Introduction: How Not To
Gore warning: Don't look at the bloody injury pictures unless that's what you want.
Warning warning: Don't do any of this stuff.
Here's a collection of projects that just didn't work and other mishaps.
I'll be adding to this collection as time goes on.
Oh boy. That's for sure.
For starters, here are the impossible rollerskates. Also known as caster skates.
Ian Alexander demonstrates how to use them. Stand up, Move legs, fall down.
To make your pair, just screw some casters to boards and tape them to your feet as shown.
To see a bunch of tricks that worked better,
check out 50 Handy Tricks
and 40 More Handy Tricks
and Yet More Handy Tricks
and Australian Handy Tricks
and Guatemalan Handy Tricks
and Handy Tricks Volume Six!
Step 1: Don't Use Witch Hazel on Zits. Don't Use U-locks Like This.
Someone told me witch hazel was good for curing zits.
I thought I'd try it out and put it on a big one that had formed southeast of my nose.
It killed the zit alright, also the skin around it.
So instead of a zit I had a patch of gangrene on my face that eventually filled with scar tissue.
Maybe that's not a normal effect of witch hazel on defective skin, but I still have the scar from it.
Perhaps the stuff is for preventing zits. I'm too scared to experiment any further.
Oh yeah. That's me locked to Tim McBride, author of "GI Jane".
Yes a U-Lock can be used to do this, but there's no reason to do so.
It's just dumb.
BTW, in case you didn't like the movie you should lobby the studio to release a version
with the real ending.
Step 2: Don't Swing an Adze Like an Axe
My people are seriously into axes. Every Christmas my folks gave me a bigger one til I had the biggest one available. Then they started giving me guns. But I digress.
That thing on the right is called an "Adze".
It's a sort of sharp hoe for carving wood. It behaves nothing like an axe.
I spent all morning grinding and shaping a swiss entrenching tool til it looks as you see and was very sharp. Then I went around asking my local wood craft gurus how to use it.
None of them knew so I looked in my Eric Sloane books and started chopping as shown in an illustration there. On swing number three it bounced funny and gashed my foot wide open.
Ever see a reflexology chart? The second picture is an example by Chris Stormer.
When I chopped my foot open, in the split second before the bleeding started I looked deep into the gash in my foot and saw all those lungs and ovaries and things, just like in the drawings.
Then I realized what the Sloane drawings had shown. Those old-timers in the Sloane drawings, they were chopping their feet also!
The final realization was that I was surrounded by people who didn't know how to use this tool, and all I had to do was go somewhere else and watch people doing it right. And that would be a lot safer and cheaper than trying to do it all myself in a state of dangerous ignorance.
"Plane tickets are cheap" I thought. "A lot cheaper than chopping my foot like this."
So I superglued my foot back together and superglued some cloth patches on top to hold it closed.
That worked really well. I only put the superglue on the surface layers of skin, to draw the wound together like stitches. It worked a little too well. I forgot about it and accidentally ripped the patch off a couple of times, re-opening the wound before it was properly healed. More scar tissue.
The photo here shows my foot after the repairs. There were ghastly puddles of blood earlier, and bloody footprints, etc. etc. but I cleaned it up before thinking of a camera.
I went to a bookstore and bought guidebooks, bought plane tickets to the Marshall Islands and rented a room there by email. I learned how to use an adze properly, several different styles.
I've been travelling and documenting Heirloom Technology ever since.
A year or so later a buddy gave me a nice piece of sitka spruce with his dried blood all over it. He'd been carving it into a paddle with an adze and chopped himself. After that he didn't feel like finishing the project or even dealing with that particular piece of wood.
Step 3: Don't Leave This Product Unattended
That puddle of burned plastic used to be a humidifier made by Honeywell corporation.
That particular model tended to set itself on fire when it ran out of water.
I learned from reading the manual that I wasn't supposed to leave it unattended, or near children.
I had the manual because I'd just bought the unit brand new for about $30.
After filling it with water and plugging it in I foolishly left the room.
See the chop marks on the wall?
The firemen tried to chop a hole in the wall because it was hot.
It was hot because it's the CHIMNEY FROM THE FURNACE.
If they'd chopped harder they'd have found a lot of smoke, and probably run their hoses into the hole, etc. etc.
