Man Made DIY


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Jan 25, 2012

The Spirituality of Boomerangs: On Making Something from Nothing...

My favorite project to build with anyone--including my son--is the fast-catch boomerang. First off, boomerangs--in their flight pattern and behavior--are just really beautiful and exciting; even a toddler gets that.  But slightly older folks--from about elementary age on up to retirees--are just thrilled when they see you make a working boomerang out of a piece of scrounged poster board.  By the time you hit first grade you've probably already grown jaded about the boomerangs: You've gotten a cheap foam one as a party favor or a little present from an uncle, and it never worked, and you basically assumed that boomerangs were… read more

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Jan 24, 2012

How to: Make DIY Boomerangs from Recycled Boxes

created at: 01/24/2012

 

Cheap styrofoam toy-store boomerangs have given generations of Americans, children or otherwise, the mistaken impression that building and throwing boomerangs is very difficult. This flies in the face of reason: Using less-than-ideal materials, human beings have been building, throwing, and catching boomerangs for more than 11,600 years. Boomerangs are absurdly easy to make--this is an ideal project to keep kids busy in a pinch. Learning to throw one is just a little tricky, but most of the trick is in properly tuning the… read more

01571

Jan 23, 2012

Crafting Liberation: Confessions of an Unredeemable Direction-Follower

created at: 01/23/2012

I’m an unredeemable direction-follower.  As a boy, I’d account for the meniscus when measuring water to make Ramen noodles.  As a man, I was relentlessly mocked by my wife for my stove-side devotion to the succinct instructions of Mark Bittman (aside: If you only ever own one cookbook--and you should only ever own one cookbook--it should be Bittman’s entirely accurately titled HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING.  It’s like the universal Chilton Manual for prepared food).  

This, obviously, is the pathology of a man terrified of failure--that I ever wrote anything at all, let alone an entire damn book (let alone several!) is itself a crippled miracle.  While DIY is obviously empowering--My stove was broken, now it’s fixed; I did that!--having instructions in hand can really quickly shackle us, as it’s so easy to mistake a good way of doing X for the only way to do X.

I was a willing slave to the ingredients list and the step-by-step.

I finally confronted this at 28. When my son was born I left my job teaching and administering programs at a small private school to be a full-time father.  It obviously wasn’t sterling economic judgement to add a human to our household while simultaneously cutting our income in half (or halfish--my wife had the better job and healthcare, which is why I’m the one who stopped working outside in the World of Real People).  I was freelance writing and editing (mostly copyediting, really) during that period, but that was only night and nap-time work, and so our budget was tight.  Our mortgage was a fixed cost; gas for my wife to drive to work was a fixed cost; as folks with no AC who never let the boiler get the house much above 60, utilities where a fixed cost.  When we cut all of the fat from our budget, the only flex point left was the grocery budget.  Subsequently, during that first year, I often found myself without an ingredient from the list.  This meant a lot of improvisation, and subsequently a lot of discovery. 

As it turns out, there’s nothing in a cookbook that’s written in stone.  Does it say all-purpose white flour?  I’m gonna tell you, cake flour will probably work.  Whole wheat will probably work if you add a little extra wet stuff.  For something that doesn’t really need to rise--quick bread or cookies, for example--masa harina (a fine cornmeal flour used to make tortillas) will work, as will oats ground up in a food processor.  Beer can replace stock in any recipe, and bonus, cheap beer works better here.  A striped down “French bread” dough (e.g., 3.5 cups flour, a teaspoon of yeast, a teaspoon or two salt, 1.5 cups water; smash together) will serve as pizza crust, fry bread, buns, rolls, artisanal hand-formed round for a dinner party, or utilitarian sandwich bread.  The savvy--and frugal--kitchen technician learns that cookies, scones, and biscuits are all the same thing: sweetened flour-and-water paste with fat added, baked at 375 for 7 to 10 minutes.[1].  

This new-found liberation carried over into faking a lot of things as I built and repaired what we couldn’t buy.  And, when I started writing Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred, that same attitude wound up in the projects: How can I make this simpler?  Cheaper to build?  Easier to generalize? And I know I’m not the only DIY writer who takes this attitude.  

My point: Every parts list is really a set of suggestions.  If there is no danger in making a replacement (i.e., you’re not working with high voltage, high speeds, or high toxicity), then swap in what you’ve got for what you need.  Three-quarters of the time it works well enough, and surprisingly often you wind up with something both surprising and awesome.

