The Ethical Responsibility of Maker Advocacy

Ok, I promise this is the last post I have in mind for right now, but this is a topic that’s been weighing on my mind for a long time, and I wanted to get yall’s thoughts on it (wow, I feel like a Texan now!) I promise it’s completely on topic.

I’ve been really torn on calling myself a “maker”, because I feel like maker advocacy is a double edged sword. I think, of course, that it’s really valuable to teach kids “STEM” stuff, and the “maker movement” is certainly a really good way to teach kids how to, well, make things. I love the idea of setting kids loose with arduinos and little ready made boards and having them do cool stuff. I’m all for it.

But when I was a kid, I, well, am lucky I didn’t get killed. I used to take the covers off of televisions (back when they had tens of thousands of volts inside them, with hot chassis and all sorts of other lethal dangers) and poke around in them, exploring, and trying to fix them. I was really careful, I guess, but it was incredibly dangerous, and I had no one around to tell me what not to do. I fear sometimes that being too far on the “advocacy” side and not far enough on the “this is a very dangerous hobby if you don’t know what you’re doing” side is its own problem. 120V switched power supplies, for example, are pretty dangerous even for people that actually know what they’re doing. I have a Tektronix power supply that I need to recap and diagnose, and I’m still even trying to figure out the correct way to approach it. I haven’t even yet applied power to it, for just that reason.

I’ve even heard of people trying to make art with MOTs (microwave oven transformers), not having any idea how dangerous that is. I wouldn’t even recommend anyone even take the cover off of a microwave unless you know exactly what you’re doing, and even then think twice.

So… let me ask this in the form of a more practical question. Why don’t makerspaces like ours have classes on how not to get yourself seriously hurt when doing electronics stuff, in the same way we do with how not to get seriously hurt in the woodshop? It’s just as dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, and let’s face it, too many hobbyists have been encouraged to explore without knowing what they’re doing - and could get themselves seriously hurt in the process.

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It sounds like something you might be able to teach. Why not set up a class?

Not opposed, but I don’t know the process for doing that. I’ll ask around.

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We don’t have any electronics lab teachers right now because we don’t have any electronics people willing to teach! @David is definitely interested in working with people to get classes going for this area of the space, especially as we continue updating the equipment in there.

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Im willing to teach if you dont mind that im not an expert, just a somewhat experienced hobbyist.

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Get with @David to talk about possible classes. He has a background in electrical engineering, so he’ll have some great input and guidance on this. You can email him at

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I want to be clear that my question was not intended to be a “were not offering this class so boo”. Was trying to make a larger point, and overshadowed it with the last paragraph, that sometimes we as a larger group of hobbyists may sonetimes advocate without teaching about the dangers as well. Not just here, but everywhere, it seems.

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The excess numbers of lawyers and their lawsuits lead to warning labels everywhere that make our society fearful of all kinds of things that are not seriously dangerous. Simple common sense is all that is really needed. If you are working on anything that could be connected to the line voltages, don’t do it in bare feet or standing on a damp surface. AC power makes muscles contract, so if you are going to touch something questionable, do not use the palm of your hand, to avoid involuntarily grabbing a live wire. Avoid situations where there could be a current flow through your arms across your chest or from an arm to a leg because those paths might go through your heart.

There is very little risk from taking apart most household appliances. Feeling a little tingle when you touch a hot chassis is not dangerous. The small charge that is left on a capacitor after the power is removed is unlikely to harm anyone. These experiences are educational and they are part of the hobby or the profession. Don’t let yourself by handicapped by fear.


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I was lucky enough as a kid not to get shocked. My father wasn’t. He touched a hot chassis and got thrown across a room. A healthy respect for electricity and its dangers is never a bad thing.

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Two thoughts:

  1. In this instance, it seems like you’re conflating “maker” with “electronics hobbyist”. There are plenty of other disciplines which have other hazards to extremely varying degrees, many of them much less subtle than the hazards of electronics. Sure, I don’t feel particularly comfortable with encouraging kids to poke around transformers and high voltage, but I don’t feel any internal conflict with giving them some cardboard and glue and encouraging them to build something, and both of those are ‘making’. And like you said, many of the other ways of getting hurt, like the woodshop, machine shop, lasers, welding areas, etc, already have plenty of safety classes and resources to do just what you said. So to me, the ‘maker advocacy’ that you mentioned really does seem focused on electronics itself.

  2. I don’t dabble too much into electronics, but most projects do seem very safe. Some of the flashy ones are of course incredibly dangerous, like jacobs ladder and lichtenberg figures, but I don’t see too much advocacy to have kids doing things like that. That being said, I suppose without any knowledge it would be hard to differentiate the dangerous from the not so dangerous. I’m definitely an advocate for classes – though I do suspect that those inclined to play with things like that might not be the type to take classes for it in the first place lol.

Anyways, I’m a big fan of doing dangerous things, they just need to be done with knowledge and care. So while I don’t necessarily share your tornness on the topic of maker advocacy, I do agree with the overall point of teaching and mentoring and awareness.


