We recently attended the Halifax Mini Maker Faire 2015, and took freelance journalist Gareth Halfacree along for the ride. This series of Focus On features is designed to offer a sampling of who you can expect to see at a Maker Faire event, why they're there and what it is that drives them.
Sheffield-based Giles Grover's stand in Eureka's main hall is one of the first you see as you pass through the reception area to get into the museum proper, and it's attracting its share of attention thanks to the colourful machines atop the table. "They're laser-cut, wooden construction kits," he explains by way of introduction, pushing a syringe and making the arm of a lifting mechanism rise. "They're called Small Machines because each one in the range is based on a real-world hydraulic-powered machine. My idea was to design and make contemporary wooden toys that didn't rely on batteries and electronics, so I'm using syringes, tubing and tap-water to replicate hydraulic movement."
The machines themselves may be based on relatively simple materials - water, plastic, and wood, with nary a battery or electronic component in sight - but Giles relies entirely on one high-tech device to make his creations come to life: a laser cutter. "Everything that I produce is really, really quite detailed engineering, and you can only replicate that with a laser cutter. You really couldn't do it by hand on an economical scale," he explains. "Also, it means that everything that I sell comes flat-packed and the parts are ready just to pop out and put together. That also ensures that the person that has it is tied very much into the creation of the product, rather than buying it ready-built."
While Giles' crowd-funding campaign fell short of its goal when it ran late last year, his passion for the concept coupled with the ability to produce the kits on a small scale at a very low cost means that he's still very much focused on their success. "You don't need subject-specific knowledge, you don't need specialist tools and equipment, but what you do get rather quickly and with a certain amount of satisfaction is a functioning engineered product. So from a parent's point of view - I've got three kids - there's a little bit of learning, but it's coming in under the radar, and it's sort of being masked as an enjoyable activity and then you end up with a product."
The designs have changed since last year, too. The plain wood finish has been swapped for more colourful dyed versions, offering something to catch children's eyes, while others have been tweaked to appeal to more mature tastes. "This one is actually a desk lamp, " Giles explains, demonstrating a lifting platform whose compact packaging boasts of the inclusion of the new lighting module. "It has a little USB-powered light in it. We're in broad daylight, so that doesn't help," he laughs, "but the idea is that it takes it away from just being a toy to being a novel desk lamp that you might have, so it's more like a lifestyle product."
For Giles, the idea of exhibiting his creations within the walls of a children's museum is a dream come true. "Last year I started and I did Brighton, London, Derby, here, and Manchester [Maker Faires], and it attracted me because you've got people that already have a perspective that is 'let's explore new things,'" he recalls. "To actually find yourself in a children's science and technology museum, and that's what I make, it's about as ideal as it can get for me. Last year we were in the old station house, and I said to the organiser it was the best Maker Faire for me that I went to all year, because they're already attracting families that have got that kind of culture embedded in them, so it was an ideal proving ground for me."
Giles' Small Machines can be seen in action, and ordered, from his official website.