We recently launched a new round of Author Spotlight interviews, including interviews with Instructables authors who also happen to be teachers.
Check out our first two interviews here:
For this Author Spotlight interview I had the opportunity to chat with longtime Instructables author Gavin Wolchina, known around these parts as Random_Canadian.
He and I joined the site at right about the same time, and I've been a fan of his clever and sometimes wacky projects for many years!
He's a regular contender in the site's contests, and has shared a lot of fun and interesting projects that span many different creative disciplines.
We had a good chat - it's so much fun to connect with other Instructa-blers face-to-face!
After our chat I followed up with some written questions, and his answers follow. Enjoy!
Step 1: Born With a Desire to Take Things Apart
Images from Rubik's Cube of Unusual Size
Your projects cover a wide range of disciplines! How did you first get started making things? What is your favorite type of project, or creative discipline . . and why?
I was born with a desire to take things apart to find out how they worked. I got my answers but never reassembled a single thing… A long time ago I received an electronics kit as a Christmas gift. I didn’t understand it at first and was quite disappointed, but once I built the project, I found it to be fascinating. It was a crystal radio from Radio Shack, able to pick up radio signals without any power supply. I thought that it was pure magic. I now wanted to build more things. I went full nerd, even building my own computer from a kit. Kits were all the “rage.” Heathkit was still around and their kits were the stuff of legend! But I always came back to wanting to use my hands to create.
In a small shed in my grandparent’s back yard I learned how to forge and shape steel. In my grandfather’s shop I learned about electricity, tubes and electronics. On the farm I had to figure out how to repair the engine on my dirtbike since I was not going to get another one… My father taught me basic geology and all about fossils while we hunted for dinosaur remains. Most of my time was spent reading science fiction and being lost in my own reality.
I have to say that I get the most enjoyment from machines and puzzles. I love intricate movements and things that are fluid in motion. For example the giant Rubik’s cube project. I was able to take cues from the original cube and using a bit of deduction along with some basic assumptions, create a scalable model which allows a cube to be made any size from the same drawings. The motion is intended to be fluid and the pieces fit together perfectly. The only problem with my video is that the paint was not fully dry, and the pieces tended to stick together a bit. This cube has aged well and is still fully intact and functional.
Step 2: Outside of the Normal Spectrum
Image from Old Tyme Glass Lights
When did you first discover Instructables and what inspired you to post your first projects? What has kept you sharing projects for 10+ years with the Instructables community?
I can’t exactly remember what I was looking for but I randomly stumbled upon the site while trying to figure something out. It kind of bothers me a bit that I can remember what I was.
The first post on my profile is not my first post. I removed quite a bit of content a few years back when I was going through a privacy phase. The posts that remained I could not take down. Sadly this content is gone but since I don’t really remember much of it, no great loss.
The projects that I share are but a small piece of the volume of work that I produce. Most of these ideas are just outside of the normal spectrum, and I feel that they should be shared for their entertainment value alone.
I keep posting since I have no end of ideas to draw from plus I enjoy the interaction with like-minded people.
Step 3: See the World Through Solution Tinted Glasses
Image from This Is a Hidden Maze Puzzle!
How do you come up with your ideas for projects, and what's your actual creative/making process like?
My professional life is that of a problem solver so I tend to see the world through solution tinted glasses. Other times I see something that I would like to have but cannot justify the expense, or it is just something that I would like to see in the physical form.
The only constant is that the ideas are usually fully formed in my head before I begin any project. The best part is taking that image and making it real.
Once I’m sufficiently motivated I just pick a point and begin making the parts that are required. Most of the time I end up with some little task that I haven’t done before and I must learn how to do that as wall.
For example, I always used Cypress microcontrollers. I purposefully went out of my way to exclude Arduino since from the early part of this millennium I developed a dislike for the RISC architecture used my Atmel. There was no logical reason; I just had a problem with the coding early on. Recently I wanted a quick way to have several microcontrollers communicate with serial peripherals as well as each other. It turned out that much of the work had been done by others using the Arduino. I was able to put together a functional prototype in a weekend. Now I wonder why I had resisted. The coding is back to being fun again…
Step 4: Constantly Evolving and Changing
Images from Terminator Foot Nut Cracker (revised)
Describe your tools and creative workspace. Do you have any specific tools that are on your wishlist? If you could have your dream workshop/creative workspace, what would it be like?
My space is constantly evolving and changing. At one point I had several vacuum pumps for lighting experiments, a metal band saw for CNC machine builds, a foundry furnace for aluminum and bronze sculpture, a couple of TIG welders and a plasma cutter also for metal sculpture, 2 cabinet saws to make precision cuts for platonic solids, a Hitachi jointer/planer for giant stacking blocks, an oscilloscope and microscope to prototype surface mount circuitry, numerous hand power tools, and recently an industrial 3D printer.
Most of the tools have been traded and sold off as my needs change. Now my space is being lost due to a move and I must downsize. This is going to leave me with just my 3D printer, air compressor and electronics kit.
I’m in the process of building the space with a multi function workspace that will allow me to use one bench for cutting, grinding, sanding, painting and general creating. It has a pop up vent to capture dust and fumes and a selectable venting system to either recirculate the cleaned air into the shop or vent it outside. I think that I have experimented in enough areas that I am going to be more than happy with the smaller space and reduced equipment.
