“Security is mostly a superstition,” wrote Helen Keller. “It does not exist in nature … Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” In this issue of MAKE, we celebrate daring adventure and working on the edge.
If you read the biographies of some of the best makers of all time, you’ll find that a lot of them took astonishing chances when they were young. Nobel Prize winners often reminisce about the time they mixed up a batch of mercury fulminate or ammonium triiodide and found out the hard way that such chemicals can be dangerous. Twelve-year-old Thomas Edison lost his first job when a chemistry experiment went bad and set fire to the baggage car on the train where he worked. David Packard of Hewlett-Packard fame mangled his thumb while experimenting with homemade explosives. When he was only 11, Gordon Moore, founder of Intel Corporation, got caught blowing stuff up with sticks of dynamite.
Of course, times have changed, and 11-year- old boys no longer have access to dynamite, and thank goodness for that! But don’t think for a minute that our current era of making things no longer includes danger or adventure. Believe me; working with unfamiliar raw materials, sharp-edged tools, and powerful chemicals presents opportunities for dangerous excitement that rivals hang gliding and scuba diving.
I often hear people lament the idea that we live and work in an overprotective world, a society that discourages people from taking risks and making interesting things. Is it true? Do government officials, insurance companies, and other self-appointed guardians of public safety collude to keep you from making and trying out edgy, fun stuff? I think not.
I’ve been making and writing about dangerous stuff like propane flamethrowers, 100-pound battling robots with chain saws, and high-powered spud guns for a long time, and I’ve never had a bit of trouble. In fact, if you don’t become a public nuisance or show bad judgment in terms of the time and place of your activities, you are very likely free to try out your ideas in peace.
Truly, there has never been a better time for making interestingly dangerous things. Websites galore sell items ranging from pyro- technical supplies to torquey traction motors to Tesla coil and rail-gun capacitors. And even better, sources such as MAKE provide detailed directions and advice that make being a 21st-century maker exciting and as safe as possible. (Though Keller was right, there are no guarantees of complete safety.) So, read on and see what edgy projects in this issue of MAKE call to you.
Create a tornado of fire (page 44). Shoot off a dry ice cannon (page 74) or cook up your own rocket fuel (page 68). Finally build that high-voltage Tesla coil (page 46) you’ve dreamed of. And meet makers like Jon Sarriugarte and Kyrsten Mate (page 38), who are literally playing with fire.
Follow the directions carefully and don appropriate safety equipment. Danger is a state of mind, and with careful preparation, attention to detail, and exercise of common sense, you can be successful and safe every time.