I love to work with my hands to create things. I also really enjoy learning how something is done and challenging myself to see if I can do it. So, I experiment with different materials and techniques as a hobby. I get immersed in the act and that focus washes away the stresses of work and life.
I have spent most of my working career guiding, teaching or managing in outdoor adventure, but my first job as a teenager was as an artist apprentice building stained glass art. A woodworking elective in high school gave me a pretty good understanding of how to work with wood and a pottery elective helped with learning to shape things. All other techniques I learned by reading and, of course, YouTube.
My creations sometimes come as a string of loosely related thoughts with one project leading to the next. One day I started wondering what would I do if I got stranded in the wilderness - could I start a fire without matches? So, I learned how to do that with a bow drill and made fire from bits of wood. That got me wondering how hunting bows are made. So, I learned about that process and made a 320N draw-weight bow from a single piece of wood, complete with recurved ends for extra spring. Then I thought, who carries a bow string with them? So, I got some sinew scraps from Backcountry Meats (and dried it in my wife’s food dehydrator) and learned to weave that into a bow string. Ah, but the arrows… the wood part, the head and the feathers were easy but who carries glue? So, I learned how glue was made in ancient times. Et voilà, a fully functional survival bow and arrow that can be made from nature.
I thought it would be fun to melt metal, so I made a foundry powered by charcoal and forced air (from my wife’s blow drier). I experimented with pouring melted aluminium from pop (read beer) cans and broken ski poles, etc. into casts. I made up for use of my wife’s blow drier by casting a ring for her out of silver (sadly I had to buy the silver). Of course, I wondered how charcoal was made so I made a bunch of that too and used it for other casting projects.
I thought Blacksmithing was a natural extension from casting. I made a propane powered forge and hammered out a few swords and kitchen knives out of scrap car springs. For a bit more challenge I made a Damascus steel knife out of a bicycle chain. I then etched the blade in acid, so the pattern of the chain links shows in the blade.
As you can see, I suffer from some sort of creative A.D.D. What I lack in talent, I make up for in obsessiveness and a readiness to fail. If you are curious give it a try; it is fun. But be forewarned it can be addictive, your friends might tease you, and sometimes your wife gets upset when her blow drier, cookie sheet and bike chain go missing.
Lately I have been playing around with live edge wood and resin river art. The resin is pricy, so I am starting with small things like trivets, coasters and end tables. I fabricated an Alaskan sawmill for my chain saw and hope to do some bigger tables when I get better at the resin. Since I now have a sawmill, I use it to mill wood for furniture. I am most happy with my park bench made from a root ball of a blown down tree.
was starting to get a bit self-conscious about being stuck in the Iron Age. I vaguely remembered how an electric motor worked from college physics but needed some brushing up. I started with making a mini, basic electric motor from wire and magnets. Next I converted a scrap motor into a generator. Then I shaped styrofoam into modern windmill blades. For the blades, I used a similar foam shaping and fibre glass technique that is used for making surf boards. The challenge was getting the correct twist and taper for max efficiency. I installed the 3.5m diameter wind turbine on the roof, and it worked great, but my wife made me take it down because it was scaring the neighbours… it really moved!
My daughter gave a presentation on how much plastic is wasted so I fabricated a mini plastic recycling machine. It accepts cut-up bits of used plastic and extrudes them into moulds up to 15cm x 15cm. I have not yet made the moulds but watch for updates. While working with plastic I decided to play around with welding plastic sheets into useful things. I needed a dry bag big enough to bring my guitar on canoe trips, so I welded one. When I started to learn guitar a few years ago, I made a music stand out of my wife’s cookie sheet. The good news is there is now music, the bad news is there are no more cookies. I also used the welder and the forge to make artistic guitar and ukulele stands.
If you are interested in seeing more photos
of the projects, check out makerdave.