An easy way to make a brushbot

There are plenty of fantastic tutorials on the internet showing how to make tiny robots called “brushbots” out of toothbrushes (this one is quite good). But we’ve noticed that a lot of the tutorials require soldering – something that not everyone feels comfortable with since it involves molten lead. This tutorial will show how you can make a quick and easy solder-less brushbot.

You’ll need:

  • 1 electric toothbrush (look for the cheapest toothbrush possible)
  • 1 brush (kitchen scrub brushes often work well)
  • some electrical tape
  • hot glue (optional)

Step 1: Take apart electric toothbrush

Every electric toothbrush is going to be slightly different, so inspect your electric toothbrush and see if you can figure out how to take it apart. Many brushes aren’t even held together with screws and can just be pulled apart from either end.

You’re going to want to remove all the parts from the inside of the toothbrush. When you’ve gotten it apart, it will look something like this:


To build your brushbot you’ll need the motor and the battery casing.


If most electric toothbrushes come with batteries, if so keep these because they will power your brushbot.

Put the batteries in the battery casing and using tape, tape the battery casing and the motor together so that the batteries are in contact with the motor. When everything is taped together the motor should turn on (this step can be slightly tricky so look for our video tutorial in a couple days).

Now that you have a working motor, it’s just a matter of attaching your motor to the top of your brush. You can do this using more tape or hot glue, whichever you feel the most comfortable with.

Now you should have a working brushbot – congratulations! Look for our video tutorial in the coming days. We’d love for you to send us a picture of your amazing robotic creations!

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History Makers: How the medieval book was made

Our society is built upon the work of the inventive makers who lived before us. In this semi-regular feature we’re going to examine how certain technologies were made in the past and see what lessons we can learn from them.

The book is an amazing piece of technology. It stores information in a portable, easy-to-use format that can last for hundreds (if not thousands) of years in the right condition. Before the book (or as book-historians would call it, “the codex”) was invented, the scroll was the primary technology used to store the written word.

An example of a scroll

These scrolls were often made from sheets of papyrus (an aquatic reed) – if you wanted to read from a scroll, you would roll the pages from the beginning of the text to the end. If, for example, you wanted to check something on page 32 of the scroll, you would have to roll through all the pages that came before it.

Starting around the 5th Century CE historians start to see examples of the codex emerge. One of the main technological advantages of the codex is that it allows users to search for information faster than in a scroll. Instead of having to move linearly through the entire scroll to find a specific passage, users could open a codex to any page of their choosing.

An early book, the Codex Aureus

An early book, the Codex Aureus

While the earliest codices were seen in the 5th Century, the book as we know it today was born in the Middle Ages. Early codices lacked many of the features that we now associate with books – things like page numbers, title pages, author credits, and even spacing between words were not found in early books.

Until the invention of the moveable type printing press in the 16th Century CE, nearly all books were made entirely by hand. Every page, every drawing, and every letter had to be individually crafted by a book maker.

For most of the Middle Ages animal hide (called parchment or vellum) was used to make the pages of books. Animal skins (generally cow, goat, or sheep) would taken to an artisan called a tanner who would remove its hair and fat and begin the long process of preparing it for writing. The BBC has produced an excellent video showing how parchment is made.

Once the hide had been cleaned and dried it could be cut into sheets and sold to book makers. Book makers would then fold and cut these larger sheets into smaller groupings of pages called quires – each quire generally contained either 4, 6, or 8 pages (called folia).



Groups of quires would then been sewn together to form the body of the book. In the Middle Ages it was also common to use pieces of wood to make the front and back cover of the book. These wooden covers could then be decorated with a number of materials ranging from leather, to gold, to jewels.

Groups of quires being sewn together to form a book

Groups of quires being sewn together to form a book

This is a very quick overview of how book were made in the Middle Ages, to learn more about this fascinating subject, visit this article by the JP Getty Museum about making a medieval book.

At our upcoming TD Summer Reading Program library visits we’ll be showing book lovers how to make their own books in the style of medieval books. Stop by, learn how to make a book, and chat with the MakerBus’s resident medievalist Ryan Hunt.

A calendar of our stops can be found on our Facebook page.


ReMAKE, Reuse, Recycle


At the end of our Make University summer camp we received a very happy surprise from the parents of two of our campers. Brian Thom visited our website and noticed that we had a big list of supplies that we were looking for and donated a big awesome box of stuff to us!

In the big awesome box of stuff we found such treasures as a vacuum cleaner (perfect for making DIY hovercrafts), a number of hand tools (always useful), a dremel (a tool of infinite utility), and a partially dismantled digital camera (something that I’m sure will yield all sorts of interesting treasures).

We wanted to take a second to thank Brian Thom for everything he donated to us – we will do our best to put it to good use in London.

