AdventWords 2022: Make

“What’s that on the shelf?’ my artistic friend asked. ‘A turbine blade. I designed it’, I replied proudly.

‘Oh’, she said.

Visiting three weeks later she asked, ‘Why is that still there?’

‘Because I think it’s beautiful.’

‘Oh’, she said.

I find great beauty in Concorde, a Norton, a modern suspension bridge, in calculus and a good computer program – especially if I have written it!

She little or none. I thrill to the sound of a racing car, the sight and smell of a machine shop, the noise and balletic movement of men and machine shaping white hot steel in a forge – and in my turbine blade. She does not. We could both be moved to tears by mountains, Beethoven, Britten, clouds … and by friendship.”

Graham Clarke, 1994

My journey from tinkerer to maker...

For as long as I can remember I’ve been what used to be called a “tinkerer” but is now called a “maker”. From Meccano and Lego as a boy, to woodwork and metalwork when I was old enough, and plastic once that became affordable! I engaged with 3D printing early on. I built my first printer from timber, MDF, and drawer runners. Then I used it to print the parts for the second printer which became my main device for 8 years.

To make something, I need tools and I acquired a reasonable collection over the years. Each one was purchased with a use in mind and subsequently earned its place.  My toolbox has no room for anything that hasn’t already earned its keep.

How it started...

My first ever job was at British Rail and I learned from the old hands that if we need a tool – and can’t just order one (or don’t have the time to wait for it to be delivered) – then we grab the stock we need, head to the workshop, and make it! No fanfare, no audience, no applause, just get your overalls on, make it and use it so that the trains run better and the passengers get where they need to be.

Having also been into computers since before I could shave, I take the same approach when writing code. If someone has already solved the problem then I will use what they’ve made available, otherwise, I’ll break out the tools I need to create a solution. The engineering mindset is the same in both physical and virtual domains and the approach to tooling is likewise the same in both – but the software toolkit takes up much less space! 

Finally a realisation...

It was comparatively recently that I realised that this is a form of creative expression, as valid as writing, poetry, painting, and sculpture, rather than “just” mucking about in a shed. I have always seen it as enabling. What I make is almost always a solution to a problem that no-one sells or that I can’t afford. It is a form of independence from the vagaries of the marketplace – no one makes it. Okay, I’ll do it myself! I will make the designs public so anyone facing the same issue doesn’t have to start from scratch.

At heart, it’s my attempt to leave the world a little better than when I entered it. This is something I think we should all aspire to.

Vincent Heywood

Vincent Heywood


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