The Asheville Makers and their hovercraft proved to be extremely popular at Sunday’s Mini-Maker Faire. Photo by Jeff Bobo.
KINGSPORT — Give the average person a beach chair, a tarp, a leaf blower and a piece of plywood and they’ll probably see a pile of junk.
Give a “maker” like Tom Heck of Asheville, N.C., those same ingredients and he sees the making of a hovercraft.
Heck attended the Kingsport Mini-Maker Faire at the Civic Auditorium on Sunday with the Asheville Maker group.
Their specialty is making things move through air — such as missiles, gliders, and even a human being in a beach chair.
“There are fewer and fewer people doing stuff with their hands, and the Maker movement stems from that desire to engineer stuff on your own,” Heck said. “The hovercraft has been around a long time and this is a project that I made with my daughter in February. It took us two hours, and this is a classic ‘Maker’ project.”
It started out as a 4-by-8 piece of plywood, which was cut in half, and then cut again into a circle 4 feet in diameter.
The bottom was sealed with a regular tarp like those used to cover firewood, and they made six holes in the tarp.
On top, there’s a beach chair for the pilot, who activates the hovercraft by turning on a leaf blower — which pushes air into the bottom tarp.
The air pressure created in the bottom tarp is concentrated out of the six small holes.
“It creates a very thin air cushion, so there’s no friction (with the ground),” Heck said. “If you’ve ever played air hockey, the air comes up through the table and pushes the puck. Our hovercraft is like the puck pushing air down on the table.”
Unlike Luke Skywalker’s hovercraft, there’s no propulsion and no way to steer.
Still, Heck and his Asheville Maker buddies were very popular Sunday afternoon, giving free hovercraft rides that consisted of them pushing people up and down a hallway at the Civic Auditorium.
“You can’t steer and you have to push it, it’s still pretty cool for a leaf blower and a beach chair,” Heck said.
Sunday’s Kingsport Mini-Maker Faire featured a variety of creative exhibits ranging from makers of medieval battle armor and attire to a spontaneous poet who after a brief interview would write you a completely original poem in 15 minutes or less for the low, low price of $7.
There was a Lego building station, a solar power specialist, a ham radio enthusiast, and a group from the Knoxville Makers who put a robot monkey in a glass box for reasons that weren’t completely clear.
There were also several crafters, quilters, painters, sculptors and doll makers. Robot builders from Cherokee and Dobyns-Bennett high schools attended, and the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing brought in a load of machine tools for young and old to try.
All Makers attend Maker Faires to show what they have made and to share what they have learned.
“We’re losing the ability to make the things we use in everyday life,” said Asheville Maker Dallas Taylor. “Makers are people who like to build things. Some people are doing it for a living, and some people, like us, are doing it for fun.”