MAKE Asks: Taking Things Apart

MAKE Asks: Taking Things Apart

Make: Asks is a new weekly column where we ask you, our readers, for responses to maker-related questions. We hope the column will spark interesting conversation and that we’ll get to know more about each other.

This week’s question: What was the first thing ever you took apart? Were you able to reassemble it?

Post your responses in the comments section.

114 thoughts on “MAKE Asks: Taking Things Apart

  1. slvdc1 says:

    my mom’s VCR….and no I didn’t attempt to reassemble it. I was 6

  2. Rob says:


    Performed a few motor and axle swaps as a wee lad :)

    1. papabear54321 says:

      I was about 12 when Stompers came out, so I actually got pretty good at disassembling and reassembling them.

  3. mbheath1 says:

    A car radio I found on the side of the road. I was probably 6. I tried to reassemble, but had extra (obviously unimportant) parts left over…

  4. Wicker says:

    My bike as a kid. I did get it back together too! I would have been killed by my father and unable to write this had I not.

  5. mpilchfamily says:

    Hard to say really… I had to be 3 or 4 at the time. Ever since i realized what a screw driver could do and could handle one i have been taking things apart. I think the first thing was my He-man Attack Trak. Got that back together with no problem.

  6. ka1axy says:

    My parents used to give me things to take apart when I was a kid. An old alarm clock was the first thing I destroyed. It wasn’t until I was in middle school that I started taking things apart more carefully. I still do it.

  7. Ben says:

    The front door knob when I was 3. I used a flat head screwdriver to remove phillips screws.

  8. papabear54321 says:

    First thing I remember taking apart was an alarm clock. The old fashioned kind about 6 inches in diameter, with two bells on top. I wanted to know what was inside it. I didn’t think about putting it back together until it was completely disassembled. I made an effort, but it quickly became obvious that I would not be able to completely reassemble it. I was 6.

  9. FredB says:

    My little brother.

    1. ChrisW says:

      It had to be said.

  10. FredB says:

    I’m kidding! I’m kidding!

  11. donner says:

    I was around 4 or 5 and i took apart the toaster – reassembled but had a whole mess of leftovers. I put it back on the countertop and never admitted that it was me that broke the toaster (we had a new one by the end of the week.)

  12. Leo Johnson says:

    my radio, was probably around 7 or 8, got it back together, but after that my parents bought me kits from radio shack with the little springs and wires. triede to find one for my nephew, but not made any more.

    1. jammitweapon says:

      Elenco was the company that Radio Shack bought the spring terminal kits from. Elenco still sells them. Pololu is another company that sells Elenco spring kits. Do a Google search for those two companies.

  13. spiridios says:

    I must’ve been around 4 or 5, and it was either a toy choo choo train or my hotwheels gas station. I know I took that train apart and put it back together too many times to count. There were never any extra parts and it always worked when done. After that, my parents used to buy stuff from thrift stores for me to dismantle, since taking the same thing apart just to put it back together gets old after a while.

  14. mpechner says:

    I used to disassemble toys. Did not always get them back together.

  15. helicopterjeff says:

    My old fisher price record player. never worked right after that. i hid it in the closet and hoped that time would fix it….

    1. Michael Colombo says:

      Ha! I remember magically thinking that time would work out whatever was broken in something. Funny how there’s that similarity.

      1. Kenneth Oldfield says:

        It is a well observed fact that time fixes old Volkswagens…

  16. Daniel says:

    Talking G.I. Joe Commander, yes I got him back together and he was actually able to talk!

  17. Joe Ratulowski says:

    An old alarm clock. The kind with the numbers that flip. I did not try to reassemble and was strongly discouraged from taking apart anything else.

  18. R. Mark Adams says:

    The vaccuum cleaner – it had stopped working, and I took it part to find out what made it tick. Amused parents pulled plug before I killed myself. I did get it back together and working, BTW.

