What to make at home next?
August 19, 2013 10:44 AM   Subscribe

My wife and make a lot of stuff at home--from home made pasta, to scented fuel for an alcohol lamp, to guitar pedals--and we generally find that making at home is better and more fun than buying at the store. Can you recommend any other worthwhile home projects? I'm looking for enjoyable projects that are better than store bought--not necessarily for cost-saving.

We already home cook almost everything we eat. We make pasta, pickles, bread, bagels, pizza, ice cream. We have home made limoncello and Swedish snaps. We dehydrate fruit. We have made cheese.

Around the home, we use home made vinegar sprays for general cleaning, and bleach sprays for disinfecting. We prepare scented fuel for a Lampe Bergere alcohol lamp. I build guitar pedals. I'm going to make some high-quality guitar cables, and plan on building a couple of headphone amps.

My wife is not interested in knitting or making clothes generally. I don't drink a lot of beer, though I'd welcome other alcohol infusions. This is a medium sized rental apartment with no room for big projects or projects requiring a lot of tools (e.g., table saws).

Is there anything I'm overlooking that would be worthwhile to make at home? Again, the goal is to have something fun to do that is better (either because of the care we'd put into it, or the quality of materials) than store bought. This is not particularly about saving time or money.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (39 answers total) 115 users marked this as a favorite
Homemade mayonaise is great, and you can do lots of interesting variations.
posted by ubiquity at 10:47 AM on August 19, 2013

Have you attempted making your own bath and beauty type products? Soap, lotion, chapstick...
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:48 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bread! But also have a read through this previously, "Make It From Scratch?"
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:48 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Homemade skincare products (soaps, lotions, scrubs, aftershave) are very easy to make, and you can make them smell however you want.

Candles are even easier. Basically, you don't ever need to buy anything from Bath & Body Works.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:49 AM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I love home-made yogurt. And granola. Storebought granola tends to be way too sweet for my taste.
posted by number9dream at 10:56 AM on August 19, 2013

Get a grain mill and make your own flour.
posted by thylacine at 11:00 AM on August 19, 2013

I don't see jam in that list. Jam is easy to make and tastes great. Just follow the directions to avoid botulism.
posted by GuyZero at 11:01 AM on August 19, 2013

You're not telling us whether you enjoy knitting or making clothes, or whether your wife likes to drink beer. Are these things supposed to be gendered or something? I'd start ignoring that if I were you, it opens up so many possibilities.

My suggestions:
Learn how to make your own leather belts and bags, maybe even sandals and shoes.
Learn how to make wine.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:03 AM on August 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

A computer? I mean, you'd probably want to buy the parts, but designing, speccing, choosing, assembling, installing your own desktop can be pretty fun. You could even handmake/decorate a really unique case, if you wanted to.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:04 AM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

There are some home-made soda pop recipes out there. Some homebrew stores will sell supplies for it. You can either carbonate with a gas tank or use yeast to get the fizz. Relatedly, syrups that you can turn into soda pop by adding it to seltzer.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:06 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some things I've enjoyed or plan to do (that aren't on your list already):
Horseradish Vodka (for bloody marys)
Rendering leaf lard (for delectable pastries)
Pastrami/Corned Beef
Preserved Lemons
Pickled Eggs
Roasting coffee beans
Sourdough bread from your own starter

Composting (worm bin)

Maybe not making clothes from scratch, but learning to tailor your clothes is a great skill to have. Once you have a sewing machine, then making things like pillows or blankets is pretty easy. Challenge yourself and try to recover a thrifted chair or ottoman.

Anything with LEDs

A clock and/or lamp

Learn to paint/draw
posted by melissasaurus at 11:08 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Laundry soap? Also I had a blast when I turned an empty plastic kitty liter container into a composter that I kept on the tiny back porch of our apartment. Composting is addictive ! I used the compost to make compost tea to water my house plants and they went bananas. A few simple tweaks kept my compost smell and insect free. It was hugely satisfying.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:08 AM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

knitted socks.

A lot of people say that socks are a terrible first project, but I know people whose first knitting project was argyle socks for a man's size 13 shoe. (some of these men didn't even say thank you!)

The warmth and longevity of hand knitted socks is so wonderful.

If you're really terrified of socks, start with a stack of cotton dishcloths (or washcloths, same shape) in a good sturdy cotton like Peaches and Cream or Sugar and Cream and size 8 needles. If the two of you are competitive you can compete for speed or intricacy. Patterns abound. Join ravelry.com for more details. From washcloths you can move on to knitting a blanket in strips. As long as your strips are the same length the width of each one isn't critical. Just sew them together.

