Tinkering School

come make amazing things with us

2012 Session 1 - Juniors

Session One - Creek Houses

2012 Session 1 - JuniorsgeverComment

Well, I think it's safe to say that it was a great week of Tinkering School down at Elkus Ranch. Day One – Fooling Around, With a Purpose

Day Two – We Get Into a Spot of Bother

Day Three – We Get Down to Business

Day Four – Whistle While You Work

Day Five – Work, Work, Work

Day Six – We Go The Extra Mile

All of the pictures taken during Session One are currently being uploaded to our Session Archive (on Flickr) for your perusal. This process usually takes a few days, so check back if you don't find what you are looking for.

We Slept in the Trees

Day Six - We Go The Extra Mile

2012 Session 1 - JuniorsgeverComment

It is the final push to get the houses ready to sleep in. In complete honesty, Gever is overheard to admit that he's not sure this is a sustainable tradition at Tinkering School - "Next, we'll be sleeping in the cars and boats we make," he says, suddenly grinning like a fool. Photo documentation is spotty today because we are all pitching in. Gever keeps saying "All hands on deck" until one of the tinkerers asks, "What does that mean?"

Despite the vast amount of work in front of us, Leslie, the ranch manager has offered an animal tour and chore duty - both seem equally exciting to the tinkerers so we opt to spend the morning working on the farm.

IMG 1945 While we wait for Leslie and her assistant Cathy to take us around the ranch, we sit with the chickens for a spell.IMG 1961 Ana likes the red one very much.

IMG 1966 A quiescent chicken seems to have a peculiar calming effect on the tinkerers.

IMG 1968 These gals are particularly fond of broccoli.

IMG 1978 Whenever we can't find Alonzo, we look in the chicken coop.

IMG 1985 "Can I keep 'em?" asks Connor.

IMG 1987 Gretchen and Josie with suitable chicken corsages.

IMG 2009 We have, with some diligent effort, become friends with the lama.

IMG 2016 Then Cathy and Leslie arrive (with their dogs) and we head to the shed to get gloved up.

IMG 2024 Then it's off to the barn to meet the horses from the upper pasture. The kids were amazed that there were animals on the farm that they hadn't met yet.

IMG 2029 Like little Hercules', they set to cleaning out the stable.

IMG 2034 Hayden brings the wheelbarrow in enpty...

IMG 2035 ...and Blake takes it out full.

IMG 2050 Alonzo does his share as well, proving that doing other people's chores is more fun than doing your own.

IMG 2064 Hayden puts the loose straw pile to good use.

IMG 2080 Gretchen makes friends with the dog that accidentally pushed her over earlier in the day.

IMG 2107 After lunch, we return to the creek and get back to work. Connor is building a new, taller, and more sturdy ladder for the Nooi house.

IMG 2109 Blake and the Piki clan are still making fancy furniture.

IMG 2111 Ana has a love/hate relationship with the clamps.

IMG 2113 Gever was struck by the verdant beauty of the trail to the river.

IMG 2114 The Kablooies are working to get their roof up.

IMG 2128 Hayden is fishing, with a knife. The fish don't seem too worried.

IMG 2130 Josie is getting a piece of the Piki roof tied down.

IMG 2132 The Piki have a pow-wow with Daniel to work out the logistics of their fire pit.

IMG 2142 Blake helps out at the Nooi house by stabilizing their new ladder.

IMG 2155 The Piki house is sturdy enough for Ana to do some gymnastics practice.

IMG 2164 Tah dah! The Kablooie house is finished!

IMG 2166 Tah dah! The Nooi house is finished!

IMG 2171 Gretchen tries out the new guest bench downstairs at the Nooi house.

IMG 2179 Gever and Connor decide to add another safety railing on the Nooi house.

IMG 2194 Sophia decides to build a ferry to take people to the Piki firepit so they don't track mud through the house.

IMG 2198 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Josie from the bridge.

IMG 2221 Meanwhile, Sophia works on the ferry some more.

IMG 2224 From what Gever can gather, this is mostly meant for any raccoons that may wander by.

IMG 2228 Be sure to read the fine print.

IMG 2233 Blake and the Piki clan take a moment to create a nice flower arrangement.

IMG 2236 Lauren spearheads a swing-making project and soon a swing is born.

IMG 2270 Meanwhile, Sophia takes a ride on her own ferry.

IMG 2286 The swing is big enough for two! Sophia and Josie enjoy the river swing.

IMG 2307 Chane checks in with the Nooi team as they spend a moment hanging out in their finished house.

