How to make things?
December 7, 2005 1:29 PM   Subscribe

I've been inspired by Make Magazine and Readymade magazine, unfortunately, I don't have all the how-to knowledge I'd like...

I'm looking for books that tell general building techniques, for example, how to weld, basic wood working principles, how to fabricate things, etc. Also, websites or blogs that cover that sort of thing would be nice. Also, I'd prefer books that suggest ways to build things without a lot of tools (For example, I own a circular saw and a Jigsaw but no table saw).

In short: I'm looking for things that will teach me basic building techniques from wood to metal and electronics.
posted by drezdn to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm no woodsmith (is that a word?), but I've come to the conclusion that a lot of it IS in having the right tools for the job. I've built some modern shelves (using dowels as vertical supports) and some simple speaker stands. The both turned out mediocre and slightly wonky -- the right angles aren't quite right, the support lengths aren't consistent, etc.. Problem is I built them using a circular saw and a hand drill rather than a table saw and drill press, so the angles and lengths, while measured and marked, were all freehand-cut, rather than using the foolproof straight edge of a table saw or the perfect perpendicular hole of a drill press.

Surely a master could have done better than me with the same tools, but I could have built them right if I'd sprung for the correct tools.

That said, I say dive in, make your mistakes, and learn what media you enjoy most and which tools you need.
posted by LordSludge at 1:48 PM on December 7, 2005

You could try the thrift store. You will often find (not quite complete) sets of "Home Improvement Encyclopedias" and the like from various publishers there for cheap. The better sets will explain the tool functions to you (allowing you to figure out which are interchangeable), provide you with some basic knowledge like how to drill stright down or cut a certain angle or whatever, and give you ideas for projects (mostly painted silly 60s and 70s colors). I will look when I get home at which specific sets I have.
posted by fidelity at 2:01 PM on December 7, 2005

hi i'm phil from make magazine ( i try and cover a lot of books and resources on our blog, use the search box for for some pointers - we also have "primers" in each make that cover the topics you asked about. if you send me an email pt at makezine dot c0m i can send you a free copy of the digital edition if you'd like.

i'd suggest these resources too: technical video rentals, popular science's how 2.0 section - the local library / book store for "just in time" info - and of course local community groups / schools, there are usually classes and gatherings in most cities.

hope this helps.
posted by ptorrone at 2:01 PM on December 7, 2005

Night school can be a decent way to learn many skills. The nice thing about night courses is that they're often a way to get access to a shop with a paid tutor. Don't go in expecting a formal course, in most cases. Woodworking and metal shop courses are usually solutions for: "I have a project in mind, but I don't have the woodshop and some advice would be handy too". So you get some more practice and a nice bedroom cabinet for your $200 and cost of lumber.

Check with your instructor, but in my experience shop classes are often individual project based rather than formal lesson plans. The problem with most school shops is that the tools aren't always the best quality, but night school can be a good safe way to learn how to set up a table saw or a plasma cutter.
posted by bonehead at 2:22 PM on December 7, 2005

Night school can be a decent way to learn many skills. The nice thing about night courses is that they're often a way to get access to a shop with a paid tutor. Don't go in expecting a formal course, in most cases. Woodworking and metal shop courses are usually solutions for: "I have a project in mind, but I don't have the woodshop and some advice would be handy too". So you get some more practice and a nice bedroom cabinet for your $200 and cost of lumber.

yeah, I was going to suggest community college courses as well, but I'm not sure those classes get offered at night very often. Still, I'm guessing your city will have enough for you to choose from that you might be able to find something. having someone *show* you how to do something the first time you do it saves you TONS of frustration and time.
posted by fishfucker at 2:43 PM on December 7, 2005

Community colleges can be great for learning to weld. I started taking welding classes when I was in college and when I moved to Seattle I found that I could take a "special topics in welding" class that would give me shop access (welding rigs, cutting torches and a lot of spare metal to practice on). Once I had completed the class I stuck around for another semester or two, taking the minimum credits and keeping access to the shop. One of the things that helps the most when you want to lern new skills is having a project you are interested in that is appropriate to your skill level. I started out making some pretty basic lamps and tables and whatnot and worked my way up to doing things that required a little more finesse. To stay interested, you want a new hobby project to be challenging but not too overwhelming and, if you're like me, to not break the bank before you're really sure it's something you are interested in.

