Steampunk Gift Guide – 2008… Gifts for Steampunks

Craft & Design
Steampunk Gift Guide – 2008… Gifts for Steampunks


Greetings everyone! It’s hard to imagine that an entire year has passed since MAKE asked me to write last year’s Steampunk gift guide. What a year it’s been too!  Last year, I still had some doubt that Steampunk was a bona fide subculture, but so much has happened in the course of the year that there can be no question now that it is.  2009 is already promising to be an even bigger year for Steampunk!

Here at the Steampunk Workshop some very cool things have been happening!   Last month Jeff VanderMeer and I announced our collaboration on a project-oriented book about the Steampunk subculture and in January you will see something I’m really excited about; the Victorian Technology issue of Make: Magazine and the debut of Make:TV – both of which I’ve had the honor and great pleasure of making some small contribution.

So without further adieu here is the gift guide!  This year I’ve tried for a somewhat more accessible array of items that are best thought of a ‘gifts for the Steampunk’ rather than ‘Steampunk gifts’ as I think that will be of greater utility those those of you choosing presents for the Steampunks in your lives!.    – Jake.

Drill Baby Drill


Machinist’s drill index and Step drills

Price: $20 – $120

Buy: Northern Tool – drill Index, step drill bits

There’s one metal machining operation that everyone is familiar with, and that’s drilling. You can accomplish a lot with a simple hand drill or a drill press. The primary limiting factor when you drill a hole or pocket is the size and variety of drill bits that you have available. A machinist’s drill index will allow you to make a hole that is exactly the size you desire in most materials and this will bring your work to a new level of fit and finish.

A particularly useful auxiliary to the machinist’s index is a set of step drills. These work amazingly well in thin materials such as sheet metal and their self-centering abilities will let you enlarge existing holes, with an accuracy never before possible.

When purchasing drill bits it’s best to follow Bruce Sterling’s advice in his Last Viridian Note;  never stint on tools, it’s false economy. Buy tools with the expectation that you will pass them on to your grandchildren – not your children though, as they will need their own long before you are done with yours!

Putting the Steam Back into Steampunk

Membership in The Steam Automobile Club of America
Buy: SACA –  Link

Steam cars are pretty magical things and very different from the locomotives and traction engines we usually think of when we are talking about live steam.  Whereas locos spout great clouds of black smoke as they chuff-chuff down the rails, steam-powered cars are practically silent. They emit little more than a hiss as they smoothly accelerate, seemingly pushed by an invisible hand.

The engineering behind steam cars is also quiet different and somewhat more advanced.  The need for lightweight and quick start-up drove the early steam-car engineers in a very different direction then their heavy iron brethren. 

I joined the Steam Automobile Club of America shortly after meeting the dapper fellow on the cover of the May-June 2008 issue of The Steam Automobile Bulletin pictured above.  That’s my neighbor Dave Nergaard and he, along with the other folks in SACA, represent an incredible body of knowledge on the subject of road going steam – some of which makes its way into each and every issue of the club’s  bulletin sent to members on a bi-monthly basis.

Mad Scientist’s Personal Journal

Steampunk_Mad_Scientist_large.jpgLarge and Small Laser Etched Moleskine Notebooks

Price: $22 and $36
Buy: Modofly – Link

Of course you mad scientists should be using your Maker’s Notebook to document your insane projects. But for those more intimate thoughts and personal ink-scratchings; these wonderful Molskine notebooks – laser etched with the artwork of the very talented book designer John Coulthart – are just the thing.

Tools with a Heritage

lenk.jpgLenk Butane Torch and Soldering Iron

Price: $49.99
Buy: Wall Lenk Store – Link

These are my two Lenk torches. To the left is an alcohol-fired torch that’s probably 50-75 years old. I occasionally use it to heat-shrink tubing, but it’s difficult to maintain and liable to seriously burn you if you are not careful with it.

To the right is my Lenk LSP-180 combination soldering iron and mini-torch. It’s one of my very favorite tools and I use it a for soldering wire connections in soldering iron mode and for heating and soldering brass and copper shapes in torch mode.

Keeping it Brassy


Brass Transit and Sundial Compass
Price: $10 – $25
Buy: Harbor Freight – Transit, Sundial

Most of you know Harbor Freight for their tools. However, if you dig a little deeper you’ll find they often have some unique and interesting non-tool products as well.  Here you see two of those products; a transit/alidade and a sundial compass. 

These make great decor items, but are also can be used as part of a larger project.  For instance, one of these two items will be the radiator ornament for my new car – but I’m not sure which yet.

The Artwork of Morgaine von Slatt

Steampunk Mono-print reproductions

Price: $30 – $65
Buy: Zhibit – Link

These are the work of my sister Morgaine. She uses a combination of modern and old tools to complete each piece. 

The Steampunk prints are created from bits and pieces of cool
looking stuff I found from researching antique scientific instruments,
gears and old machinery and alchemy. The drawings are both hand drawn
and manipulated on the computer. Then it is back to the archaic
printmaking process, using oil based inks and a large heavy mechanical
hand cranked printing press and the final print is created.

The one pictured above is currently hanging in the Steampunk Workshop.

