This is What’s In Your Toolbox?, an occasional post series where we showcase tools and tips from our favorite fixers. Today we’re featuring Xyla Foxlin, executive director of Beauty and the Bolt, a Cleveland-based non-profit that works to diversify the STEM field by getting young women interested and involved in making and fixing.
First off, explain to our community who you are and what you do!
I’m a maker and engineer both by heart and training! I run a nonprofit and YouTube channel called Beauty and the Bolt, where our mission is to lower the barrier to entry for girls and minorities in making, engineering, and technology. We do this by making female-taught videos on basic engineering concepts, fun DIYs, and tool tutorials. Previous to Beauty and the Bolt, I was the founder of a consumer electronics project, and I’ve also worked on R&D for Disney Imagineering and iRobot.
How did you get started fixing things?
It’s funny—I’m naturally really careful around electronic devices; my parents hammered the “don’t break expensive things” mantra into me when I was really young. But as a tween I wore a lot of really cheap jewelry and was always climbing trees or playing sports with it on, so some of my early “fixes” were all mechanical and cosmetic repairs to small chains, jump rings, shoes, zippers, etc.
What’s in your toolbox?
My emergency toolbox at home has the basics: hand tools, a drill, soldering iron, glues and epoxies, and my iFixit toolkit. I’m pretty limited by what can fit in my small downtown apartment, so most of my toys are at my studio/workshop. There, I have a laser cutter, CNC, vacuum former, 3D printer, hand tools galore (gotta love yard sales), an electronics workbench with my oscilloscope, soldering station, heat gun, function generator, wires, heaps of spare components and Adafruit boards, a handful of pneumatic tools, and of course the power tool basics.
How do you organize your tools?
Organize? What’s that? Kidding (sort of). I have a pegboard wall for some of my hand tools, and keep lesser-used power/pneumatic tools in large plastic bins and retrieve them when I need them. I’ve just built rolling small desks that have the laser cutter, 3D printer, and CNC on them so I can roll them onto set when I’m making a video using one.
What are some of your most-used tools?
My soldering iron is my baby that has traveled across the country with me. I used to bring it to every conference I attended just in case something broke. Most things I prototype I do on a laser cutter—it’s just so much faster than 3D printing and I’m really speedy at Adobe Illustrator.
What’s your most-coveted, yet least-used tool?
I’m the only builder/maker type of my cousins, so when my grandfather passed away my grandmother gave me his old leatherman. I’ve used it a few times, but I’m always afraid of losing it or damaging it, so usually it stays in its case. Which is a bummer because I know my grandfather would have wanted me to use it!
Is there a certain tool or material you use often, but seems unorthodox for your particular field?
I actually find myself sewing a good amount, but always random things a tablecloth for a conference, or a wearables project, or a case for a tool, or a costume for a Tesla Coil show. I used to give tours of a makerspace I worked at in college, and people would always laugh when we got to the sewing station. But hey, that CNC embroidery/sewing machine has a longer handbook than the Shopbot!
Every fixer/DIYer has a gruesome tool injury story. What’s yours?
I recently scored myself two hospital visits thanks to a steel rod to the eye (photos are on my Instagram—I’m not going to scar you folks here). I was working on a weld up for a friend’s Burning Man project, finished up for the day, took off my PPE, and walked right into a steel rod. It was a huge wake up call to how relaxed I had started getting around other people who were working. I’m always so careful to be in PPE when I’m the one holding the tools, but I really should be wearing it anytime I’m near the shop!
Other than that, I’ve mostly just got a lot of soldering iron burns. My phone’s fingerprint reader needs to get reset every so often!
What’s your advice for people who want to start fixing things?
You’re going to fail, and more than once. Remember that fixing, building, creating, and problem solving are skills that require practice. We are all on a journey to be the best fixer and maker we can, and we are all in different places on that journey. Don’t compare yourself to people who have had more hours of practice than you—it’s just not fair to yourself.
Anything else you want our community of fixers to know?
Check out our Galaxy-inspired Galaxy Mod video using the Pro Tech Toolkit!