Cellphone disassembly alternative for idle hands?
October 23, 2010 4:23 PM   Subscribe

What small mechanical thing can I repeatedly disassemble and re-assemble to keep my hands busy?

I enjoy disassembling and assembling things, fitting pieces together, snapping bits in place, etc. Although I don't much care for guns I do enjoy the mechanics of assembling and disassembling them. Right now when I'm in a meeting or similarly occupied I tend to break my cell phone down and then reassemble it. Knitting probably fulfills a similar function for other people. Can anybody suggest a pocket sized or less mechanical thing, perhaps made of metal, that can be disassembled and reassembled in 5 minutes or so? I typically carry a Leatherman & bit kit so some tools can be required. Bonus points for sliding bits, penalty for lots of small springs that fly everywhere. Cost is a factor.

posted by ChrisHartley to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Classic wooden puzzles might be perfect for you. Here's one I found by googling "wooden pocket puzzle". In Japan I saw a good number of incredibly difficult (for me) little puzzles with slidy interlocking bits in 100yen stores. They range from super cheap to craftsman-quality little works of art. The best ones are about pocket-sized.
posted by Mizu at 4:28 PM on October 23, 2010

I generally just take apart pens, but that is probably too simple. An old camara would probably work if you could find a small enough one- I image not too many people are buying film cameras these days so you might be able to find one that is cheap. I don't know how small the easy to disassemble ones are though.

What about an old mechanical watch of somesort? Is that too small to work with? I imagine you could get an old, broken one fairly cheaply.
posted by Canageek at 4:32 PM on October 23, 2010

Lego Creator 3-in-1 kits like this one.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:37 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I bet you'd love some clicky spherical magnets. These things are impossible to STOP fiddling with.
posted by 7-7 at 4:38 PM on October 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

I had a Rubik's Twist (or something similar--IIRC, mine was alternating black and white, and could stretch out fully or be folded into a ball of sorts) as a child, and found it the perfect thing for boring car trips. There's something satisfying about forming different shapes with it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:43 PM on October 23, 2010

What about losing tiny parts? I have the finicky hands problem. I find shuffling cards over and over is good for it, though maybe a tad precious. I learned some fancy card shuffling techniques on youtube, so it does fulfill that desire for practice and skill.
posted by custard heart at 5:16 PM on October 23, 2010

I used to do this all the time with mechanical pencils.
posted by plinth at 5:53 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I never tire of fiddling with my Curiously Strong Magnets, taking them out of their unique packaging, then re-packaging them.

Also, N-scale trains.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:17 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the good suggestions. I hadn't given much thought to puzzles, I'll check the selection in at the stores in town and see if anything grabs me.

An N-scale train engine might be really perfect. Looks like they have a fair number of pieces but are designed to be user serviceable. Any other suggestions along those lines?
posted by ChrisHartley at 6:43 PM on October 23, 2010

posted by elle.jeezy at 6:44 PM on October 23, 2010

I sometimes keep a bolt with several nuts and a few washers with me. It's simple but it keeps my hands busy.
Small flashlights like a Mini Maglite have lots of pieces take take apart, and if you switch out the back piece for a clicky switch you have something to click on when it's assembled.
If you can teach yourself to pick locks (actually very easy) picking a padlock is super fun, keeps your hands busy, and can be done under the table so it looks like you're still paying attention.
posted by gally99 at 6:58 PM on October 23, 2010

Metal puzzles can be infuriating or fun, depending on your disposition (sounds like it might be the latter for you). Also cool are these 3D metal puzzles - check out the detail!
posted by analog at 7:11 PM on October 23, 2010

Picking locks.

It's not quite disassembly, but it will definitely keep your hands busy.
posted by Netzapper at 7:42 PM on October 23, 2010

Also wanted to add - Revomaze! I bet you'd love it. You'll find a youtube video of the inventor talking about it here.
posted by analog at 7:50 PM on October 23, 2010

Ball of Whacks?
posted by Bruce H. at 8:05 PM on October 23, 2010

I know EXACTLY what you need - Bakugan! They keep my fingers busy for minutes! You can buy a bunch of them for cheap, and all of them disassemble in different ways with little levers and springs. I love them to bits for keeping me from biting my cuticles.
posted by msali at 8:15 PM on October 23, 2010

A puzzle ring might be up your alley - it's not really mechanical, but it's small enough to have with you absolutely all the time, and it's good for reassembly fidgets. (Could be a secondary thing to have with you in cases where you can't bring your more complicated/larger object.) There are lots of different types, as a cursory search reveals.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:23 PM on October 23, 2010

A gun? That was the first thing that came to mind. You probably don't want to go all Full Metal Jacket in the middle of a meeting, though.
posted by XMLicious at 10:39 PM on October 23, 2010

XMLicious, I was totally thinking a gun. BB gun, maybe. I got my first around that age. Tough thing to buy for someone else's kid, though.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:44 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I was going to write N-scale trains as well, and was too tired to get to a good link, so this comes now: you can even improve your models that way: coupler conversion, installation of lighting, dcc decoder installation, freight car wheel-set replacement, and actual repairs.
[There. Now I've earned my coffee]
posted by Namlit at 2:06 AM on October 24, 2010

A small flashlight might do the trick, especially a machined aluminum one with threaded parts.
posted by davey_darling at 6:46 AM on October 24, 2010

Ah I like this question.
I kept thinking that I still haven't figured out how to (reversibly, i.e. without the hatchet) disassemble a Rubick's cube, which might be something for you to try. It's possibly more challenging than to actually work the thing according to specifications.
I also found a magnetic variant which could be useful for first steps:
Magnetic Puzzle cube.

[To dismember things non-destructively that aren't designed to be dismembered guarantees you special interaction bonuses as well; there is always someone in the room who seriously points out "no you're not supposed to do it that way"]
posted by Namlit at 7:47 AM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: Model steam engines.

Model gasoline engines.

Also, look into RC vehicles like cars, boats or hellicopters, the hobbyist/racing models, which are designed to be disassembled, adjusted, re-assembled, upgraded and otherwise tinkered with.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:06 AM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: I found also that they still manufacture this taky-aparty model car from Schuco. I still have mine from when I was a kid. It's almost indestructible.
posted by Namlit at 10:36 AM on October 24, 2010

I realize you are a guy, but have you really considered knitting? A lot of men knit and you end up with something useful. Some patterns are wickedly complicated and will keep you busy and enthralled.
posted by fifilaru at 9:00 PM on October 24, 2010

Response by poster: Gah. Marking best answer wipes any comment you may be in the process of writing. You'd think I'd know that after the 3rd time.

Thank you all for the great suggestions, I think between the Schuco model car and a model airplane engine I'm set. Might be a bit intense to whip out a small engine during a status meeting but perfect for solitary thinking.

Lots of good puzzle/fiddling ideas as well, thank you. Knitting is also on the agenda but it hasn't managed to catch on yet. Maybe socks this winter...
posted by ChrisHartley at 8:05 AM on October 26, 2010

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