If it can be built, a PM reader will do it. Here’s proof – the best reader projects of the year.
Tinkerers. Scroungers. Inventors. Dreamers. These are the people who spot a pile of rubbish and immediately picture their next project; people who spend countless hours in the workshop finessing a dream into reality, labouring towards the rush of the moment when they rise from the tools and machines with a cry: “Hey, this thing works!” In other words, readers of POPULAR MECHANICS. For our first-ever DIY Rally, we set out to discover what our own community of gonzo engineers cook up in their garages and sheds. We received nearly 200 submissions, each of them exemplifying the kind of ingenuity PM has been saluting since 1902. Some of the best of this impressive lot – including a biodiesel motorcycle, a BBQ breakthrough and, yes, a hovercraft – are displayed on the following pages. We hope you find them as inspiring as we do. Dreaming big is a virtue – but the real fun is in making the thing. Build on.
Damon Vander Lind
“I spend a month a year working on a commercial fishing boat with a loud diesel engine, and the greatest sound in the world is to hear it turn off,” says Damon Vander Lind, the creator of a soothingly quiet trike driven by a 2,1 m, pedal-powered propeller.
Vander Lind and some fellow MIT students combined aircraft-supply chrome-moly tubing and salvaged bike parts into a recumbent trike. The propeller is similar to one Vander Lind made for a wind turbine to power a friend’s yurt (for the uninitiated, a Mongolian tent): he hot-wire-cut pink foam, coated it with glass fibre, then added LED lights so the blades display coloured patterns as they turn.
Materials: R3 500*
Time: Three weeks
Result: Human-powered, 30 km/h cruising.
On the Web: See video of the prop trike in action at
As a teenager in the 1970s, Dan Duriscoe was inspired by astronomer John Dobson, who was then gaining fame for making telescopes from found parts. More than 20 years later, Duriscoe finally cobbled together his own creation, on a massive scale.
He scrounged most of the parts for a binocular telescope that’s 2,3 m high and 1,2 m wide, and boasts a 1,8 m focal length and primary mirrors that are 32 cm wide. Duriscoe, a member of a US National Park Service team that monitors light pollution, works in Nevada’s Death Valley – an unbeatable place for watching the skies.
He forged the support structure from discarded aluminium park signs; you can still read the descriptions for landmarks such as Glacier Point, Castle Rock and Mount Whitney.
The differential gear carrier from Duriscoe’s old 1969 Ford Bronco supplies a friction-free pivot for the two scopes. He custom-ordered the eyepieces and six mirrors (two of them weigh 9 kg each and are 5 cm thick). The view is like gazing out the window of a spaceship, Duriscoe says. “You can see the waves of turbulence in front of the Moon.”
Materials: R12 600
Time: Two months
Result: 250x magnification and bragging rights to the biggest binoculars in the US National Park Service.
The circus man
Modelled on a 1924 circus design, the Monowheel works like a ball bearing: anchored by the weight of the engine and driver, the inner wheel stays upright while the outer loop, propelled by a 90 cm engine, revolves at 30 km/h or more.
Says David Southall of the contraption he calls the Red Max: “It’s unstable, steering is virtually impossible, your vision is obscured while you’re riding, and if you brake too fast, you gerbil over, flipping heels over helmet. But it was 100 per cent worth building.”
Southall had the outer steel ring made to spec, and bought the rollers from a company that makes rollercoaster parts. For the huge tyre, he joined three 19-inch mountain bike tyres. Disc brakes stop the vehicle by locking the inner and outer rings together. One steers – sort of – by leaning, which makes Southall the right man for the job. Now a professor of digital electronics in the UK, he spent 10 years as a solo circus act, wowing crowds with amazing feats of balance as Blondin, Master of Niagra.
Materials: R6 300
Time: Eight days
Result: Absurd, circus-worthy transportation – with an unbeatable sense of style.
The grease biker
Tired of smelling the exhaust from the tractors on his farm in West Virginia, David Hubbard learned to convert cooking grease to biodiesel. Once his tractors and backhoes were running on fuel made from oil provided by local inns and restaurants, Hubbard decided to have a little fun.
He bought a 1986 BMW R80RT touring bike, removed the original 800 cm engine, and replaced it with a 20 kW Daihatsu diesel engine designed for commercial lawn equipment. He then spent the winter adapting the engine to the bike’s frame, and putting together a cooling system.
Running a bike on home-brewed biodiesel can work up an appetite, particularly since the exhaust smells like a greasy spoon. “When I’m out cruising with friends and get hungry,” says Hubbard, “I just pull in front to signal that it’s time to eat.” The biggest challenge, he says, is making the fuel, a week-long process that involves kitchen grease, potassium hydroxide, methanol, lab equipment – and lots of caution. Sure, he could just buy it, or conventional diesel fuel, but the added effort pays off. “I make mine for 17 cents a litre,” he says.
– Cristina Gonzlez
Materials: R60 000
Time: Three months
Result: An eco-friendly touring bike whose fuel costs 7 cents a litre – labour not included.
Self-tending BBQ Oven
Living in Cincinnati, Ohio, Nathan Moore yearned for the smoky brisket and ribs he had devoured as a student at the University of Texas, but dreaded the tedium of tending the barbe
Loath to choose between a day of cruising on a motorcycle and one spent cooling off on the lake, a Maryland pizza-shop owner opted for both. “The first time we took