Arcs and Sparks


PV Scientific – Reproductions of Historic Scientific Instruments
Price: $225 – $2200
Buy: P.V. Scientific – Link

Here at PV Scientific Instruments we custom-build historically accurate
reproductions of scientific instruments used by early inventors to
develop an understanding of the scientific fundamentals and technical
principles on which current technologies are based. We can help you
reproduce an 18th-century “electrician’s” workshop, a 19th-century
natural philosopher’s laboratory, an early 20th-century physics lab, or
Grandpa’s thrilling crystal radio experience.

If you’re interested in the Wimshurst electrostatic generator pictured at right, be sure to pick-up an issue of Make: #17 (or better yet subscribe now) in which I’ll show you how to build just such a machine with materials you can purchase at your local home center. 

W. T. Kirkman

wtkirkman.jpgKerosene Lamps and Lanterns

Price: $19 – $300
Buy: W.T. Kirkman – Link

This is one of my prized possessions;  it’s a  W. T. Kirkman No. 0 Tubular Lantern, serial number 035.  It is a reproduction of a lantern first developed in the middle 19th Century and still in use today by many folk around the world.  Unfortunately, it’s too late to order a No. 0 as they have a 12-week lead time.

However, W.T. Kirkman – supplier to heritage centers and theme parks around the globe – has a wide array of lamps and lanterns for sale.  We often use ours when camping and whenever we feel the need to add a little ambiance and sense of adventure to our nocturnal excursions.

The Master of Lightning


PBS Documentary – Tesla: Master of Lightning
Price: $23
Buy: – Link

Nikola Tesla directly developed so much of the technology used in our daily lives that it is simply scandalous that we do not have a Nikola Tesla holiday each year.

Radio broadcasts, the synchronous electric motor, and our current system of AC power transmission were all his inventions.  Without them our world would be a different place indeed.

Tesla: Master of Lightning is a great overview of Telsa’s life and times.  One interesting thing that I learned was that Tesla’s mother was a Maker too! She was a weaver and developed all sorts of tricks and special tools applicable to her craft.

Step into My Laboratory . . .


Laboratory Glassware

Price: $1 – $65
Buy: Sequential Glass – Link

Sequential Glass is an adjunct to a larger architectural salvage firm and specializes in collecting things Steampunkian. The items they carry vary from time to time depending on what becomes available trough the salvage side of the business.  It’s a good idea to check their website regularly as some of their more spectactular finds do not last long.

At the moment they have a wonderful selection of vintage laboratory glass that would make fabulous home decor or could be put to far more nefarious use by the Steampunk experimenter!

The Man Who Built the World
brunel.jpgIsambard Kingdom Brunel – The Man Who Built the World
Price: $11
Buy: – Link

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the original Steampunk, a pugnacious engineer who pushed the boundaries and continually redefined what was thought to be possible.   Among his many achievements was the building of the Great Eastern, the largest steamship of it’s day.  A ship that, although a financial failure, would go on to lay the first successful trans-Atlantic telegraph cable in 1866.

Fire Hose Canvas Field Bag

firehosebag.jpgFire Hose Canvas and Leather Field Bag

Price: $65
Buy: Duluth Trading – Link

I do not like to be without my tools but I loath lumpy pockets and thing hanging from my belt so I am ever in search of the perfect bag.  This one from Duluth Trading looks to be nearly ideal:

Made of rugged yet flexible Fire Hose cotton canvas treated to resist
water and stains. Inner compartments, multiple slots and zip pockets,
leather reinforcements and a detachable shoulder strap.

It’s definitely on my wish list!

Adventure, Romance, & Mad Science

Girl Genius Comics
Price: $10
Buy: Link

I get nearly as many email messages thanking me for introducing people to Girl Genius as I get notes about my steampunk projects – and that is as it should be because Phil and Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius books are just that delightful!

Set in an alternate world of mad science, Zeppelins, and mechanical servants called “clanks,” our hero, Agatha Heterodyne must navigate a feudal landscape of power hungry Barons and criminals who seek to enslave her for talent with all things mechanical and sciencey. 

There are strong female characters throughout, the writing is clever and quick, and the pages are beautifully inked and colored.

The Industrial Revolution Redux

Self Replicating 3D Printer
Price: start with the electronics kit at about $200
Buy: RepRap Research Foundation – Link

Steampunk is not a purely backward looking sub-culture.  We are interested in what was and what could have been, this is true.  But ultimately were are interested in shaping the future.

A second industrial revolution is coming and it will take the form of personal manufacturing.  Products will no longer be made in great factories, they will be printed with 3D printers, or fabricators, in your home as they are needed.  In addition, these fabricators will be incredibly cheap and easy to come by because they will be capable of making copies of themselves.

There are several 3D printers on the market today but the only machine capable of making a copy of itself is the RepRap.  Even more exciting for me is the fact that the RepRap Project was envisioned from the beginning to be an Open Source endeavor.  Each iteration of the machine, each improvement by the community of builders, will be integrated into the RepRap machine’s ‘DNA’ such that the ‘Species’ RepRap will improve and ‘evolve’ with each generation.  It is no wonder that the first model was dubbed “Darwin.”

I’ve ordered the parts for my RepRap machine and will begin construction
soon.  I expect it will be a fairly straightforward build but, Steampunk that I am, I will be using
brass instead of steel wherever I can get away with it!

With the RepRap we are witnessing the beginning of the Second Industrial Revolution – and this time it’s personal!

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