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Catapult madness at the Craftsman Makecation

In August 2014, I helped as an exhibitor at the Craftsman Makecation at Lake Arrowhead. My project: A waterballon-launching trebuchet. With the help of Chris Weisbart, Rob North, and Mark Clement, I assembled this medium-sized machine and had fun launching balloons over the resort with it. 

Also: Rob Riggle was there. 

When this event came about, I had done a variety of projects with Craftsman, all coming after striking up a friendship with one of their team members, Rich Goldsmith. He and the crew enlisted me on fun activities at their incredible (now defunct) event space in Chicago, and brought me to ComicCon in NYC one year as well. I’ll recap those projects in later posts.

For this one, the Craftsman team and their agency, Zeno decided to host a small number of tool-enthusiast content creators to a weekend of nonstop action at Lake Arrowhead, located in the mountains a couple hours outside of Los Angeles. They hired people to lead workshops (including myself) — everything from chalice turning to cigar rolling to mini-trebuchet building (my activity). They brought in Rob Riggle to provide some laughs for a few hours and to help “dude” things up a bit. There was grilling, a nighttime performance by the band Everclear, a bonfire, and a night ride on the lake.

I didn’t get to do most of these activities! In addition to doing the mini-trebuchet workshop, I also built a medium-scale throwing machine that would launch baseballs into the lake. This thing would be approximately 4′ tall at the axle, with, if I remember correctly, a 10′ throwing arm — enough size to whip small objects to considerable distances. It took up all my free time.

Side note: As the event got closer, the organizers got a little nervous about flying baseballs, so we changed the plan to throw water balloons instead.

Best launch of the weekend came with a pull from Mark Clement

Building the catapult was a lot of fun and entailed some on-the-fly engineering. My pal Chris W, an expert with SketchUp, helped lay out dimensions so we could get our cuts accurate.

Once on site, one of the first things we realized with the materials I had requested was the dowel for the axle was not going to work — it was thin and joined together in various spots, and was basically a rod for a closet rack. The axle is a common break point on trebuchets, so this was a problem, and as we were pretty far from any towns or stores, it created a quick scare. Then I noticed Rob North lathing some larger pieces of lumber for his chalice workshop, and asked him if he might be able to turn a 2′ length of 4×4 into a thick dowel. He smiled, and 10 minutes later we had a serious piece of round wood in our hands. Problem solved!

Rob North builds our trebuchet a serious axle

Another concern with the build came with the throwing arm — the axle would pass through it, which creates a weak section around the hole. We wanted to reinforce this when one of the attendees, Mark Clement of myfixituplife.com, suggested putting plywood on either side of the hole. He jumped in and started cutting and affixing pieces, and made the trebuchet build a big part of his afternoon. I think he enjoyed it as much as we did.

Finally, the sling — we had to get creative for this, and used some rope and fabric we found onsite. Getting it dialed in takes a bit of trial and error, and many of our shots went high rather than far. But a few performed beautifully, as you can see in the video above. Mark’s celebration says it all.

Chris Weisbart filmed this clip on our very final launch — a lofty pitch that splatted on the roof of the resort

Trebuchets, even small/medium sized ones like this, can be a bit dangerous, and we never really found out where the water balloons that went over the lodge were landing, so after a handful of launches, the organizers said they were happy and we could stop now. I don’t blame them.

Overall, it was a super fun weekend, and I’m glad I got to spend it with some pals like Chris, Timothy Dahl, and my Make: coworker Jason Babler. I got to see the cool folks from Craftsman: Ryan Ostrom, Cristina Cordova, Rob North. I met some great new people like Mark, Carla Bruni, Karl Champley, Justin DiPego, Dan Cary, Eric Jacobi, Steve Mazucchi, Andrew Snavely, and many others. Also, Ian Ziering was staying there at the same time! A long overdue thank you to Craftsman for making it happen, although now that the brand has been sold to Stanley Black & Decker, I’m not sure who will receive that message.

And as I was largely working the tools for the build, I didn’t take that many photos or videos. But I did discover that the official images are now on Shutterstock. (I can purchase a photo of myself for a cool $199!) I’m going to risk embedding them here with watermarks and see if they figure it out.