(I also agree with laundry soap - grate one bar of soap, add one cup of Super Washing Soda and one cup of Borax. Fels Naptha is often recommended as the soap, but I find it just stinks like petroleum so bad that I can hardly stand grating it. Instead, I get whatever is on clearance at Marshall's or wherever.)
posted by bilabial at 11:21 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

though I'd welcome other alcohol infusions

Make your own Akvavit. It's a good jumping off point towards making your own herbal and spice infused liquors. (try it with black pepper and parsley sometime.)

Another trick that's super easy and also gives results you can't buy - pick your favorite tea blends and steep them in vodka. Just stuff the tea bag in the bottle and pull it out/transfer the vodka out when it's done.
posted by mrgoat at 11:21 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're not into beer, there are plenty of other homemade fermentations projects, like sauerkraut and other picked vegetables, drinks like kombucha and water keffir, and yogurt, tofu and other cheesemaking.

I've been making lots of agua fresca as an alternative to bottled beverages with all great summer fruit out right now.

Then there is meat curing: make your own bacon, corned beef, pastrami and other fresh-cured items. If you're really adventurous you can try your own dry cures like salumi, bressole, and lap chang.
posted by slogger at 11:23 AM on August 19, 2013

Get some leather or rubber and some parachute cord and you can make really good running sandals. Google for "diy huaraches" and you'll find a bunch of guides. There are even some kits if you want to try it out without sourcing the materials.

I've made some with spare artificial-grass-type balcony carpeting. They turned out kind of floppy, and they didn't last that long, but they were alright. It took like an hour or two.
posted by mbrock at 11:28 AM on August 19, 2013

Vanilla extract -- you can use different liquors, lots of fun, delicious. I found it took quite a lot more vanilla and quite a longer extraction period than a lot of blogs -- good god, blogs are teeming with bad advice, anything will do for a pretty photo and page hits -- suggested, to get good results. But you can buy bulk vanilla beans very cheaply on-line nowadays.

Also: butter

Since the blog advice is so bad and it can be tedious to separate wheat from chaff there, books on this sort of thing are nice to have; I like Jocasta Innes' The Country Kitchen

Homemade muesli is silly-easy and nicer than most of the ready-made.
posted by kmennie at 11:32 AM on August 19, 2013

My dad's girlfriend makes soap and it's pretty awesome. She does the full-on from-scratch with lye and all that. My favorite is her goat milk/oatmeal ("goatmeal" we call it) version. You can get a lot of supplies from Brambleberry and advice from her blog, Soap Queen.
posted by radioamy at 11:41 AM on August 19, 2013

I make:
pickled eggs
whole-milk yogurt
herbal tinctures
dolls for my daughter
catnip cat toys for my kitty
hard apple cider w/champagne yeast

I grow a few of my own herbs.

I have a printout on my desk re: how to make ginger beer, which is next on my list, for delicious Dark and Stormy cocktails.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 11:46 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you like to make cocktails at home, you can make a big range of custom bitters. I don't use bitters so much, but I keep wanting to make my own tonic syrup to combine with soda water in gin and tonics.

Are you opposed to sewing or just sewing for the sake of clothing? You could make different home decor type stuff like slipcovers and throw pillows.
posted by juliapangolin at 11:58 AM on August 19, 2013

Summer's almost over, but you can make some switchel
(if I may be so bold as to link to my own FPP) to stay hydrated on hot days.

Baked beans, cheap, easy and soooo much better than the storebought canned stuff. I usually double the batch and use 12oz of salt pork... you can eat them all week or freeze a bunch of them.

This Christmas pudding recipe is amazing whether you observe Christmas or not, and if you mixed up several at once they would make fine gifts, or party desserts. Traditionally prepped on the last Sunday before advent, it ages for 4-5 weeks before being steamed and served.

(I don't mean to turn this into recipe recommendation-filter, but these seemed like good matches as far as the process/uniqueness/quality factors go.)

If you send out cards around the holidays (or in general), you can design and print your own lino-cut cards. Or fool around with origamic architecture.
posted by usonian at 12:09 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

If your alcoholic tastes lean more towards sweet things, mead is a TON of fun to make and very customizable.
posted by specialagentwebb at 12:26 PM on August 19, 2013

I'll second bilabial's post so hard. There is a vast gulf between cutting patterns/sewing/knitting sweaters and making your own damn socks. Once you wear handknit wool socks, you will basically never be able to wear or make anything else. If you are the type that enjoys detail work like model building or electronics, sock knitting is not a big jump.
posted by telegraph at 12:34 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

True Brews is a nice book for all sorts of small batch home brews, both alcoholic and non. I've made a few of the sodas and I'm planning on making the dry mead soon. I also do small (4.5l) wine kits.

