Dream Camp for Handy Adults: Craftsman MAKEcation 2.0


Villain in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Craftsman.

Working in historic preservation and salvage/reuse means having a good grasp of material science and an eye for craftsmanship. One of the biggest hurdles of working in these fields is assuring people who own vintage buildings or who do a lot of building that they can easily repair, restore, and reuse older materials. In fact, these materials usually have several lives left in them. But as much as I hammer home this point (cymbal crash!), even I don’t get nearly enough time to play around with many of the tools out there that can help make restoration and reuse projects even easier, not to mention the time to stoke the coals of my creative side.


This became a room full of excited adults, lathes, and rather a lot of wood shavings a couple of hours after this was taken. Photo courtesy of Craftsman.

Enter MAKEcation. This is essentially two days of nonstop building, learning and playing, and when you’re invited as a special guest, it’s rude to say no, right? I was asked to come and teach a workshop last year at the inaugural MAKEcation, and I remember thinking, “Is this a real thing? We just get to build stuff all weekend and in the evenings, we learn about whiskey and grilling and take a boat ride after a private concert?” It’s a thing. When I was asked back, rest assured I immediately rearranged my five jobs to make it work. MAKEcation is like camp for curious and creative adults with some of the best makers in the country. At a really nice hotel.


Making coat hooks with master craftsman Rob North. Photo Courtesy of Craftsman.

The purpose of the event, which lasts 2-1/2 days, is to reward loyal Craftsman Club members for their support and to show active DIY bloggers what Craftsman tools can do. An added bonus of coming two years in a row was seeing many of the ideas that came out of last year manifest through new tool designs and adjustments. Participants were shown all of the upgrades and allowed to try them out. Honestly, I fell in love with several tools I didn’t even know I wanted. My kingdom for more workspace in Chicago because…lathe. Sigh.


LATHE!!! I cannot express how satisfying it is to use the 12″ x 16″ midi lathe. I’d never used this tool before and it was super smooth. It was essentially like meditation that left you with a piece of functional art. Photo courtesy of Craftsman.

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I only had time to make two handles, but this bottle and pizza cutter are going to be buried with me.

Day 1.

Arrive in Brooklyn early to explore solo for a few hours.

  • Walk Williamsburg
  • Buy a Rocky Balboa onesie for my niece
  • Have incredible pizza and a lager in the courtyard of Fornino’s
  • Return to hotel for cocktails by the saltwater pool (as one does)
  • Head to Brooklyn Brewery for a private tour and more New York style pizza and beer (Chicagoans have no threshold for pizza consumption)
  • Get the only decent night’s sleep on this trip

Master craftsmen, loyal Craftsman Club members, handy people who write about makers and tools for a living, and a few folks from the Craftsman marketing team who schemed this whole wonderful thing up and worked their tails off for the greater good. Thanks, thanks, thanks. Photo courtesy of Craftsman.

Day 2

  • 7am breakfast in the hotel
  • Head over to Villain, a maker space in Brooklyn that includes all the tools and stations we need, as well as a gigantic bar (for AFTER we used the nail guns and miter saws)
  • Make our own belts and leather cuffs under the expert tutelage of Will Lisak from ETWAS
  • Make a coat rack by repurposing hammers with DIY Guru Rob North 
  • Take apart and rebuild carburetors with Max Herman and Sean Brayton from the Oilers Club
  • Get an incredibly detailed mixology lesson from the lovely Lacy Hawkins, an award winning bartender from the Clover Club
  • Return to the hotel for dinner on the rooftop, delicious drinks, and a private concert by country star Eric Paslay, who did my favorite cover of Wicked Game, ever
  • Eventually…five minutes of sleep
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Justin DiPego doing some stellar leatherwork. I got to know Justin at last year’s MAKEcation and highly recommend checking out his DIY videos.


Mixologist Lacy Hawkins and her assistant teach us everything we ever wanted to know about making the perfect Manhattan. Photo courtesy of Craftsman.

Day 3

  • Up early for breakfast in the hotel (ow, but yum, but ow)
  • Head over to World Maker Faire for the morning with blurry eyes that soon widen from creative overdrive
  • Take the shuttle on back to Villain to make pizza cutter and bottle opener handles using a lathe taught by Rob Johnstone and Dan Cary from Woodworker’s Journal (I want one, I want one, I want one. Please. Please. Please.)
  • Make a toolbox with a drawer and a bottle opener with the incredibly talented and kind Karl Champley to lug around some of our spoils when we get home.
  • Oh, then we went to go see a private motorcycle stunt show by ILLConduct. Just for us. Because, why not?
  • Then another dinner by the pool and Coney Island Magician and Performer Adam Realman, who swallows swords and cigarettes and shoves spikes into his face and resembles Tom Waits.

The C3 19.2V Brad Nailer was my other favorite tool on this trip. After messing around with a manual staple gun at home earlier this month, this tool made me realize all those kicked up staples and curse words were completely unnecessary. Peace shall now reign in the Bruni studio. Thanks to the venerable Karl Champley, host on the DIY Network, HGTV, and recent winner of Ellen’s Design Challenge for this toolbox workshop. Photo courtesy of Craftsman.


We expected to be taken back to the hotel to clean ourselves up before dinner, but instead were taken down a side street for a private show by the motorcycle stunt riders at ILLConduct. This is a great capture, but I highly recommend looking at the videos on the media page of their website to understand how incredible these guys are. Photo courtesy of Craftsman.


This is Adam Realman. He eats cigarette, bends wrenches, swallows swords, and he let me pull a giant nail out of his nose and called me lovely. No regrets. Photo courtesy of Craftsman.