The rule then, for any project, is this: Do what you can with what you’ve got.[2]

 

NOTES:

[1] FYI, the formula for cookies|scones|biscuits is 1:2:3, which is the ratio of sweet-stuff to fat-stuff to flour-stuff (by volume).  So, for a lil batch of cookies, you can do 1/3 cup sweet-stuff (sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, cane syrup, or any combination there-of), 2/3 cup fat-stuff (butter or shortening for cookies), and 1 cup flour-stuff.  If you use butter, this “cookie” comes out like a shortbread/sugar cookie.  Replace butter with eggs and cut back on the sugar, you’ll get biscuits.  Use a little egg and a little butter and either more or less sugar?  You’ve got scones.  Throw in raisins or chocolate chips, charge a couple bucks each, serve it with a cup of burned coffee, and you’re Starbucks.

[2] I was later informed that this is essentially Roosevelt’s Law of Task Planning, whose canonical formulation is: “Do… read more

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Jan 17, 2012

How to: Make a Sock Squid (and Cthulu!)

Sock squid basic

I'm warning you: the sock squid is a gateway fiber project. Today you're thinking "I'm just gonna sew this one little fella to give to my buddy, sort of almost as a gag gift," and before you know it you'll be lining laptop sleeves in microfiber and crocheting iPhone jackets.  It is a sickness, and it starts be snipping slits in socks and learning a couple simple hand stitches.

The sock squid was my first sock animal… read more

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Jan 16, 2012

The Craft and Commerce of Writing

I never set out to write a craft book--or, for that matter, to write business columns, or reference materials, or textbooks on teen sex and Chernobyl, or basically anything that's paid the bills over the last five years.  I'd written for years, but it had been an after-hours art:  Essays about technology and sexuality and Detroit's decay; stories about clockwork robots, haunted dogs, monster wives, and giant squid--the kind of stuff you gut out after dark; the kind of stuff you write for the consuming love of finding how to say it.  The kind of stuff that's hard to sell.

I've always been a crackerjack essayist… read more

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Jan 12, 2012

Free Magazine: Makers in the Modern Era

Hand-Eye Supply, the Portland, OR/online store selling "tools for making, designing, building, doing" have released their first magazatolog, called Makers in the Modern Era, which you can get can...for free.

read more
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Jan 10, 2012

Make a DIY Modern, Dieter Rams - Inspired CD & iPod Stereo

created at: 01/10/2012

ManMade reader and graphic design student Brandon Rampelt recently created an original DIY magazine for a school project. He got an A (good work, Brandon!), no doubt due in part to this great original how-to project: a Dieter Rams-inspired (with a dose of Jacob Jensen) clock stereo, made out of thrift store junk and a basic box from the craft store. Brandon was kind enough to write and and allow us to share the complete tutorial so you can whip one up yourself on the cheap. That's a lot of design (and rock!) bang for the buck.

Here's how to do… read more

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Jan 09, 2012

How to: Make a DIY Glass Bottle Cutting Jig

created at: 01/09/2012

Bottle cutters were everywhere in the 1970s...tucked in with the macrame and string art kits, they allowed hands-on folks to create recycled vases from wine bottles, or drinking glasses from jars, cool lamps and lighting fixtures, and all kinds of upcycled goodness, like this great project by my friend Tyler Goodro:

Unfortunately, the kits are increasingly rare and growing more expensive on eBay, so it's a pretty big investment if you're just interested in learning and not planning on cranking projects out… read more

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Dec 30, 2011

How To: Make an 18-Shot, Ratcheting Triple Barrel Nerf Gun

created at: 12/29/2011

I don't care how old you get...you're never too old for a Nerf gun. Or a squirt gun, but that's different post.

The appeal, of course, is not that it's a gun, where you can work out aggression or make a statement on the person you're shooting, but that it's simply a way to engage your friends or family from across the room. It's like tossing a ball at them, or throwing a grape high in the air for them to catch in their mouth.

