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Mr. DIY Goes to Washington: TechShop Members at White House Maker Faire

John Lawton, a TechShop members, was part of the first-ever White House Maker Faire. Here he proudly shows the self-made business name plate before the White House lawn. (Image courtesy of John Lawton.)

John Lawton at the White House Maker Faire.

John Lawton used to go to the White House to pick up presidents, vice presidents, and various heads of states for chopper rides. He was also the White House liaison officer for the HMX-1, the marine helicopter squadron that provides presidential transport. But when he returned to the White House in mid-June, he did so as an exhibitor at the first-ever White House Maker Faire. A veteran with a custom-furniture business, he embodies the inventive, do-it-yourself (DIY) spirit the Maker Faire celebrates.

When his service in the presidential squadron ended in 2013, Lawton  relocated to Austin, Texas, a city that he’d longed to live in. “It’s an innovator-, inventor-friendly place,” he remarked. The city suited his tinkering tendencies, shaped equally by his welder father and artist mother. That’s also where he stumbled on TechShop, a membership-based personal manufacturing community with production and training facilities across eight cities (two more locations opening soon). TechShop provides one-year free membership to veterans like Lawton, who served three deployments, two years in Iraq. So he joined the build-and-play TechShop community.

“I was pretty blown away by the type of equipment, community, and space they [TechShop] had there,” Lawton recalled. While there, he took advantage of the 3D CAD software and equipment training available onsite. “Basic 2D and 3D software is a must-know these days. So I took classes on Corel Draw, some CAD/CAM programs, Adobe Illustrator, Autodesk Inventor Pro, partly for prototyping, partly for sending files to the machine. The classes that I had at TechShop give me the basics. Then I can take advance classes if I want to,” he said.

While in the service, Lawton kept a sketchbook. “I recorded things I’d like to make one day if I could,” he recalled. Today, he’s making them, sometime simply for pleasure, other times for clients who hired him through his new business JDL Designs. “You won’t find my furniture in any store,” he said. “I build a relationship with my customer, find out what they want to see. These are artworks, most pieces are exclusive. They’re one-off designs, made with top quality materials, designed to last for generations.”

Lawton brought along a couple of custom-made desks and furniture to the White House Maker Faire. But his star attraction was a waterjet-cut presidential seal, showcasing a variety of techniques he’d mastered through TechShop.

Also in attendance at the White House Maker Faire was Jesse Harrington, Autodesk’s Maker Program manager. Walking around the exhibits, he recognized people who’d employed Autodesk 123D and Inventor software in their TechShop projects. “There was the underwater robot by David Lang, and there was a 3D-printed violin, created using Autodesk 123D Catch and Autodesk 360,” Harrington recalled.

In his speech at the event, President Obama singled out a few participants, including Joey Hudy, the youngest Intel intern, who created a marshmallow shooter (Joey’s Tweet from the Faire below). Obama quipped, “He’s probably the only one I know who’s ever been allowed to fire a marshmallow gun in the White House. The stain is still on the wall.”

The playful, fun atmosphere of the White House Maker Faire may be a precursor to better days for innovation and manufacturing — two economic drivers. Obama said, “Today’s DIY is tomorrow’s Made in America. Your inventions can lead to new jobs tomorrow.”

For more, read DE Rapid Ready blogger John Newman’s post on the Faire.

President Obama’s speech at the White House Maker Faire below:

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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.

One comment

  1. Makerspaces like TechShop or Vocademy here in the inland region of southern California are popping up all over the country now, and what is even more important than the equipment they make available to members is the training they provide. Having the tools available to you to aid in innovation doesn’t do much good if you don’t know how or when to use them. Since most of these vocational skills are no longer being taught in conventional school curriculums, these makerspaces are going to be a key factor in getting those skills into the hands of the people that need them. I find it promising that the White House has formally recognized the importance of this.

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