IMG 2314 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Connor from the trees.

IMG 2321 Gretchen and Connor in the Nooi house.

IMG 2323 Portrait of a Tinkerer: From the department of "how can you not include a shot like this in the blog?" Gretchen being Gretchen.

During the final setup of the Piki house, we discover that there is insufficient structure in the walls, and much to the shock of Sophia and Josie, their kit-bags have fallen out and drifted downstream. "At least they floated and didn't sink," says Sophia, "because if they sank the stuff inside would have been wetter."

Some rapid engineering analysis reveals that there is much work to be done to make it safe for all five tinkerers who want to sleep there, but now that their stuff is soggy, Sophia, Josie, and Ana decide to vacate the house and sleep up in the ranch house again. That leaves Theo and Blake to set up quick rails that allow for only two sleepers, which they do, and then they sleep.

IMG 2356 And with that, Jared, Lauren, Gretchen, Connor, Blake, Theo, and Gever settled down for the night in the creek houses.

Day Five - Work, Work, Work

2012 Session 1 - JuniorsgeverComment

The home stretch, the last stand, the final push - Thursday. There was a faint hope this morning that some of us would be sleeping at creek tonight but by midday we can all tell that it is not to be. It is the very nature of this kind of project work to present emergent and progressively harder challenges as it unfolds. The stakes (the accumulated effort of the teams) are raised by the very fact that there is a deadline; no one wants their existing work to be for naught. So we work. We lash poles together, we saw exotic angles into wood to handle complex joins, we schlepp more pallets, we return to the forest of yellow jackets and sneak away with the trees we felled but could not take on Tuesday.

IMG 1810 Jared learns and applies the official Tinkering School lashing technique.IMG 1820 Lauren, and really every member of the Kablooie team, is making furniture.

IMG 1827 Blake gets the Piki house ready for the day's work.

IMG 1831 Ana decides to check and see if Prince Charming, or more likely, Prince Interesting is trapped in the slug she found.

IMG 1832 Yes. She actually kissed it.

IMG 1841 But the slug remained a slug, and perhaps she found her Prince Interesting after all.

IMG 1849 Sophia and Blake have crafted a fire pit for the Piki palace.

IMG 1863 Connor and Gever have been working on finishing the deck of the Nooi house.

IMG 1865 The Piki team tries to figure out how to turn a paraglider that was cut open at a previous Tinkering School session into a house wrap.

IMG 1870 Sophia catches the furniture bug and sets about cutting some chair legs.

IMG 1872 "Impact or torque?" asks Ana. Choosing the right kind of cordless driver is important.

IMG 1873 Not wanting to be caught sitting on her keister, Josie carves out a good solid seat for her chair.

IMG 1874 Gretchen explains how the new ladder is going to work to Gever.

P1050709 The new decking level at the Nooi house requires a very custom piece of joinery. Connor decides to carry the pole all the way up to the barn to make it happen sooner rather than later.

P1050712 There, he learns to use the scrollsaw and bisects the log end to make a flat face on the wood.

P1050714 And, with some help from Chane, Gretchen takes a turn as well.

IMG 1883 Like a butterslug (that's a cross between a butterfly and a slug), the Piki house is transformed by the descent of the colorful nylon housewrap.

IMG 1887 Unfortunately, the corner posts of the Piki house are not accommodated by the new housewrap; they must be sawn off.

IMG 1893 And Josie is just the gal to do it.

IMG 1897 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Blake takes a break.

IMG 1900 The Butterslug (aka Piki house) is almost sleep ready.

IMG 1902 Rarely seen, and once thought to be extinct, the Butterslug feeds on an exotic diet consisting solely of tool-carrying tinkerers.

IMG 9668 The inside of the Butterslug is just as magical as the outside.

IMG 9661 And by it's very blueness, the south wall is a place of unexpected delight for the visitors.

P1050716 Chane and all the girls meet up to work with Gretchen on the Nooie house. "It's been hard, being the only girl on this team," says Gretchen.

P1050721 Sophia is mastering the cordless driver.

P1050724 Ana is glad that we have some ear protection available when she has to use the impact driver.

IMG 1913 Daniel helps Josie get her chair legs screwed on.

IMG 1917 The twice-daily ride to and from the creek continues to be a source of great joy for all involved.

IMG 1922 Chicken at rest.

IMG 1936 Josie beguiles another hapless chicken.

IMG 1937 With an eye to the future, Connor and his racing chicken ponder the accomplishments of the day.