Day 4

  • Thank the Gods that your flight is late enough that you don’t need to leave the hotel until 11:30am, intend to explore in the morning but instead sleep until 10am, watch HBO in a fog for another hour, pack frantically, and unceremoniously run out the door to meet your driver.
  • Smile as you collapse into your window seat, sleep until drooling.

So, this was a dream trip. Assuming this happens a third year, sign up to be a member of the Craftsman Club if you haven’t already (it’s free), and enter to win as many times as you’re able. Remember: camp for adults with great food and liquor and a nice hotel and bizarre and ridiculously entertaining side trips and performances. Oh, and they ship everything you make back to you and every single thing on the trip is paid for. Yes. I’ll see you next year.

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Nerd sidebar: Hanging out with Vincent Lai of the Brooklyn-based Fixers Collective, a group that helped me and a friend launch Community Glue Workshop several years ago (which we’re proud to note is the first repair clinic in the state of Illinois). I read that his crew had a booth at the World Maker Faire and we finally got to hug in earnest (and then he gave me a free iFixit tool kit!).


I can’t wait to give this to my niece. Thanks, Brooklyn street vendor.

It’s Spring, Y’all: Get Busy like the Bees

Last year, my ecologist friend and I made some mason bee houses because, well, there are fewer and fewer places for them to take up residence and fewer and fewer pollinators out there. Basically, we’d like to keep eating food that comes out of the ground, so we picked up some wood scraps, grabbed some circular saws and drills and went to town one Sunday afternoon.

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It turns out, these little houses (some people call them “bee hotels”) were so fruitful and good-looking that they allowed me to spread my wings as well, though to slightly fancier quarters to a resort in the hills of California. I was asked to teach a workshop on how to make these little abodes with a bunch of other handy people at the Craftsman MAKEcation event, and since it’s the perfect time of year to build them, I figured I’d post how to do them here as well. So, here are the deets:

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Making some homes for nonthreatening little pollinators at last year’s MAKEcation.


  • They are gentle beings, with stings no stronger than a mosquito bite. In fact, they are generally promoted as not stinging at all. So stop judging them!
  • They are very efficient pollinators; only a few hundred are needed per acre. The dramatic decline of the honey bee population has led to small or misshapen fruit (or no fruit at all). These little mason bees have helped bring back trees that hadn’t produced fruit for years.
  • They are remarkably easy to keep, having few pest or disease problems and minimal management needs.
  • They are industrious little buggers and fun to observe in action.


  • Cordless drill (or, if you’re drilling into old growth wood, you may want a drill press)
  • Extra-long drill bit (need to be able to drill 3-5″ deep)
  • Sand paper (100 grit)
  • Miter saw (any kind of saw will work–these are quicker and easier if you’re cutting angles for a roof)
  • Brad nailer and nails (also optional, you could screw these boards together if you prefer)
  • Tape measure
  • (Optional) Paint brushes and paint – the bees seems to especially like blue and yellow


  • Avoid pressure treated wood.
  • Avoid aromatic woods like cedar.
  • Make sure wood is at least 4” thick (I would recommend it be 6-7” thick).
  • Lay out a series of holes approximately 1” apart.
  • Drill holes to between 3-5” deep (do not drill all the way through wood).
  • Keep hole diameter close to 5/16”.
  • Keep dry by creating an overhanging roof.


  • Put out in early spring. They are only around for 6-8 weeks, then the rest of the year the new generation will be in the holes developing until winter and then hibernating until spring.
  • Mason bees begin to emerge at around the same time that crocuses and forsythias bloom.
  • Place under eaves, decks, or other protected spots (if there is an overhanging roof on the house you build, this isn’t really necessary).
  • Their houses should always face south or east, receiving some morning or early afternoon sun, and be placed so that the holes are horizontal.
  • Mason bees also require a source of clay or mud to build their nests.  Dig a small pit around a foot deep and make sure it’s open and accessible throughout the active season.

Super easy and pretty crucial for our ecosystem, so just set a few hours aside and feel really good about this project.

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One of the bee homes from the event. They come in all shapes and sizes. As long as you drill the holes properly and set them out as described, they will work!

Also, if you’re looking for actual hands-on workshops—er, workshops that are free and involve good eating, drinking and entertainment in between the hands-on stuff, the next MAKEcation is coming up this summer. TIP: From now through July 31, Craftsman Club members can enter for a chance to win a trip to the Craftsman MAKEcation event by visiting www.craftsman.com/makecation. In 2014, I learned everything from blacksmithing techniques to how to properly grill a fish, and also became friends with a chainsaw artist named Curtis (include photo). I don’t know where you all live, but these are things that just don’t happen in Chicago. This year, Craftsman is kicking the action up a notch by bringing some of the nation’s top tool experts, artists and mechanics to sharpen your existing skills and to teach you new ones. They also happen to be partnering up with the World Maker Faire and providing a free ticket to attend the event, which will be held in Brooklyn at the same time. Huge perk.


Curtis! He carved these out so quickly it was astonishing. But here’s a tip: don’t sneak up behind a chainsaw artist when he or she is working.

So, go get your hands dirty and do something good for our environment and our food supply. Then sign up for discounts and a possible free making vacation to learn even more ways to get your hands dirty.

THEN, Check back at ToolMade to hear follow-up about the incredible group in Detroit that we’re working with next month. Yes, all this sunshine and non-arctic weather has me energized and bossy. But it’s all for the greater good.

Happy Spring!

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