I am a knitter so I'm biased towards that but I gotta agree with previous comments that knitted socks are the best. They don't even have to be massively fancy (but I'm a process knitter so I often pick things for the new skills/learning). also, crochet for large blankets. I make most of mine double bed sized and out of acrylic because I live under them in the winter and I am going to spill tea on them, so machine washable is a requirement.

I've made vanilla extract and plan to make extracts others soon - it def. makes a good gift.
posted by halcyonday at 12:44 PM on August 19, 2013

Do you have a bamboo steamer? Make your own dim sum!

One of my favorites is bao, or steamed pork buns (though Mr Origami is a big fan of the (sweeter than this) red bean paste filling after he's past the savory stage).

Fabulous recipes for homemade char siu, the pork filling made with it, and the bao, all here.

posted by AnOrigamiLife at 1:29 PM on August 19, 2013

Reusable bags and mesh produce bags?
posted by jabes at 1:29 PM on August 19, 2013

Knit and crochet ALL the things.
posted by bearwife at 1:31 PM on August 19, 2013


You can make ukeleles and other small instruments entirely from handtools, just put something down for the sawdust.
posted by aniola at 2:01 PM on August 19, 2013

Home-made ricotta cheese is infinitely tastier than store-bought. Store-bought is good but kind of bland, whereas home-made has this richness, somehow a nuttiness, that makes it unbelievable. Plus, it's really easy.
posted by dearwassily at 2:20 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's summertime most places, so it's the perfect time to make your own paletas (Mexican popsicles). WAY cheaper and tastier than any frozen popsicle you'd get at the store.

My current favourite are these coconut mango rice ones.
posted by Pademelon at 2:56 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Haven't done it yet but I've been meaning to try spoon carving.
posted by biscuits at 3:15 PM on August 19, 2013

If cost is not an issue, I would suggest wood working. What could you NOT build that is practical and potentially beautiful? These things also become part of your family story, "this is the hope chest my mother and father built for me". Start with spoons and then up to larger items. I bitterly regret never getting the furniture that my grandfather built at the turn of 20th century but I hope they found good homes. It would have been nice to have something concrete from his hands. Crafting something that lives from one generation to the next would be neat.
posted by jadepearl at 4:45 PM on August 19, 2013

Bacon. Use this guide, buy some curing salt online and pork belly from the nearest butcher. Make sure you have some good pepper; for best results, drop some fresh peppercorns into a spice/coffee grinder. Penzey's has good pepper too. McCormick's sells black dust.
posted by Turkey Glue at 5:01 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Canning in general, is a fantastic way to make stuff way better than you buy, and for a lot less.
The thing that is the most different is home-made ketchup. Man, you won't believe it! Of course, it helps to use home-grown tomatoes/herbs; if you don't have a garden (something else to do - grow your own food!), buy the best paste tomatoes you can at a farmer's market.
Have a great time - this sort of thing is so much fun!
posted by dbmcd at 5:47 PM on August 19, 2013

Chicken, beef and vegetable stocks! It's amazing to turn trash into food!
posted by rhapsodie at 6:00 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

How about patchwork quilting by hand? Not at all the same as sewing clothes (or anything else) by machine. If a full sized bed quilt is too daunting, there are always quilted pillow covers (the pillows themselves can be bought pre-made, or can also be made by hand) for sofas, or quilted shoulder bags, or any number of useful and/or decorative items. You can make items out of pieces of old clothes, or just purchase yards of cotton in varying colors and design/cut/piece together a lovely geometric pattern of your own creation.
posted by RRgal at 7:51 PM on August 19, 2013

Make some full-on tube amps. I would recommend something like 18watt.com for nice sounding designs, but there are also plenty of really simple designs (like Fender Champs) out there.
posted by builderofscience at 6:31 AM on August 20, 2013

Have you tried grinding your own meat yet?

Gardening and wild foraging (mushrooms, etc) would be other obvious DIY projects since you like food. You really can do lots with container gardening, and fresh herbs/cherry tomatoes are easy starter projects.
posted by susanvance at 9:23 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Roasting coffee is cheap, easy, and fun, although the smoke can be a bit much in an apartment. It helps if you can put your roaster out on a patio, in a fireplace, or under a range hood. For $5-8/lb, you can get the freshest coffee possible, from your choice of countries, and it's a fun process to figure out. For a roaster, you can spend a bit ($200+) on something made specifically for roasting coffee, or buy an old popcorn popper for a couple bucks at Goodwill.

Sweet Maria's has a huge library of info on how to roast and brew coffee.
posted by indeterminacy at 11:26 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

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