September 14, 2013

Manly Skills, Podcast

Art of Manliness Podcast Episode #50: Made by Hand with Mark Frauenfelder

podcast

In today’s episode I talk to Mark Frauenfelder, editor-in-chief of Make Magazine, co-founder of Boing Boing, and author of the book Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World. We discuss his experience developing a DIY ethos and becoming more self-sufficient.

Show highlights:
  • How shucking coconuts on a remote island in the South Pacific led to his DIY passion
  • How making things with your hands brings meaning to your life
  • What keeps most folks from fixing and building things themselves
  • How mistakes lead to success
  • How becoming more “handy” can improve other parts of your life
  • And much more!

Listen to the podcast!

Find us on Stitcher

Special thanks to Keelan O’Hara for editing the podcast!

Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Well, I’m back after taking a hiatus. My wife and I welcome the new baby into our family. Her name is Olive Scout McKay, calling her Scout. Baby is doing great, mom and dad aren’t getting much sleep, but that’s okay. I’m really excited about today’s show.

Today we’re going to be talking about making things by hand, trying to be self sufficient, doing things, trying to fix things on your own. Something, we’ve talked a lot about on the artofmanliness.com and our guest today has written a book about his experience trying to make things by hand, trying to live by a DIY ethos. His name is Mark Frauenfelder. He is the Editor of Make Magazine, a popular magazine about how to make things.

He is also an Editor and founder of boingboing.net. A popular web blog that I enjoy checking out and his recent book is called Made by Hand Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World and we are going to talk with Mark about his experience trying to be a bit more self sufficient, trying to do things on his own and making things by hand and the benefits that men can get from trying to take on DIY ethos in their life. So stay tuned.

Alright, Mark. So let’s talk about the genesis of your book. The story is really interesting because you and your family decided to move some remote island in South Pacific to escape the craziness of modern life and both you and your wife, I guess you honeymooned there before?

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, it wasn’t really a honeymoon, but we had just gone there on a vacation before we had kids.

Brett McKay: Okay.

Mark Frauenfelder: Which is kind of like a honeymoon, you know before you have kids. I know you just had a baby. So you realized how much the life changes after you have kids.

Brett McKay: Definitely and so when you were there, like when you were there with your wife on the vacation like this is a great place and you were kind of remembering it, that was a laid back lifestyle. We can go there and it will be what we want, but then you get there and the idea of living on the island was actually nicer than the reality and so you decide to head back to the States, just like four months later right, was that how long?

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, exactly and there were a few reasons, why we ended up leaving a lot sooner than we thought we would have, we wanted to stay a year at least, but one of the things was the healthcare there was really a lot worse than we had expected, so we ended up getting like my two and half month old daughter got pneumonia and it was really hard to deal with that because they didn’t have the right kind of medicine and we had to have it shipped in from New Zealand.

Brett McKay: Wow!

Mark Frauenfelder: We all had lice and I got ringworm and I got really bad bronchitis.

Brett McKay: Oh! boy.

Mark Frauenfelder: My wife got really bad toenail fungus that was just like really nasty and I had ringworms, so anyway that was one of the things, but really the hardest thing was the losing that social network that we had built up over a lifetime. It’s kind of like, you know that the old story about two fish talking to each other and one of them mentions, something about being in the water and the fish asks, what’s water?

It’s the same, we just had the social network. We were so used to, we didn’t even realize, we had it until we didn’t have it and so that was the hardest thing and the people who lived on Rarotonga were nice, they were friendly and we got along with them, but they knew that we would eventually leave, so they understand we didn’t want to invest that time into building a relationship with us, if we were just going to leave, as you know we eventually did.

Brett McKay: Yes, so okay, so it sounds like lots of health problems. You lost that social network, but the trip, the experience wasn’t a waste because while you were there, you learned that one of the things you enjoyed doing was preparing coconuts with your daughter. So can you explain the coconut preparing process because I thought this is really interesting, what goes into preparing a coconut?

