The Thoughtful Tinkerer
Why Make Homemade Items

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I've always liked to make gadgets and gizmos that have some function, either useful or not so useful. It started with the simple things that many kids make - slingshots, a simple bow and arrow, a toy boat. Occasionally I made more involved items such as a canoe and a dune buggy. Then there was the grass hut - 12 feet across, octogonal in shape, and thatched top to bottom with a thick layer of grass. I built it in a remote location, near a stipmine filled with water. Hauled the cut grass in a 1972 Volkswagon convertible with the top down. Piled the grass high in the back seat. It must have taken a dozen trips back and forth from a nearby hay field.

Simple things appeal to me more than costly homemade items. A small project lets me pursue an interest without interfering with other goals. A project with a small amount of time invested seems more like entertainment.

So now when I don't feel motivated to do more practical things, I often turn to an idea about some device or other that I've wanted to try making but never got around to.

I can recall many such improvised devices that gave me satisfaction and enjoyment. Each project gives me something to be proud of and relief from the tedium that often must be endured with more practical endeavors.

Ideas for things to make come from many places. Most often the idea comes from some need. I do a lot of keying of text using a computer keyboard. I tend to keep the room temperature a bit cool, cool enough that my hands become uncomfortable. I ended up rigging a length of electrical heating tape wound in a large coil-shape to surround the keyboard. Tying the heat tape to a large piece of cardboard keeps it in place. It does a nice job of keeping my hands warm. I can leave the room temperature set where I want it. As far as I know, you can't buy anything like that.

The more I build and invent, the more I understand mechanical devices and materials. It gets easier to manipulate and modify the physical things that are so much a part of everyday living. With effort and imagination, often new devices can be made or existing ones improved for my enjoyment and satifaction.

Both intuition and logic are used to make a homemade gizmo. The more the two abilities are used together, the more powerful the combination becomes. A strong partnership of reason and creativity helps a person to produce and enjoy life.

It is fun and satisfying to conjure up and build simple devices. Those created items command more appreciation than more casually acquired, purchased items. And it feels good proving that imagination and ingenuity can make life better.

The process of invention seems magical. The mind pieces together what it has already made some sense of into something new. It seems that even the most obscure result can eventually be produced. The grass hut and the keyboard heater each gave me a little taste of that magic.

My interest in making my own devices could lead to a new career. I've written a couple of books based on this topic. I've written articles about it and have a couple of web sites based on making improvised and homemade gadgets and gizmos. It's too soon to say whether sales of the books will create a significant income. But at least I've followed a dream. Hopefully, what I have done so far has given something of value to other people who share an interest in my particular type of creativity. Certainly, I have gotten a great deal of satisfaction.

Alan Detwiler is the author of the ebook Homemade Devices For Inventive Teens available at He has a web site about homemade items at MakeGizmos.

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