Blog

Toys, reviews, and musings on STEAM education.


Kits

MINI.MU Glove Kit 

A great gift for a music-lover, this is a really cool wearable instrument DIY kit. Mini.mu creator, Helen Leigh, was also a guest on our podcast! Comes with everything you need and covers craft, code, circuits.


Nintendo Switch WITH Nintendo Labo

The Nintendo Switch + Nintendo Labo cardboard kits bundle gives you the ability to construct cardboard toys that interact with the Switch controllers and screen. The Nintendo Lab is an awesome tool to teach the design of things and games to all ages. Our kids love it (2, 4, and 6), and the neighbor’s kids (11 and 13) also love playing with it. Hours and hours of fun.


Chibitronics- LED Circuit Stickers, STEM Starter Kit

This is an awesome kit by Chibitronics, a company founded by Jie Qi (a really awesome artist who works with circuits) and Bunnie Huang. Building circuits inside of a book using stickers! Super super cool.


littleBits Space Rover Inventor Kit

The Space Rover Inventor Kit is a really cool robotics kit that allows you to build using littleBits and cardboard! For those who haven’t played with littleBits kits, they’re sets of easily configurable electronics components that — and here’s the cool part — also have instructions on how to interface with them (using other 3rd party components) open sourced online. I am on a huge cardboard bend this year, and anticipate that we’ll be seeing its use in an increasing number of STEAM toys.


Elenco EDU-62221 Jr. Scientist Strandbeest Model Kit

If you haven’t seen the cool work that artist Theo Jansen (out of The Exploratorium) does, check out these mini-Strandbeests (and maybe even buy one for your kids!); essentially smaller versions of contraptions he builds and runs on wind.


Books 

This is a great book that maker and artist Helen Leigh (just interviewed for the podcast) recently released.All projects included in the book provide a low barrier to entry into making from both a difficulty and cost standpoint.


You can put your mind to rest after buying this essential wood shop tool. With 1.75HP and a bed with room to spare, the SawStop 1.75-HP Professional Cabinet Saw is easily the best makerspace table saw on the market for the price. So what makes it so good?

Safety

The feature that sets the SawStop distinctly apart from others in its class can be summed up in one word: safety. The SawStop has a lock on the market when it comes to the unique safety feature that drops its blade into the chassis whenever it touches skin. In short, what this means is that it is nigh impossible for a user to cut themselves on it.

With over 60,000 accidents with table saws every year, and the table saw being one of the most dangerous tools in any standard wood shop, this is a pretty huge development. Especially in school makerspaces where users may not be entirely familiar with table saw use this is a game changer. Just check out this video of the SawStop in use.

Power

Safety isn’t the only thing the SawStop has, though. The SawStop has the ability to cut through wood as tough as hickory, and not only that, but to eat it up with ease. With over a decade of table saw use on the job testing everything from small job site machines to larger pieces of equipment, the SawStop comes away as a very strong competitor for a machine with some serious horsepower.

Don’t underestimate the safety component of power, either. A more powerful saw means a saw that you don’t have to put an unsafe amount of exertion on when trying to put materials through. It can also lead to a lower likelihood of kickback and other hazardous materials issues.

Bed Size and Quality

There are four different models of SawStop out there, but the one we’d recommend is the SawStop Professional Cabinet Saw which comes with the extension table. With a larger bed size than the job site or contractor saw, the Pro Saw gives users the ability to cut large 8×4 sheets without a problem and has wide clearance use of its unique T-Glide Fence system.

The bed quality on the SawStop, made out of cast-iron, is also tremendous. Its finish allows materials to easily glide across the top, while the guides for the miter gauge also make for a frictionless experience. Unlike most job site saws, what this means is a lot less bowing in the materials as you feed them through the saw due to a small bed, and the ability to guide materials through the blade easily.

 

Recommendation

Because of its power, amenities, but most importantly, safety features, we recommend the SawStop 1.75-HP Professional Cabinet Saw for your makerspace. Its ability to put your mind at rest while giving users the kind of features and ease-of-use that you should expect from a saw put it far above the competition out there, and in fact, its one of the only saws on the market to have this safety feature out there. The only thing even close on the market is the Bosch REAXX Flesh-Detecting Jobsite Table Saw, which doesn’t have the bed size or power of the SawStop.

Some of the most popular items on websites like Etsy are customized t-shirts with names, funny quips, or mantras.

