We have a fairly well understood goal – sailboating by the end of the week – and we’ve been talking about the critical considerations since we introduced the goal on the first night, now, over breakfast, we found the scope a little daunting. The weather, to say the least, is less than inviting, and there is a collective tendency to linger in the cozy dining room of the ranch house. But this is Tinkering School and time’s a wastin’.

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So, we got right to it and started working on the designs for three railboats.The teams are formed thusly:
Piki – Juliana, Luigi, Mica, and Mackenzie
Nooi – Rohdy, Sam, Declan, Serena, and Anita
Kablooi – Sam (aka Nigel), Gilon, Nickey, and Hanna

The materials are divided evenly; one sheet of 3/8″ plywood, one sheet of 1/4″ luan, two 2×4’s, four 1×4’s, and a shared pool of assorted wheels ranging from tubed wagon wheels to urethane 70mm skate wheels – and a $30 gift card to the local hardware store.

We begin.

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The Kablooi use their materials to mock up a few ideas. After a few minutes of various layouts they settle on a design that “feels pretty right.”

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Juliana and Mica explore various relationships between a load-bearing skate wheel and a lightly loaded rollerblade guide-wheel on our salvaged chunk of rail.

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The Nooi soon move from paper to prototype to work out some difficult resource constriants.

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Returning tinkerer Nigel (aka Sam) seems right at home at the controls of the chopsaw.

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There are parts of the emerging plan that give Gilon pause…

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The Piki team starts assembling wheels by sorting out and inserting bearings.

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Evidently, the right tool for the job is the Crayola marker.

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With bearings in place and correctly aligned, Juliana finds something irresistibly silky about the simple skate-wheel mechanism.

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Sam sees things differently and has developed a reputation as the quiet thinker of the Kablooi team.

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Getting the wheels centered on the rail is deemed a critical component of the Kablooi design.

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Gilon is the Kablooi master of accuracy and steadfastly maintains a very high standard of precision.

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The shelves of Tinkering School. What do these parts want to be?

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The next step in precision marking is precision cutting – Nickey gets to it under the watchful eye of Hanna.

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The Nooi have also chosen to use a mixture of skate and rollerblade wheels so they set themselves to the task of fitting the bearings to the wheel blanks.

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Meanwhile, the Piki have been looking for ways to create more rigidity in their railboat. Juliana tries increasing the number of diagonal members in the body.

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When asked, Gever is a fountain of advice and peculiar digressions that touch on topics ranging from insect anatomy to ice cream physics.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Juliana is happy when she has a tool and a project.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Luigi has a laid-back style that belies his intensely productive mode of working.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Gever in the thick of it.

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The Kablooi team is starting to have a frame and the complexities of getting one particularly difficult screw properly placed has become a “wait, I have an idea – let me try something” kind of game.

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Every team has managed to use all the 2×4’s and 1×4’s they have been allocated in the design of their railboat frames, leaving nothing to make masts out of. We decide that eucalyptus is not cheating. We head down to our favorite little forest where Gilon fells are nice straight sapling.

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Serena also finds a particularly perfectly dimensioned mast disguised as a small tree and brings it down.

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Timber! Juliana fells her sapling after fighting with it fiercely for a few minutes of hard sawing.

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Then we cart our bounty out to the truck and head back to the ranch.

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There is a lot of discussion of the importance of precision because the rails are thin and the margin for error is small. Mica decides that the drillpress is the right tool for precise placement and alignment of the holes she needs.

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Cleverly camouflaged, Nigel (aka Sam) manages to get in an afternoon nap before being discovered by his teammates.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Gilon takes the opportunity to ride on the runningboards of the truck very seriously.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Serena is caught enjoying herself on the ride up the hill.

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Refreshed from his nap, Nigel helps offload the new masts.

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Mica discovers that the unloaded electric drill “feels neat” when she spins it against her cheek.

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The designs and the constructions get far enough along that the teams decide they are ready to go to the hardware store. Much to our chagrin, the local store does not carry the right kind of 1×4, even after we sort a big pile that has to be brought down with the big forklift.

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So we also go to the big hardware store in Daly City, and in doing so break a long-standing Tinkering School tradition by leaving the ranch on two consecutive days.

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Luigi is far more critical of the quality of the 2×4’s than any 12 year-old has a right to be.

Almost as soon as we arrived home, the persnickety toilet in the girls bathroom stopped working, overflowed onto the floor and out the door and down the hall… Anita and Gever left Hanna to the defrosting of ground turkey for taco night while they dealt with the unspeakable mess that was now making a run for the girls dorm room.

And, in spite of the excessive time spent in cars, it was a very productive day and the teams are feeling pretty good about having something to test on the rails by Wednesday morning – maybe not finished, but definitely testable.