From “Zero to Maker” (and Fixer!)

I knew little about the “Maker” movement when I first stepped into the World Maker Faire in New York last month. It felt kinda like going to Disneyland and not knowing about Mickey Mouse. From the first moment I walked into this celebration of creative tinkering, I was awed and overwhelmed by wandering robots, a life sized game of mousetrap, and machines I couldn’t even begin to describe or comprehend.

Suddenly, I spied a banner that read: “Zero to Maker.” I knew where I needed to start.

The cover of Zero to Maker by David Lang

A neophyte maker, I met a new hero. David Lang, author of Zero to Maker, was giving out his introduction to the Maker movement—a crash course Maker ideology, jargon, and (most importantly) enthusiasm. Best of all, the book is David’s story of going from zero to maker.

Being a fixer at heart, I was amused by David’s experience trying to fix his Magic Bullet blender. Enjoy the excerpt below—it mentions iFixit, so I was morally obliged to share. And check out David’s book on Amazon: Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Just About) Anything.

–The following is an excerpt from David Lang’s Zero to Maker–

Fix It First

As much as I highlight the ways in which it’s getting easier for makers to get started, it still remains a challenge for much of our daily lives. Market forces, like low prices and convenience, have created an arms race for product un-fixability. It goes beyond just making it difficult to fix products, with many products actually prohibiting it. Admittedly, I had grown accustomed to the throwaway lifestyle. If something broke, oh well. The cost of replacement usually trumped the hassle of fixing. It wasn’t until my maker journey that I truly recognized the true cost of all the cheap (and un-fixable) products in my life.

In the back of my Makers Notebook is a Maker Bill of Rights (Figure 3-1), based on the idea: “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.”

The maker's bill of rights from Zero to Maker
Figure 3-1. The Maker Bill of Rights

Here are some tips and resources for developing a “Fix it First” Mentality:

The Lowest Price doesn’t mean the Lowest Cost

Do your homework on products before you buy them. Keep in mind that buying the cheaper product can often times ending up costing you more in the long run. After my Magic Bullet experience, I did some searching around the internet for reviews and instructions on repair, and almost nothing came up (except for a similar stories of failing products just outside the 1 year warranty period).

After hearing a friend rave about her Vitamix blender, I looked that up, too. Here was the first Amazon Review:

VitaMix Amazon review in Zero to Maker

That’s it! That’s exactly the type of review you’d hope to see for a product. This type of review isn’t always at the top of the Amazon page. Instead of searching for “Product X review” I suggest searching for “How to fix Product X” or “Product X repair.” Those search results are usually a lot more telling of maker-friendliness.


When you’re taking apart a Magic Bullet, it’s very apparent that the manufacturers never intended for you to get inside of it. The complicated and confusing ways it goes together, matched with hidden and difficult to access screws create a puzzling process. Not surprisingly, they don’t advertise the method for repair.

 Gone are the days where (most) products come with repair manuals or spare parts. Luckily, the internet is filling the void. The site iFixit is the central hub for many of these missing manuals. They have thousands of repair guides, ranging from installing a new dock connector onto your iPhone to troubleshooting your Kenmore washing machine. They also have a parts store that offers many of the common tools and materials needed to fix or refurbish an old device. And their forum provides a way of tapping the collective knowledge of other industrious members of the iFixit community.

Most of the disassembly guides are well documented, with lists of tools you will need, videos, and pictures for every step. This was the first place I checked for the Magic Bullet instructions. Unfortunately, they don’t have that one yet. Maybe I’ll create it!

 Fix-it Clinics

As I’ve learned for all aspects of making: it always goes better when lots of people are involved. Fixing products and things is no different.

Fix-it clinics or Repair Cafes are a popular part of many Maker Faires and Mini-Maker Faires. I’ve also started to see them organized as events at Makerspaces around the country. If your Makerspace has the appropriate tools, organizing a fix-it clinic can be a fun event as well as a great way to get a number of other perspectives on fixes you’re working on.

Enough Talk, Time to Make Something

With those concepts out of the way—DIY and the Maker Mentality—there isn’t much standing in the way of at least starting the project you’ve been dreaming of. Or at least getting your feet wet with the maker movement (and all the exciting opportunities that might unlock).

The next questions to address are around tools: What if I don’t have them? Where can I get access? Which tools should I learn first?

 The next few chapters will deal with this phantom obstacle. I’ll show you that you already have access to many of the tools and machines you need to prototype anything.

–Check out the rest of David’s advice in his book, Zero to Maker–