Tinkering School

come make amazing things with us

2016 Session A - Juniors

Session A: Day 7 - Something to Smile About

2016 Session A - JuniorsCaroline MartinComment

When we arrived a week ago, we were greeted by an empty field and a task: create a train that will take people and supplies into the yet-to-be-built Tinker City. It seemed daunting. Most of us didn't even know how to use the tools that would be required for such an endeavor. But over the course of the week, we learned, built, tested, failed, learned, built again, and kept trying. We looked up and, suddenly, we had an elevated train moving between two stations, filled with screaming and giggling tinkerers. It seemed like magic, but we all know there's no magic sauce here at Tinkering School, just more hard work. The results of our hard work make us very happy.

We wake up, a little sad that this is our final day at camp. Milo sits on one of the benches outside the conference center and reflects on the week.

 Thankfully, a kind friend brings us bagels and a puppy! Just the thing to cheer us up. Collaborator Rhody is especially thankful for this furry friend.

Thanks Iggy!!

skonk - 10.jpg

After breakfast, tinkerers get a little meta with the blog.

It's time to pack up and clean up before families arrive. Junior Collaborator Gilon assists with the yurt cleaning. 

Now that that's all out of the way, we can have some fun. Che/Ultimate Warrior/Kid is the first to lead us into it.

We take turns getting pushed by Conductor Gever while we wait for families, making sure the train is still as fun as we remember it being.

And it most certainly is.

We can't wait to show off our hard work to our families, and they're just as eager to test it out for themselves.

skonk - 34.jpg

Even the adults get in on the fun.

And we show off our sky bench, and the wonderful view it provides. 

Everyone's having a blast, and what's not to be happy about?

Happy reunions include showing off our side projects. Raquel made a pair of stilts, and she makes it all the way from Terminus to Midway and back, with a little bit of assistance.

After all the safe rides have been had, we start to get a little silly...

Should we go faster? Gever and Julie say yes. 

Faster, it is! Collaborator Caroline rushes the Tinker Express back to Terminus Station.

Gever decides to attempt the first ever train hop. We all cheer him on, confident in our design and testing. Ready, steady...

Go! Milo as copilot holds tight while Gever makes the jump... 

Success! The crowd goes wild as they roll on down to Midway. 

Down at Midway, after a full morning of perfecting the technique, Collaborator Kevin has her catch-and-release form down.


After most of the families have left, the collaborators get a little more daring. How fast can we go? Gever and Gilon decide to put some extra pepper on this one. Gilon zooms down the track, gleeful to find that the cart and tracks built by 9-year-olds can really fly.

We all hear a crash and rush down to Midway Station. The catchers at Midway couldn't stop him before he hit the emergency bumper at the end, and we find out that our emergency bumper maybe needs a little bit of work.

We're happy to have finally caused a failure on the impressively strong system, and glad that no one was hurt in the process. We decommission the train for later reconstruction. 

The collaborators take a moment to pose for their adoring fans.

After all the tinkerers have said their goodbyes and "see you next year"s, Elkus Ranch is strangely quiet. No power tools whirring, no hollering from the parking lot from chaos tag, no thuds of chance cubes deciding fates. The train sits motionless on the track. 

We imagine everyone is still smiling from their car rides back to their homes, while collaborators are smiling as they finish up the last jobs at Elkus. It was a magnificent week. 

This week was most campers' first time at a Tinkering School camp, so there's a chance they weren't aware of just how amazing their feat was. This was a huge undertaking, and all of the adults involved were blown away by the dedication, innovation, and hard work that everyone put in to make this grand vision an even grander reality.

I had a parent ask me, quietly, "So, how much of this did the kids actually build?" I grinned, and responded, "All of it. The collaborators (adults) just helped." And it's true. The campers this week drove all the ideas and decisions, as well as the saws and screws into wood (unless height was an issue). 

We're so excited to have had such a perfect start to the summer. Our train has reached our new town, and for the next seven weeks, we will build off of this great momentum to create Tinker City. Stay tuned next week!

Blog written by Caroline.

Session A: Day 3 - The Dawn of the Industrial Revolution

2016 Session A - JuniorsGever2 Comments

Steam changed the face of the planet when it powered the massive and pervasive expansion of the rail system. But we have forgotten the early pioneers and the experiments they must have struggled through as they looked to the horizon and imagined what could be. Our progress yesterday set us up for today by showing us what our future held, little did we know just how hard we were going to have to work to get there. This is our reality; we have set our sights on a very far horizon.

Let's look at a problem with a tiny table instead. Each piece of wood matters, so what, pray tell, is the purpose of these two blocks on the bottom of your table that are getting in the way of where you want to make legs... and not holding the tabletop together? "Uhm...", says Lauren.

nep - 5.jpg

With her sights on the big picture, Onion (aka Gwendolyn; she has many layers) gets to work on the local station platform.

Details matter, and we all like to look at, touch, and spin the train wheels. Is it the complimentary colors? The relationship of the materials? The exuberant eyebolts?