After the plastic blob cooled and hardened I pried it off the file cabinet. On the bottom it read "Problems with this Product? Call 1-800-.....". I called the number. The woman who answered was relieved that no children had been incinerated this time.
Step 4: Battery Drill Danger
A friend was helping me out, drilling some holes in a bench to attach a vise.
She was using a battery drill, the kind with a heavy battery on the base of the handle.
The bit bound in the hole and the drill spun around, whacking her in the head with the battery.
Drill presses are famous for swinging things around and hitting people or gashing them, but it hadn't occurred to me that a battery drill could do that too. I guess battery drills are a lot stronger now than they used to be.
She's okay now.
Step 5: How Not to Sail to Cuba
In 2003 I built an outrigger sailing canoe and tried to sail to Cuba.
My rudder broke when I was somewhere in Cuban waters near Havana and the current carried me away. The wind died entirely and the current continued to carry me away. Then a storm hit and I had to keep swimming around tying my boat back together while the storm kept smashing it.
Then it rained hard and my skin started deteriorating from the fresh water.
I couldn't sleep because my boat was arranged to splash water on me at random intervals, just like water torture.
I started hallucinating due to exhaustion and sleep deprivation.
I spent several days like this. Finally the voices in my sails and the voices in the waves taught me to sail again and I managed to get to Florida.
Read the rest of the story.
Step 6: How to Hit Yourself in the Head
That's because right after you hear the name you hit yourself in the head.
There's a row of pressure points along the side of your jaw. There's a another at the top of your temple. Here's how to hit your brain's reset button. It'll make your eyes dilate and make you feel like you've been hit in the head. Don't do it on both sides in rapid succession. You need at least half a brain.
Step 7: Don't Try to Kitesurf With a Windsurfing Board
A regular surfboard can work for kitesurfing. An original windsurfer is enough like a real surfboard that it can be made to work in light wind.
Other than that, any windsurfer, shortboards, sinkers, floaters, anything with sharp rails and a big fin is all wrong for kitesurfing. It took me about a year of trying really hard to figure that out.
Here's Saul's foot after he stepped on the fin of the windsurfing board I was trying to kite with.
Those windsurfing fins can be really sharp.
The next photo shows the Fat Tadpole, maybe the third windsurfer-derived kiteboard I made. It doesn't work. Read more about these failures and some stuff that did work.
Step 8: Drag and Slide, Don't Step
I was in love with a girl once, so I tried to teach her to kitesurf.
It was a long time ago and we'd only recently learned to do it ourselves.
She was flying a trainer kite on the beach.
Each time she flew the kite through the power zone I had her sit down and drag, or lean back and slide on her feet through the sand. She was doing it well.
I told her again and again, "Don't take steps. Lean back and slide."
You need that friction to slow you down. Stepping while dragging is dangerous.
An expert friend kiteboarded over and offered to continue the lesson while I went for a ride with his kite.
While I was gone she forgot the methods and powerzoned the kite.
She stepped rapidly downwind, twisted her foot, turning it under her, and fell, screaming.
Her leg was bent into a terrible shape, broken.
Imagine being in a lot of pain for a long time.
It took a long time for paramedics to show up. They were rough and we wished we'd moved her ourselves. Here's her leg after the cruel paramedics wrenched it back sort of into a leg shape.
We finally got her to a hospital that could treat broken legs. The doctor wanted to cut her leg open right away. The whole place seemed really incompetent and she insisted on going home with her broken leg to find a doctor who wasn't a freak.
longer longer story, she spent several days with an untreated broken leg, got a metal plate and a bunch of wood screws installed, missed her work trip to Indonesia, etc. etc.
Don't take steps. Just drag. Fly the kite. It's better to flop down and drag on your belly through the sand, as long as you fly the kite. Don't step.
And don't play with kite power on land. That's what "body dragging" is for.
For proper learning methods, look at kitesurfingschool.org
Step 9: Wreck a Canoe in Surf
I sailed too close to land, the waves caught my canoe and rolled me all the way to the beach.
This is a "folding proa" I sailed along the Yucatan. In this picture it's been reduced to a bag of broken sticks.
I always seem to be able to get out through surf okay, and wreck my boat coming in.
I keep thinking I'll try a drogue to slow me down on the way in, or back in while paddling out though the waves, etc. etc. But when I want to come in I just think how great it would be to come barreling in on a wave, and think maybe it'll work out okay. Sometimes it does.
