Maker of the Month: Bob Stack
Maker of the Month is a new program featuring a Maker Works monthly or yearly member and how they use Maker Works' tools and facilities. And though it is now October, September's Maker of the Month was independent engineer & artist Bob Stack. The following is an interview done in his studio at the A2 Mech Shop.
1. When did you start making things and why were you enticed into making?
High school was about the time I started making things. Fun projects: I would take mirror tiles with different borders on them, remove the mirror in a feathered pattern and put prints behind them, like Escher and Frank Frazzetta. My mom had a business that used to sell stuff to the ceramic industry and I used to make stuff for her and help her out.
2. What are some jobs you’ve had in the past?
I worked at General Motors for almost 15 years. And when I was 33, I went back to school. I started at community college to retake classes. They closed the plant I was working at, the Willow Run Assembly Plant, so I took a buy-out and went to University of Michigan and got my engineering degree. I learned that I never want to be back on an assembly line ever again. But it paid the bills.
3. What comes natural to you?
Mathematics and spatial relations: In my last job, I did a lot of geometric constructions in space. It was gauging so I would have to figure out where somethingwas without having any referencing points. But it was something I was well suited for and enjoyed doing. Spatial relationships and engineering school came natural.
4. What is the best book or movie you’ve ever seen that featured makers/ inventors/artists or other creative types?
Mythbusters, MacGyver, or the character in James Bond, named Q, the one that came up with all the crazy inventions and would present Bond with all his gadgets and things. Well, on second thought, it wasn’t him but more the gadgets that he would present. The gadgets stuck in your head. James Bond movies probably influenced me the most in terms of things like that.
5. What are some projects that you are currently working on?
I’ve always been interested in woodworking, and I have a woodworking studio at home. I was able to salvage some linear bearings to make spindles or legs and wanted to make a CNC machine to auto mate them. When I began at the Mech Shop, I started doing a bunch of other projects that took me in another direction, and now I am coming back to the CNC machines. I also had a hiatus because I got cancer in 2010 and am just now getting back into the swing of things.
This CNC router was built from salvaged parts and parts made at Maker Works on the Tormach CNC Mill, such as the bearing blocks, the router mounting plate, the spacers, the ball screw mounts, most of the gantry piece. I used salvaged linear rails, the aluminum 80-20, and most of it came from the scrap yard and the place where I used to work. I just sold it and am beginning to work on another.
I am automating paper artist Matt Shlian’s project for the new Mott’s Children’s hospital.
6. Could you share a short story about the first project you ever made?
Highschool: I used to make ‘color organs’- they are little things you would plug into your stereo and they would blink with different lights along to the beat of your music. I used corrugated plastic in front of it. Before graphic equalizers, you just put electronic filters in there. It was the 1970’s and blinking lights were fun.
7. What is your dream project?
I would like to start working on custom porcelain sconces. When I bought the little CNC I have, I read that you could make lithophanes and I got pretty good at making custom lithophanes. I make them out of corian. I would like to transition into making them out of porcelain, which is from what they are traditionally made. I started taking classes at the Ann Arbor Art Center a while back because I thought I would be able to walk in and use their kilns but I ended up taking classes instead.
8. If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be?
I would love to collaborate with the Dadaists, and Marcel Duchamp & Man Ray. Right now I love collaborating with Matt Shlian; it is great to be a part of his work.
9. What has been the best advice given to you?
Dale Grover taught me how to get involved with community service. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be involved in the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire. I went to the Go Tech and then got involved in the Maker Faires, A2Geeks, and community projects. He has been an influence in what I’ve done lately. I think a large mission in his life is to make the world a better place. Maker Works is something that Tom & Dale created and the world a better place as a result of that. Profit isn’t a bad thing but it is more a community thing, to help the community in a time when the economy sucks. This is a big deal.
10. What makes a perfect working environment for you?
The synergy and the friendships at the Mech Shop: We have drive-by consulting and everyone wants to get involved in it. Everyone here can take or give advice without getting angry or upset about. This place is incredible, the energy that comes from being with high caliber engineers. I did an Ignite Talk about it, we don’t work for each other, but we do collaborate though. I started at the Mech shop when I was still working my other job; I was the only engineer at my old job. The Mech Shop has now been around for four years.
11. Why did you choose to become a member at Maker Works?
Guys around here discussed Tech Shop before Maker works was around, and how it may not be able to survive in a place like this. The Mech Shop and Maker Works are similar, but one is private the other is public. I personally view Maker Works as an extension of my resources and think of it as ‘THE place to be’, around other people who enjoy the same things. I think the Ann Arbor area has an incredible amount of gifted and talented engineers that are going to really make things happen. It doesn’t make sense to purchase that expensive equipment long term by yourself. You are going to see a lot of good things come out of Maker Works.
If you would like to nominate or be nominated for Maker of the Month, please email Thea at email@example.com