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, it’s really – it was really fun and something that we all loved doing, when a coconut grows like the coconut you buy in a store are these hard shell things, but when they fall off the tree, they have this thick fibrous skin on them and I was vaguely aware of the fact that they did, but I thought maybe they were two different kinds of species of coconut or something, but no, every coconut has got the thick skin and you have to husk it off.

And so you have to learn how to do that, by putting a stick in the ground, so it’s sticking up kind of like a spear, point tip up in the ground and then you poke the coconut and peel this tough husk off of it and then you have to chop it with a machete in a certain way and then, so the landlady.

We had rented a little house on the beach there and she came by and she saw me like jabbing at a coconut with a screwdriver and pounding it with a rock and she said, you need to get a coconut scraping bench and I’m like, what is that. She said well, you have to make one and you have to first go to the junkyard and get a leaf spring from a car and then take that leaf spring over to the metal shop.

This guy runs a metal shop and he’ll grind it and serrate the edge for you and then, you can take that over to the carpenter and he’ll install, he will make a little bench for you and install the sharpened leaf spring in there for you and I was like thinking about all of these things.

She was telling me, she said or you could just use mine if you want. I’m like, alright I’ll use yours that sounds good.

And so basically, you straddle this little bench and take a coconut shell and scrape it on that serrated edge in that coconut pulp inside, the meat of it drops into a little bowl and so we had coconut trees growing on the property that we were renting, it would just fall out of the tree like one or two a day, which was a lot actually it built up and so I would just scrape it and we ended up like using it in everything, we would make coconut scones and coconut pancakes and make coconut cream and put that on the fish that we would buy from our neighbors, who would go fishing.

And doing that kind of all day thing and making our own tortillas and making our own spaghetti noodles or linguini by hand, all that kind of stuff, it would take a really long time to do all of that stuff as you know compared to picking up something that was ready-to-go at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or something, but it was a lot of fun. The whole family got involved doing it and we really loved it and I thought to myself that, this is something that I’ll always want to do, no matter what kind of life I live or where I live, this kind of family activity of getting involved in something that is so important to your life.

Eating three times a day, having kind of control over doing it and being part of at the process of having the food and so that was like a big light bulb that went off in my head.

Brett McKay: Okay, so you basically you discovered being self-sufficient were there something fulfilling about that and harvesting coconuts led to that, which led to this idea that I guess led to your book. How can I do stuff by myself, be self-sufficient in other aspects of my life?

So I mean, when you got back to the States like you had that light bulb, did you decide then well, I’m going to write a book about this or did you decide? I’m going to look for more experiences like I had on the island with the coconuts and then the book came from that, what happened.

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, I think it was, it was the second of those two things. Plus the fact that, I got a job at Make Magazine, which was started by company called O’Reilly. They’re a technical book publisher and one of the founders named Dale Dougherty, he gave me a call and he knew about my work at Wired Magazine and Boingboing and said, I want to put together a prototype magazine that’s kind of general interest DIY, how to project magazine and that idea really intrigued me because of my experiences on Rarotonga.

So I met with Dale and we put together a prototype for the magazine and people responded really well to it and I really still wasn’t that much of maker of things, when we put out the magazine, but after I did and I started meeting all these people who were making amazing things, out of wood or electronics or metal work or whatever and learning what kind of people they are and how much reward and fulfillment they got from doing it, that made me want to start experimenting with those kinds of things myself and then combined with my experiences on the island.

I thought the idea of kind of do it yourself food would be something that would really work for me because, you know everybody… so if I can more involved in the process of feeding myself and my family, there will be something that would be fulfilling to me and it turned out to be even though, a lot of my experiments ended up being disasters.

Brett McKay: We’ll get to that, in just a bit. So one of the things you keep on saying, is how doing stuff by yourself, on your own, doing DIY gives you a lot of meaning and in fact, the subtitle of your book is called Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World. Can you elaborate on that, I mean is what is it about doing something by hand that makes it that provides meaning in our lives?

