Car combinatorics

Car combinatorics

I run a regular program at WPL called “Discover DIY” (formerly known as “Mini Makers”) for children aged 2-4. Each week I set up and run 1-2 new activities with the kids, interspersed with some story time.

Recently, I had an idea for a program for the kids where I could use up some scrap wood from my workshop. I would cut the wood up into regular-sized pieces, and give the kids instructions to make cars with them. I brought in some thin dowel to use as axles, some thick dowel pre-cut into thin strips and drilled with holes for wheels, and I brought in a power drill to make axle holes wherever the kids wanted with my help.

I was pleasantly surprised with the variety of the creations. These are kids aged 2-4, while they all have an idea of what a car is, it isn’t as cut-and-dry a definition as what an adult would have if you asked them to create a new car. Below is a sampling of the results of the kids’ work: Read more

Laser cut snowflake activity

Laser cut snowflake activity

It’s that time of year! Christmas! I have put together a tutorial on how to make some quick snowflake decorations. This is a great activity for kids and adults, and can be used as decorations for the tree, gifts to be given, even little tiny add-ons for your presents. It is quick and simple, cheap, and awesome for last-minute ideas.

You will need:

  • Sheet of acrylic
    • available at most hardware and surplus stores. I used stuff 3mm thick.
  • Access to a laser cutter
    • often found at Makerspaces, some Libraries, Universities, and the occasional local service provider. I am a member at Kwartzlab (a Makerspace in Kitchener).
  • Inkscape installed on your computer
    • or any other vector editing software (Inkscape is free and Open Source)
  • Access to the Snowflake Generator site
  • Colourful permanent markers (I’ve used Sharpies without issue)
  • Glue gun and glue stick

Read more

You may already know how to knit

You may already know how to knit

I was recently was bitten by the knitting bug, and I have just got it out of my system. I have knitted before, but I find the process too simple and repetitive and have a hard time relaxing (if something is too repetitive I get stressed out, I prefer a little variety/challenge to my simpler tasks). Plus, knitting with needles make my hands cramp easily. However, I taught myself how to knit hats with a loom, and I found it had just enough variety to its simple tasks that it became quite enjoyable.

The most striking thing I noticed, however, was how knitting with a loom was so similar to another activity, which may be familiar to parents of young children: Rainbow Loom! Read more

How to build a simple electric motor

How to build a simple electric motor

Today, I am going to demonstrate how to make a simple electric motor. This is a great activity for kids and adults, on rainy days or for science fairs. I’ve done this one with kids aged 8-12 ish, but it is a good all-ages activity, depending upon the amount of preparation you can do in advance, as well as the amount of help you are able to give while running the activity. Read more

Community Gardening

Community Gardening

Eight months ago my little family moved back to Waterloo, into an older home. It’s not that old, but old enough that some work needs to be done. The neighborhood is slowly turning over as the older generation that were the first occupants move out, and we are just settling into one of those homes. I also gave up my first garden and now have none. While I would love to have put together a new vegetable patch as soon as spring sprung this year, my conscience couldn’t as there is a lot of other yard work that needed to be done first. I hope to start one again next year. That being said, we are still growing potatoes in our old maple syrup containers, gardening is still happening at home, just in a really limited capacity. But I am still left with two little kids who like to garden and have to go to Grandma’s to get their fix.

So after a lot of research(I contacted and viewed almost every place in Waterloo on that list), I joined the University of Waterloo’s community garden. It is free for a patch of dirt up next to the greenhouses in the North Campus. I was kind of disappointed in the City of Waterloo. Both Kitchener and Cambridge run many community gardens, while Waterloo has none. There are some run by churches, senior homes, and co-ops in Waterloo, but you either have to worship or live there to get a plot. I think the University of Waterloo’s community garden is kind of forgotten, and easy to get a plot in. Best of all it was free.

Surrounded by wildflowers and weeds, it is a very peaceful spot in the North Campus.

One thing I have to adjust to and learn about is working with very clay-like soil. In my old garden I built up the soil into some amazing stuff. Soft and yielding, whereas here it is very hard and unforgiving. I was warned that green, leafy vegetables seem to do well but root crops do not.

Here I am inspecting the tomato plants for suckers to pinch off while my son hoes a new path.

In go the cucumber seeds.

Now we’ve moved on to planting some corn.

I am always amazed at how patient my kids are when they are planting seeds. Kids who are otherwise bouncing off the walls are more than happy to crouch down and fiddle with tiny seeds and stick them in the ground.

It is a very short bike ride from my office to go check on the plants during my lunch, which I do from time to time. I am treating this year as an experiment. I am not expecting to get any yield, I am trying to just grow anything, and give my kids a place to play in the dirt with their dad.

Building our first soap box derby racer – Part 2

Building our first soap box derby racer – Part 2

My oldest son, occasionally daughter, and I had continued to work on the soap box racer last week.

