Eleven-year-old Brian Conway makes things that most boys only dream of: boats, air cannons, smoke bombs, nunchucks, rocket launchers, longbows, and a longboard skateboard, for starters. His projects are all parentally encouraged and supervised for safety, though his mom does worry about his penchant for projectiles.
“I read how you can mix toilet cleaner with aluminum foil in a plastic soda bottle,to create hydrogen gas that expands and then explodes the bottle,” Conway says excitedly. “I couldn’t resist! So I built an air cannon that shoots Gatorade bottles. They fit in it perfectly. I launch them and then they take about 30 seconds to explode.”
Conway, a student at Norfolk Academy, got his first issue of MAKE magazine when he was 6 (the Spy Tech issue), and made his first project at age 7. “My mom wouldn’t let me get an airsoft gun,” he recalls, “so I drilled a hole in a pill bottle and stuck a pen in it to make an airsoft blowgun. I’ve been inspired by KipKay’s projects for MAKE, and my dad inspired me to keep a notebook of all my projects so I won’t forget them.”
To pay for his projects, Conway also runs a small business mowing lawns in his neighborhood. “I just bought a Husqvarna trimmer,” he says proudly. He loads his gear in a trailer and hauls it with the ride-on mower from job to job.
His dad helps out with some of his projects too. “My dad and I made a little one-person canoe about two weeks ago,” Conway says. “A lot of people make them out of birch but we used plywood underlayment, screwed it together, siliconed the cracks, and then varnished it so it wouldn’t rot.”
Why make all this stuff instead of buying it? “You get a sense of pride knowing that you’ve made something,” Conway explains thoughtfully. “It keeps your imagination running when you build stuff. If you run into a brick wall, you can get through it — you can problem-solve better.”
Location: Virginia Beach, Va.
Heroes: Nikola Tesla, Charles Darwin (I was born on Darwin and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday)
Favorite Accomplishment: Doing well in school, and making things. Instead of using what others make, I make what others don’t.
Favorite Tool: Drill, hacksaw, or jigsaw (my dad won’t let me use the circular saw or table saw yet)
Current Projects: One-person canoe, rain-barrel garden irrigation, R/C Predator plane with camera, ammo-can camping stove.