The second photo shows Nathan Eagle and myself wrecking our canoe in shore break in Kenya.
It's a pretty good little three-board sailing outrigger.
Read the Yucatan Proa story. See the Kenya Canoe Instructable.
Step 10: Make a Broken Jar and Drink From It
I've got the Special Forces Bottle-Craft Manual, and I've done lots of reading about cool ways to cut and use jars and bottles.
But somehow it never works for me the way it's supposed to.
So I finally gave up and made my most hated instructable, about what really happens when I try to cut a jar and use it for something else.
Step 11: How to Make Stainless Steel Rust
My friend broke his kiteboard and gave it to me.
When I took the footstraps off I was surprised to see that the threaded inserts were rusty.
It was a very expensive board. Would they really have used plain old rustable steel inserts?
It turns out that you can easily make stainless steel rust.
Some grades of stainless do rust naturally, just not as fast as regular steel.
To make any stainless steel rust just attach a screw or washer that is a higher grade of stainless steel, or any "more noble" metal.
Then when salt water hits it the dissimilar metal stack becomes a weak battery.
The "more noble" metal becomes the cathode and nothing happens to it.
The "less noble" metal rusts and dissolves away.
The same thing happens to aluminum. Near a stainless fastener the aluminum will become pitted and corroded. Aluminum oxide is white, so you'll have to look for it.
Iron oxide is red and easy to spot.
This process only happens when there's an electrical connection between the dissimilar metals as well as a fluid path between them. It happens much faster in salt water than it does in fresh water.
Step 12: Bread Shoes
Ever have to go some place that requires shoes?
Victor Brar demonstrates how to use loaves of bread as shoes.
Good warm fresh bread with a chewy crust is well appreciated by the bread shoe connoiseur.
Step 13: Do Your Own Oil Change and Poison Mother Earth
This is a picture of a bucket of old crankcase oil from someone changing oil in their car.
"So what?" you say?
You've just put yourself on the wrong team. Team Earth Poisoner.
It's going to rain. The rain falls in the bucket. Oil floats on water.
The oil spills out onto the ground.
Result: You just dumped your car's oil all over the ground.
You could have done that without making this nice bucket and the stuff under it all dirty also.
The right way to get rid of the oil is to put it in a closed container, write "used oil" on it, and leave it in front of a mechanic's shop in the dead of night while wearing a mask.
They have a tank to dump this stuff in and it's no problem for them.
You say "Please explain how I accidentally poisoned mother earth? Again?"
Oil floats on water. So if you leave a bucket of drain oil from an automobile oil change in the rain, the rain water sinks to the bottom and the oil pours over the top. If the oil has a lot of additives there will be some mixing and you'll get some brownish-grey petro-mayonnaise in your oil spill as well.
My pet peeves include: Other people. They're always doing something wrong.
Because I see this method of disposing of oil so much, I conclude that it doesn't take much technical expertise to change one's own oil. And that not every cheapskate bastard shares my values.
I haven't seen this behavior in poor countries. I think they save the oil and do ingenious things with it.
Step 14: The Right Way to Dispose Oil
This the actual right way to do something for a change.
In California, it's super easy to get rid of drain oil from an oil change. Or any other dirty oil.
Take it to any auto parts store and dump it in their recycling tank. Any place that sells oil is required to accept used oil for recycling.
Here's the back room at my local Kragen autoparts store. I come in with several 5 gallon jugs of dirty oil and a bucket of used oil filters.
The staff don't care at all what it is, how much there is, or where it's from.
I dump the filters in their filter barrel and dump the oil in their tank.
The sign says "Take your bags boxes and your containers home and please smile for the camera"
Step 15: Belt? Suspenders? Bigger Pants?
Remember Sydney in 2004?
Fat was the new thin, and the bare midriff spilling over low cut jeans was THE LOOK.
Here's a dedicated fashion victim walking over one of the magnificent bridges.
Her complicated gait made the traverse an arduous exercise.
The steps went something like this:
1, 2, pull up pants as they fall down,
3, 4, dig them out of butt,
Step 16: Military Intelligence
Like they say, it's an oxymoron.
The photo says it all. Spotted in Florida.
Apparently this person is in Marine Corps Intelligence.