Off-topic but sort of a family plug, my cousin is a real life woodworker, mostly working with hand tools. He has a sort of chatty interesting blog over at Woodworking Magazine. It's not how to stuff per se, but he's a good writer and I always learn more about the culture of woodworking when I read it, even though I'm not a woodworker myself. You can do a lot with the saws you have and some know-how, you just need a good project and some spare time to get started.
posted by jessamyn at 2:44 PM on December 7, 2005

I took up woodworking by signing up for an Adult Education class in my town. The tools were a little banged up (high school wood shop), but they were still professional grade tools. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time figuring out what I was going to do. When it got to the point where I was spending more time waiting for people to finish using a tool, I knew I was doing pretty well. Beware - as you become a better woodworker, your tolerance for shoddy furniture goes was down and then the price tag goes correspondingly up. For a number of years, I did all my woodworking with a sabre saw, a router, a sander, some basic hand tools and a Black and Decker workmate. You can do a lot, but it's still feltcontinually limiting. Then again, I met a guy who made some absolutely gorgeous furniture using only Japanese hand tools (hand saws, hand planes, and chisels).
For woodworking, Tage Frid has written some pretty definitive stuff.

As for soldering and electronics, I'd start by trying to get copies of the old Forrest Mimm (sp?) engineering notebooks. They're great at covering the basic components. Buy cheap blinky light/small amp/mini robot kits and you'll learn to solder by practicing (by the way, I'm told that the difference between soldering and welding is a matter of scale, but since I've never welded, I can't say). For soldering, avoid the bargain soldering irons at Radio Shack. Price does make a difference, and Weller still makes some really nice soldering irons (the pistol excepted).

You can still buy materials for making your own printed circuit boards at Radio Shack. It's messy and only slightly faster than point to point soldering with a wiring pen (not wire wrap - there are pens that have a wire whose insulation melts away at soldering temperature, so you wind it around every point of contact, put on a blob of solder and check continuity - surprisingly quick). If you m ake your own pcb's, don't dump the waste down your slop sink like I did when I was in high school: it rotted the copper pipes and pissed off my dad.
posted by plinth at 3:20 PM on December 7, 2005

If you don't frequent the Readymade forums, do so. Any of us there that post a project we've done are usually happy to tell how we did it. Trial and error can be a great teacher.
posted by attercoppe at 6:11 PM on December 7, 2005

I've found tremendous help at the local library (they have tons of books on everything, though some are a bit out of date -- the basics always stay the same). But nothing beats actual experience. I feel like it takes two tries before I get something right, be that building a shelf, putting up curtain rods, or fixing a squeaky hinge, and I've spent the last few years trying to get my first two tries done in as many things as possible (like laying wood floors, painting complex objects, etc).
posted by mathowie at 10:26 AM on December 8, 2005

I know you want in on the cheap, but sometimes you'll need to invest in quality tools. (cheap stop get tools can be worse than useless) If you pick up that Tage Frid book for example, the tears of not having a table saw will well up and blur your vision (a shop hazard in itself!)

Get familiar with using ebay to browse for heavy tools only in local cities close enough for you to drive a (borrowed/stolen) pickup to. Most people sell bulky things like good contractor table saws as "local pickup only" so you'll only have to bid against locals. I picked up a nice Delta 444 table saw with Biesemeyer fence for only $400 (the price of a new fence) and the quality of my woodworking went from an accuracy of 1/4" to 1/64" in one tool upgrade for price of an iPod.
posted by ernie at 6:30 AM on December 9, 2005

For a thorough schooling in metalwork, try Dave Gingery's Build your own metalworking shop from scrap series. They are well written and regarded in the metalworking community. Try a Google search on the books and you'll see.
posted by Harald74 at 1:21 AM on December 10, 2005

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