Author Spotlight: Phil B



It would be an understatement to say that  Phil Bohlken (a.k.a Phil B) has posted a couple of Instructables. He is quickly on his way to being the most prolific author on this website. With a lifetime of tinkerer wisdom under his belt, he shares instructions that teach people practical life skills. I recently had the privilege of asking him a few questions and this is what he had to say:

You are currently the second most prolific project poster on Instructables. Where do you get your ideas from? Are you afraid of running out?

I have been doing DIY things at least since I was ten years old. That is 55 years on which to look back and from which to draw experiences. Some of my submissions are projects done decades before existed. A Precise Table Saw from an Electric Hand Saw is an example. Many are the result of a breakdown in a piece of equipment that needed repair, and I decided to document my fix for my future reference and also for others who might have a similar need sometime. An example is Oven Timer Problem. Sometimes I simply get an idea about something that seems like it would be interesting to attempt. An example of this is Make a Center Finder. Sometimes a friend brings me a problem and the solution becomes an Instructable. An example is Save an Irreplaceable Screw. Sometimes I realize there is something I take for granted, but it might be helpful to others if I were to present it as an Instructable. An example is EVERYONE Needs a Multi-Meter.

When I began submitting Instructables I was certain I would run out of ideas before I could develop 30 of them. Suddenly I had 50 submissions. Then I was closing in on 100. Now I have 175. In the back of my mind I have set a goal to post at least 200 Instructables. As long as things continue to fail, there will be fixes to be developed. As long as there are things my wife and I, or a friend, need and I am confident I can make one at least as good as what I see in stores, there will be grist for new Instructables.

Of all the Instructables that you have posted, which one is your favorite?

There are several of which I am fond because they represent something generally thought impossible in a home workshop, yet I found a way to do them very successfully with rather common tools. Currently, my favorite is Rebuilding a Hydraulic Floor Jack. It is the most difficult project I have ever done for an Instructable. I had little information with which to begin. Several times I thought I had come to an insurmountable roadblock. Several times I had to make a decision about how to proceed where there were no guidelines other than my best DIY intuition. And, I had to conceive, design, and build three special tools to accomplish the job. Yet, when it was finished, the rebuilt jack worked perfectly right away. And, a hydraulics specialist who is also a member of Instructables validated what I had done in a comment he posted, despite my complete previous lack of experience with hydraulics.

How do you gauge a successful project?

If it satisfies me I consider the project successful. It is a bonus when others respond favorably, but I have all I need if the project does what I need.

If you were to give advice to someone making their first Instructable, what would that advice be?

Do not be too timid. You have more to offer than you think. Subscribers to are not accomplished technical types looking for perfection in others, but they are DIY junkies who need to read their regular fix of “how-to” articles. Just take some sharp step-by-step photos in soft, even light; like that on the shadow side of a building. Describe your project with simple steps in good English (assuming that is your mother tongue--I very much appreciate the efforts of those whose language is not English and yet they make an attempt to write in English.). Be assured what you do will be appreciated by most who view it. Those who do not appreciate it do not matter.

Do you have any big projects on the horizon that you would like to share?

I now have a new, better circular saw and would like to make a precision table saw conversion for it with a ball-bearing sliding table section and a miter sled. I am also thinking about a serious “crossbow” that would be made with common items from a local hardware store.

Is there any person who has been influential in directing the kinds of things that you make?

Some of my Instructables came from projects my wife requested. For example, there is Make Some Nice TV Trays. Otherwise, my parents were very practical people who did not have a lot of discretionary income. As you noted in your final question, many of my Instructables are repairs to various things. My parents, though now deceased, gave me attitudes that move me to repair rather than replace items whenever possible. If I think there is something to offer from my fix, I make an Instructable from what I did.

What is the most indispensable tool at your disposal?

I could probably forfeit many favorite tools and still manage by alternate methods, but to give up my electric drill would be a most difficult loss.

Are there any new skills that you wish to learn? Are there any existing skills that you wish to master?

If there were no limits of time, workshop space, and funds; it would be nice to learn to use a metal lathe. I would like to become a more skilled welder.

Does your congregation know about your Instructables and, if so, what do they think of them?

As your question implies, I am the pastor of a local church by day. People in the congregation do know about my involvement with I often mention Instructables in sermons and in conversations with church people, although not always directly by name. Sometimes I sit down at a computer with someone at church and load up an Instructable that is important to the discussion we have been having. Sometimes I copy a link to someone else's Instructable and send it by e-mail to our preschool teachers because it answers a need they have for their classes. I regularly give a CD with a nice free Bible program and other resources to young people in my confirmation classes. That disc also usually contains PDFs of all of my Instructables to date. Quite a few people from the church are also FaceBook friends and I often publish links to my recent Instructables there. I sometimes get feedback from the church people at FaceBook on those Instructables. When there is a workday at the church, people at the church often ask me to drive the two blocks to my house and bring back some tool no one remembered to bring because they know I probably have it. A few weeks ago I was asked to bring my wire feed welder. That got me out of washing windows for the day! Some of my Instructables originated as a project for some church member or another. An example is Fix a non-working electronic fly swatter. Another church member asked me to print my Instructable Ruger Mark III Pistol Take Down and Assembly. He had recently bought a nearly identical Ruger pistol after years of not having one, and wanted my Instructable printed on paper for his use.

A lot of your projects focus on repairs, is there anything you have encountered that you just couldn't repair no matter how hard you have tried?

Our 15 year old washing machine would fit as an answer to this question. It became apparent that after I fixed one problem there was another, and then still another. I cut my losses and junked it out. But, its outer sheet metal is now in the process of becoming small parts boxes for my workshop. Also, the same fellow who brought me his broken electronic fly swatter also brought me his MP3 player after it had fallen into a hot tub with him. I soaked it in distilled water to remove trace minerals left by the hot tub water, and I dried it out. It might have worked if he had not tried to power it up immediately after it was dunked. Otherwise, there have been some tense moments when I walked away from a project for a day or two to think and gain my composure, but eventually I was able to fix it.