On Saturday I was invited along to Maker faire Newcastle. This was my first ever and as a newbie (or should that be N00b) I had pretty much no idea of what to expect. For other uninitiated people who aren’t sure what a makers faire is the website pegs it as ‘the greatest show (and tell) on earth’ and that’s a pretty accurate description. A Makers faire is basically a room full of people who have made ‘stuff’ and wish to show off this ‘stuff’ to a larger audience. There is an emphasis on innovation, electronics and fun and there is a real mix of people exhibiting from suppliers to hack space groups, from crowd drawing celebrities to ‘garden shed’ tinkerers.

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After what seemed like an implausibly long journey we arrived at Newcastle Makers faire. The event itself was being held in the LIFE science centre which seemed like a building that was well worth a good look around but that I unfortunately didn’t see a huge amount of. Manchester Hacman (http://hacman.org.uk/) is a community run hack space filled with toys tools for you to play with use for serious projects. Despite having only attended twice the lovely folks invited me along and as they were situated right at the entrance I passed a happy few hours checking out what they had made.

They had a range of products including a cog clock where two massive cogs with number cut out rotated to tell the time, giant electronic magic 8 ball and an infinite mirror. However the real star of the show was a remote control ping pong ball robot. Controlled by an xbox remove the mini robot had a movable arm which could be used to scoop the pingpong balls into the cage on its back. It perfectly showcased the groups ability to come up with fun interactive creations which also showcased the groups 3d printing capabilities. It was rarely without a que of frustrated children and admiring adults! Unfortunately I totally forgot to take any photos of them so I will update when I get a chance to steal some another group member.

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These gorgeous paper pendants were made by a truly lovely lady called Jenny Dockett who had started making them to teach people about geometry. The larger ones had colour changing lights inside them and there was the opportunity to make your own mini one which I did with a degree of childlike wonder and glee that was unbefitting for someone my age. I expected them to be complex but actually they are simply made from circles of paper. The circle then has 4 or more sides creased up and glued together. Anticipating tricky angles and folds I was pleasantly surprised when she gave me a cardboard cut out shape. All you do is place the cardboard shape in the middle and fold the sides around it to give you the perfect angles. Simple but genius. Her website is well worth a visit to view her amazing creations. http://jennydockett.co.uk/

She also told me that Plato, when he wasn’t staring at cave walls and creating philosophical riddles, was mildly obsessed with geometric shapes. He believed that the cube represented Earth, the octahedron air, the icosahedron water and the tetrahedron fire. I created a dodecahedron which was apparently used by the god for arranging the constellations in the whole heaven.

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Other noteworthy attractions included this frankly terrifying knitting robot.

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This friendly purple junk robot…

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And slightly less friendly junk hand which picked up and smashed real cars to smithereens.

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Some gorgeous screen prints by Christopher Folwen at http://dabble-dabble.tumblr.com/

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And these stunning examples of 3D printing.

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The real star of this year though was laser cutters. There was barely a stand without some laser cut element – even the maker badges were laser cut out of MDF! Most of the laser cut stuff was incorporated into other creations but there was a whole table with laser cut components which allowed you to build your own items.

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I was particularly taken with the laser cut bike chain. Simple but smart!

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Without a doubt though the highlight of the event for me was meeting ‘Just Add Sharks’. I have been admiring their work for so long and when a little while ago they started selling lasers I decided to not buy a cheep imported one but to hold out and save up a bit of money to buy the model they recommended. After seeing their Blacknose machine I am 100% sure that is the right decision. This is a mind blowingly beautiful machine. Honestly I am so deeply in love with it that after a few minutes of me stroking its black metal exterior and making cooing noises they asked if I needed a few moment alone with it. I think they might have been a touch concerned when I asked if I could take a selfie with it though.

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Just to up the game a little bit they had made this genius little etch-a-sketch controller which meant you could directly control the axis. It was a huge hit (I had to wait five minutes to get a photo without someone’s hand fiddling with the knobs) and it solidified their laser-god status in my mind!image

I had a lovely conversation with  Dominic and Martin about cutting specs, difficulty with sourcing materials and the innate geekiness that we are all drawn to. It was truly the highlight of my visit and I even came away with one of their genius little marble machines. If you want one of your own they can be bought here: http://www.justaddsharks.co.uk/

I’m not going to lie, I loved the exhibits aimed at children and the profusion of laser cut items around but my understanding of electronics is extremely limited. Indeed I’m half convinced electricity is created by small wizards who reside in plug sockets and who are easily angered. I did have fun learning to solder an LED badge

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With such a huge focus on technology I felt like not understanding the technical genius and complexity behind some of the things people had created meant that I naturally gravitated to the things I did understand – making things and getting your hands messy! So would I recommend maker faires? Absolutely – in fact if you’re in Manchester in July come along to the mini makers faire here http://makerfairemanchester.com/ and join me for a cuppa and geek out!

Playtime at Newcastle Maker Faire.
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