Day Four - Whistle While You Work

2012 Session 1 - Juniorsgever1 Comment

A whole day working on one project - it's an interesting idea for an eight year-old to ponder, let alone undertake. We returned to the creek this morning, our biggest ideas not yet realized and the reality of the constraints and limitations beginning to set in. Plans will be re-jiggered, great ideas will be modified or discarded, and assumptions will be challenged. We have a tough day ahead, but the light at the end of the tunnel is a bonfire, barbecue, s'mores, and a mechanical fireworks project. IMG 1340 Part of working is schlepping. So we schlepp the pallets down to the creek, we schlepp the tools down from the barn, we schlepp and we schlepp.IMG 1346 Daniel helps Hayden master the basics of cutting with a handsaw.

IMG 1353 Alonzo screws down the deck on the Kablooi walkway.

IMG 1361 The Falling Water house is starting to take shape as the Piki start to lash together some heavy timber pieces.

IMG 1373 Lauren and Jared do their share of schlepping.

IMG 1379 Jared drops in the final pallet in the walkway.

IMG 1392 Gretchen enlists Daniel to help her build a ladder.

P1050530 Gever, Connor, and Hayden build legs for the Nooi house.

IMG 1403 In a quiet moment, Ana gets the grit out of her wet socks.

IMG 1409 The Piki are relentlessly industrious as they work towards their goal of sleeping in their house - maybe even by Thursday night!

IMG 1463 Connor puts himself to his task and makes short work of cutting a pole down to size.

IMG 1499 People always wonder what we eat for lunch - here's a grilled cheese sammy with avocado and tomato.

IMG 1508 And here's a ham facial for Hayden.

IMG 1512 Ana eats about 50% of her body weight in grapes per day.

P1050550 If every lunch break included some time with friendly goats, we might all have lower blood pressure. Gretchen, Hayden, Josie, and Lauren make a new friend.

P1050581 Lauren and Alonzo sitting with chickens.

P1050596 Lauren and Josie sitting with chickens.

IMG 1521 With the cross-bars up, the Piki use heavy line to create shear strength.

IMG 1524 Josie and Gretchen lean back to help tighten the ropes while Hayden offers useful advice.

IMG 1541 Aided by the experience of spending a summer on a Maylasian bridgeworking team working in Austria, Blake scurries out on the crossbar to check for slippage on the sistered crossbars.

IMG 1567 Jared, Lauren, and Alonzo test out their newly constructed load-bearing wall unit.

IMG 1573 Connor and Gever discuss various solutions to a tricky bit of bracing.

P1050516 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Connor contemplates his workmanship.

IMG 1586 Alonzo has built himself a mighty fine chair.

IMG 1600 There is, of course, more schlepping to do. Josie and Ana carry another piece of decking down the creek to the Piki house.

IMG 1621 With the deck complete and the walls tightened, the unfinished Piki house is open for tours.

IMG 1630 The low deck height gives easy access to the dam.

IMG 1647 Jared sets about plugging a major leak.

P1050506 Josie and Ana brace a pole.

P1050524 Connor locks in two more corner braces while Theo looks on in amazement.

P1050489 Portrait of Three Tinkerers: a ride back up to the barn with Alonzo, Blake, and Hayden.

IMG 1659 Connor, Jared, and Alonzo have been working on a secret go-cart project in the free-build time.

IMG 1662 While it has no steering, it does roll in a remarkably straight manner.

IMG 1678 The tinkerers are pretty excited when they discover that "mechanical fireworks" means a pocketful of LED's that they can attach to whatever they please.

IMG 1692 Yes, very excited.

IMG 1695 The LED-on-a-rope design turns out to be irresistible. Lauren attaches all eight of her lights to a single rope.

IMG 1711 Then, it's down to the picnic tables for barbecue. Ana explains her big idea to Gever, "I'm going to put all my lights in my hand and throw them up in the air like fireworks!"

Sophia's slingshot tube cannon is a big hit with everyone, and she delights in putting everything from LEDs to corn chips in the launch pocket.

IMG 1752 After barbecue we settle by the fire for s'mores.

IMG 1786 And some LED light-painting.

IMG 1791

IMG 1792

IMG 1793

Then, because it is Fourth of July, we bring out the sparklers.