If you have anything kicking around your house that you would like to give a second life on the MakerBus, please have a look at our list of needed supplies. Or, if you have something awesome that you think we’d like that isn’t on our list, send us an email to

Currently MakerBus team member Ryan is busy in the planning stages of a building a custom Minecraft arcade cabinet. He’ll be using a Raspberry Pi computer that has been generously donated to us, but he’ll need a lot of carpentry equipment like plywood, wood stain, and wood glue. If you know of anyone who would like to donate some equipment to this project, please let us know.

Finally a massive thank you to everyone who helps support the MakerBus in our community and beyond – our bus truly runs on community support.

-MakerBus team

#MakeU reflections: using Agar Agar to make noodles

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As anyone who has planned an activity or event can tell you, it’s extremely rare when things go exactly according to plan, and it’s even more rare when things go so well that they exceed your expectations. Personally speaking, of all the activities we planned for our Make U Summer Camp at DHSI2014, making noodles using Agar Agar was my absolute favourite.

For an early age I’ve loved to cook. In recent years I’ve become quite fascinated with a sub-discipline of food science called “molecular gastronomy.” Molecular gastronomy investigates the science behind how and why we make food, examining the physical and chemical changes that occur when food is prepared. While I’m interested in the findings and techniques developed through molecular gastronomy, I’m also extremely skeptical as to whether the movement is a good thing.

Cooking should be an act of passion. Whether that passion comes from making food for people that you love or it comes from a desire to make a stunning work of art, I believe cooking to be an art, not a science. I worry that by applying scientific principles to cooking we run the risk of replacing passion with scientific objectivism.

But I digress, let me tell you about how to make noodles using Agar Agar powder. Agar is a gelatinous substance derived from algae that has been used in Japanese cuisine for centuries. In a powdered form, Agar produces a similar effect to gelatine powder. Unlike gelatine powder which is derived from animal products, Agar powder is vegan.

The process for using Agar Agar powder to make noodles is quite simple and inexpensive. You’ll need:

  • Agar Agar powder (this can be purchased online, in many Asian grocery stores, or in health food stores)
  • Food-safe plastic tubing
  • a syringe (without needle)
  • a liquid of some sort
  • a burner
  • - an ice bath

The basic goal of the Agar Agar noodle is to take a flavoured liquid of some sort (in the camp we used green sports drink, chocolate milk, mango juice, and coconut milk) and turn it into a spaghetti-like noodle.

To make the noodles take 3/4s of a cup of liquid, stir in 1 tsp of Agar Agar powder, and bring the solution to a boil. Once the solution has been brought to a boil, use your syringe to inject the solution into food-safe plastic tubing.

With the plastic tubing filled with the solution, place the tubing into an ice bath for roughly 3 minutes. The ice bath will allow the solution to set up into a firm, noodle-like final product.

Fill the syringe with air and use it to force the noodle out of the tube.

For visual learners, here’s a great video showing the entire process.

Our campers loved this activity from start to finish. There’s something about younger learners which makes them fascinated by “gross” activities. The idea that familiar liquids could be transformed into noodles really captivated them.

Of all the liquids we tried, the chocolate milk was the only that didn’t work well. Instead of setting up into a firm noodle, it developed a runny/grainy texture. I wonder if I heated the milk too quickly and caused it to separate.


We’re brainstorming some ideas for different molecular gastronomy events in London, stay tuned to learn how the MakerBus will be encouraging people to play with their food.


-Ryan Hunt

MakerBus Co-Founder

Make U reflections: building a DIY Matrix-style camera

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Shortly before starting our Make University Summer Camp, I received a GoPro camera for my birthday. Wanting to find fun projects for the camera, I started researching different GoPro projects that would be doable for our summer camp.

I ended up finding these projects which use a GoPro camera and a ceiling fan to make a homemade Matrix-style camera. The projects struck a balance of being interesting, safe, and practical within the limitations of our summer camp.

In short, the camera seeks to replicate the 360 degree panning camera from the Matrix movies by attaching a GoPro camera to the blades of a ceiling fan. The camera rotates at high speed around a stationary object. Since we’re normally used to cameras being stationary while filming moving objects, the DIY Matrix camera provides us with an unfamiliar perspective.

To build our camera we purchased a ceiling fan, a second-hand table, and some electrical cord. We drilled a hole in the centre of the table and mounted the ceiling fan facing upwards. Since our ceiling fan was made to be wired directly into a home’s wiring, we had to wire an extension cord onto the fan.

To mount the GoPro to the fan we used a bracket and attached the bracket and camera directly to one of the wooden fan blades.

Our rig may not have been the prettiest thing ever created, but it functioned well, allow the GoPro to rotate around a stationary platform in the centre of the table. If you’d like to make your own, I recommend watching this video.

Our campers enjoyed playing with the camera. We were able to stream the GoPro’s feed to a tablet, allowing the campers to watch in real-time as the camera worked. However, we found that the campers got bored before we were able to show them the final project, because the videos need a touch of editing to make them a finished product. If we were to try this activity again, we’d probably leave more time after class for video editing and then have a movie showing the following day.

