Jake von Slatt is a Massachusetts-based tinkerer, hardware hacker, author, speaker, webmaster, and proprietor of The Steampunk Workshop. Jake seamlessly straddles hands-on proficiency in making 19th-century-inspired contraptions and being an IT specialist with a focus on Linux. His creativity and ability to blend old and new make his work noteworthy. On the pages of MAKE Volume 17, Jake taught us how to make the Wimshurst electrostatic generating machine, a popular 19th-century parlor apparatus, capable of producing the “electric kiss.” Jake is a contributor to The Steampunk Bible and appears on the cover of Vintage Tomorrows.
One project you’re particularly proud of: 1. I am particularly proud of the Wimshurst Machine project I created for MAKE Volume 17. It was a reproduction of a Victorian electrostatic electricity generator that was made exclusively with hand tools and from materials available at your local home center.
What was really gratifying about this project was that many people built their own machines from the plans I published and then sent me pictures and descriptions of how they had done it. I was particularly charmed by an eighth grade girl in India who built a version of the Wimshurst machine for her science class project.
Two past mistakes you’ve learned the most from: 1. Propane is very flammable and eyebrows are important to the appearance of your face.
Jake’s waste oil furnace.
2. A school bus is very heavy and asphalt cannot be relied on to support it when jacking.
Bonus: Stay out of the plane of rotation. I lost the tip of my right pinky finger to the lift-fan of a hovercraft when I was 16 (that’s me at the far right).
Three books you think every maker should read: 1. Cory Doctorow’s Makers. The future is both more mundane and weirder than you imagine. Makers does a great job of capturing that feeling.
2. Marilyn French’s Beyond Power. This book is about feminism, patriarchy, and power. Makers should read it because it discusses subjects we don’t usually talk about, and these are subjects that we must understand if the Maker Movement is to have a lasting impact on society.
3. James Burke’s Connections. It’s a book, but it’s also a TV series from the UK and it’s probably the thing that set me up to be so interested in 19th century technology and steampunk today. Burke began each episode with a modern day piece of technology, for instance: a credit card. Then he traced back through time all of the innovations necessary to bring us to the point where it was possible for this modern convenience to exist.
I am consistently amazed at how much of our modern world is still rooted in 19th century innovation.
Four tools you can’t live without: 1. My Lenk LSP-100 soldering iron and hand torch. Probably the best $50 I ever spent. I use this for electrical soldering in the field as well as making brass kerosene lamps in the workshop.
2. My Craftsman oxy-acetylene welding/cutting torch. I have done everything with this torch. I use it for making thermocouples by fusing Chromel and Alumel wires together. I have gas-welded countless feet of bedframe angle iron into a myriad of structures. I’ve brazed bicycle frame after bicycle frame, and I cut a 1971 Buick in half to make a utility trailer with the most comfortable ride ever.
3. The small cat’s paw crowbar that I hand-forged from a broken Kryptonite U-lock 15 years ago. There is something about tools that you made yourself that gives you a special joy when you use them.
4. The RepRap Prusa-Mendel 3D printer that I built last year. I am finding more and more uses for this machine and it has convinced me that the age of standardized hardware is over. I absolutely delight in creating custom bits of plastic that do exactly what I want them to do. I can’t wait for the RepRap project to start delving into metal and ceramic fabrication. Open Source hardware is going to revolutionize manufacturing in the same way the Open Source Software revolutionized that industry.
Five people/things that have inspired your work: 1. James Burke for the aforementioned Connections series.
2. My Mom and Dad. Both librarians who taught me how to find things out.
3. A past boss who taught me that in business it is easier to apologize than to ask permission.
4. The industrial and fire artists of San Francisco and Burning Man that taught me art could be totally badass.
5. The 20+ folks who built their own versions of my Wimshurst machine and sent me photos of their devices. There is nothing so inspiring as knowing that your work has inspired others.