Anyone who has watched Mythbusters would know of Adam Savage. Adam is the ADHD counterpart to stoic Jamie Hyneman, two special effects practitioners (and what not) who put their combined experience into a TV show that’s now been running since 2003. I’m a big fan of Mythbusters and how they ‘do’ things in their show when it comes to myth busting; showing how common myths, movie stunts and the like do or do not ring true. In doing so, they often build things from scratch to demonstrate and put the myths to the test. Though, like many fans, I don’t always agree with their testing methods or outcomes.
But Adam does more than just appear on Mythbusters (where he unfortunately also does annoying character accents), he also attends many Maker Faire events, SciFi conventions and has a YouTube presence where he makes things in his ‘cave’. Which brings me to the point of this post. A while back, I came across a post by Adam Savage about making things and it really resonated with me, as it reflected so much about how I think and like to do things. This is what Adam had to say:
- Make something. Anything. Weld, carve, cook, sculpt, sew. Make something in the world that wasn’t there before. As humans, there are two things that make us truly unique: the ability to use tools and the need to tell stories. Making things is both. Everything made has a story embedded in it. When you make something, it becomes part of your story. Humans are natural storytellers, and when you make new things, you join in the most ancient and important story of all.
- Make stuff that improves your life, either mechanically or aesthetically. It doesn’t matter which. Nothing cements a feeling of utility than using something you’ve made in the course of moving through life. Make useless stuff too, because that’s fun and fine, but you’ll cement your satisfaction by improving your surroundings.
- Don’t wait. You can start now with what’s in front of you. As Goethe [may or may not have] said, “Begin it!”
- Use a project to learn a skill. I don’t know about you but I need a goal to learn a skill. I can’t deconstruct and just learn welding for welding’s sake. I need to have something that only welding will bring me. Look around and find something you need to build. Something you can’t help but build.
- ASK. Ask for help. People who make things love to share their ideas and knowledge. Makers love to talk about their work. Any husband or wife of a maker knows this is true. Learn how to work well with others and it will give back to you tenfold. Ask questions. Ask for advice. Ask for feedback.
- Share your methods and knowledge and don’t make them a secret. Take lots of pictures and make notes. Make noise. You will forget key details unless you do. Recognize that no matter how esoteric the build or the process you’re working on, somebody somewhere is interested in the same thing and will benefit from your experience, no matter how young you are. Nobody has the monopoly on being you. No one can steal that. Don’t keep secrets!
- Discouragement and failure are intrinsic to the process. Don’t hide from these. Talk about them. They’re not enemies to be avoided, they’re friends, designed to teach your humility. Go easy on yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others; go ahead and be envious of others’ skills, because frequently you can’t not. Use that.
- Measure carefully. Have some tolerance. You know what tolerance is? If something fits tightly into something–that’s a close tolerance. If something fits loosely, that’s a loose tolerance. Knowing the difference between tight and loose tolerance is perhaps the most important measure of a craftsperson.
- Make things for other people. Nothing feels better than expanding your making beyond yourself. Make no mistake: you make yourself vulnerable when you give something to someone that you made, but the rewards are incredible.
- And if I could go back in time and tell my young self anything–any specific thing at all–it would be this: Use more cooling fluid!
And that’s what I do. I guess I’ve been doing this since I was a kid in primary school, pulling things apart to see how they worked and then trying to put them back together again. In those early years, putting things back together wasn’t always a success, but that never stopped me, as you learned by your mistakes and progressed to more expensive mistakes. As the years went on, I continued to have that urge to design, build and/or repair things, often making oddities and sometimes going well beyond the project specifications and plans.
For me the nature of the projects never mattered and my first substantial projects started with cars. There’s nothing unusual about that, especially when as a young car owner the only thing that you could afford was a veritable bomb (wages, living costs and the cost of cars was significantly different when I started out), so you pretty much had to learn how to do your own repairs and the like. That led to a lifetime interest in cars and all things mechanical, electrical and electronic and it’s why, to this day, I enjoy projects related to improving and keeping my vehicle on the road. Also, knowing the ins and outs is vital, considering the relatively remote places where I venture.
And when it comes to building and construction, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing complex projects come to fruition. Now clearly not everyone has the skills to do mechanical, building or engineering tasks and often other factors come into play regarding whether you can or even want to attempt such projects. For me, it’s often a matter of cost, convenience and confidence over having a tradesman do the job. Materials costs are always the same, if not more, I can do the work at my pace or urgency, and I know that I’m doing a good job. What makes a significant difference today is that the cost of tools is so much lower than it was decades ago, when a simple drill or spanner set was something you didn’t buy lightly.
Even trying out some cooking can be satisfying in itself. Whether you start from scratch or just modify readily available sauce and spice mixes, they all contribute to the learning experience and towards making something. Whether it’s at home, or if you enjoy camping, good, wholesome bush tucker in a camp oven.
I really do think there’s great value in attempting to make things with your own hands. This doesn’t mean doing major renovations or fixing cars but, as Adam suggested, ‘Make something. Anything’; the self-satisfaction from making things can be enormous. Doing so will ever so slightly, but importantly, break a few apron strings from the commercial world where everyone just wants you to buy ready made products. And once you’ve successfully made something, it can be very difficult to stop at just the one project. Mind you, there really are projects better left to others, so best not to attempt projects that will only end in disaster and then require professionals to come in and fix things at an even greater cost.
There is one disappointing thing I’ve experienced with some projects, and that is that Australia is often a miserable place to find stuff when it comes to doing some types of projects. When I have to find bits and bobs for a project, I Google and search eBay first thing and, sadly, with even the most simple of items, you can struggle to find anything in Australia or, if they are available, they are hideously expensive for what they are. China, the UK and USA are overflowing with just about anything, and selling on eBay, but Australia is all too often a wasteland.
So get out there and make something, anything, you will find it enjoyable, even if there are mistakes along the way. Nowadays the internet is full of ideas, guidance and sources of materials, so should you not quite know how to do something or lack the tools and supplies, the information and products are usually easy to find. But don’t forget, plan and then go over your plan a number of times before starting anything.