And when you're older, then you can do all kinds of fun stuff with 'em, like make this… read more

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Dec 29, 2011

How to: Make a DIY Wood Grain Skin for your iPhone (or iPod, iPad, or Laptop)

Hop on the internet, do a quick search or visit any sort of design or art online shop, and you'll most certainly find all sorts of "skins" - that is, safe ways to make clean and sleek gadgets like the iAnything or laptop a bit more personal. What you'll also realize is that a "skin" is just a big vinyl sticker, which means it's completely possible, easy, and not expensive to just make your own.… read more

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Dec 27, 2011

How to: Make a Stylish iPad Case from a Notebook

Perhaps you found a new shiny iPad under your tree this year, or maybe you're just interested in warming up your high-end tech gear with some old school, classic-guy charm, but you've gotta check out this easy, yet secure, how-to for creating an iPad from an inexpensive paper notebook, which would work equally well using an appropriately sized vintage book… read more

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Dec 27, 2011

Amazing Handcrafted Quilted Beards

The Postiche Collection, a limited edition catalog, features these intriguing hand-quilited beards by Julian Wolkenstein and Paul Sharp.

 

The project… read more

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Dec 21, 2011

How to: Make a DIY Snow Machine

If you're longing for a white Christmas*, but Mother Nature and St. Nick don't seem to getting along this year, try your hand at creating your own snowmaker from stuff you can find at the the hardware… read more

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Dec 21, 2011

How To: Make a Gift Wrap Satchel from an Old Shirt

created at: 12/21/2011

This is the year I vowed to buy no gift wrap, no ribbon, and no tape, and promised myself I'd use up the scraps from previous years, and make the rest. 

I ran out of tape yesterday, but have kept my promise so far, though I'm running low. Perhaps I'll hit the closet and check out this fascinating "furoshiki" - a gift wrap… read more

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Dec 21, 2011

Blow My Mindsday: December 21, 2011

created at: 04/17/2013

Each Wednesday, I post some of my favorite can't-miss links, images, and otherwise mindblowing goodies from across the web.

2011 saw some major eruptions by some of the world's biggest active volcanoes. The Atlantic features some amazing photographs capturing the steam, ash, toxic gases, and… read more

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Dec 20, 2011

How to: Make Star Wars Snowflakes (Free Templates Included)

created at: 12/20/2011

Yep, these are likely on every craft/handmade/DIY/geek/tech/anything blog this season...but that's for good reason. That being: they're freaking… read more

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Dec 20, 2011

Holiday Hack: One Basic Dough Recipe, Endless Christmas Cookies

The stockings are hung, the plums are sugared, and you're well on your way to getting all those gifts wrapped. Now it's time for the real fun to begin, and by "real fun," I mean...cookies. 

Of course, "Cookie recipes are just about infinite, because almost anything can be shaped into a circle and baked... But the basic cookie contains three key ingredients: butter, flour and sugar. That combination has not been bettered, and it can be varied in so many ways that, really, it’s the only recipe… read more

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Dec 19, 2011

Have Yourself a Paper-y Little Christmas: 14 DIY Paper Craft Projects for the Holidays

Okay, jingle bell-ers, you've got a week left. The tree is up, the presents purchased, and the fire aglow. Now, its on the really good stuff - cookie baking, gift wrapping, and watching the good Christmas movies.

And, of course, putting the final touches on the decorations. For this week is the week of adding just that extra bit of festiveness to your space. So, while you're munching candy canes, cracking up at Cousin Eddie's dickie, grab a pair of scissors, and add some comfort and joy to your spot with these easy paper craft Christmas… read more

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Dec 15, 2011

Gift Guide: Awesome, Handcrafted Gift Ideas for Guys

created at: 12/15/2011

My friend Brittni maintains an amazing handmade marketplace and blog called papernstitch, and while I regularly appreciate her updates and the amazing artisinal objects, the picks are unabashedly, well, girly.

Except for this week, where Brittni's prepared a great collection of handmade and independently produce gifts for… read more

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Dec 13, 2011

How to: Make DIY Stainless Steel Reusable Drinking Straws

Last year, my favorite Christmas stocking gift (besides the candy) was a set of stainless steel drinking straws. I'm a committed straw user, and I love that I can simply wash these and use them indefinitely...plus the experience of drinking a cold beverage though a chilled, heavy straw is...I dunno, pleasant.

Many of my straw-hating friends and family even took to them, prefering the experience over the sensation of thin plastic in their mouths, so I looked into buying some more...and they're like $7.00 a piece.

So, I was quite excited to see this… read more

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