We left off last time with just wheels on a flat body. Another week of work and we added a body of sorts, a seat, and some paint.

We used a seat from IKEA for the racer. It was the perfect size to fit inside the 18″ wide body, and it looked neat. We made the frame for the racer with 2×4’s and plywood Jonas and I cut with a handheld jig saw, and screwed it all together.

Isaac gets his first driving lesson. Here you can see the arched shape we were working towards for the old-timey racer feel.

I then bent, glued, and nailed a 1/8″ thick piece of MDF to the body. Both kids helped with a couple of nails at first, but grew weary of wearing the safety glasses, so they had to watch from a short distance away. Nailers are one of those tools I am extremely careful around. Safety glasses are a must if they’re connected to a pressurized source, I am always aware of where I am pointing the working end trying to always point it at my workpiece, and the safety is turned on as soon as I take my finger off the trigger. I was amazed at the number of nails it took to hold it all in place.

Kids are getting excited. At this point the driving lessons down our street began in earnest.

We took off all non-painted surfaces, and I then went to work spraying it a nice enamel red with a N95 mask on. I am still looking for a decent mask that has solvent filters available. Any recommendations would be appreciated. I think it turned out looking pretty sharp, simple and elegant.

Race day was this past Saturday (June 16, 2012). After we arrived, it didn’t take long before I realized that the racer couldn’t compete. Middlebury Drive in Waterloo is a pretty steep street, a lot steeper than the street we practiced on, and my son was barely strong enough to use the brake on our little street where we had practiced. It also didn’t help that every racer there, save ours, had some sort of rack and pinion steering and our rope steering could be barely operated by my son. I opted to keep him out of the race this year and just observe. Tears were shed, but it was for the best.

Almost forgot to mention, we watched two pretty big crashes during the trial runs, by kids much older than my son. One girl lost control of her steering and rolled on the asphalt; the other boy couldn’t stop in time, hit the wall of tires that was being used as a safety stop, flipped his car and flew out. Both kids didn’t end up competing after their respective crashes, and it kind of sealed the deal on my son not racing that day.

Although Jonas did get a tailgate breakfast out of it, so not all was lost.

A sad little boy in his racer. In some ways I feel I let him down, in others, well, we built a soap box racer together, he’s a lucky kid.

Next year he will compete. I am going to lower the racer to the ground and build two new braking systems, both of which were inspired by other cars in the race. We are also going to make a rack and pinion steering system so that he can steer with a wheel much easier than fighting to pull on the rope. The parents I met on race day were awesome and all had great advice for improving the racer. We has so many parents come up to us and mention that they were following the progress of our racer. We built it in our front yard, so the whole neighborhood developed an attachment to our progress. There will be racing next year.

Building our first soap box derby racer – Part 1

Our neighborhood has a Soap Box Derby on Father’s Day weekend. I’ve always wanted to make a racer, and this provided a convenient excuse to make one. I did all sorts of research on Soap Box Racers, and emailed the neighborhood association for details, and it turns out, it is an unregulated race. Most Soap Box Derby’s are strictly regulated; certain size tires, maximum weight for the vehicle, etc. For this race, there are no limits. After taking a couple trips to gather the parts necessary, my oldest and I decided to assemble it in the shade of our maple tree on a nice day.

I had some spare rope for steering, spare copper pipe nail-downs to hold the axles in place, scrap plywood and 2 x 4’s for the frame, and some spare wood screws to hold it together. Axles, pins, lag bolt, nut, and 4 washers from Home Depot to hold the wheels in place and for steering. Wheels came from KW Surplus. Finding wheels was the most difficult part. You can find all sorts of small, bulky ones for wheel barrows and mowers, but large-diameter, thin ones are hard to come by, fortunately I found some with some searching. All told, took about an hour to assemble with my son’s help.

The lag bolt is for the front axle so it has a pivot point on the frame to steer. The axle is fixed to the 2 x 4 on top of it with copper pipe nail-downs (the kind you use for plumbing copper pipe), and the wheels are held onto the axle with pins (the wheels have bearings in them, making attaching them a lot easier). On top of the steering 2 x 4 I attached two more scrap pieces of 2 x 4 to limit how far you can turn left or right.

Unfortunately, the race is open to Junior Kindergarten kids at the youngest, so my daughter can’t participate for another two years. Doesn’t mean I can’t give her a driving lesson.

We decided to race to test it out. My son wanted to ride his kick-bike, and Grace stuck with me.

I have never ridden a Soap Box Racer before, so here I am discovering how slow they are to get going. My son won the race easily, all he had to do was kick away.

One thing I did forget to install on the initial version was the brake, so I had to quickly figure out how to safely stop the racer without breaking my ankles. I was actually far more worried than I look here.

The race is in a week and a half. We still have to add a brake and make a body for the racer. That is the most fun part. I’m thinking of making the racer look something like this:

I’ll share the results soon.