New book ‘Tools’ shows how to cut, shape and assemble wood or plastic projects – #bookreview

Maker Media’s new book Tools is subtitled “How They Work and How to Use Them.” But the Tools title seems a little too broad for what is covered. Most of the tools described in the book’s pages are associated mainly with working with wood or ABS plastic, not with metal or other materials.

That is a minor criticism, however. The book is well written and nicely illustrated with photographs and other graphics that show how to use particular tools and how to avoid creating splits, ragged edges or bad cuts across wood grain.

Even readers who have some experience with do-it-yourself projects can learn some helpful techniques and information from this book. And younger readers who have grown up playing video games and tinkering with cell phone apps rather than making things may be able to learn many useful tool-handling skills from these pages.

Tools presents more than 20 “hands-on projects that don’t require a big investment in time and materials.” The projects range from puzzles and bookcases to picture frames and a Swanee whistle (a slide whistle from 19th century England), as well as an adjustable paper towel dispenser.

Meanwhile, the promise that you won’t need a workshop may be true, because “everything can be done on a kitchen table.” Yet, you might prefer to not risk a good kitchen table while learning tools and building things. One slip of a screwdriver, file or glue pot could permanently damage the table. As the book suggests, however, you can cover part of the kitchen table with a large piece of plywood or Masonite and use that as the work surface.

You start off slow, making a Soma cube puzzle with just a handsaw, a square dowel and some carpenter’s glue. In each chapter, new tools and new challenges are introduced, and the importance of having some mathematical skills quickly becomes apparent as measurements are taken, angles are marked, and various shapes are marked and cut from rectangular pieces of wood or plastic.

Beyond its nonspecific title, Tools nicely meets its goal of helping readers have fun while learning the fundamentals of using numerous workshop tools and materials.

Si Dunn

Tools

How They Work and How to Use Them

Charles Platt

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

 

 

 

 

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Step away from the ‘smartphone’ and try using your hands and mind to make something – #bookreview

The Make: Series of How-to Books

A British scientist made headlines a few years ago when she warned that young people no longer make or repair things. It has become all too easy for them now, she cautioned, to simply throw away old or broken devices and buy new ones.

A key point was that many things currently being discarded could be fixed or refurbished and put to new uses. It would just take a little effort, a little learning, and some imagination.

I ran into some of that “no longer make or repair things” attitude a few years ago while working temporarily as a substitute teacher. If you have ever been a substitute in a public high school or middle school, you likely know that students often view “subs” as an excuse to pay absolutely no attention to anything he or she says.

When I could get no interest or response to the day’s assigned work in a science class, I tried introducing a challenge: Imagine you have become stranded on a desert island in the Pacific Ocean, and you have just a few items with which to try to survive and attract the attention of a passing ship. The items ranged from coconuts and palm fronds to a pocket mirror, a small magnifying glass, a couple of cups, some string and a safety-pin.

I figured the kids might come up with some clever ways to (1) crack open the coconuts for food and liquid, (2) start a fire using a magnifying glass and dried palm fronds, (3) use the string and safety-pin to catch a fish to cook over the fire, (4) use the cups to boil seawater and capture the steam to make a little drinking water, and (5) prepare a separate pile of palm fronds to burn as a rescue signal to a passing ship.

Ha. At first, the students seemed intrigued and engaged by the challenge. They immediately started calling out survival “strategies.” Unfortunately, most of their ideas started with two concepts: “First, I’d go to the mall and buy…” or “First, I’d go online and buy….”

The reality of being stranded in isolation without immediate communication did not even register with them at first. When they did begin to try to imagine surviving without their smartphones, they quickly ran out of ideas and became sullen or antagonistic toward me.

This experience also became the straw that finally broke the back of my desire to continue as a substitute teacher. I had grown up at a time when making, tinkering, building, and repairing all were noble pursuits for a teenager interested in science, electronics, space and engineering. If I wanted a shortwave radio or a new type of model airplane or a small rocket I could launch in my back yard, I built them from scratch or combined pieces of previous projects. None of this experience registered with my students. And my next attempts to stir up enthusiasm for making and repairing things similarly fell flat.