  19. randomjnerd says:

    I can’t say with any certainty, as family stories have me taking stuff apart at an age I can’t remember. The one I can confirm, as I did put it back together, is the lawnmower at age 2 1/2. My father saved the bits, and scrounged a replacement mower. I put it back together (as in running) at age 9. (the go-kart instinct gets very strong around then)

    I now encourage kids to take stuff apart – how things work, the direct route.

  20. Arno Brosi says:

    I think it was a model steam locomotive,it sort of got back together in its original state.

  21. bitflung says:

    i must have been between 3 and 6 – took apart our TRS-80 to see how it worked, pop joined me and ‘we’ (i think really just ‘he’) put it back together without issue.

    a few years later it was common practice for me to fix the computers at his office (he owns a land surveying firm). years after that i opened a successful computer repair shop. i give my folks most of the credit for all of that: having toyed with real stuff as a kid there was nothing in the machine that scared me off.

    no one’s perfect though – i recall them banishing me from the computer because my english grades weren’t good enough; at the time i was teaching myself pascal (no such thing as a programming course in all my years of school prior to college) and they saw that as some sort of computer game. no, years later, i’m a professional computer engineer that didn’t learn any meaningful programming language until college. i’ve often wondered: if getting my hands inside a computer made the hardware so intuitive to me, what would my programming skills be like today if i’d been allowed to keep learning pascal back then?

  22. J Campbell says:

    My first disassembly was a toad. Maybe that explains why I became a biologist

  23. phlamingo (@phlamingo) says:

    One of those nifty folding travel alarms, with the wind-up spring and all the little brass gears. Never got it back together.

    Funny thing, I found one just like it (as well as I can remember) at a thrift store recently, and repeated the whole experience … including not getting it back together.

    It was just as much fun forty-odd years later.

  24. says:

    At kindergarden age I used to take apart those tin toys (it was the 60’s) that used all the little bent tabs to hold together. They usually had those momentum driven sparking wheel mechanisms inside. I could only put them back together so far, then dad would have to finish. Learned quickly about metal fatigue at a young age!
    (Yes, it was a long time ago when dinosaurs roamed, but at least I watched the moon landing live!)

    1. Kenneth Oldfield says:

      Yay for vintage. Moon landing, Kennedy assassination, so many things happened in our day.

  25. DraWIt says:

    My dolls. The heads arms and legs, although a fairly tight press fit, could turn. Some arme were held in place by rubberbands on internal, in-molded hooks. The material difference between the body and the appendages was interesting. I was told that I wasn’t going to get any more dolls….. so I just made them instead!

  26. James Hollowell says:

    In my highschool physics class, on off days, we take apart just about anything. We have taken apart inkjet printers, old CRT TVs fans, and we are currently working on disassembling a old photocopier. Who knew there were so many parts. Anyways, we always say we are “fixing” them, but in reality, they end up as so many broken pieces and parts, never to work again. YAY!

    1. ka1axy says:

      “…old photocopier…”

      Save the optical assembly! Specifically, the large diameter objective lens. You can make a nice telescope out of it and some cheap parts from Surplus Shed. Googlel “copyscope” and “pipe mount EQ”

  27. Kenneth Oldfield says:

    When I was 6 or 7, I was taking apart all of my windup toys – anything that could be done by bending back the tabs. Then I got most of them back together. After that I moved on to broken alarm clocks, then slot cars (the motors do NOT work on 110 V AC). Then pretty much anything with screws was fair game. Fifty years later, I am still at it. I just have a wider array of screwdrivers to draw on.

  28. rocketguy1701 says:

    Can’t remember the first thing, but I do remember the flash cube when I was about 6 or 7. Those 4-bulb flash cubes that went on top of a 110 camera and turned 90deg after each use. One would think you needed the camera to make them flash, and one would be wrong. Also momentarily blind and with a nice 2nd degree burn. Most of my disassemblies were at least less painful, and some even ended up working again. I think I was most proud of my “Big Trak hack”, a mute switch to save my mom’s sanity, at age 9 or so.

