Steampunk is a ‘somewhat’ recent phenomenon, which can be described as a sub-genre of science fiction (H.G. Wells, Jules Verne etc), that adopts design cues and styles from the 19th century Victorian industrial era. Steampunk incorporates various technological and other themes into a wide variety of subject matter and has become a bit of a sub-culture, as well as being used as a theme in movies such as Wild, Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Stardust and many others, even in sitcoms such as The Big Bang Theory. Steampunk covers all manner of subjects from clothing, devices, bars, vehicles, music, furniture and even homes, the list really is endless. Sometimes it can be quite extraordinary in accomplishment, functionality and outright beauty, or simply wishful thinking.
For some, Steampunk can involve not much more than making things look as if they are from the Victorian era, such as with bars like the Edison in Los Angeles. For others, the designs may have no functional purpose, but are works of art in themselves. Others create things that work and serve a practical and functional purpose, and this is where you will find incredible skills and imagination being put to use, creating things that not only look good (in the eye of the beholder I guess), but can also be used on a daily basis. The home that I linked to is just one example where someone has taken Steampunk to the next level and then there are others that do marvels with modern technology or make stunning things for movies.
For some reason I’ve always been attracted to Steampunk themes and, in my own humble way, have even attempted to make some of my own creations. In fact, I now often start with the intent of introducing some Steampunk flavour into my DIY projects, as I’ve already mentioned a couple of times in previous posts. My first Steampunk creation came about purely by happenstance, while I was trying to make a flat-bed microscope out of various bits and pieces. At some point along the way I saw that there was more potential to what was evolving and thus an idea was sparked that almost grew into a monster. At the end of the day, I was quite pleased by the end result and the creation isn’t just something to look at, it actually works and is a fully functioning microscope with automatic controls; though nowadays it’s more a decorative piece than anything else.
My second creation happened fairly recently when I needed a slide copier for some old slides that I had, so that I could digitise them. I initially started with a second-hand slide copier from eBay, but it didn’t really work all that well so, once again, starting with additional bits and bobs that I had lying around, I started to build something better. This time I had the full intention of making it look Steampunk(ish), following in the theme of the microscope. It also had to be fully functional and to this end, it worked out very well. The end result doesn’t quite have the flair or character of the microscope, but I may revisit the slide copier one day and see if I can add more to the design.
You may note that, as a platform, there’s a lot of timber in my designs. That probably stems from the fact that I’ve always liked timber and our furniture has always been more along the lines of heritage style. Our previous home was of a Victorian style and our current rural home also features a lot of exposed timber, so the theme just carries along. Also, copper, brass and iron feature in all my Steampunk creations, as they do in most Steampunk designs, as this reflects the Victorian industrial era of mechanical (especially steam) driven machines. Gears and such also feature in many Steampunk designs, but I really haven’t felt the need to include them in any of my creations (so far). My latest creation is the reinvention of an old Singer sewing machine that had gone to rust, by converting it into a planter stand. Perhaps it’s not quite Steampunk, but my wife likes it.
But sometimes it’s not easy to find ideas on what to make, even when you have what appears to be the ideal starting point. In this case, I’ve had a wooden box for many years that used to be a rheostat used in a laboratory, which I’ve cleaned up, varnished and removed the ‘innards’, with the intent of making something out of it. But in all the years that I’ve had this box, I haven’t been able to generate one good idea on how to convert it to something that’s hopefully functional and of a Steampunk design. The usual clocks, barometers etc have come to mind, but those ideas are pretty kitsch and something that I prefer to avoid. So the box just sits there daring me to do something.
I guess one of the things that I like about Steampunk is that it has a kind of enduring quality. Many designs that embrace modernism, tend to date very quickly and it’s not until many decades later that they may come back into fashion, while being avoided like the plague in the intervening years (70s Mission Brown anyone? OK, that hasn’t come back into fashion – I hope). Like things of the Victorian and later period, Steampunk never really goes out of date (tastes obviously vary) and can mix and match with modern styling without ever being completely out of place, unless you happen to be ultra-modern (or is it ultra-minimalist?). What comes next, I don’t know.
Update 1. This perhaps isn’t really Steampunk, but I didn’t feel that it was a good fit for DIY either, so put it here. For at least 20 years, I’ve had this piece of tree root that I collected from the High Country while camped along a river, and liked the shape and texture, but could never quite figure out what to do with it. I could never come to throw it out, so it just sat as an ornament of sorts on a shelf. Last year in one of our red gum wood piles I found a very nice looking piece that looked perfect for some sort of project. Originally I was going to make it into a platter of sorts, but didn’t have at hand other bits that I thought would be necessary to finish it off. Also last year, on our Christmas camping trip, I picked up a couple of old railways spikes and a hand made nail at our campsite and everything started to gel. The platter idea was still at the top, but then our neighbour showed us their old tree root that they’d put in a pot and my red gum platter idea fomented into a new plan. What you see here is a compilation of the tree root, the red gum, the railways spikes and the old hand made nail. I think it represents some of the archetypal things that have made Australia.