Superior MakerFest builds connections

HOUGHTON — The sound of drills filled the air as families got hands-on experience in building at the inaugural Superior MakerFest at Houghton High School Saturday.

Despite a snowstorm that continued up through the start of the event, the space was packed with people for much of the afternoon, said Jason Mack of Superior Fab Lab, a nonprofit makerspace that organized the event.

“We’re just very pleased all around with the turnout, the interest, and really the feedback we’ve already gotten from those who came and what we want to do moving forward in the future,” he said.

The event put a spotlight on people in the community making things in a variety of media, and gave the general public plenty of chances to join in.

For its first year, the MakerFest was organized around the theme of “The Elements of Making,” highlighting innovations built from wood, metal, plastic, textiles, and electronics.

Numerous vendors displayed handmade goods. Presenters also taught skills ranging from blacksmithing to home-brewing kombucha, or on intangibles such as how to learn from failure.

Attendees got to put those lessons into practice. At one table, people built birdfeeders from a kit combining plastics, wood, rope and metal. Chris Woodry bought the materials for the kits, which he modeled on the ones he would assemble from Home Depot when he was a kid.

People of all experience levels were stopping by, from kids trying out their first birdhouse to builders who took the template in their own direction.

“We’re here to encourage creativity,” Woodry said. “So you want to spend some time and fumble the pieces together and try to wing it with something your own, by all means. It’s awesome.”

Dennis Livesay would agree. The Michigan Technological University College of Computing dean displayed several elaborate Lego buildings, most of which are part of a 100-square-foot Lego city he’s built.

“It’s not cheap,” he said. “But as I tell my wife, it’s cheaper than therapy.”

After a childhood love of Legos, he entered what the Lego community calls the “dark ages,” setting the hobby aside when he got “too cool” for it. He started getting back into it in grad school, and has been building his collection anew since 2007.

He absorbed a love of architecture growing up in Columbus, Indiana, which despite its small size is known as an architectural hotbed. And after he moved from research into an administrative role, Legos let Livesay have a creative outlet.

While they’re all real Lego pieces, he goes beyond stock designs.

In one of the buildings he brought Saturday, he’s bought sets to make a Lego window larger and more detailed. For another one next to it, he redesigned the Gothic roof to something with a more Parisian feel.

Livesay also uses Legos to tell stories. He lifted the roof off of a sushi restaurant to show the Lego rolls, a busy staff, and a first-time sushi eater with a look of surprise frozen on his face.

“The kids love it,” he said, pointing to a crowd of kids that were inspecting the buildings. “The adults, they might look at it and say, ‘Oh, that’s cute.’ And then they get in, they start seeing the details and some of the storytelling.”

At the Build It! Station, people could see up close how PCs or chainsaw engines come together — or apart.

“They get to pick whichever one, and then we show them how it works,” said Justin Rish.

It typically took about 15 minutes, Rish said. While most people had some knowledge of internal-combustion engines, many people were learning about the functions of their components, like carburetors, he said.

Rish said people appreciated getting to see how things work.

“It’s not something you get to see very often,” he said.

In the maker competition, people entered homemade projects in wood, metal, plastics, textiles and electronics.

The winner in metal was Brian Eggart, who built a mountain bike frame for his son. He’s started selling frames in the past year through his company Equinox Bicycleworks.

He got started a couple of years ago after taking a framebuilding class in Utah. The actual building is done over a week. A straightforward design takes a couple of hours; his has usually added some unique feature that pushes the design phase to two weeks.

For Eggart’s bike, it was 26-inch wheels — bigger than would be on a bike he could buy for his son, who was only 4 feet tall when he built it.

“That means he can go faster and have a smoother ride on the rough stuff, go out and have fun,” he said.

Traci Webb of Houghton brought her children after they’d learned about the event at school.

They enjoyed the FIRST Robotics demonstrations, and learning how to take apart a chainsaw engine, she said.

“I think it’s good for them to see that other people are interested in the same things that they are, and there’s communities of practice out there for different hobbies,” she said. “And just generally to be inspired.”

After the positive feedback they’d already gotten, “we’re going to have to do this again,” Mack said.


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