The Art of Tinkering

The Art of Tinkering
Enjoying The Art of Tinkering
We’ve written a book just for you!

After years of developing activities, workshops, and quirky experiments in this spirit we call “tinkering,” we decided it was time to collect our thoughts, ideas, philosophies, and the friends we've made along the way, and put it all together in a delightful book. The Art of Tinkering is an unprecedented celebration of what it means to tinker: to take things apart, explore tools and materials, and build wondrous, wild art that’s part science and part technology.

You can purchase the book at the Exploratorium Store.

What is tinkering? The word was first used in the 1300s to describe tinsmiths who would travel around mending various household gadgets. But in our minds, it’s more of a perspective than a vocation. It’s fooling around directly with phenomena, tools, and materials. It’s thinking with your hands and learning through doing. It’s slowing down and getting curious about the mechanics and mysteries of the everyday stuff around you. It’s whimsical, enjoyable, fraught with dead ends, frustrating, and ultimately about inquiry.

Tinkering in Milan
Young boy soldering
Cardboard Automata with Tibetan monks in India
Squishy Circuits

It’s also about making something, but for us, that thing reveals itself to you as you go. Because when you tinker, you’re not following a step-by-step set of directions that leads to a tidy end result. Instead, you’re questioning your assumptions about the way something works, and you’re investigating it on your own terms. You’re giving yourself permission to fiddle with this and dabble with that. And chances are, you’re also blowing your own mind.

The Art of Tinkering is our invitation to you to join in on this invaluable and enriching way of going through the world. In this book’s pages, we’ve profiled beloved artists who have spent time at the Tinkering Studio and who embody what we call the tinkering disposition. For each artist, there are details of their processes—their favorite tools, materials, inspirations, and prototypes—and the stories of how they stumbled upon a method that works for them. Then we talk about other makers working in a similar vein to show you all the possibilities that a certain technique can yield.

Use familiar materials in unfamiliar ways
Put yourself in messy situations

Finally, there are ways that you can tinker, too: ideas to get you started on your very own explorations. Because we want you to get your hands dirty. We want you to engage, get stuck, and play with a problem until you come around to a deeper understanding. We find that the combination of confidence and competence that results from tinkering is irresistible—and if we make it part of our everyday lives, we’ll all be richer for it.

“The creative process in tinkering, I believe, lets your mind escape from the day-in and day-out of life. And I think it's so important, when we’re building something, to escape.” – Scott Weaver