Tinkering School

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Help! (Winter 2016)

FINAL: Earthquake! Tinker for your life!!

Help! (Winter 2016)Jay SimpsonComment

We knew that our tower needed some serious reinforcement to be able to be able to test today, so we set out to really stabilize and strengthen our tower. We added lots of cross-beams and angle joints at our base corners.

For the pulley base at the top, we cut a 4x4 piece of wood to anchor it all.


With pulleys all connected, it was time to test — FINALLY!!!

Success!!! Unbalanced, but we lifted the box! We determined it had to weigh over at least 450lbs!!!

HELP! I've been trapped: Week 2

Help! (Winter 2016)Jay SimpsonComment

This week started off by inspecting our heavy object that we have to lift (to rescue a person from underneath). With ALL of us, we could just about get it off the ground - it is full of bowling balls, rocks, weights, and even railroad rail segment!


We really needed to think through our rescue system to maximize how much lifting force we can generate. By combining everything we could think of, we think we may just be able to lift it!


We also built the other side of our lifting tower and moved onto making it 3D instead of two walls.

Our plan is to a) make lots of triangles, b) take time to make sure the wood is flat and secure before screwing it in, and c) lots and lots of screws!

Next week we'll wrap it up and be able to make a test of everything. We're all looking forward to the last week!

(Fun photo from making our lever, mixing yoga with construction!)

HELP! I've been trapped! Help! Help!

Help! (Winter 2016)Jay SimpsonComment

This week started off with an emergency! We found out that someone was trapped under a heavy object and we need to find a way to lift it off of them!

After a flash-brainstorming session we got to work! We decided on a basic frame and a system of pulleys to make our machine!

Generator power was restored so we could build a stronger frame. We focused on triangles for their strength and by the end of the session had one side completed and the other side ready to be screwed together.

Inspecting it for strength — quite possibly one of the strongest things built at Tinkering School!

As for pulleys, we started with a few but realized that it became easier the more we added. Above, it took half our group to lift the weight of one person. Below, it was easy to do—even with only one hand!  

By the end we had five pulleys and felt confident about being able to lift the heavy object. Next week we get to attach the pulley's to the frame and start testing if we can really rescue our person!

Tinker for your life: Tinkering with FIRE (and hunting)

Help! (Winter 2016)Jay SimpsonComment

This week took a turn away from previous building projects focused on water and weather.... Instead, we turned our attention to one of humanity's greatest early achievements: fire! And how to capture food! 

But we have a leg-up from our cave-people ancestors — we're in a modern day shop with all sorts of things that can make fire! To begin our tinkering with fire, we came up with a list for various ways to make fire that we wished to try:

  • fire by sunlight / magnifying glass
  • fire by friction
  • fire by sparks / flint striker (for welding)
  • fire by electricity (batteries and wire)
  • fire by sparks / camping tool


Results: we got so close! Our cardboard started to burn, but our sunlight was in constant motion, which made it difficult to sustain our hot focal point.  We were working after 4pm from the reflection of the sun in the windows of a neighboring building. To make this work, having direct sunlight during the middle of the day would help!

TAN-URGENT NOTE: While our magnifying glass was focusing the sun, we realized it sometimes was also acting as a lens and projecting an image to our cardboard sheet like a camera obscura would!

Seeing the placement of the sun within the windows (inside the reflected image) helped us realize when it was time to move to a new spot. We had to keep the sun towards the middle of the windows to have any hope of making fire.


Two things came together here to give us our fire-generating plan: drill safety and seeing fire-bows for making friction fires. From our drill safety, we knew that drills get HOT when trying to drill through wood. We decided we could try running a big bit backwards to see exactly how hot we could get it! 

We then also remembered that embers/coals need air to light. So we used what we remembered from bow fires to create a slot on the edge of our wood to try to make our fire.

Results: No fire yet, but we may be able to make more improvements!


Results: This method seemed like a sure-fire win, but alas, we were foiled! We had plenty of sparks but it was really hard to get any additional material like sawdust or toilet paper to light. We may need to try again next week.


Once we found some 9-Volt batteries in the shop we started talking about how electricity works and how we can use them to try to make fire. First step was to, of course, lick the batteries. We few of us had never licked batteries before (ever!) so we have video to document & celebrate these life milestones!


00003.mp4 00001.mp4 00004.mp4

So awesome!

Results: The batteries and little bits of stripped wires we used to try to heat or spark didn't heat or spark. So no luck for us on the electricity fire :-(

FIRE BY SPARKS (Campfire tool)

tinker for your life-6.jpg

Results: This is a sure-fire way to make a fire... if you know what you're doing. So while we tried, we didn't have enough time to really make flames. Next week!


We started work on a mouse trap, made primarily of a box too deep for a mouse to climb out of. More about this next week!

Rain is coming... Better Tinker for Your Life! Week 4!

Help! (Winter 2016)Jay SimpsonComment

It's been a few days since the initial earthquake and we're adjusting to post-quake life. We've found some food to share around, but most of us are typically hungry. Thirst is the starting to drive some of us mad. We're easily irritated. But our shelter is stronger and we're getting a lot faster with set-up and take-down, so there is some good news.

The knots we learned are getting easier—like second nature. They're really helping us keep the roof in the place we want it. Which is super important because storms are coming—we see the dark clouds lurking over Twin Peaks...

With the likelihood of coming rain we've stepped up our efforts to capture rainwater and filter it to have drinking water. 

Above, you see the photo of us doing a material test - does this fabric keep the filtering stones contained but allow water through? Yes. Water really shoots through it under pressure!

We've also started working on a gutter system to collect water and get it in the filter. The first step was to find where we think the water will pool on our roof. We realized we could use a rock to maybe find the spot...


We cut a hole where we think the water will pool.

Tinker for your life! Week 4

Then the rain came, just like it was forecasted. We were lucky it only rained one bucket but we still got wet. Well, nearly everything got wet except for our water filter. That remained dry. We'll keep working our next build day!

As always, check out our flickr for more photos from the build. 

Tinker for your life: surviving day 2

Help! (Winter 2016)Jay SimpsonComment

We made it through the night, but our shelter needs to be stronger, easier to set up and packable (to move if we need to find a new place to live), and it needs to be able to collect water for us. Half of our group of survivors set to it, making improvements (yet again in the low light of battery-powered lanterns).

Working by the light of the drill to add screws to the tent supports.

Working by the light of the drill to add screws to the tent supports.

Once the shelter was getting off the ground we stepped up our knot game by practicing clove and trucker hitches. We had to make a lot of tarp lines but now we really know our knots!

Note the pencil & sock bracings made to bandage a tragic double leg-break injury. 

Note the pencil & sock bracings made to bandage a tragic double leg-break injury. 

Pulling the line through to pull the tarp lines taught.

Pulling the line through to pull the tarp lines taught.

While the shelter was coming up, the water purifying team was back at it to finish the filter. 

Experimenting with ways to turn the band saw wheels. 

Experimenting with ways to turn the band saw wheels. 

It works! But can we make it better?

It works! But can we make it better?


Technique modification #2 was cut short because we finished cutting the plexiglass! We moved on to the next phase of sealing the bucket that will serve as the filter. 

There are suspicions that it may rain soon (during next week's session?) so we hope to have our shelter (plus a gutter/rain-collection system) and filter ready!

EARTHQUAKE & Tinker for your life!

Help! (Winter 2016)Jay SimpsonComment

Our second week of Tinkering School started with a totally normal opening circle BUT THEN CRASH BOOM SLAM BAM SHATTER—an EARTHQUAKE struck! Luckily, we were all unharmed and kept our collective cool, which allowed us to get right to work, TINKERING FOR OUR LIVES!

Our session's theme is "Tinker for your life!" and every week we will be building, hacking, tinkering and making-it-working to survive this post-earthquake San Francisco. This blog will document the story of our work, and we'll upload even more photos to flickr for you to see the progress we're making.

Shelter plans complete with tunnels and multiple walls to protect from potential tsunami attacks.

Shelter plans complete with tunnels and multiple walls to protect from potential tsunami attacks.

Idea: make a big robot OR a shelter. Tough call...

Idea: make a big robot OR a shelter. Tough call...

We quickly realized we need to make plans for survival. Our collective priorities were 1) Shelter, 2) Water (filtration) and 3) Food. Once we had some ideas of what was needed we got right to work! 

Practicing knots for securing our tarp roof.

Practicing knots for securing our tarp roof.

Being surrounded by so many random materials in the shop really helped find materials for our shelter-building. Tarps, wood for supports, rope for tying knots, and solar lights! 

Making supports for the roof materials.

Making supports for the roof materials.

Luckily the screw drivers we have use batteries and were not impacted by the loss of power. But when we needed to cut plexiglass for our water filter we realized the rest of the shop's saws and tools had no power. Oh, no! Then by a strike of genius we realized we could operate the band saw manually, using our hands to spin the inner saw wheel!

A likely first for Tinkering School: manually operating a band saw to cut plexiglass by solar lamp.

A likely first for Tinkering School: manually operating a band saw to cut plexiglass by solar lamp.


By the end of our first post-earthquake day we had a shelter (although we have many ideas on how to improve it) and progress on water filters. Group consensus thinks we'll survive the night but we certainly have more work to do... 

First night in the shelter... wish us luck!

First night in the shelter... wish us luck!

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