Also in a Matrix camera-2.0 we’d consider making a rig that a person could stand in the centre of, similar to the one in this video. While this would add an extra element of danger (swinging cameras make for easy black eyes), I feel that the final product would be more impressive.

Here are two of the test videos we created in class. Look for more test videos on our Youtube channel. The ceiling fan is being shipped to London from Victoria, so when it arrived look for a DIY Matrix camera right here in the Forest City.

-Ryan Hunt
MakerBus Co-Founder

Make U reflections: Making time for family

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While I live in London Ontario these days, I’m originally from Victoria BC. Most of my family still lives in Victoria so running the Make U summer camp at UVic gave me some time to see my family (which after the past several years of either living abroad in or Ontario happens less often than I’d like).

While neither of my parents would likely identify themselves as makers, they both possess a love of working with their hands and artistic spirits (as anyone in London who has seen my mother’s beautiful quilled cards can attest). Growing up I never really enjoy working with my hands. While my parents would be outside working in their garden or building various carpentry projects, I generally preferred to stay inside keeping my hands clean.

Since rediscovering the joys of actually building things I’ve come to appreciate my parents’ attempts to engage me in practical learning. I now realize that my father didn’t make me help him fix the car because he wanted to torture me, but because he knew how important a basic mechanical understanding would be later in life.

As a kid it’s easy to want instant gratification – watching tv is fun, helping my dad fix a broken drain isn’t. The thing about instant gratification is that it doesn’t pay off in the long run. I hardly remember any of the tv shows I watched as a kid, but remembering how to change a tire continues to be useful.

Having my parents help in the organizing of Make U was a real trip down memory lane. One of our activities was built around converting a ceiling fan into a DIY Matrix-style camera (see more about this activity in the coming days). My father’s electrical knowledge was essential in getting this project done and making me confident that we wouldn’t electrocute any of our campers. Spending a couple afternoons building the camera rig reminded me of the good old days of be volun-told to help him around the house.

Even the colourful local swap-meet that I used to dread being dragged around as a child proved to be an essential part of our camp planning. The Western Speedway Swap & Shop is a Victoria institution. At it dozens of vendors from around the city set up in a stock car track selling various goods. When we needed to find cheap sink drains for our DIY lightsabers, we found exactly the number we needed at exactly the price we were willing. Now instead of hating the idea of going, I wish there was one I could go to in London.

For me Make U was a blending of the life I left behind in Victoria with the life I’ve built in London. It really made me appreciate things I didn’t understand as a child. While we at the MakerBus like to extoll the virtues of maker sites like Instructables,  Lifehacker, and Make, sometimes the best lessons are made by family.

Here’s a brief video our the first test of our ceiling fan GoPro rig (if you look carefully you can the entire MakerBus team and my family). Stay tuned for a post about how it worked in the camp and our plans for improvements.

-Ryan Hunt

MakerBus Co-Founder

Make University at the University of Victoria

MakeU headerBetween June 2nd through June 6th the MakerBus team was in beautiful Victoria BC offering a one-week kids camp called Make University (Make U).

Now you may be wondering what our team was doing so far from our home in London, Ontario and the answer is a somewhat long one. In short, each year the University of Victoria hosts the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (or DHSI). The “DH” in DHMakerBus stands for “Digital Humanities,” an emerging field that blends new media, social media, and computer science with the traditional humanities subjects (i.e. history, english, philosophy, etc.). DHSI is aimed mostly at scholars, students, and librarians, but they are interested in offering course for younger learners as well.

Kim (Chief Instigator at the MakerBus) has contact with a project called Eurekamp at the University of Alberta. Eurekamp was born from a partnership between the Faculty of Arts at U of A and an organization called Philosophy for Children. Philosophy for Children seeks to promote philosophy and to “develop critical thinking skills, creativity, and caring communities through philosophical inquiry programs.” Kim’s contacts at Philosophy for Children wondered if the MakerBus would like to partner with their organization to create a summer camp that blended philosophy with maker culture. Together we pitched the idea to the organizers of DHSI and Make U was born!

(See, I told you it was a long story.)

At Make U we wanted to get kids thinking with their hands and with their minds. It’s easy to show someone how to make something, but it’s an entirely different exercise to get people thinking about the act of making itself. Each day we concluded Make U with a group discussion where the campers created big picture questions and we discussed their ideas. At the end of the first day, one camper asked, “why do we enjoy taking apart things even if they already work?” This was a brilliant question that we talked about for nearly an hour without coming to a definitive conclusion – but that’s what philosophy is all about, asking big questions and not worrying about wrapping things up neatly with a single answer.

With five days of activities and four camp leaders we generated a lot of content (I personally took 6.8 gigs of photos of videos), so we’re going to be blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking some of our highlights throughout the coming month.

We can’t wait to share our Victorian adventures with you!

-Ryan Hunt

MakerBus Co-Founder