  29. chuck says:

    The first thing I remember taking apart was a transistor radio that fell in the kiddie pool and stopped working properly. It only made weird noises when you turned the dial. (I guess I sorta circuit-bent it also) Mom says learned how to take apart the side off my crib to get out and wander around when I was quite small, but I’ll have to take her word on that.

  30. Greg Williams says:

    I think mine was an electro-mechanical Bank Shot handheld pool game by Parker Brothers. I could hear something moving in there and I just had to know how it worked! I did manage to get it back together.

  31. Ross Hershberger says:

    The first thing I took apart was an electric alarm clock at about age 5. It was a destructive teardown and was not expected to be reassembled. I still recall being amazed by all of the fine copper wires on the motor coils.
    The last thing I took apart was a totally beat up Tennant Model 2150 floor scrubbing machine about 3 hours ago. It’s back together with new cords and switches, handle clutch, strain relief and deck bolts. 120 lbs of scouring fury, ready to strip waxed floors again.

  32. Ross Hershberger says:

    The WORST thing I ever took apart was a turn of the century Swiss quarter repeating mechanical pocket watch. The kind that will play the time on tiny gongs when you press a button. I’m pretty adept with small machines but that was miles over my head, even with the diagrams and manuals. Cost me a week’s pay to have a watchmaker reassemble it.

  33. Gary Oshust says:

    I was 3 and took apart my crib with the tool kit I got for my birthday. It came crashing down totaly freaking out my mom. Saddly I could not reassemble, but I did get a new big boy bed the next day.

  34. Eric says:

    My first was a gold remote control (still had a cord) corvette. I was maybe 7 or so. I used sticks and a big rock. Reassembly was not an option. Got in plenty of trouble too. Didn’t stop me. At 31 I still pick up electronics from the trash to take apart. It’s calming.

  35. guywinterbotham says:

    I took apart my mother’s favourite radio. No, I was not able to put it back together. Awkward. Just thankful my mother decided not to return the favour.

  36. Ross Hershberger says:

    A highly relevant T-shirt from Wondermark via TopatoCo. Not affiliated.

  37. Mike Parsons says:

    My push bike, did a wheely after putting it back together “to test it out”. The last thing I remember is seeing the wheel disappear off in the distance… I still have a place on my chin where stubble doesn’t grow. :)

  38. Kayte says:

    The first, and only, things I ever took apart were retractable click ball point pens. There are several different clicky mechanisms within them, surprisingly, and I almost always got them back together successfully. I also wound up learning how to rejuvenate the ink and nib in almost any ballpoint pen, too. I didn’t take apart anything else because I was highly discouraged from doing so, as I was told I would “ruin” or “break” everything- which is a sad thing! I’m still a little anxious to get into the guts of more important posessions of mine.

  39. Jack says:

    It was an big old phone. Me and my cousin took it apart and then tried to sell the parts to random people walking by. I was around 5 or 6 I think. And no, we did not even try to reassemble

  40. Trevor says:

    Probably not my first, but my most memorable. When I was about 8 or so Dad let me try to “fix” his broken chainsaw. You would not believe how many extraneous parts they put on those things! Had a whole box of little screws, springs, and bits of metal left over after the reassembly. I never did get it working (surprise!), but it’s something we both remember to this day, 25 years later.

  41. jomegat says:

    When I was about 12 I found an old rotary desk phone in the trash. Taking it apart went really well until I got to the dial switch assembly. It was a stack of conductive plates screwed together into a sandwich. When I took the screw out, the sandwich fell apart into a zillion pieces. It wasn’t until much later that I found out what it was for. I didn’t bother attempting to reassemble it, but it taught me something valuable in the field of disassembling stuff: try to figure out what a screw is holding together before removing it.

  42. Mr. Shiv says:

    My dad was a field engineer for Burroughs — the equivalent of the copier-repair guy today. He brought home all kinds of broken electro-mechanical things for me. First one I remember was a printer, about the size of a desk, packed with thousands of gears, levers, switches, springs, shafts, belts, bearings, cams, plates, rods, circuit boards and who knows what else. I was probably about 6, and it took me weeks to take it apart. My dad made a workbench out of the frame when I was done. I still have some of the parts, 40 years later.

