Make: Holiday Gift Guide 2009: Dangerous giving

Make: Holiday Gift Guide 2009: Dangerous giving

“Security is mostly a superstition,” wrote Helen Keller. “It does not exist in nature… Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

If you know someone whose life is lacking excitement, perhaps you can kick start 2010 by giving them a few badly-needed thrills. But you don’t want to go overboard, so we’ve developed the list to help you give gifts that fall somewhere between the tedious and the treacherous (with a distinct bias towards the latter).

Make Your Own Gunpowder
In my latest book Absinthe and Flamethrowers, I explain how adding the right mix of danger to your life can make you happier and better adjusted. Now, there are lots of ways of adding reasonable danger, but one frequent suggestion I give maker friends is to attempt making their own gun powder. Sound dangerous? Okay, maybe a little. But not overly so. The directions are in the book and the ingredients are in the Maker Shed’s Science Room.


Potassium Nitrate (MakerShed, $2.99)
Sulfur (MakerShed, $2.99)
Charcoal (MakerShed, $4.50)

Start a Fire with Air
Your mom might disagree, but I think playing with fire is a good thing, and a good place to start is with a fire piston. The clear, polycarbonate fire piston kit from the Maker Shed (which I put together) is a great fire starting device that seemingly produces fire from thin air. The secret is that the specially-designed piston is rammed quickly into a sealed cylinder with a single stroke. The compression of the air causes the temperature to rise rapidly, to about 500 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough for the tinder on the piston face to ignite. It can then be withdrawn and transferred to a larger mass of kindling to create a fire.

Way, way cooler than using a match, or (shudder) a lighter, to start a campfire.

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Fire Piston Kit (MakerShed, $19.99)

The Poison Pepper


Eating hot peppers isn’t really dangerous. Or is it?

According to the BBC, defense scientists in India are developing a throwing weapon containing not explosives, but super-hot chili peppers, so hot they make your typical jalapeno taste like a cinnamon stick. The pepper variety used in these “all-natural” hand grenades is called the Bhut Jolokia. Danger seekers with a horticultural bent can order the seeds and try their hand at growing some of these “dangerous” vegetables.

Bhut Jolokia Ultra Hot Pepper Seeds (New Mexico State Chili Pepper Institute, $5.00)

The Ultimate Firework
Making fireworks is a great hobby, but you’d better know what you’re doing. Mixing fuels and oxidizers the right way will impress your friends. Do it incorrectly and those same friends will nickname you “Stubby.”

American Fireworks News has a ton of books on how to make fireworks. The Girandola is a spectacular flying wheel, and expert fireworks maker Tom Dimont’s DVD, shows you how to make them. Click here for a video.

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Girandola DVD (American Fireworks News, $40.80)

Use the Force, Luke
Using a 50 mw green laser on a misty evening is as close to handling a Jedi Knight’s light saber as I’ll ever get. On a clear night, you can light up a water tower three miles away. But make no mistake; a Class IIIb 50 mW laser has plenty of capacity to damage eyeballs, so it’s not a recommended gift for the young or the stupid.

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50 mW Green Laser (ScientificsOnline, $189.99)

Dance with the Green Fairy

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The truly adventurous don’t toast their escapades with beer or Scotch whiskey. Instead, they raise a glass of absinthe, the purportedly dangerous psychoactive liquor distilled from the poisonous wormwood plant.

Prepare the drink by dripping water through a sugar cube into the absinthe. The volatile oils will precipitate out of solution, turning it an opaline green, thus signifying the arrival of the “the green fairy.”

Taboo Absinthe (Okanangan Spirits, $55.00)

Got Thermite?
This combination of chemicals comes in handy when you need to field-weld a couple 5-inch I-beams or quickly purify some uranium ore. But even if you don’t, what adventurous maker wouldn’t enjoy experimenting with a chemical reaction hot enough to burn through concrete? The good people at United Nuclear sell the stuff you need to experience firsthand the power and glory.


Thermite (United Nuclear, $4.50)

The Deal of the Century – The Ballistic Bundle
Is the Maker Shed’s Ballistic Bundle the most awesome, intellectually stimulating, and kick-ass exciting combination of books and video on the entire system of tubes called the Interweb?

Yes. And I’d say this even if I wasn’t the author of the books and the star of the video. The bundle includes Backyard Ballistics, The Art of the Catapult, the Barrage Garage video, and the classic MAKE, Volume 03. No matter how you look at it, $69 worth of books and fifty grand worth of excitement, all for $48, is a heckuva bargain.

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The Ballistic Bundle (MakerShed $48.00)

Absinthe and Flamethrowers
Not included in the above bundle is my latest book, Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously. Reviews say “The book is a sure-fire hit for people who want to get in touch with their inner MacGyver and for fans of television shows like MythBusters. (The book’s projects …) often involve building things that shoot or explode.”

The book has been getting a lot of attention, from the New York Times to Popular Science to NPR’s Science Friday. Lot of folks like the message that some risks are okay to take. And, it’s on sale in the Maker Shed.

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Absinthe and Flamethrower (MakerShed, $15.99)

Whip it Good
Don’t you hate it when your ox refuses to pull the cart anymore? Well, if you can handle a stock whip, you don’t have to endure this obstinacy. A well-made whip transfers momentum from your arm to the popper on the end of the whip, causing a mini-sonic boom next to the beast’s ear.

Even if you’re not a drover, a bullwhip is a pretty fun thing to use. But wear safety glasses and a hat because novice whip crackers are living pretty dangerously.


Stockwhip (David Morgan, $170)

Learn to Throw Knives

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I experimented with knife throwing as a consequence of writing Absinthe and Flamethrowers. It’s quite entertaining and I’ve been recommending knife throwing to anyone who’ll listen (well, almost anyone.) It’s a much different experience than, say, throwing pub darts. To me, one really can’t compare the bold, red-blooded flush of satisfaction derived from a perfect, cold steel stick into a target with the rather dainty, epicene feeling one gets when tossing a dart. The right knife makes all the difference and this one’s not bad.

Throwing Knife (Coldsteel, $13.99)

In the Maker Shed:


Want more? Stop by the Maker Shed. We’ve got all sorts of great holiday gift ideas, Arduino & Arduino accessories, electronic kits, science kits, smart stuff for kids, back issues of MAKE & CRAFT, box sets, books, robots, kits from Japan and more.

Holiday Shipping Deadlines in December:

04 (Fri) – Deadline for microscope shipping
11 (Fri) – postal shipping deadline
14 (Mon) – ground shipping deadline
18 (Fri) – FedEx 3-day shipping deadline
21 (Mon) – FedEx 2-day shipping deadline
22 (Tue) – FedEx overnight shipping deadline

*Customers experiences on orders with these ship methods placed after these dates may vary, the dates listed are what we call “safe dates”

USPS (Any Method):
Due to the high volume of mail that the postal service deals with around the holidays, order by Dec. 10th, however, many packages are lost or delayed in transit and we do not replace or refund any orders lost using this ship method, we strongly encourage you to not use this method in December.

2 thoughts on “Make: Holiday Gift Guide 2009: Dangerous giving

  1. Halloween Jack says:

    All I know about making gunpowder I learned from Captain Kirk.

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William Gurstelle is a contributing editor of Make: magazine. His new book, ReMaking History: Early Makers is now available.

View more articles by William Gurstelle
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