Low cost hobbies for tinkerers?
September 12, 2018 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Recently, I've enjoyed tinkering based hobbies like building a budget gaming PC and upgrading car audio. What other kind of things would I enjoy as a hobby? The only requirement is that it is low budget. For example, the PC build was for about $50 total using scavenged and used older parts. I don't want to spend a lot on tools or materials. Part of the enjoyment is trying to find good deals as well as learning through the tinkering process. Does not have to be electronics related.
posted by roaring beast to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to be electronics related and have patience, the quantity of amazingly cheap off the shelf things you can order via China Post is breathtaking. Last year I upgraded a wood pumpkin halloween decoration so it played sounds whenever anyone got close to it. Doing so took a little PIR sensor (about $3) and a cheap speaker (I could have ganked one out of an old PC case if I had one handy but I just ordered something for about $5) and a little all-on-one-chip device that played MP3 files you loaded onto it via a USB connection (it shows up as a drive; it was about $9)

Here's the problem I personally have with this "low cost" hobby - once you walk into Wonka's online workshop it's hard to stop just buying things here and there to wire up. The $0.99 plastic shoebox containers I use to store all this stuff, when I packed my workspace pre-home reno, consumed about a 3'x3'x3' space. You can spend yourself highly silly even $3 at a time. Maybe you have more restraint.

You can find tonnnnsssss of videos and writeups on doing these sorts of projects. Adafruit is a good starting point. They're the place you go to buy these baubles when you want them well documented, delivered quickly, and reliable. But you can find most of the system on a chip type things they sell from Shenzen sellers. eBay is a good simple way to start, though for a lot of stuff you can just directly get it via a place like Banggood.

So if you enjoy the "find it cheaper" aspect this has potential. Arduino stuff is plentiful and well aged by now so finding howto stuff is easy. If you look into the ESP stuff you can lean LUA for a quicker less-stuff entry or move on to reflashing them with arduino code.

If any of that sounds remotely attractive I'm happy to compile some links later, otherwise I won't bother.
posted by phearlez at 1:28 PM on September 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

You can spend a lifetime developing kites for a few bucks in paper, glue and bamboo.

Once you get something you like, it’s not too expensive to upgrade to nylon and carbon fiber for a few kites.

I’m partial to single-line maneuverable fighter kites, but other genres are available too, like dual- or quad-line stunt kites, traction kites, trick boxes, flying sharks or octopuses, etc.

Anyone feel free to memail for more info or discussion :)
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:29 PM on September 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

Polishing Turds. (look it up!)

Home Improvement / Automating a Home.

Prototyping a Board Game.

Repairing Old TVs / Lawn Mowers and reselling.

Fixing Watches/Clocks

Modifying iPhones.

I specifically need to add a sensor to my rowing machine that presses a keyboard key and program a game so that I can use my rowing machine to play a game on my computer. It would just take some tinkering, and learning to program, etc.
posted by bbqturtle at 1:32 PM on September 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Very low tech but I feel like there's a lot that might appeal to you in making paper models. They can be very intricate and satisfying to put together, but the only costs are an X-acto knife, your glue of choice, and the paper and ink to print the various pieces. I like building paper trains but if you google "whatever you're into paper model", I guarantee there will be something for you out there. You might particularly enjoy models with moving pieces, like paper machines or paper pinhole cameras.

And then, when you get tired of whatever you made cluttering up your workspace, you can recycle it and make something enw!
posted by darchildre at 2:18 PM on September 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Check with your local library in case they've got some equipment you can use. Some of my local libraries offer access to 3D printers and assorted electronics and craft tools and supplies, so I can try out things that are more expensive than I can justify owning, and tinker with stuff for cheap or free. Plus there's ready access to lots of info about how to use the tools to do pretty much anything I can think of, and people to help me learn.
posted by asperity at 4:12 PM on September 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Like darchildre, I recommend paper models. There is a very active and friendly international online community at Paper Modelers (I am a member). There are an amazing number of free models at every skill level available to download. Canon Creative Park has animals, buildings, toys and more, and they usually are easy to put together. There are lots of links in the forum.

I especially like vintage paper models like the ones here. Depending on your choice of paper and printer, the larger models can get pricier.

Similarly, Origami Architecture can be simple and there are some amazing artists out there. It has the advantage of the simplicity of white paper.
posted by Altomentis at 4:41 PM on September 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

darchildre - what do you do with all your models? I remember making a great number of them (including plastic ones) and they'd end up dusty and I'd get sad when I accidentally squooshed them trying to clean, and it made me sad getting rid of them.

I remember as a kid that pre-printed paper models came in books that you'd cut the pieces out of (another sad! damaging a book!) and then glue together.

I eventually used those a templates and cut/ coloured my own pieces out of card stock.
posted by porpoise at 4:45 PM on September 12, 2018

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