I am certain that this will be my ideal space. With one minor tweak, I will need storage…
Step 5: The Journey, More Than the Destination
Image from Stargate Privacy Vault
In your opinion, what is the most satisfying aspect of making things?
I sure I’m not alone with this line of thought, but for me it is about the getting there - the journey, more than the destination.
I really do love solving problems and the creating process is big on that.
I do however love that look when someone picks up one of my projects and says that there is no way that you made this… it is too finished…
Step 6: A Huge Success for Me
You’ve made a lot of very interesting, fun and funky projects. Of your projects that you've shared on Instructables, which are you most proud of, and why?
First of all, I broke my own rules when I built the werewolf stilts. I had taken cues from other designs.
I had them complete for about a year before I posted the project. I was making stilts and selling plans for them. The pictures are of the actual prototype build.
I set out to make a set that could be produced with only hand tools. This was a huge success for me since I was able fully extract the finished product from my mind. My tools were limited and my shop space also had a car in it…
This was the first and only commercially viable project that I created and posted here.
I’m still quite pleased with the T-bar for the car prank… I had a guy in northern Alberta showing up to service well site equipment a various locations for about a week before he found it…
Step 7: I Guess It Was Real Enough After All…
Sometimes our creations take on a life of their own after they are shared initially, and develop interesting stories. Please tell readers the story of your Double Barrel Rubber Band Shotgun.
This one was a lot of fun to make. The double-barreled rubber band shotgun… Wow I look really agitated in the cover shot…
While working on this one I got it in my head that it really had to look like an actual shotgun. I took great care to get the look and colouring right for all of the parts.
I was kind of disappointed in the finished project since it was too small. So I did what everyone with a new toy does, I took it to work for a little show and tell.
No one complained; everyone really liked it so I left it there for a while.
I typically give away my finished projects to someone that I know, and this time was no different - a co-worker got to go home with a new toy.
Later he told me a great story of driving home with the shotgun on the front seat of his jeep, upright and visible.
Traffic was light and he was nearing his home when the red and blue lights in his rear view made him pull over. The officers approached both sides of the jeep with their hand on their guns, and he was told to make no sudden movements.
The officer on the passenger side reached and retrieved the shotgun and found out what it truly was. They relaxed and got to play with the gun; they even took pictures of themselves with it.
No ticket and only a light warning about not having the toy visible, and he was allowed to proceed home…
I guess it was real enough after all…
I didn’t really learn my lesson, I proceeded to make a realistic looking RPG, then took it to a nearby school yard for some action shots…
Step 8: It Still Did Sting a Little
You've seen a few of your projects actually show up as knock-off, copycat commercialized products. Please tell the story of these projects, and your thoughts on seeing them show up as commercial products.
For the longest time when I came up with an idea, I resisted searching to see if it had already been done. There are 3 reasons: the first is I would be tempted to follow the way that it had already been done, and the second is I would lose motivation to complete the project. The third is the possibility that Google will sell my idea…
There are 3 projects that really stick out. One is the lighted Newton’s cradle. Once it was completed, I was unable to find any examples of this having been done. That only lasted a about a year before I saw a version of the cradle on Think Geek.
The next was the Lightsaber knitting needles. These were a lot of fun to make and use; I still have them. It took about 3 years before I saw a version of this being sold as Lightsaber chopsticks.
The final one is a big one. This is the Mini metal lathe. It is my most viewed project and was even published in the Extraordinary Projects for Ordinary People Instructables book from 2012. This lathe has been available direct from China as an exact copy of my project for the last couple of years.
When I first saw it, I was quite shocked. I had no idea that it had enough merit to be made and sold for a profit.
I have always resisted the hoarding of information and maintain to this day that once you release an idea into he wild it will be only about 6 months before you see copies of it. That being said, I had no intention of commercially marketing anything that I publish but it still did sting a little. I’m serious, it is identical…
Step 9: The Best Part About This Community
Do you have any notable current or future projects going on? What about backburner projects that you might never get around to finishing? Please tell us about them!
I have two projects that I am really excited about.
Aside from relocating, I have a large-scope project in the works, that involves mold making, fibreglass, and rotational casting… I don’t want to spoil the reveal but I can say that it is going to be BIG!!!
I recently built a “floating” shed for bike storage - the plans for this one are being compiled, tweaked, and made legible and should be available here soon.
I usually have a couple of ideas for contests and depending upon available time they may not see the light of day until the next time around. I’m very hesitant to reveal the ideas since it is going to be longer than 6 months before I am able to showcase it.
In my Robotic arm project I stated that the electronics portion will be posted soon. I had a client purchase the design for unrelated use, so it is no longer mine to share. I’m not sure if I will get around to designing something else to work with it. This is where we come to the best part about this community; I’m sure that someone on this site has the exact kit needed to make this arm work properly…
Step 10: Thank You!
Thank you Gavin for taking the time to chat and share a little about yourself with the community. It was a pleasure to get to know more about you!
And thank you, reader, for reading along. If you'd like to chat with Gavin, simply hit him up via direct message or leave a comment or question on any of his Instructables!
Want to nominate an Instructables author for an Author Spotlight interview? Leave a comment on this forum topic, or send me a note via direct message with your suggestion.