Perhaps someone in the field can explain.
Is there any reason why it's good for intel officers to be widely known?
Don't get vanity plates and you're already ahead of the "how not to" game.
Or whatever game "EASYMOMY" might be. Any idea what that one means?
Step 17: Sharp Metal Things at Head Level
Southern Master was going about his business when suddenly he was struck in the head by a sharp metal object!
An enemy had craftily bolted it at head level right over the workbench!
Step 18: Add Drain Holes!
This lumber rack was made without drain holes at the bottom of the uprights.
Somehow water got inside and froze. It bulged the pipe and split it.
The upright on the other side actually broke off!
Step 19: Crazy Moustache
My friend Dav is a grad student in psychology.
Thinking about thinking all the time has fuddled his grokkage.
For instance this mustache.
Notice the throng of onlookers paralyzed by perverse fascination.
Cool flashlight trick, though
Step 20: Duct Tape and Spraypaint Bodywork
Got a big date with someone materialistic?
Nothing will impress them more than fresh bodywork on your car.
Especially if you just did it yourself with duct tape and spraypaint.
Actually, this might work as Dutch Cop repellant. The last time I bought a car there you weren't allowed to have any holes in your car, but they didn't care how lumpy the patch was.
What really blew my mind about the Dutch car buying experience was how easy it was to register it. The seller took me to the nearest post office and fifteen minutes later I had insurance and registration in my own name. Wow! Let's surrender to Holland and let them run our government!
Step 21: Kayakers - Keep Your Elbows in or Dislocate Your Shoulder
I was kayaking in the Youghiogheny River in West Virginia near Ohiopyle.
I stuck my paddle into the white behind a rock to eddy turn behind it. I leaned into the brace but there was nothing there, just air and froth. I just kept reaching out until my arm came out of its socket and I flopped over into the water in a lot of pain. This happened really fast. The water was really cold. I rode out the rest of the rapid mostly underwater. I kept my paddle but lost the boat because I had only one good arm. Also did I mention any movement hurt like hell?
I twitched and paddled until I got near shore and climbed out onto a sandbar. My friends got my boat.
My arm was now coming out of my armpit instead of the usual place. The only way I could stand the pain was to hold my arm up by grabbing my helmet with that hand.
We were down in the bottom of a canyon full of rapids a long way from a road. I rode out the rest of it on the raft. Four hours or so later they got me to a hospital in Morgantown WV. The nurses laughed a lot at my costume. Then lots of waiting as usual, some xrays, an injection of valium which was the best experience of my life. A fat male nurse sat on top of me on an examination table while another moved my arm very slowly in a very painful direction. Suddenly it popped back in and all my nerves fired at once, a giant funnybone. All my muscles fired too and I threw the fat nurse a couple of feet in the air.
That arm felt like it was going to fall off for a few years after that, until I started windsurfing and eating a lot of egg whites. Then I made enough muscle to hold the thing in and quit being aware of it all the time.
I've since found out the "high brace" I learned in old kayak books isn't taught anymore. Now they use the "low brace" and keep their elbows in so they don't dislocate a shoulder. Paddle blades are smaller now also for the same reason.
Step 22: Grinders Are Dangerous
A few days ago I was using an air-powered grinder and "BANG!" PAIN IN MY BELLY.
I didn't want to look. Scared to death I gimped into the next room yelling "check me!". I thought I'd be bleeding and maybe disemboweled.
Here's what it looks like.
The grinding wheel had broken and threw a piece that hit me in the gut.
Another piece hit the wall, making a sound like a gun.
If I'd been hit in the face or the eye, I hate to think what would have happened.
The piece that hit me did this damage through two vests, a shirt, the top of my pants, and belt.
I guess that's why they want you to leave the guards on the tool and wear a grinding mask.
Step 23: Smashed Finger
Kim Harrison says:
"Anywho, it was pretty lame how I did that to my fingernail.
I was trying to lift up a table vice, one of the heavy ones you know? But the handle was
detachable and it slid off and the vice dropped on my fingers. The fingernail
wasn't the worst of it either. I cracked the bones in my fingertips too. It
was just a hairline fracture so I don't need a cast or anything, but it hurt
like nobody's business. I guess the lesson from it would be not to lift heavy
equipment one 2 hours of sleep and a ton of stress (it was the last machine
shop day for a class I was taking).
