So this weekend I've started looking into what's involved in this learn-to-make-stuff thing.
Something I've been wanting to do for some time now is to build some bicimaquinas. The word is Spanish and was coined by a group called Mayapedal in Guatemala. They take donated bicycles and carve them up, modify them and put them back together to make stationary pedal-powered machines. So far they've designed and built a blender, a corn grinder, a water pump and a number of other useful devices that make life a hell of a lot easier when you live somewhere without a reliable, affordable electricity supply.
Depending on who you ask, that might include a lot of us in the next few decades.
Even if you're not of an apocalyptic bent, there's a lot to love about these things. We're surrounded by clever technology that lets us imagine we're really in charge of the universe, but an awful lot of it doesn't work at all unless we keep feeding it some form of concentrated fossil sunlight.
Bicycles are sort of different; they take the power output of a human being (up to 300-400 watts in short bursts, more like 75 watts over long periods of time) and strip away as much friction as possible, allowing us to get the most work done with the least effort. It's a truly clever invention, an elegant solution to a persistent problem that dogs every animal on the planet, i.e. moving around without blowing your calorie budget. It's an honest invention that doesn't rely on a geological trust fund to work its apparent magic. In this respect it's a much bigger achievement than a car or an airplane or a moon shot.
(Let's leave aside for the moment that making replacement parts for bicycles itself depends on an industrial system that may or may not be able to function, even at a drastically reduced level, on the available renewable energy sources. Someday even bicimaquinas might not be viable. But in the meantime...)
What I also like about the bicimaquina concept is that, even for us pudgy and comfortable first-worlders, it deals with some of our current problems as well as our future ones. Leave aside the whole issue of reducing energy consumption for environmental reasons. Right now we've got labour-saving machines doing a lot of our physical work for us, while we go to gyms to work out on different machines whose purpose is to help us burn off extra calories while doing no useful work.
The Dutch cheapskate in me finds this objectionable.
So I'm gonna start with bicimaquinas because, of all the greasy, dirty, hands-onny get-stuff-doney crafts, bike repair is the one at which I am least inept. I've actually got a decent grasp of how bicycles work, though I haven't actually worked on one in years. So there's something to start with.
I think eventually I'd like to build a pedal-powered washing machine. Something like that would give you a good workout over the course of half an hour or so and get something done that, frankly, I tend to avoid. (Of course I tend to avoid exercise too...)
But for now I think the first project will be a stationary stand to mount a bike frame on--the power plant for whatever other devices I then decide to hook up to it.
Gonna have to learn how to weld...