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Mark Frauenfelder: Maker Dad

Jun 5, 2014

by Lisa Butterworth handmade and vintage goods

When Boing Boing founder and Make magazine editor-in-chief Mark Frauenfelder started looking for a book with DIY projects he could do with his two daughters, he came up woefully short. “When I looked at the geek dads-style books, the projects didn’t really appeal to my daughters. And when I looked at books that were geared toward mothers and girls, the projects didn’t appeal that much to me,” he says. So Mark and his daughters decided to find DIY activities that they would all be interested in. The result is Frauenfelder’s new book, Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects


From silkscreening T-shirts and writing computer code for a video game to creating other-worldly edibles, there’s nothing stereotypically pink or sparkly about these projects (unless you want there to be). And creating the book was a full-on family affair. Sarina, Frauenfelder’s 16-year-old, said the projects gave her the opportunity to “be creative and spend time with [her dad] doing something fun.”And what did 11-year-old Jane get out of the experience? “She told me she likes the book because ‘astronaut ice cream is yummy,’” Frauenfelder says. Etsy caught up with the author to talk about creating with kids, the inspiration of soap, and the most important lesson he’s learned from DIY.

How involved were your daughters in the project process? Was Maker Dad a collaboration?

I think so. One example is, we were here in Venice, California, looking at some stores and we saw these little soaps that had been molded out of plastic doll arms. My daughter thought they were really bizarre but cool and I thought, We could make soap like that, I’ll bet. So we looked it up and saw that you could get glycerin soap that you could melt in the microwave and silicone rubber to make molds — that was totally a collaborative thing. Some of [the projects] my daughter came up with all by herself like, Mixie Sticks, a game of little colored blocks that snap together with magnets; you mix them up and then try to match them as quickly as you can, a race against the clock. Some things were completely my idea, so it was a mix of all of us.


Observing the Drawbot, a gadget that draws circular patterns.

The book features a number of tech projects, which is an area that girls are almost always excluded from.

So many of these books geared toward girls steer away from electronics, technology, and power tools, but when I go to Maker Faire [a Make-sponsored event celebrating DIY culture] and I look at the Learn How to Solder workshops, I see an equal number of girls taking the workshop as guys. So it’s like, all you have to do is introduce them to these topics and you’ll find out that girls are as interested as boys in this kind of stuff. I really wanted to make sure I had some examples about computer programming, electronics, soldering, tools, and power tools, because I saw that my girls, especially my 11-year-old, Jane, was very interested in all those kinds of things. I hope that more people start doing that too.


Make a giant bubble wand.

I don’t have kids, but there was even one project that I got really excited about: how to create a podcast.

That was a really fun one. Jane and I have a podcast that’s called Apps for Kids. She loves doing the podcast and has little business cards that she hands out to people, so I thought, We have so much fun doing it together, I’ll bet other parents and kids would have fun doing a podcast together too. It’s a great way to have a conversation with each other, learn from each other, and then you also learn good computer skills, too, like editing sound files.

As a dad who’s done these projects with your daughters, what would you tell other dads about what they might get out of making things with their kids based on your own experience?

One thing I think they’ll get is patience. [laughs] It’s going to take a lot longer to do a project than if you just take over and do it yourself. You have to hand the tools over to the kids and realize that they’re going to make cuts that aren’t straight, drill holes in the wrong places, be sloppier with the paint than you might be, but that’s just part of learning. You’re also going to learn that they want to try, they have their own ideas about how things should look that might not match yours. But that’s a good thing, I think, and it’s going to also teach kids compromise and bargaining. You get the whole operation.


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