  43. ChrisW says:

    I remember finding a shotgun shell and taking it apart. I put the powder in an aluminum pan and carefully lit it. After my vision returned, and I stopped coughing I found out that it burned a hole in the pan. I played dumb when people started asking where the smell came from.
    Also, when the TV died, I would take all the tubes out and bring them to the drug store and test them. I fixed our TV several times before I was ten.

  44. Wilson! says:

    I had all manner of construction toys as a kid in the late ’60s/early ’70s, but the first thing I remember really setting out to take apart was my bike. It was a 10-speed I had had for a couple years and I was determined to strip it to the frame and repaint it. With the help of “Anybody’s Bike Book” (by the late, great Tom Cuthbertson) and my dad’s tools, I got it down to the frame (didn’t remove the headset or bottom bracket races) and repainted (Wal-Mart spray can, ugh), and back together over Spring Break. Even repacked all the bearings.

    I remember my friends’ disbelief that I had done so – derailleurs were very mysterious. If I had only known the REAL mystery is in a coaster brake…

  45. CameronSS says:

    I’ve been taking things apart since long before I can remember, but the first thing I *remember* ( I was maybe 4 or 5) was a toy from a kid’s meal, Subway as I recall. It was a little plastic lightning bolt with a transparent section, and you pulled the trigger on it to spin a wheel against a flint and fill the transparent bit with sparks.

    My goal, of course, was to pull off just the transparent part and have a flamethrower. The designers and lawyers, of course, had someone like me in mind, as it had tri-wing screws, and the plastic was completely bulletproof, at least to my puny young arms with a hammer. I even tried squeezing it in Dad’s vise, but only slightly cracked the thing. I eventually gave up and tossed the thing out, as I’d damaged the mechanism in the process, and it was useless.

  46. Sue W says:

    My own first take-apart project was a golf ball. Someone had said that they had a lot of rubber inside. Well they were right. After working for about an hour with my mother’s bread-knife, I got the hard case off and there was the amazing infinitely long piece of rubber all wound around and around. After about half an hour of unwinding, I found a small sac of some kind of thick latex solution. I never did get it back together again.
    Then there was the alarm clock, then the wind-up gramophone (no, I am not that old! it was a broken, obsolete one.) I did sort of get the alarm clock together again and it sort of worked, but the wind-up gramophone nearly killed me. The mechanism, as it turns out, is an infinitely long spring about a half inch in diameter. It was wound up. When I opened the case (they didn’t put health warnings on plastic bags back then either) the thing came alive and sproinged all around my bedroom, taking a large chunk of plaster off the wall. I did learn about potential energy though. Heh heh…needless to say the gramophone was wrecked.

    1. Michael Colombo says:

      That’s a hilarious story. BTW, those springs used in clocks are called Constant Force Springs and can be used for other applications as well.

  47. Bev says:

    An owl that I found dead by the railroad tracks. An X-Acto knife was my tool, and I carefully cut through the layers until I could see all its guts. The way its insides were put together was so so beautiful and efficient. Not a wasted smidgen of space in there.

  48. kentkb says:

    Remember the wind up alarm clock?
    My first tear down (at 7yo?) was a double belled clock with 2 coiled springs and all brass gears and frame inside. I loved to take it apart and rebuild it, and did so many times.
    But I slowly lost the tiny nuts and screws that held it together. I think all the makers I have talked to started by tearing stuff apart.
    My tear downs rarely lose anything anymore, well, I did miss a tiny grain of sand sized surface mount resistor the other day….

  49. zettie says:

    I take apart small cheap broken toys and other discarded objects with moving (or just numerous) parts. I’m intrigued by the miniature engineering that is hidden in so many simple everyday objects. An artist who’s name I did not notice recently made 3-D collages of unrelated tiny parts, and I think she was on the right track in trying to grasp all the anonymous engineering that goes into our everyday materials

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In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens' educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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