IMG 1795


P1050698 2

Day Three - We Get Down to Business

2012 Session 1 - JuniorsgeverComment

Not getting the lumber we need for the day's project out of the forest last night is what one might consider a "major setback." We discussed the possibility of going back to the forest for another try, but that went over like a lead balloon. Our fallback is to head back to Tinkering School HQ at Gever's house and recover eucalyptus poles that were used in previous camp sessions. That sounded pretty good to the tinkerers, so instead of moping around because we didn't have the right supplies, we loaded up and headed out. P1050421

At Gever's house, we hitched up the old flatbed trailer and let the kids ride while he got it positioned for loading.We are going to build houses (and possibly a fort) that straddle the little creek that runs along Elkus Ranch. There is a collective sense that the yellow-jacket incident has set us back about half a day. It's definitely time to get started.


Blake makes a survey of the stream where the Piki team intends to build a house big enough for them all to sleep in. It's ambitious, and a little risky - if they roll out of their house in the night, they are going right in the water...

IMG 1260 Of course, on the way back up to the barn for the design phase, we have to check in with the goats.

IMG 1285 Gever helps the tinkerers figure out where they are going to build. It looks like the Piki team is going to be far enough away from the Nooi and the Kablooi that they may need to build a telephone system - yay!

IMG 1289 Then, it's back down to the creek to start building.

IMG 1294 Gretchen, Chane, Connor, and Hayden (also known as the Nooi) decide to take some more precise measurements before they start picking and cutting poles.

IMG 1301 The pole picking process goes quickly - everyone is eager to get started.

IMG 1306

Everyone seems to think that big thick poles are better until Gever asks Connor to help demonstrate how strong the thinnest pole is.

IMG 1311

Josie and Theo (of the Piki) test the strength of their thinnest pole as well. "You've invented a ride," observes Hanna.

P1050429 Back downstream on the creek, Josie, Sophia, Blake, Ana, and Theo set about building their mansion. Gever tries to make a clever joke about Frank Lloyd Wright and Falling Water but the Piki are too busy with their project now to respond.

P1050433 The Piki head back to get some more tools.

P1050435 Portait of a Tinkerer: Hayden uses the opportunity to remove a sticker from his sock to watch a spider, look at a tree, and talk about buildings with Gever.

P1050444 Gever goes over some important elements of structural engineering for the teams. He certainly does love to draw diagrams of pole houses.

P1050464 Some quick models are made to explore possible solutions to the challenges posed by our limited materials; poles and pallets.

P1050470 The trip back and forth between the barn and the creek is just a little too long to walk regularly. Luckily, there is a long-standing tradition of riding on the running-boards of the big truck and what might otherwise have been a tedious undertaking is now a fun part of the day.


Portrait of a Tinkerer: Lauren takes to the running boards with grace and style.

P1050478 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Gretchen finds great joy in the slow ride down the hill to the creek.

P1050481 Ana and Theo get the Piki "foundation" in place.

P1050484 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Sophia thinks that the creek is a pretty nice place to be.

Note from the editor: some logistical issues prevented us from getting good photos of every team today. Not to worry though, we are committed to balanced coverage and we'll see more the Nooi and the Kablooi tomorrow.

Day Two - We Get Into a Spot of Bother

2012 Session 1 - Juniorsgever2 Comments

It was a foggy morning. A very foggy morning. We almost didn't leave the house. But if we hadn't left, we never would have had the adventures we had - and if we had known what we were in for, we probably would have stayed home. IMG 0812 We arrived at the beach under thick overcast and occasional wisps of ground fog. Sophia wondered what manner of day this would be.IMG 0824 Like a scene from an Edward Gorey book, we trudged out onto the wild beach.

IMG 0833 Hayden was very unsure about the need for a handsaw at the beach, but seemed happy to have it nonetheless.

IMG 0849 Then the tinkerers realized just what manner of beach we had arrived at - one literally covered with driftwood!

IMG 0895 Jared decides to work on an "unfinished" fort. Who would leave the thing half-built?

IMG 0897 It turns out that having a saw at a beach that is covered with wood is very fine thing indeed. Lauren cannot resist the urge to shorten a long log.

IMG 0900 The sea-serpent sculpture grows rapidly as Sophia and Gretchen add perfect sticks from all over the beach.

IMG 0906 Alonzo works on the new clubhouse from the inside.

IMG 0918 This place needs a bar you can swing on, and Blake has a plan.

IMG 0919 It works!

IMG 0938 Whittling is a traditional activity at Tinkering School, and any time you need to take a whittling break you can. Connor seems to be getting the knack.

IMG 0947 Sophia and Josie discover some "fairly fresh" sea palm that they think might be great as spines on the sea serpent.

