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 (27 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

Glock 17
posted by Burhanistan at 6:07 PM on October 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

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]

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 [1 favorite]

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

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

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

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

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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