Steampunks Head for Maker Faire

A Steampunk Grotto and Burning Man projects are among the highlights at the 2018 event

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Steampunk projects big and small will be on display as Maker Faire Bay Area returns May 18-20 to San Mateo, California. A celebration of do-it-yourself creativity, this is the largest of nearly 200 Maker Faires held around the world, drawing more than 125,000 attendees over the weekend.

Once again, Obtainium Works will anchor the Steampunk Grotto, an outdoor area dedicated to steampunk makers and vendors. Based in Vallejo, California, Obtainium Works is perhaps best known for the Neverwas Haul, an iconic Victorian house on wheels.

Featured this year will be the Kinder Panzer, which group leader Shannon O'Hare (aka Major Catastrope) describes as a "post-apocalyptic tank" first seen at Burning Man. Members of the artist collective will also be onsite showing smaller projects and making steampunk jewelry for kids.

Another perennial favorite is the tintype photography of Sonoma County's Bruce Morton. Each year, he brings his antique camera equipment and a portable darkroom to the event, where he takes photos of attendees using the 19th century tintype process.

Live from Burning Man

One major attraction of Maker Faire is that attendees get to see large-scale Burning Man projects without the hassle of traveling to Black Rock Desert. Among this year's highlights:

Rabid Transit is the latest project from Duane Flatmo and Jerry Kunkel. Made largely from scrap metal, it's described as a "23-foot tall, crazy sculpture with rabid animals on board that are animated and shoot fire." Flatmo and Kunkel are also the artists behind El Pulpo Mecanico, a giant, fire-breathing octopus seen previously at Burning Man and Maker Faire. It's in the slide show below.

Clock Ship Tere is a whimsical pirate ship with a large front wheel and a 33-foot mast spewing "sails of fire." It was made by a team of fabricators led by Andy Tibbetts.

Landau the Dragon by Brett Jacobs is a steampunk dragon made from a discarded motorcycle and other parts.

More Fun

Steam-powered pencil sharpener

Our favorite project from last year was the steam-powered pencil sharpener by Kinetic Steam Works, a group of self-described "steam dorks" based in Oakland. This year they'll be back with "Rose," a newly restored steam-powered tractor. On their website, you can see photos of Rose's construction.

Other notable works include Mechateuthis, a giant mechanical squid made by Barry Crawford of Elko, Nevada.

This is just a small sampling of what's in store. The organizers say that more than 1200 curated projects will be on display, in diverse categories that include robotics, drones, woodworking, metal fabrication, music, fashion, vehicles, kinetic art, and virtual reality. One of the joys of Maker Faire is the opportunity to discover new maker projects inside the exhibit halls and in the outdoor themed areas.

In addition to these creations, Maker Faire is a showcase for 3D printers, laser cutters, microcontroller kits and other enabling technologies for makers. The event will also feature live music, hands-on craft activities and many guest speakers.

Survival Tips

If you plan to attend, wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for large crowds. The indoor spaces tend to be the most crowded. Fortunately, most of the steampunk action is outside.

It all takes place at the San Mateo County Event Center, 1346 Saratoga Drive, on Saturday, May 19, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, May 20, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. One-day adult tickets cost $40 in advance or $50 at the door. Prices for kids (ages 4-17) are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. Weekend passes are also available. We advise that you purchase tickets in advance, given the long lines to get in.

Friday@MakerFaire, on May 18 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., is a special preview day that lets you see the makers without dealing with the huge crowds. To attend, you'll need an All-Access weekend ticket, with prices starting at $160.

Due to the crowds, you'll want to get there via public transportation or use one of the offsite parking lots. Shuttles ($5 round-trip) are available to and from the lots and the Millbrae Caltrain/BART station. You can also take CalTrain to the Hillsdale station and walk or bike. See the website for details.

In the meantime, here's a gallery of Maker Faire photos from 2011 through 2015. Also check out our coverage from last year.

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