It’s Fun to Make Useful Homemade Gizmos

It's fun and satisfying to design and then make simple items that serve some purpose. I find it very rewarding to conjure up designs out of my imagination and then build them using common tools and cheap or free materials. I've made all kinds of things. Most of them performed some function that no readily available, store-bought device offered.

I do a lot of text keying at a computer keyboard. After many hours of keying, day after day, my hands and fingers tell me (as in pain) that they're pushing too hard, too many times. After going from store to store looking for a keyboard with easy to press keys, I realized that I needed something to measure the force needed to press the keys on a particular keyboard. Trying to judge the force by typing a little with each keyboard wasn't separating the Tylenol endorsed keyboards from the more finger friendly keyboards. So I rigged up a plastic tube taped to a vertical wire a few inches long. Pennies could be put in the tube. The lower end of the wire is rested on a key. The number of pennies needed to push a key down is a measure of the key's required press force.

Then there was the see through, wall hung beehive that I put on my bedroom wall. My father used to keep bees to harvest honey. One cold day in March, I discovered an abandoned hive that had fallen over exposing the bees to the elements. There was only several hundred bees left out of what was once thousands. I put a sheet of glass, about 2-foot by 2-foot, onto a wooden frame that I attached to my bedroom wall. Then I carefully transported the faltering bee colony to their new home. A tunnel made of metal window screening provided a path for the bees to come and go under a slightly raised window. The colony's queen had not survived being exposed to the weather, so I knew no new bees would be reared. This colony would only last as long as the lifespans of its current members. But it was interesting to watch the bees doing what bees do throughout the next several months. And the bragging rights for having a bee colony on ones bedroom wall was something to envy.

Both the keyboard force-o-meter and the wall-mounted beehive were inspired by circumstances. I just saw the possibility of what could be done and wanted to do it. I try to be open to possibilites for other gadgets and gizmos that would be of value. It is well worth the effort: It is fun to make improvised gizmos, and you get a valued item. The item may suit your needs better than a purchased item because you make it the way you want it. The item could inspire wonder and delight. And it feels good to prove that your ingenuity and imagination can produce things of value.

Below is a description of a couple of items you may like to make.



If you often find it annoying to remove boots as you enter the house, this project is for you. The bootjack makes the task easier especially if the boots are tight fitting or you are carrying something so that your hands are not free.

Begin with a 3/4 inch thick board that is about 2 feet long and 6 inches wide. Cut a V shaped notch in one end. Use nails to attach a small piece of wood to keep the notched end raised above the floor. Keep the bootjack near the door where you most often enter wearing boots. Put one foot on the jack to hold it in place. Put the heel of the other foot in the notch and pull your foot out of the boot.

Wall display cubby box:

Small cardboard boxes can be fastened together and hung on the wall. Small and valued objects can be placed there to be displayed and admired.

Save boxes from muffin mix, artificial sweetener, rice or other often used food items. When you have enough, cut each box to an appropriate size. I started with boxes 4-inches wide, 2-inches deep, and 6-inches tall. I cut each box to half height, so that each box was 3-inches tall. Boxes that are twice as wide as they are deep can be arranged as shown in the diagrams of this article. If you use boxes with other ratios of width to height, use a different arrangement or use pieces of corrigated cardboard to fill any gaps between boxes.

Lay a piece of plastic sheeting such as a plastic grocery bag on a flat surface. The plastic will keep excess glue from sticking to your work surface. You can use white glue to fasten the boxes together. To help keep the glue from running down the side of the boxes, use a method similar to that used by bricklayers applying mortar to bricks. Before putting a box into position, put glue on each side of that box that will be against a box already in place. That way, while applying glue, you can turn the box in any way that makes it easy to apply the glue. And the glue will quickly be between two surfaces. That helps keep the glue in place. A good glue pattern is shown by the red lines below.


As you assemble the boxes together, use a straight edge such as a wall or a large box as a guide to align the boxes in straight rows. Set something heavy against the boxes to hold them together while the glue driad_c13aes. Bricks or large books work well. Use the plastic sheeting to keep oozing glue from sticking the boxes to the books or bricks. You can use paper clips to hold the edges of the boxes together where gaps occur.


When all the boxes are in place, let the glue dry for about 12 hours. Then use a nail to punch holes for a string that will go around the group of boxes. Two holes near each corner will keep the string in place. Tie the two ends of the string together. Hang the box display from a small nail.



Alan Detwiler is the author of the ebook "Homemade Devices For Inventive Teens" available at
Photos © Alan Detwiler

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