It is easy to kill yourself by standing on damp concrete in bare feet and grabbing a live wire. I tried it when I was young and did not know any better, and it hurt! I doubt that your father would have received a serious shock if he had been following those few precautions I mentioned. There are probably other warnings we could add to that list, like never approaching a swimming pool when an extension cord is in the area, or exiting from a car when it is near a downed power line. I think these kinds of things should be taught in our public schools. It would not hurt to include basic safety practices in orientation sessions for new members, or at least provide them on a hand-out.


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I’d definitely take such a class. I think your concern was well expressed and didn’t sound like you were complaining about lack of such classes.

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You have a point, so ill clarify - when i think of “making” its in my mind inextricably related to having at least an electronic aspect, and being an electronics hobbyist, thats where my mind goes. Of course theres other things as well, and certainly I wouldnt level the same criticism on handing kids glue and cardboard, or that kind of thing. Im only talking about electronics.

And there are dangers to even low voltage electronics. As an example, when i was working on my light board, the highest voltage present is 5v, but at rather high current. I had to size the wires properly so that they werent overloaded and, well, you can start fires even at 5v. James saw me (yes, even me!) screw that up. Thankfully, i only fried one LED and i got that wire off before it caused anything more than an exclamation of surprise. It would have been easy to try to shove something like 18 amps through 22 awg wire. That, well, doesnt work well

Anyway, just something thats been bugging me for a long time. Predating my membership at the space by years. Thought id share. Maybe that wasnt the best idea. :slight_smile:

No not at all! I didn’t mean to criticize the discussion in general, just add my point of view. Everyone has different perspectives, especially with regard to a label as general as ‘maker’. I have conflicting points of view of that label as well – in some sense I love the generality but it does lack in specificity for certain use cases. With a background like mine, I tend to think of the archetypal maker as someone like Jimmy Diresta, who does all sorts of things but doesn’t really touch electronics. That certainly doesn’t capture the full breadth of the hobby, just my particular interests.

I digress; the second part of your response does highlight a need, as that’s something someone like me who doesn’t do too much electronic work might not have considered. Popular creators like ElectroBOOM can also show the dangers of electronics while making light of them as well – which could be a good and a bad thing. He sometimes shows what not to do but makes it look like the worst that can happen is a laughing matter.

Anyways, not a bad idea to bring it up at all! Definitely something worth thinking about, especially as we grow and offer more classes and specialty areas

I know, and thanks for that. I have this tendency to unwittingly (and sometimes wittingly, but i tone it down in quasi professional environments like this) express opinions that step on peoples’ toes. Somehow i always hone right in in the third rail and often dont even know I’m doing it.

This topic was kind of brought home to me on a recent big clive video where he was talking about the dangers of trying to do lichtenstein figures with mots. Thats making at it’s best - people with project to do, a way to do it, relatively easily available tools… and it’s killing relatively a lot of people. Of course, an arduino is not nearly the same risk, but its the same mindset. A tool thats available with which you can do your project, and many people only have just enough understanding to connect pieces together and maybe make them work.

Yes, you have to start somewhere, and gatekeeping this kind of stuff really isnt a tremendous idea in its own right, but to me its a serious problem. Maybe it could be summed up in this way: electricity isn’t a toy, and its being advertised as if it is.

Just my thoughts as well.

And pardon my grammar. I often write on a phone, and its not optimal.

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Well, I would argue that electronics is, by and large, a bit safer than most things you would do in a makerspace. Sure, you can cause a fire, but that’s generally about it. But, generally, that self-limits.

And, yes, playing with consumer high voltage is dangerous. But, generally, you know when you are playing with high voltage. You have to explicitly do something affirmative (tearing off a cover, opening an amp, wiring up to mains, etc.) to play with high voltage. I cringe at FAR too many YouTube videos that don’t mention hazards. However, you don’t have to play with high voltage in electronics (especially modern electronics) if you don’t want to.

This is a little different from, say, woodworking. You must use a jointer and a circular-type saw and you can’t get around it. And those things can and do take your fingers off. The wood lathe will throw a piece into you at some point. Almost all serious woodworkers I know who have been doing it for a while have some type of injury.

It’s also different from playing with lasers. Lasers are particularly dangerous because the damage isn’t obvious. You can get a lot of cumulative damage to your retina that your brain will happily elide over–until it can’t anymore and suddenly you’ve got a blind spot.

Industrial high voltage work though is a bit of a different beast. High voltage DC, in particular, is nasty. I particularly worry when I see people thinking that working on a LiPol high-voltage battery pack doesn’t require a LOT of thought and at least a better than average understanding of basic electronics.

As a side note: the Light Emitting Resistor is a Right of Passage for eletronics hobbyists. We’ve all done it. :slight_smile: It’s called Ohm’s Law for a reason, and it’s strictly enforced. Failure to obey it results in light, heat, flame, and particularly nasty odors.