John Lawton used to go to the White House to pick up presidents, vice presidents, and various heads of states for chopper rides. He was also the White House liaison officer for the HMX-1, the marine helicopter squadron that provides presidential transport. But when he returned to the White House in mid-June, he did so as an exhibitor at the first-ever White House Maker Faire. A veteran with a custom-furniture business, he embodies the inventive, do-it-yourself (DIY) spirit the Maker Faire celebrates.
When his service in the presidential squadron ended in 2013, Lawton relocated to Austin, Texas, a city that he’d longed to live in. “It’s an innovator-, inventor-friendly place,” he remarked. The city suited his tinkering tendencies, shaped equally by his welder father and artist mother. That’s also where he stumbled on TechShop, a membership-based personal manufacturing community with production and training facilities across eight cities (two more locations opening soon). TechShop provides one-year free membership to veterans like Lawton, who served three deployments, two years in Iraq. So he joined the build-and-play TechShop community.
“I was pretty blown away by the type of equipment, community, and space they [TechShop] had there,” Lawton recalled. While there, he took advantage of the 3D CAD software and equipment training available onsite. “Basic 2D and 3D software is a must-know these days. So I took classes on Corel Draw, some CAD/CAM programs, Adobe Illustrator, Autodesk Inventor Pro, partly for prototyping, partly for sending files to the machine. The classes that I had at TechShop give me the basics. Then I can take advance classes if I want to,” he said.
While in the service, Lawton kept a sketchbook. “I recorded things I’d like to make one day if I could,” he recalled. Today, he’s making them, sometime simply for pleasure, other times for clients who hired him through his new business JDL Designs. “You won’t find my furniture in any store,” he said. “I build a relationship with my customer, find out what they want to see. These are artworks, most pieces are exclusive. They’re one-off designs, made with top quality materials, designed to last for generations.”
Lawton brought along a couple of custom-made desks and furniture to the White House Maker Faire. But his star attraction was a waterjet-cut presidential seal, showcasing a variety of techniques he’d mastered through TechShop.
Also in attendance at the White House Maker Faire was Jesse Harrington, Autodesk’s Maker Program manager. Walking around the exhibits, he recognized people who’d employed Autodesk 123D and Inventor software in their TechShop projects. “There was the underwater robot by David Lang, and there was a 3D-printed violin, created using Autodesk 123D Catch and Autodesk 360,” Harrington recalled.
In his speech at the event, President Obama singled out a few participants, including Joey Hudy, the youngest Intel intern, who created a marshmallow shooter (Joey’s Tweet from the Faire below). Obama quipped, “He’s probably the only one I know who’s ever been allowed to fire a marshmallow gun in the White House. The stain is still on the wall.”
— Joey Hudy (@Joey_Hudy) June 18, 2014
The playful, fun atmosphere of the White House Maker Faire may be a precursor to better days for innovation and manufacturing — two economic drivers. Obama said, “Today’s DIY is tomorrow’s Made in America. Your inventions can lead to new jobs tomorrow.”
For more, read DE Rapid Ready blogger John Newman’s post on the Faire.
President Obama’s speech at the White House Maker Faire below: