a chat with Adan of Akerworks

I recently spoke to Adan of Akerworks. I discovered Adan’s business through instagram over a year ago, and I was smitten with the really interesting and colourful bobbins. I discovered that they were in the process of testing Flat-pack Bobbins that fit my spinning wheel, so I emailed and begged to be let in on the trial. Since then, we’ve had various conversations on everything from trail running to foster kittens and many topics in-between. Without further ado, let me get to our conversation:

little acorn:
Please tell me a bit of the history about how Akerworks started? We’ve discussed how I grew up with powertools in my hands, but I’m curious what led to your business.
Adan:
There’s a lot of that same “tools in hand since childhood” factor involved, that’s for sure! My dad’s always been a very DIY kinda guy, partly out of thriftiness but also because his day job as a physicist left him little outlet for his natural hands-on creative drive. So when he and my mom renovated an old Victorian house and turned it into a bed and breakfast he did the majority of the work himself, often with four-year-old me by his side (probably more in the way than helpful, but still). All throughout childhood my sister and I both were encouraged to keep our hands busy makin’ stuff, stuff of all types. By the time high school was over, studying engineering in college was a pretty obvious choice for me. There was really never much uncertainty about what general type of work I was going to be doing.

But after a decade of more traditional engineering and product development, work that saw me developing everything from medical devices to plastic film laboratory test equipment, I was growing pretty desperate to be more intimately involved in the creation of the end result. Biomedical work, especially, with its unbelievably long path from concept to approvals to the customer, left me feeling totally isolated from the end product and user. I really wanted to try to find a way to do the same kind of design and problem solving but also be very involved with the actual making of the products I developed, more involved with the people who actually used them and benefited from their existence. My wife Jennifer, an architect, was keen to be involved, and my sister and brother-in-law were up for adventure as well. With them and with some of our extended family we started Akerworks and got to work developing products that struck us as being things we’d be interested in using ourselves.

So that’s how we were making games and puzzles and musical instruments in our early days. We were doing a good bit of design-and-fab for hire as well, as we quickly discovered that our drive to acquire cool tools put us in a position to help out other small companies in the area who hadn’t yet tooled up to the degree we had. My brother-in-law and I initially pooled our existing workshop tool collections and then we all worked together to get more and more such toys. Pretty quickly we had a full complement of woodworking power tools as well as a CNC router and some metalworking stuff as well. Oh yeah, and the 3D printer… It’s hard to say exactly why we bought the first printer, but it was clear those were going to be a part of our future and I guess it was just a matter of time before we just had to get one. Like the CNC router it was a tool whose capabilities are very hard to understand until you’re actually including one in your day-to-day life. It was fortunate we got that first one (Dr. Tyson, named after the great Neil deGrasse Tyson) in time to start learning about it and how to use it… and in time for people to start hearing we had it. That’s how we came to get involved in the fiber world.

A good friend of my mom’s had recently retired and, in retirement, finally permitted herself to dive down the rabbit hold of spinning. A longtime knitter, she’d always known she was interested in spinning but had resisted the urge to explore. With her resistance finally removed, however, she quickly immersed herself in the world and in a short time became a very skilled spinner as well as a very knowledgeable participant in many Ravelry discussion groups. And so it was through her we first heard of krytes42, a spinner in Alberta, Canada, and her awesome project of designing her own Majacraft-compatible bobbin and getting it printed by Shapeways, an online 3D printing service. I joined in the discussion on Ravelry, became fascinated, started prototyping variations of bobbin designs and structures… and before long was trying to do some spinning myself, learning more about spinning-related tools, making more spinning-related tools… and it’s been a wonderful process, a perfect sub-world in which all the other skills and tools we acquired in our earlier days have served us well. It’s also a really great community made up of people who are kind and supportive of each other, as well as appreciative of the ways we’ve tried to create valuable tools for them to use. The spinning community provides such valuable constructive feedback, it’s all totally energizing and has really helped keep our little company moving steadily forward. Though I still dream of one day Making All The Things and managing to have active product lines across a range of areas from fiber tools to home accessories and furniture, back to musical instruments and boats and puzzles and games… those are all wonderful product areas, but it would not be a bad thing at all if the future “only” sees us doing more and more work with fiber tools. That would be a very fine future indeed.

little acorn:
Wow! I’ve been trying to think of a coherent response to this amazing story for a few days now and I keep coming up with… Wow!