IMG 0957 Chane and Gretchen take a break in the serpent's gaping mouth.

IMG 0966 Sophia and Josie have joined the mining operation, and are so engrossed that Ana has to bring them their lunches.

IMG 0983 Hayden relaxes under the driftwood canopy that he helped assemble.

IMG 1026 The new Surf Simulator quickly becomes a favorite.

IMG 1030 The bar is now open at the Smoking Tiger club. Bartender Alonzo is mixing up delicious tangerine halves.

IMG 1032 That's a hand-carved bar-top thanks to the ever-industrious Blake and his handy hand-saw.

The plan for the day was to pick up some building supplies on the way home from the beach... little did we know what was waiting for us in the forest.

IMG 1050 As is our habit at Tinkering School these days, if we need wood, we go out and cut it ourselves. A local grove of eucalyptus trees seems to provide and endless supply of saplings and Connor sets himself to fell one.

IMG 1063 Timber!

IMG 1066 Trees that are felled have to be cut up into lengths that we can carry on the truck. Josie cuts one down to size.

This was our last happy moment in the woods, because just moments later we were set upon by yellow jackets. "Back to the cars!" yelled Gever, "No questions, just GO!"

Gever took the brunt of the assault as he helped get the kids into the truck and pulled the vicious insects off the tinkerers. With 7 stings, he got to eat the most cake after dinner, Sophia and Lauren each got a sting as well, and Hayden narrowly avoided getting stung on the knee, but Gever grabbed the angry yellow jacket before it could sting him.

IMG 1090 While Gever and the dinner crew got things going in the kitchen, some of the tinkerers went up to the barn to work on the "secrect" go-cart project.

IMG 1093 Missy (not her real name) keeps a wary eye on the go-cart builders.

IMG 1104 Brave test-pilots try out the finicky vehicle, both off-road...

IMG 1107 ...and on.

IMG 1111 Hayden tries out the Flintstone-style brakes.

IMG 1115 "Jared did awesome!" said Hayden.

Day One - Fooling Around, With a Purpose

2012 Session 1 - Juniorsgever2 Comments

It is the first day of Tinkering School. We are back from a one-year hiatus - taken to get Brightworks up and running - and it feels like we never left. The barn, the farm, the ranch house - it is all just the way I and the other collaborators who have been here before remember it. It's us who have changed. We start the afternoon with a simple project working with wire. Every session starts like this, simple projects that engage everyone's hands so that we can all get used to each other's company. A knitting circle where the conversation roams freely while we work to shape something new out of simple materials.

B IMG 0661 B

We quickly learn Josie's look of concentration.B IMG 0671 B Connor sets himself to the task.

B IMG 0676 B Lauren works out the kinks in a newly fashioned spiral.

B IMG 0698 B Alonzo finds the process engaging, but manages to keep up a steady stream of very witty banter.

B IMG 0703 B Changing to a new medium, Connor his efforts into shaping a very fine stick.

B IMG 0706 B Not realizing what a source of great non-sequiturs it would lead to, Gretchen sets about making a model of her brother Sam's head. When the wire proves difficult to cut, she asks me "Would you cut Sam's eye out?" From there it just goes from disturbing to ridiculous in short order.

B IMG 0719 B It is a great source of joy for Connor to know that it's pretty much ok to climb on anything at the farm.

B IMG 0732 B The goats, as ever, continue to be a great source of amusement for everyone.

B IMG 0743 B They even pause for portraits.

B IMG 0751 B Gever goes over the basic rules of Tinkering School.

B IMG 0755 B New friends Ana and Josie.

B IMG 0756 B Jared soon discovers that the wire does not always do exactly what you ask it to.

B IMG 0759 B Concentration turns to exertion as Lauren applies herself to cutting the wire, squeezing until her elbows shake.

B IMG 0761 B The thing about Blake's constructions is that he understands exactly what he is making, even if those around him cannot suss it out.

B IMG 0772 B Jared teaches Alonzo how to fold the napkin in a fancy way around the silverware.

B IMG 0799 B After dinner, Gever explains just how big the project for Monday is, and then shows the tinkerers examples of Andy Goldsworthy's work to help them understand what is possible with simple materials.

Every week of Tinkering School starts with a hypothesis, a question that we ask and attempt to answer in some way. Tomorrow we are asking if tinkerers can be as engaged building something with an aesthetic intent as they are when building a vehicle. It seems odd that we have never tried this before.

Tinkering School is a trademark registered in the US Patent and Trademark Office.