Candleholder with Matchbox Slot

Sometimes the power goes out when it is too dark to see. And if, after you’ve stumbled around looking for a flashlight, you find one with dead batteries, you’ll need to stumble around some more until you find a candle and matches. By now, you’ve probably got several bruised toes and may even have let some profanities slip.

Good news, Popular Mechanics October 1957 (pg. 194) has the answer. This simple candleholder has a slot for a matchbox in the bottom so you’ll always have them both together, and the handle makes it easily portable. Unfortunately, if what I heard from the garage while Gordon made it is any indication, you may end up just getting the profanity out of the way before the power outage. But once it’s made, as long as you don’t lose it or bury it beneath other things, all frustration is gone by the time you actually need it. Continue reading

Iron Horse Cook-Off in Ely

A couple months ago, Gordon sent me a link to the Nevada Northern Railway’s first annual Iron Horse Cook-Off Challenge with a message that just said, “Can we enter? Can we? Can we?” Contestants would be judged on three meals: one cooked over an open fire, one on the stove in the caboose, and one on a shovel in the firebox of the engine.

We had never been in a cooking contest before, but we did make engine block quesadillas during a solar eclipse. You’d think those skills would translate pretty well to cooking on a shovel in an 800-degree steam locomotive. Plus, they offered points for dressing in period-appropriate railway attire, so we were guaranteed to get more than zero even if we burned all our food to inedibility. Continue reading

Make your own Genie Lamp

I don’t know about you, but when I read something like “One of the most interesting novelties that the home craftsman can make in his leisure moments is an electric ‘Aladdin’s lamp,'” I feel obligated to make a lamp. This is one of the earliest Popular Mechanics projects we’ve done so far, coming in from the June 1926 issue.  Even if you don’t have a mantle to put it on (as the article suggests) it makes a great nightlight, especially for kids who dream of being a princess/genie/street urchin. Continue reading

Telephone Note Pad from “New” Plastic in 1936

My favorite part about reading 80-year-old magazine articles is that the writers get really excited about things that we find commonplace or unnecessary. Take this telephone note pad, for example. Gordon found this project in a June 1936 article called “Working with Plastics.”

The first paragraph talks about the importance of home craftsmen getting to know this “new material,” so they can use it in “building many attractive novelties such as candlesticks, jewel boxes, clock cases, vanity powder sets, bracelets, etc.” The article then walks through the steps to building a telephone note pad so you can record all your important messages and information.

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Make a Knife out of an old File

During an otherwise normal conversation today, Gordon said “Of all the times I’ve been on fire, most of them have been on purpose.” Oddly, this didn’t come up because he was on fire at some point today. He did, however, burn himself making this knife, which inspired the comment. You can still try this at home, just don’t ever put very hot metal on your skin.

This Popular Mechanics project recycles (dare I say, upcycles? Sorry, Gordon) an old file to make a knife. So if you’re tired of scratching things and decide you want to cut things instead, this is a great project for you. Continue reading

Lino Print your Own Christmas Cards

I love getting Christmas cards from all our friends and family this time of year. It’s nice to see what everyone has been up to and see which kid is making the best/weirdest face in the picture. Since we don’t have kids yet and neither of us will ever use the phrase “fur baby,” we don’t usually send out cards. This year, however, we decided we would just share what we’ve been up to in the most applicable way—via a demonstration of the type of thing we do for fun.

In this case, that meant finding a 40-year-old Popular Mechanics article about lino printing your own Christmas cards, buying a kit from Hobby Lobby, and making postcards.

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Popular Mechanics Projects

Gordon got his first subscription to Popular Mechanics because he had a call center job and subscribed to ten different magazines to stave off the soul-sucking boredom. Turns out, it is now the only one of the ten we still take. We made our first PM project after getting serious sticker shock while looking for a meat smoker and then finding plans in the magazine to build one out of a 55-gallon drum instead. We were hooked.

A couple years later, Gordon found several old (we’re talking 1950s) issues at a thrift store and discovered he likes the magazine even better when it’s pretty out of date, so when he discovered Google books had an archive of old issues going back to 1905, he was thrilled. Especially in earlier years, the magazine was full of build-it-yourself projects of varying difficulty. And until October, 1960, the subtitle for each issue was “Written so you can understand it.” It’s every ambitious amateur handyman/electrician/carpenter/boatbuilder/mad scientist’s dream. Continue reading