Make It So?

Do you worry that your kids are growing up not knowing how to make things or fix things? Do you fret that you no longer remember how to make things or fix things?

Working with your hands, eyes and brain – and not just mindlessly swiping an index finger across a tiny screen – can be both physically and mentally rewarding.

Of course, the web is alive with “how to” information for making or repairing almost anything. And I make occasional pilgrimages to public libraries and bookstores to find reference materials and instruction books related to specific projects.

I am an unabashed fan of the “Make:” series of books from Maker Media. I don’t build all of their projects, but I do try out some of them. And I enjoy reading about zany, yet sometimes practical, stuff such as (1) how to use a magnet to tell if money is counterfeit, (2) how to create artwork that actually does something, using just a handful of electronic components, (3) how to generate electric power with several lemons connected in series, or (4) how to make some really good paper airplanes and paper helicopters. The “Make:” books consistently feature clear, well-organized instructional text, illustrations and photographs of how things go together.

Books such as Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff (2nd edition), Easy 1+2+3 Projects, and Planes, Gliders, and Paper Rockets can appeal to parents and children who are in elementary school or older. For older kids and their parents, or for would-be engineers, Make: books such as Bluetooth, Getting Started with Intel Edison, and 3D Printing Projects can be helpful and enlightening how-to guides. Books on numerous other topics also are offered.

Do your kids (and/or you) seem unhealthily addicted now to clutching and staring at smartphones all day? You may want to try putting the devices aside and seeing what you can create with your hands, your mind, some household materials and a few readily available gadgets that don’t require pricey data plans and contracts.

You can do it! Power off now! (Okay, for just a few minutes at first if you insist and if you have a really bad case of smartphone withdrawal.)

— Si Dunn

Beautiful LEGO – Photos and insights from some of the LEGO world’s top artists – #bookreview

Beautiful LEGO

Mike Doyle
(No Starch Press – paperback, Kindle)

Wow! That’s one of the best words to describe the snap-together works of art that can be created using LEGO plastic bricks. Mike Doyle’s excellent new LEGO art book offers some 400 color pictures of everything from a rotary-dial telephone to a Thanksgiving turkey, plus robots, space weapons and a magnificent, futuristic city, constructed by some of the world’s top artists in the LEGO building community. (LEGO®, incidentally, is a trademark of the LEGO Group.)

In his book, Doyle asks several of his fellow artists a key question–Why LEGO?–and gets an intriguing array of answers and insights to accompany the photographs of their creations. Doyle himself says: “It is a medium that offers instant gratification. No matter how large a project is, at the end of the day, I can look at the section I’ve built in its finished state. LEGO is a one-step process; there’s no gluey mess, sanding, or painting to worry about. I just build. This gives me the opportunity, after each session, to assess visually how the piece is working as a whole.”

His book’s eye-catching cover shows a six-foot-tall model titled “Contact,” a movie-like cityscape that took Doyle some 600 hours and 200,000 LEGO bricks to assemble.

Another artist, Arthur Gugick, explains how he constructs LEGO models of landmark buildings such as Big Ben, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat and Notre Dame, after determining the proper scale for each structure. “It often depends upon the scale of a particular element,” he says. “The White House’s scale depended on the scale of the windows. Notre Dame’s scale depended on the scale of the buttresses.” Gugick sometimes has to resort to mathematics and even to writing software while creating his models. “The Roman Coliseum is an ellipse with a width-to-length ratio of 6:7. There is no formula for the circumference of an ellipse like there is for a circle,” he notes. “To find the circumference, I use the arc length formula from calculus. The Dome of the Rock,” he adds, “required a bit of trigonometry. To build the dome accurately, I wrote some software that easily allowed me to build any dome shape.”

Beautiful LEGO is, indeed, a beautiful book, one that will give fans of the plastic bricks many ideas for future projects–and no doubt a few bouts of artistic envy to accompany the inspirations.

Si Dunn