale, and four strings for more snaky slidey fun.

big pink lap steel from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.

Naturally this led right into building a baritone ukulele scale lap steel! That bit of fun will be in the next post.

San Mateo Maker Faire 2015

Tinkers Damn spent two and a half days at the San Mateo Maker Faire this May. It was quite a hubbub once again.


go go canjoFor next year I will have to come up with some way to close up shop and take an hour break in the middle of the day.

the crowdThe crowd can be overwhelming, but I still had a ball.

obstreperousYes, the young’uns were indeed obstreperous…

canjo kids but many of them had a grand time picking out a tune.

playerThe adults had a fine time as well. Here’s a short clip of me plucking the lap steel (more about that below) and playing “Freight Train” on old electric blue.

San Mateo MF 2015 from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.

There’s a slew more photos on Flickr if you just can’t get enough. As usual, many thanks to mrs. a-go-go for being the shutter bug. See you next year, San Mateo! Thanks for having us.

Regarding the lap steel, I whipped that monster up just a few days before the show. It is far from perfect but it gave me another durable instrument to put in front of the kids. It’s not much to play but I had fun with it and I swear I am going to revamp it soon. Stay tuned for a post on the lap steel’s rebirth! Maybe I can get some of the distortion out of it and put enough strings on to get some real steel fun out of it.

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).

San Luis Obispo Mini Maker Faire 2014 from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.

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!

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.

maker faire san luis obispo 2013

three at Maker Faire

At the mini Maker Faire 2013 I had a swell time showing folks how to play a ukulele, dulcimer, or canjo (and quite a few folks who needed no showing at all). It was my first time out in public with these instruments and I actually sold a few! People seemed to like the novelty of getting sound out of a funny looking can and some were impressed that they actually sounded good.


For more images have a look at Flickr.




A big, “Thank you.” to everyone who came by and tried a strum or two, and a double, “Thank you.” to the folks who made a purchase. It has encouraged me to keep pounding the steel.

faux cloisonné

fauxcloisonne3The tin for this ukulele had an odd shaped bottom and I was not certain it would lend itself to making an instrument. In the end, hammering the steel went well and resulted in a nice voice. I used padouk wood for the fretboard and maple for the neck. Add a swell neck tie for a strap and you have a fine little instrument that was snapped up by a family that visited tinkers damn at the San Luis Obispo Mini Maker Faire in May 2013.fauxcloisonne fauxcloisonne2

the stained-glass-fruit cookie tin ukulele

stainglassfruit1 stainglassfruit2This was my favorite instrument for months after I made it. I think it was the first really successful ukulele I turned out. It has a maple neck and fretboard and a seven inch cookie tin body. This one was purchased by a swell lady at the San Luis Obispo Mini Maker Fair on May 11, 2013. I’m sure it has found a happy home. Here’s a short video of me putting the instrument through its paces.