But at least I got a cool bed out of it."
Step 24: Fiskars Screws Up
The thread nipper in the middle is made by Fiskars. It looks and feels nice but it's a pain to use. The jaws just don't open enough and it's too hard to get the thread you want in the jaws.
By comparison, the nippers on either side are a joy to use and cost me .50 or so each in China. I had another similar one from Japan that I'd used for 20 years. It was handmade with inlaid steel laminated blades and the maker's mark stamped on it.
Then a bunch of my nicer tools started disappearing and that was one of them. That's part of the cost of helping people. If I get too pissed off about it I'll have to go steal tools myself so I won't have to feel righteous anger anymore.
Anyhow, other than these silly nippers, everything else I've seen from Fiskars has been great. Especially their Puukko knives. Too bad they don't sell them in this country.
Step 25: Wire Brush on Angle Grinder Catches Shirt
I was using a "cup brush" on an angle grinder to remove "liquid nails" and wood from a piece of square metal tubing. I leaned in too close, and it got jerked up into my belly with my shirt wrapped around it, the motor buzzing, and the wheel still trying to turn. I managed to find the off switch in the tangle of shirt, and figured out that I'd gotten lucky, I hadn't been disemboweled.
Step 26: Instant Replay
I decided I was being too clumsy to continue.
Franziska took over, and in less than a minute had the exact same accident.
Fortunately neither of us was hurt.
Step 27: Bucket Derby
Rhett Applestone discovers the joys of gravity-powered racing in Austin TX.
This may be fun, but it isn't a safe activity and requires a lot of parental supervision.
The bucket rolls well but it can't be steered and has no brakes.
It likes to roll out into traffic, and if the wheels hit a pebble there's a wipeout and the rider gets an owie.
Step 28: Don't Leave Your Gas Can in the Sun
If there's no vent hole It'll puff up and maybe pop like this one is going to. If there's a vent, it'll either spew vapors or gasoline. If it's the kind where the spout is turned around and put down in the can, it can spew gasoline until it's empty.
We don't want that.
Don't leave your gas can in the sun.
Step 29: Niacin Rash
I accidentally overdosed myself with niacin this morning.
I had a ginseng and a 500mg niacin tablet, hoping for an alternative to coffee.
The ginseng bottle says "Ginseng Gold Siberian Ginseng Root 500mg (.1% eleutheroside E). Nothing happened, so after a half hour or so I had a sip of coffee. No sooner had I
set the cup down I felt really weird, Then starting at the top of my head, a
rash like a sunburn and itchy hot skin. I managed to focus enough
to look up niacin reactions, and this is common, but I think not usually this
intense for such a small dose. The reaction was very uncomfortable, passing
down my body over the course of an hour. I took my shirt off. A friend called
with some tech questions, I had some trouble talking. Finally it got down to my
ankles, where it stayed for a couple of hours.
I was able to nap and read a book. I was almost back to normal by the afternoon.
Not at all how I had planned to spend my day.
I didn't find any info on caffeine or ginseng interactions with niacin.
This photo is me feeling like crap after the rash attack was mostly done.
At peak I was too messed up to be taking pictures.
I recently had a mishap with cinnamon, not knowing we don't get real Cinnamon in the U.S.
and what we have contains the toxin coumarin. Damn. Food is dangerous.
Step 30: Welding Burn
I was trying to anneal a bronze snap shackle with an acetylene torch. As I set down the torch the flame grazed the back of my left hand for an instant. That was enough to give me a nasty burn.
Now it looks like a zombie bite. It will probably scar badly because I've been outside in sunlight.
Don't get burned!
Step 31: Put Toxic Waste in Drinking Water Containers
On one of the Free Yacht cruises I needed to untie the jib sheets to try out a different jib. I thought I'd demonstrate the handy trick method of untying hard knots.
1. soak it with water
2. pound it with a hammer from all angles
3. wiggle it loose and untie it.
Unfortunately someone had filled one of our water bottles with dirty engine oil.
The bottle was still clearly labeled "WATER".
I'm glad I didn't drink it. Instead, there I was up on the foredeck in kind of a hurry, dumping black drain oil all over the sail, sheets, and foredeck.
