See what you can make

quite some years ago I helped open a Fab lab in Grenoble, France (it was burned down by anarchists not long ago, but that makes for another fun story..) where we eventually developed really wonderful communities of people making guitars, skateboards, printers, all sorts of electronics, and even stuff for biology. I often did projects to show people what was possible and to inspire (at least, I hope I did), and tried to show it was good to look at personal things and the world around them – what would YOU like to make? And what do YOU need? And others? What could help the people around you?

One of the projects I did was make wooden glasses – I broke a pair of my glasses, and instead of throwing them away, I got the lenses out and made wooden frames for them –

They where far from perfect, but they made me happy, and it was a great learning experience making them. I needed to machine the wood on both sides (note the metal pins to align the wood in the left image), find a way to attach the branches well, and then tried some epoxy to finish them. Fun project, about which I almost forgot until 3 years later.

In 2017 I found myself working on a project in Suriname, and got in contact with Rudi Floquet, who runs the Kazlab fab lab in St. Laurent du Maroni, which is just across the river (and border) in French Guyana. So we went to visit the lab, to meet the team there to discuss projects, and show our friends from Suriname a real cool lab.

While I was in the lab, a lady explained me she broke her glasses.. so I dug up the pictures (yay connected world) and showed her she could make some of her own! She was (in my memory) only mildly interested, and seemed a bit daunted by the complexity of the work.

So imagine my surprise when 2 years later, I get a message from Rudi, with a picture of him wearing wooden glasses!

Hi Jean Michel! How are you? And your projects around the globe? When you came you to the Fablab a few years ago you told us that it would be cool to make glasses… That’s what we did with local amazonian wood… And it was such a success that we did 3 workshops and 25 members were able to make their own ! 😎

The Fab labs we are creating will focus on protection of youth, juvenile justice, alternatives for education.. but we should not forget they’ll also allow people to make locally relevant products, and solve local problems. And the nice thing is, we can all inspire each other, and share our projects and techniques, even if geographically we are far from each other.

What I also really like about Rudi’s project is the use of local materials.. it’s great to make useful product locally, but even better if you don’t have to import (or even buy!) materials. Check out this video of the project (in French) if you’d like to see more. They got help from a guy who professionally makes glasses to start the project, who also makes skateboards (ha!) and wooden bikes. Check out his work here.

It’s amazing what nature can offer us (as long as you don’t over-use its offers, and make sure to use sustainable ways of harvesting materials) but that’s not all – people tend to throw away a wealth of still useful stuff, and materials. Projects like Precious Plastic show us what is possible with many things most consider ‘trash’.

Personally I try to continue to give examples.. I recently finished a barbecue and a stool completely made from ‘trash’ (except the paint and the thermometer).

So what do YOU need, or the people around you, and can you make it from stuff you where about to throw away? And remember, it’s even better to work together, as you can see below, I also had help 🙂

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Jean-michel worked as a senior consultant for the Fab Foundation, as a professor of the practice at Tufts University, and manages Fab Connections - teaching about digitally controlled tools, creating and developing fab labs, and making connections between old and new spaces and communities. He lives in France with his wife and 3 kids.

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