Author Spotlight: TinkeringProductions



If you have ever wondered how to make your own onion powder, or Canadian Fire (or were just wondering what it is!), you may have stumbled across the profile of TinkeringProductions. I recently got to ask him questions about his start on Instructables, his very interesting day job, and exciting upcoming projects!

When did you first start making things? What was your first project?

I was lucky growing up my mother, Instructables user joppenheimer, was an art teacher and my father was a scientist. They were very supportive of me and my brothers creative endeavors. Most of my early projects were done with cardboard. I can still remember loving rainy days as my brother and I would build small boats/rafts out of the recycling for what we called “Gutter Regatta”. Once we both had our own fleet of trash vessels (some more seaworthy than others) we would don our rain gear. My father would go down to the finish line just in front of the storm drain and we would race our boats chasing after them in the water of the gutter while my father waited to snatch them up before they were swallowed by the storm drain. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of these regattas and to this day I believe they are one of the reasons I love rainy weather.

How did you find Instructables and what made you start posting projects?

I think I found Instructables through the Makezine blog. It was back when Instructables was still a part of Squid Labs in Emeryville before they moved to Alameda. I spent about a year or two lurking on the site when I got a random email inviting me out on the trimaran (of free yacht chapter 7 fame). I think Tim just sent a blast out to all the Instructables members inviting them down. Needless to say I took him up on the offer for a free boat ride around the bay. It was a great day ending back at someone's house for French toast made with dumpster dived bread and banjo music. At this point Instructables HQ had moved to Alameda and I arranged to come down and help with some projects Tim had going on.

I helped with re-skinning the cozy boat, repairing his rear bumper, truck rack and a few other small projects. While rebuilding the truck rack I could not find a center punch for marking where we wanted to drill on the metal. I grabbed a screw and was using that instead. Tim said I should make an Instructable of it so I did, and that is how I got started posting projects.

Of the projects that you have posted on Instructables, what has been your favorite project and why?

Looking back at the projects I have posted I would have to say it was the Arnold Palmer Sorbet. I would say this is my favorite because I love Arnold Palmers almost as much as I love cheese. (I mean isn’t cheese the best? From cheese curds to baked bries, I don’t think there is a better category of food than cheese but I digress.) I think the beta testing of the recipes was great. I spent weeks eating variations before achieving the final result. I tried layering vs. combining, different black teas, making two different sorbets and serving them side by side, and finally I settled on the combining. In the end I had a great excuse to eat lots of tasty sorbet during a rather hot fall in Austin, Tx.

On the other hand, are there any projects you've made that will never see the light of Instructables?

There are a bunch of projects that will sadly never be an Instructable mainly because I forgot to take photos. Sometimes when I am making things the world seems to fall away and by the time I come back to it I have done to many things between photos. A perfect example is when I made "Killbot" my junk metal sculpture in the winter in Wisconsin. I was using a>stick welder I made out of old microwaves and I had the garage door open for ventilation. Next thing I knew, I had a junk metal robot and mild hypothermia.

"Killbot" made out of junk metal.

I was living in Wisconsin with my awesome partner and sometimes project photographer Instructables user, VHX. This was right after the bottom dropped out of the economy in 2008 and all the theatre work dried up and I was lucky/unfortunate enough to get a job working as an express claims processor for a major insurance company. This was my first and only “real” job with a desk and a cubical and everything that goes with working in a call center. This job gave birth to one of my most prolific project making times. I made the Hamsternator, a circuit bent singing hamster that was powered by my computer's USB cables. A pocket lawn which was a plastic case I made using a trash vacuum former and gallon milk jugs that fit in my pocket. I grew wheat grass in it and would trim it for snack time. Really anything to make my time at my cube less mind numbing.

Your profile says you are a "theatrical electrician/lighting designer" which sounds like a pretty cool job! Can you tell explain a little bit about what that entails?

Yeah I totally can. If you have ever been to a theatre or a big rock concert you have seen the lighting, whether it be naturalistic interior lighting or the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am of Spider Man the Musical. These shows big and small take a small army to setup and teardown.

When I am working as an electrician, my job is to help set up and implement the designer's vision. I even helped build the control systems for the pneumatic cannons for the 2010 Vancouver winter Olympics. I was on the team that helped make the whale spouts that shot up from the floor. Sometimes it is just glorified running of extension cords but it is always a puzzle and always hard work.

When I am working as a designer, I work with the director and the other members of the design/production team to support the directors vision for their show. Ahead of time I pick what type of lighting fixtures, where they hang, how they point, and what color they are. Then I draft out a lighting plot and paperwork to hand to my electricians so they can implement my design in the space. Then we get into tech week which is a brutal week made up of 14+ hour days coming in to tweak design elements before the actors arrive. Once actors arrive, I work on programing lighting levels into a computerized console so they can be played back every time the show runs. I have designed shows with as few as six lights and as many as 200. So when I am programing the lighting looks there is a lot to keep track of.

What has drawn me to theatrical lighting is the combination of both art and science. You have to know about color temperature, beam angles, P=IE, and a bunch of other technical things. Then you make a piece of collaborative art that is transitory in nature. It is experienced by audiences for three to five weeks and then we take it down, never to be done the same exact way ever again.

You have posted so many different types of projects from restoring your KitchenAid accessories to a cuddly Cthulhu. Do you have a favorite type of project?

I would say my favorite type of project is one where I am practicing a new skill I have learned. Currently, the majority of my projects are food related because those are the projects I can remember to take pictures of or don’t mind making a second time to get the pictures I need. Food is also kind of transitory in nature as well because you eat the results and it is gone. I find if I am making a physical object, it is more permanent so if I don’t remember to snap enough photos the first time through I have missed my chance to make an Instructable.

Where do you get inspiration for projects and how do you keep coming up with fresh ideas?

Usually I find a skill I want to learn, like how to make meatballs or how to use a sandblaster. Then once I have the basics of the new skill down I start to see the other possibilities for that skill. I also do a fair bit of free form doodling. It was that doodling that inspired the images on my etched glassware. I am pretty bad at detailed planning once I get away from working with lighting equipment. So most of my projects have to be semi fluid.

As for coming up with fresh ideas, it can be hard in this day and age of the internet. It is easy look out there and say "well, everything has already been done." That may well be true but not everything has been done by you. So I like to bring a bit of myself or my personal tastes to everything I do. I mean if you do a google search for stuffed Cthulhu you can see there are a lot of them but only one like mine. So I guess I find things I think are cool or inspire me and I try to create a project that is my own.

Do you have any projects in the works that you can tell us about?

I am currently working on an LED based Cue light system for a local theatre and I am going to try and remember to document it well enough that I can post it here. A cue light is basically a light that the stage manager turns on and then off again to let actors or crew members know it is time for them to do their thing. With large and complex shows you can need upwards of 12 cue lights so finding an elegant way to trigger them from one central location is important.

On the food side of things I am working on perfecting a lamb burger. So far it is tasty but not quite tasty enough to share.

If you could give one piece of advice to all of the other authors on Instructables, what would it be?

Never stop learning new skills. Skills are like crayons if you only have the 4 that came with the kid’s placemat you can still make some pretty cool art. However if you have the 128 pack you can make a wider variety of art.

Got a question for TinkeringProductions? Ask it here!