What is the one thing you wish customers would understand about the 3D printing process (or what you really wish they would stop asking/doing)?

Adan:
As mentioned above, the 3D printer is a tool whose true qualities and full potential you really need to experience to understand. It’s the one thing I’ve run across whose potential is actually much greater than one might be led to believe by the ill-informed media-spewed hype. Yikes, that sounded harsh! But really, it’s the very rarest of articles I read that come anywhere close to expressing how truly important these tools will be for our future. Their potential to enable mass-customization and quality of life improvements for any of a thousand easily-listable reasons, not to mention the tens of thousands we haven’t even stumbled across yet, is just jaw-dropping. So that’s pretty vague, I guess, but for a couple of more concrete examples check out the e-Nable project (free customized prostheses for children!) and then, I guess, the entirety of Thingiverse and other sites like it (online 3D part file sharing). It’s going to be an amazing and wonderful future, a future full of things that fit us better and do exactly what we want them to and enable the disabled among us to walk and run and exceed even the capabilities of today’s able-bodied folks, all without costing the world. So I guess if there’s anything I want to be sure customers understand it’s that, by buying and using one of our fun and colorful bobbins they’re also participating in a tiny tip of an amazing iceberg of future fabrication modes and the realization of the extremes of human potential. So that’s pretty cool, right?
little acorn:
I am very excited by this new paradigm we live with, when my formal training (computer science) can combine with my passion (making). While I’ve definitely gone off that path, I had thought at one time I would work on combining robotics with neuroscience to create prostheses. Even with my background (and love of science fiction), sometimes it’s hard even try to imagine where we’ll be in five or ten years. I’m very excited to see more and more programs (and public libraries) offering training and classes in 3D printing


When not making bobbins and spindles, you can be found…
Adan:
Umm… talking about making bobbins and spindles 🙂 Also often bicycling to-and-fro the workshop where we make bobbins and spindles. I love trail running, though I’m super slow. A slow and awkward run on the sidewalk or street is just that. A slow and awkward run in the woods somehow manages to be transcendental bliss. So that’s an easy choice. I also superduper love whitewater kayaking but haven’t paddled a river in longer than I care to confess. Fortunately Ed, one of the awesome people with whom I have the privilege of making bobbins and spindles, is an enthusiastic flatwater kayaker whose interests are taking a turn for the turbulent. So perhaps I’ll get to go along as he starts his whitewater career. That’ll be fun.
little acorn:
One day we’ll go for a trail run together. I’d rather run “slow” and have a long trail run than do a quick 5k on the roads any day.

Can you tell me a bit about your process of designing?
Adan:
To whatever extent we have a “process” it’s, um… okay, we don’t have a process 🙂 Often it’s an enthusiastic conversation that leads to one of us running off to hack out a rough first version of something. This rough first version is poked and prodded and feedback is given. Though pretty much everything passes through my seat of SolidWorks (a 3D solid modeling software package) at some point on its way to reality, we do a lot with drawing and hand sketching. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is ever any good if I’m the only one whose been involved in its creation. Jennifer and I have worked with each other for so long now (we had our first date twenty-one years ago!) we’re able to communicate very clearly and collaborate very effectively. But the rest of the family is very often involved, and more recently the awesome people who’ve come from outside the family to help share the joys of bobbinmaking have also become excellent idea people and very worthy collaborators in their own rights. We’re really quite fortunate, it’s an awesome way to work. And I can’t forget to point out that most important part of the process: as soon as possible, we get the product into the hands of users, and we listen to what they say. With fiber tools, for instance, there will always be more unique use cases than I could ever manage to personally familiarize myself with, so it’s critical we get the help we do from testers.
little acorn:
And you have some new products in the pipeline, I’m looking forward to hopefully help test some more.

Ok, I ask everyone, Kitten or puppy snuggles?
Adan:
Kitten snuggles! Nothing against puppies, but if forced to choose I’ll always go with the kittehs.

Miss you Zoe. ♥

Miss you Zoe. ♥

Thank you Adan!

You can find Akerworks at www.akerworks.com, at facebook, on instagram and twitter @akerworks, and at their Ravelry group.

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