You can make your own t-shirt (or really any other fabric item) easily using a Silhouette or Cricut. 

First, make some decisions:

  1. Decide what to make (t-shirt, socks, even underwear!). Make sure the material you have chosen will stand up to hot iron. Natural fibers work best, like cotton and canvas. Synthetic fibers will melt at high temperatures.
  2. Pre-wash your item if possible. Sometimes starches added to clothes to keep them from wrinkling in store will prevent the iron-on from adhering.
  3. Find an image or customization idea that strikes your fancy.
  4. Determine what color you are going to use for your design, and make sure you have iron-on vinyl in that color.

Second, make a design by doing one of the following: 

  1. Buy a pre-made design in the Silhouette Store or through Cricut Design Access if you are in a rush!
  2. Find an open-source image on Google by typing what you are in search of, along with “open-source” to be sure the image isn’t copyrighted.
  3. Hand draw or create what you’d like to see on your customized item.
  4. If you are unsure, search Pinterest or Google for ideas, but be sure what you end up with is your own image and that you haven’t infringed on copyright.
  5. Bold, graphic images are best for beginners. The thinner the lines, the trickier it is to transfer the image onto your project! 

Third, get your image into the design software. 

  1. I have found the easiest way to do this is to take a screenshot- to capture an image from my computer OR to take a photo with my phone- to capture a hand-drawn image.
  2. Airdrop or email the picture to yourself if you captured an image with your phone.
  3. Save the image to a folder on your desktop or directly to your desktop so you can find it easily.
  4. Either drag the image into the software or import the image into the software.

Next, trace your image. 

  1. In Silhouette Studio, the trace feature is a butterfly image to the right of the screen. The yellow shading shows what will be traced, and where the trace lines will fall. The image I am using was created by my friend, Nick.

2. Within the trace feature, you can choose to only trace the outside line or trace all of the image. In Silhouette Studio,                you can choose solid fill or outline. Play around with the trace settings.

If using a more complex image, you can also adjust the threshold and turn high-pass on to capture more details. See               how the yellow fill changes by turning high-pass on and toggling the threshold?

3. Next, click trace. Red cut lines will replace the yellow                                  highlighted fill. You can delete the image you imported                               originally to see the cut lines more easily.

Then, edit the image. Here’s where you need to pay attention! 

  1. Identify any errors in the tracing, and delete any extra points. By double clicking on the image, you can see all the path points.
  2. To delete the points, click on one, and then hit delete. The dot you highlighted will turn red to highlight and indicate what dot you have chosen. This is helpful when there is a cluster of points together. I also find it helpful to zoom way in so I can see all the points more easily. 
  3. Another way to do this is to simplify the image. The software detects points that lay outside of the path, and deletes them for you. 
  4. Play around with the editing, and save intermittently if you have a version with you are happy with at some point.
  5. Be sure to check the size of your file and make sure it will fit on your t-shirt or project. I recommend 6″ or less across for a child’s shirt and 7-8″ across for an adult shirt. Larger images are the pits, if you know what I mean.
  6. Flip the image by going to OBJECT> MIRROR> FLIP HORIZONTALLY.

Be sure to flip your image, otherwise it will end up backwards! 

Cut the vinyl of your choice. 

  1. Adhere the vinyl you have chosen to your cutting mat.
  2. Load the cutting mat into your vinyl cutter.
  3. Send the file to the printer.
  4. Check the printer settings, be sure to choose heat transfer vinyl.
  5. Also make sure the blade is set to the recommended height, as seen on the print menu.
  6. Send the image to print!

Weed your design. 

  1. Cut the vinyl around the design so you don’t waste any leftover vinyl on the sheet. Don’t cut into the image!
  2. Peel any vinyl away from the image that you don’t want to include. Be sure to get the islands from inside the A, O, B, etc!
  3. Your design should be left on the backing, backwards!

Get your image onto your project! 

  1. Take the image and flip it over so the backing is facing you, and place it on your t-shirt or project.
  2. If you are using multiple separate designs, arrange them all at once. Be sure that the backing from one isn’t between the vinyl and t-shirt.
  3. Get a piece of parchment paper and put it on top of your design and project. This will protect your iron.
  4. Read the directions on the vinyl packaging to set your iron and count it out.
  5. Let the vinyl cool after ironing for about a minute, otherwise it might wrinkle when the backing is pulled off.

Gift your project or wear it!