We often catch Milo just as it seems he's about to say something really dramatic. He came to us from the vast deserts of Mexico, and that desert with its endless sky came with him. Where is my horse, my ship, my train?

Harrison is our secret agent. He knows what's going on. And just when we think he doesn't, we find him toiling away on something he noticed needed doing.

Yesterday, PK (aka Lauren the Junior Collaborator) taught Che how to do the Dragon shadow puppet and he's been obsessed ever since.

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Xavier ponders. 

Kieran decided the round plywood piece just had to be a table. So he enlisted Collaborator Kevin to help him make it happen. 

Tables have become a trend. Anya and Raquel are proud of the table they've built. Proud enough to share it with their yurtmates. 

Or to rest their weary heads on. Working on a train-line is tiring!

A view of our home for the summer, from the doorstep of a yurt. 

nep - 48.jpg

The train car team decides its time for another rail alignment test. With some teamwork, they flip the car over. 

Gever and Michaela take a minute to discuss the height of the Midway Station. It's all about the hats, really. 

"I'm just here to pull them out of the wood when the drills get stuck," says Miles. Walker and Harrison tag-team the balusters on the cart sides. 

nep - 55.jpg

This is why you cut a porthole in a woodshop. 

We call this the paracord trick- place a small screw, sticking out just a little, centered on each end of a joist, then run a piece of paracord across the deck and tighten it, and now you've got a line to drill along. Bonus, it comes in pretty shades of pink. 

Raquel and Anya - camp buddies. 

The Japanese Pull-Saw is a camp favorite, particularly useful for modifying the things we build after they've been constructed. Walker and Miles have decided they no longer want this board sticking up here. 

Our supply wagon - water bottles, 5 gallon bucket of sunscreen, water tank for on-site refills, and boombox. Our survival kit for the sunny, hot days out at camp. 

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Gwendolyn at work in the field of dreams.

And after the liberal application of Pull-Saw, some sanding. 

Looks like it's time for one of those chats with Gever. 

nep - 89.jpg

After lunch, a spontaneous cluster of chair builders emerges. They convene to make something that, while not quite stable, seems to be a cross between a giraffe and a throne. 

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Kieran at rest. 

nep - 93.jpg

The dynamic duo - Gwendolyn and PK craft the Terminus Station platform. 

We enjoy the constant companionship of a thousand little green beetles, which come and go throughout the day. 

nep - 98.jpg

Lauren learns the most important knot at Tinkering School - for (good) reasons, Gever is obsessed with this, the figure-of-eight. Just ask him sometime, he'll go on and on.

Hair study #1 (kids are practicing shooting from the hip the way Gever does).

nep - 101.jpg

Harrison is already thinking about how high up the track is going to be as it crosses the lowest point of the path.

nep - 105.jpg

We all voted, and Miles gets the "Worked with Every Kid" award for the day. Here he's helping Onion figure out how to cut a wedge to fill the gap between two track segments.

nep - 106.jpg

There are some arcane markings on the tubs we use for screw management at the build site.

nep - 107.jpg

Hair study #2

nep - 113.jpg

Portrait of a Collaborator: it's Kevin!

Hair study #3

nep - 114.jpg

Portrait of a Junior Collaborator: Gilon in his natural environment, the shop.

nep - 120.jpg

Two of our hardest workers take a break; PK does a French braid for Raquel.

nep - 125.jpg

The track is going to be pretty high right about where we've put that giant stake. Looks like we'll have to use the water-level to figure out just how high exactly so we can get the Midway Station platform up on stilts.

nep - 127.jpg

And... we'll need some more stakes since the water-level is only 20 feet long and we're laying 100 feet of track.

nep - 129.jpg

Pounding an eight foot stake into the ground turns out to be complicated but kinda fun.

nep - 131.jpg

So everyone wants to take a whack at it.

nep - 132.jpg


nep - 134.jpg

Gever and Anya figure out how to read and use this water-level. It's oddly unpredictable.

nep - 138.jpg

But now it is time to test the train on the new segments of rail. First, fit it to the track and align the guide-wheels.

nep - 140.jpg

Test Run #1 - As the smallest of our tinkerers, per Tinkering School tradition, pushes the empty train along the rails to see what happens. The cart creaks like a wooden ship on its maiden voyage.

Test Run #2 - Raquel, our second smallest, climbs aboard for our first passenger test.

nep - 143.jpg

Everyone is suitably nervous and excited.

nep - 144.jpg

The third run consists of loading up with three passengers, and as the station fills up with excited onlookers, a loud snap is heard. We rush to investigate; forensic analysis reveals that we have overloaded the joist that supported the station landing. A few blocks of wood are sufficient to let testing continue, but we'll definitely be re-building part of this deck.

There's a lot of excitement to continue the testing and the next round has to be settled by Roshambo, another Tinkering School tradition whenever there is a limited resource and high demand.

nep - 147.jpg

With the passenger manifest settled, the Tinker Express is off and rolling again! 

nep - 153.jpg

Every trip has some new thrill as parts of the train and track undergo stress testing and fail in interesting new ways.

nep - 156.jpg

It's a fairly graceful degradation of functionality as the train kind of settles down on to the track and stops moving. An investigation reveals that the guide wheels have allowed the load-bearing wheels to slowly drift off of the track.

nep - 157.jpg

With so much new information and ideas about how to fix things, we have to practically push the kids out of the shop and up the hill to dinner. It's been a really productive day. Tomorrow is beach day, and as much as they are excited to go, some tinkerers are reluctant to pause the project for even a day.