Yay! we already have plenty of mud on our sails, which announces "keep well clear" to competent boatmen we pass. Now we've got oil stains also, which goes great with the fenders we drag through the water to make sure no one misunderstands our skill level.
Step 32: Shelves of Death
I was really pleased with my shipping container shelves
After about a year they tended to sag a little bit. The bolts gripping the brackets slipped a bit because the wood shrank. I didn't think much of it.
Then the end-grain wood failed and the brackets collapsed, dumping everything into the middle of the container. Damn. I'm glad I wasn't standing under that stuff.
So then I went around tightening the bolts on the remaining brackets. It would be good to add some kind of a cheek plate to the brackets so they couldn't fail in this way.
Step 33: "Brass" Grommets
I made a pretty nice dacron sail.
Unfortunately the grommets I used weren't really brass, merely brass plated.
The vendor saved a penny or two per grommet, and my sail got rust stains and weak grommets that are dissolving in salt water.
Step 34: Solar Dish Truck Fire
A friend gave me some small dish mirrors from her solar concentrator company.
This very afternoon in the parking lot at In+Out burger we came out and found the truck bed looking different. There was a charred burnt cardboard box in the bed.
The area smelled like a fresh fire. The truckbed was filled with yellow dust.
Bystanders told us the story:
"Your car was going up in flames!" One woman enthusiastically described. "I tried to pull
out the tubing, but it was already too hot!"
The plates must have caught the sun and concentrated it onto the boxes!
Apparently the solar concentrators work so well, that, just sitting in the back of the
truck on a nice day, they focused the light onto the cardboard box and lit it up!
While we placidly finished our burgers inside the restaurant and learned about the book of Mormon from our table-mates, spectators ran into In-n'-out asking for a fire extinguisher. The manager came out and sprayed dust all over the place quenched the fire and everyone felt good like heroes and went home. There was a can of ether starting fluid in the bed, fortunately it didn't catch. Ditto the box of artificial fiber clothing.
Step 35: Stranded on a Curb
"anonymous" was learning to drive when she drove over this curb and got the car stuck propped up on the curb. Jimmy Liu gets the "boyfriend of the year" award for his good-natured attitude.
he writes: "
We finally got the car off by rocking it back and forth--the tow truck driver actually came, said
he couldn't do anything due to how it was stuck on the curb, and left. Take
Step 36: Nasty Shake
Sometime in August when it gets way too hot, I realize I'm allowed to eat nothing but milkshakes. I do that. I change the recipe every time I make one so it'll be a new experience. After a week or two of slow change, I'm making the drinkable equivalent of experimental jazz. A drink that only the maker can stand. One summer I got to the end, pure abstraction, a milkshake so vile I couldn't even stand it.
The orange-peel-buttermilk milkshake.
Victor did a similar thing with sprout shakes. I never managed to make a sprout shake that was anything but an ordeal. Here's what Victor says about his sprout-shake program:
Date: Sun, 23 Mar 2003 13:18:23 -0500 (EST)
From: Victor W Brar
Subject: green lentils
So I've tried garbanzo beans, black eyed beans and green lentils. The
Garbanzo beans grew, but they weren't very pretty and never really got
leaves at the end of their sprouts, also they rotted really quickly if I
didn't air them out and wash them a couple of times a day. The black eyed
beans didn't really grow. But these green lentils have been my life for
the past couple of weeks. They grow really quick (1.5 days), they are
pretty resistant to rotting, and if they dry out its easy to get them
back to life. I can also tell that they are very healthy for me because
they taste like shit. I've mainly been blending them into sprout juice.
To find the healthiest possible recipie, I've just been trying to find
what tastes the worst. After a long process of trial and error, I've come
across something which I think is the healthiest thing on the planet.
Here it is:
2 cups of sprout juice with
3-4 tablespoons of that choclate protein powder - weight gainer stuff
2 tablespoons soy sauce
5 saltine crackers
There it is. You might as well spit in there a couple of times before you
blend it up, I can't see it making any difference. This stuff tastes so
bad, its like the shit of an animal that only eats shit of other animals.
But you'll get big athletic thighs and live a long life.
Usually, I can't really handle that. Mostly I just drink sprout juice
with some peanut butter blended in. I've found that kills the gag reflex
Whats the high score over there for the Trogdor video game? I've gotten
ChevyAndVW made it!