Featured Author: Iminthebathroom

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Chris Gielens (aka iminthebathroom) makes some really awesome stuff. From baby back cupcakes to animatronic fish, Chris is a man of many talents. His projects sprawl across our categories: welding, electronics, cooking, and automotive modifications are just a handful of the skills he has brought to Instructables. Read on to discover more about the man behind these incredible projects.

How did you discover the site and what inspired you to start posting projects?

I discovered the site while reading an online copy of Make magazine and found a link referencing an Instructable for building a spherical speaker array out fibreglass. At the time I was working on a variation, one of those swooping speaker installs you see in show-cars - part of a James Bond inspired car build of sorts. For a while all of my interests seemed to revolve around the site as I dug deeper into its archives. Soon I was referencing it for everything from recipes to electronics and thought I should post something one day. My best friend Paul O'Regan had always told me to document my builds, and I finally started listening. Some of my Instructables are built around those older photos like my animatronic fish and fighting robot “Lil' Timmy”.  Thanks to Paul, and an overwhelming desire to share knowledge on this site, they have to be my main reasons for beginning to contribute. Once you start it can become addictive though. Soon you look at everyday tasks and begin to think in terms of an Instructable layout. Perhaps they should provide some sort of 1-800 number “If you find yourself signing in to Instructables more than 10 times a day for a month straight, you may have a problem.” Of course the solution will be provided in an Instructable format, lol.

Your projects span an array of disciplines. How did you become proficient in so many skills?

Without trying to sound corny, life and circumstance has been my teacher. I was always tinkering like most when young, taking things apart and later learning how to put them back together, better then when I started. Lego and old antique meccano sets were great for teaching you how to put things together that have never existed before, but with many mediums you reach a point where you’re limited by your materials. You start incorporating new supplies like Capsella or Robotix as an example to provide more precise movement and control but you soon reach a point of limited returns. I think I was the only kid on the block that had a BMX equipped with a Robotix keyboard on the handle bars controlling Capsella servos mounted on the rear wheel studs, “They thread on perfectly you know”. Activate one servo and it would dump flour and cornstarch into the wheel creating a smoke screen, another dumped more nefarious items for imaginary would be attackers. You can only do so much though with kit parts, even if they have been re-purposed. So you learn new skills or mediums to continue growing as a maker. I have always had a knack for reading old “how-to” articles and then just going at it.

Other times though, proficiency in a skill is gained on the job, kinda like form following function. When my son was younger he became interested in the SCA – Society of Creative Anachronism. At first it was easy enough, armour was made of plastic barrels with hockey gear cut and riveted together. Soon though, as his level increased so do the demands on his armour requirements. Now he had to have welded steel armour. Surprisingly the local high school came to the rescue, all though my high school never taught shop, the shop teacher in Kitimat, BC was eager to lend a hand. After a week of freebie lessons at the school I was addicted to welding, it soon became my medium of choice. Mr. Dollard soon became my own personal Mister Miyagi, instead of “wax on, wax off” it was “weld on, grind off”.

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

I think it would have to be my animatronic hand sculpture, all though not as flashy as my LED Table or as refined looking as my bookshelf stereo, it taught me a lot through the build process. From the building the crankshaft out of washers to carving the aluminum fingers freehand with a angle grinder was always testing my skills. One particularly useful thing I learned was using a mediums shortfalls as a positive. For example, the aluminum fingers from my animatronic hands were jointed together as a finger joint. The pin that the joints would pivot on needed to be recessed, or at least flush, otherwise when the individual fingers rubbed against each other as they moved they would bind on the protruding pins. I tried several methods like bolt & nut to various forms of rivets. Neither could stand up to hours and hours of the fingers flexing, eventually all failed.

Until I tried a different trick!  I put a tight fitting steel nail through the joint and trimmed it so 1/4” of the nail was left protruding above the surface. Next I clamped the welder’s ground clamp to the aluminum hand and stuck an arc on the tip of the protruding nail. Instantly the nail tip went molten and flowed into a perfectly flush rivet head. Because of the 2 metals being dissimilar, they could never fuse under such low heat. Instead the nail literally acted like a purpose cast axle, allowing a tight rigid joint that moved like it was built with bearings.

Do you have any ugly duckling projects that you know aren't great but you love and cherish anyway?

That would be easy, a highly modified 1991 Firefly. This thing was butt ugly, but I loved it. It was perhaps the tackiest thing I ever worked on, but I had so much fun with it. Some people honestly liked it, some not so much... What started off as a dented and rusting grocery getter was sanded, hammered and repainted Florida orange with an aluminium wing, various body mods, a homemade night rider steering wheel and a functional hood scoop that looks like one of the monsters from the movie, the dark crystal. The body was almost 70% stainless steel by the time I was through with it.