Today's post co-written by Serena and Gever - yay!

Session A: Day 2 - The Field of Dreams

2016 Session A - JuniorsGever4 Comments

Is there anything more evocative than being presented with an empty field and a giant pile of lumber? This summer, we are trying something new; for the first time in eleven years of Tinkering School, each week of the summer will build upon the work of the previous tinkerers. In this empty field surrounded by bramble and poison oak, we will build Tinker City!

Tinker City has been decomposed into four projects to start with, all of which have more to do with getting to the city than the city itself; Train Station, Elevated Track, Train, and the Midway Station. Here, Caroline, Michaela, Lauren, and Miles are thinking through the design of the Midway Station.

Milo, Gwendolyn (aka Onion), and Collaborator Rhody are working on the Train Station design. This station is at the workshop end of the line and will allow us to get to Tinker City without walking through the grass along the rutted road while carrying building materials.

How wide should the train be? As wide as an adult butt. How wide is that? Gwendolyn decides to find out scientifically.

Having built a couple of rollercoasters, Gever is enlisted as a consultant on the track design. As usual, "there are a couple of ways to do this..."

Xavier finds just the thing for the first iteration of the train in the bin of skateboard wheels.

It doesn't take long before cutting wood on the chop saw is just another thing they do. The tools are becoming more interesting because they move the project along.

Everyone has a different style. Che's is off-the-shoulder. 

The train team makes rapid progress - Harrison uses his new skills to frame up the passenger compartment. 

Drill we must. 

Gwen tackles a a large scale leveling project, in preparation for building the train station. 

Maybe it isn't just off-the-shoulder. Maybe Che's style is just off. Style evolves, right? 

Headphones crawling up the corner post of our beautiful new shop. 

snoot - 35.jpg

A place for everything, and everything in it's place. Our new tool wall has most anything a would-be tinkerer could need for projects of any sort. 

And shelves. Brimming with parts for our tinkerers to grab hold of and transform. Hinges, bolts, pulleys, carabiners, wheels, para- and bungie-cord, and tiny bubble levels. 

And a drill press with a view? 

"Every screw in the grass is a dead baby goat." With this discussion, and a round of sunscreen for all, our afternoon begins. 

Miles and Milo discuss mounting the axle for the load bearing skateboard wheel. 

Xavier and Che test out the drills on small scrap wood. 

With the minimum viable chassis assembled, and the first track segment complete, we set-up for the first trial run ... 

And our first failure! Forensic analysis reveals that the cart has no reason to stay on the track. We also discover that the track itself isn't quite as square as it needs to be.  

Back at Midway Station, there's steady progress. Lauren, Collaborator Caroline, and Michaela make a strong team.

snoot - 51.jpg

The world's biggest nose clamp. Tools are meant to be used. 

It's all in the details. After squaring up the track, the train car glides.  

Just checking in with Che - still no shirt. 

The train begins to sprout guide wheels. They grow naturally in this bright pink shade. 

Wait, there's someone tied to the tracks! 

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Raquel is happy to be here. 

A Tinkerer in his Environment: Xavier pauses for the camera on his way into the shop for some post-dinner build time.  

A Tinkerer in her Environment: Michaela drills and clamps on the shop floor, working to help out other project teams.  

snoot - 74.jpg

Progress close up: guide wheels on; train car solidly together. (Caroline swears this is a syntactically sound sentence structure).

Throughout today, we've made progress. Tinkerers have had the opportunity to turn tool training into action. The project is shaping up - we're starting to be able to imagine just what our train might look like. In our dreams, the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place. Walker and Evan glimpse what is to come .... 

Tonight's blog written by Serena, Gever, and the peanut gallery.

Session A: Day 1 - It's Good To Be Home

2016 Session A - JuniorsGever4 Comments

It's good to be back at Elkus - setting up in our new home. Miles, one of our collaborators, happy to see the work of the last couple weeks paying off. now that camp is (mostly) set-up.

boop - 1.jpg

We're excited to have our first campers of the summer arrive - and they're excited to start. Name badges are made, and we circle up to discuss camp rules. 

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Evan's happy to be here, too. 

Milo, who's traveled to us from Mexico, has settled right in. 

It wouldn't be a Tinkering School day without getting our hands on the tools- and thus, tool training begins. Caroline, a collaborator, explains the importance of safety googles. 

boop - 15.jpg

Each Tinkerer has the chance to try there hand at one of our favorite tools - the chop saw!

boop - 10.jpg

And what would home be without a mouth-watering dinner? On the menu tonight - chicken, salad, and potatoes.  

More smiles from us tomorrow - we have our big project reveal, and our first full day of tinkering to look forward to!  (ghostwritten by Serena)

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