I work in a large industrial pulp and paper mill that has its own internal scrap yard. On occasion we are allowed to remove items for personal use like used stainless steel motor guards. These guards were basically 4'x5' sheets of stainless steel, which with enough forceful manipulation make amazing fenders. This car was more DeLorean then Firefly by the time I was done with it; sadly she’s been sold.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new author on Instructables, what would it be?

Think about the reader like he/she’s from a different world, who has only a vague working concept of the language and a very basic understanding of the way physics works here on earth. What seems so clear to you, often is “clear as mud” to the reader, what is common sense to you is often acquired knowledge that you alone have gained over the years.

That and photograph everything multiple times from multiple angles. Nothing's worse than finishing a step that cannot be repeated and then finding that your pictures are blurry, dark or just don't show enough to be useful to the reader. Before publishing, get someone you trust to proofread it, preferably someone who thinks they could never do what your Instructable is about. If after reading your Instructable they think they can now do it themselves, your Instructable is gold.

Is there anyone who has been particularly influential towards your work on projects for this site or in your life in general?

That is tricky to answer as there really is no “one” particular person. Influence comes from daily observations from a variety of sources and people. From watching A-team and MacGyver on TV as a child, too mad scientist type inventor characters like Data from “The Goonies”. Inventions such as these have that zany pre-steam-punk look, associated with DIY makers of long ago.  Others can be found easily on the net. Such as the people behind LED tables at evilmadscientist.com or Instructables' very own celebrity makers such as scoochmaroo, lemonie, fungus amungus, randofo or jessyratfink to name a few. With people such as these, I tend to borrow parts of solutions they have come up with in response to their own Instructables. It’s kind of like one of my all time favourite quotes or metaphor, “standing on the shoulders of giants”. In addition, these people have proven time and time again to be an invaluable asset when trying to figure out a problem. Ask their advice or pose it as a general question in the “answers” section and within hours you will have multiple solutions and advice.

How do you find such great materials to work with?

I don’t necessarily want to be known as being cheap when it comes to parts for my builds, but I don’t really mind it either. I just tend to spot bits and pieces that other people think of as garbage and am able to realize their potential. Raw steel would be one of them. Buying sheet metal is expensive, but when you stop and realize its being tossed all the time, just in a format that people may not readily recognize. From filing cabinets to fridge doors, it takes minutes with a couple simple tools to free them from their past lives and repurpose them into your project. A little sanding and you're ready to go.  

My animatronic fish was built entirely from scrap.  The steel was from a MCC room that burned down at work. It yielded about 20 3’x4’ foot sheets of thin plate steel, which used to be electrical panel doors. With a little labour and a lot of hammering I soon had the body. The pedestal was created from old steam fittings cut, bent and welded. The moving bits in the form of power window motors were harvested from the local dump, as was the converted power supply of an old computer. I have to admit though, I did purchase the infra red eye camera off eBay, but I justify it with the fact I got it for 99 cents with free shipping. With mindful habits, you can build environmentally sound projects that otherwise would be rotting in a landfill. To reuse is my favourite of the 3 R’s of recycling, but you do have to aware of those around you. My lovely wife is so very patient with me and my tendency to drag home crap for later builds. Just try to keep it organized and clean. Otherwise you may find yourself on an episode of Hoarders, with your loved ones doing an intervention.  

What new projects are you working on?

Currently I have about 5 builds going on that I have started, with several more in planning stages. Doing some interesting work with laminating glass, like bamboo cutting boards where the thin strips run vertically. It has been a challenge trying to come up with a cost effective way to join the laminations. Also I am working on a steam-punkish coffee maker, and have some rhubarb champagne aging in the basement. Yet another James Bond type car, this time though the gadgets are being built into a 1994 Nissan Hard-body truck – “Think transformer type mechanics”. And I just finished building a LOVE GUN as a wedding gift for some friends.

Some other TOP-SECRET Instructables are in the development stage, but as a hint use pure Urea crystals from instant cool medical packs. Other more practical type builds which will be posted soon are simple in nature, but extremely useful. I just finished a massive work table in my garage, 4 inches of gorilla glued plywood laminated into a very sturdy work surface. My mind is always racing ahead of my hand abilities though, with something always on the back burners. I’m slowly collecting bits and pieces to build a treat-flinging dispenser for my dachshund Maximus and trying to get my head around building something nixie-ish in nature. My tattoo really does say it all, as one of the translations means “relentless imagination or mind” as there is always a new build just around the corner.