Mark Frauenfelder: I think that there are so many acts of modern life that are out of our control. We can’t really do much about the economy, we can do very little about politics other than vote and the results are usually unsatisfactory. People are almost everybody is angry with Congress, there is not – we have to rely on large institutions or education.

All those kinds of things and so, people get this kind of learned helplessness of just accepting the solutions that are given to them and once you start to take a little more control of the world of the human made and maintained world around you and become a participant rather than a consumer. It’s infectious and you start to develop a sense of self efficacy that crawls over from one knowledge set to another.

So if I have a problem with the home thermostat and I need to replace it and whether I’m successful or not, I’ve learned something about it and then, it makes you feel like you want to deal with other problems that happen or other opportunities, that you have, you feel like, I’m willing to give this a try and having that kind of even a small degree of control, over the way you live and being able to solve a problem that you have rather than paying someone else to solve it for you, is something that for me, it was a great feeling and has changed my life.

Just yesterday, well like three days ago, I noticed a whole bunch of water pooling up underneath the washing machine and it had, I kind of noticed in the back of my mind and I didn’t know what was going on, it was in the garage and finally like I listened and I heard this sound, that was like water leaking and so, it ended up. There was something leaking inside the washing machine and my first inclination was to, I had to buy new washing machine, but instead I like the turned the source, the tap off that hoses that lead to the washing machine and I noticed that the sound went away.

So something is leaking instead of washing machine. I ended up like figuring how to take it apart, I took the wrong pieces off and first thing, I would think, then finally I found a little plastic water inlet valve with solenoids on it that had a hairline fracture and water was spraying out in a fine mist and so I went online. Thank god for the internet being like indexed part of a store.

Brett McKay: Yes.

Mark Frauenfelder: And I found a part and it was like $30 delivered in two days and I got it. Yesterday, I replaced it and put the new water inlet valve in and the thing works and it was like, before I wrote this book, there is no way, I would have been able to do that. I wouldn’t have had the knowledge or the tools that I need to do even and it would have been an expensive thing either getting someone out here to repair it or my default solution buying a new washing machine.

Brett McKay: Well, that’s awesome. I love how you mentioned that, it gives you a sense of meaning, a control in a world where we don’t have much control over our lives because this large institutions are handle a lot of the heavy lifting and society and what I find interesting too is that, it seems like even a lot of the goods we use on a daily basis are being designed in a way now, that we can’t tinker with them.

Like, you know modern washing machines, I had this washing machine. It’s a Samsung washing machine and it’s like, it’s got this fancy computer where it tells like how much water it exactly needs and like if that thing broke down, I don’t know I would be able to fix it or like, you talk about newer cars. Even they’re design in a way, so that we have to go to a, you know authorized mechanic, the dealership to get it fixed because there is some kind of computer involved or like, I’ve even seen some cars or heard about some cars, where they actually put plastic over the engine like you open up the hood and all you see is plastic.

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, that is like Matthew Crawford, the author of Shop Class as Soulcraft said, when you lift a hood on car, there is another hood and this is something that happened to me last week. The check engine light on my car came on. I hate those, check engine lights, they don’t tell you what the problem is. You have to take it.

Brett McKay: Yes.

Mark Frauenfelder: So, I took it to a garage, a pep boys and said could you check it out and see what the problem is and so they looked and they said, it’s your smog pump something that like is with the exhaust system and so they said let’s – we’ll figure out what’s going on with it. So then, a couple of hours later they said you know your smog pump is fine, there is no problem with it.

The problem is the computer that deals with the smog pumps and senses it, thinks that the smog pump is not working and so they did a smog test on it and it failed smog test not because there is anything wrong with the emission, but just because the computer is giving the wrong information.

Brett McKay: Oh! Jesus.

Mark Frauenfelder: We have to plug that diagnostic port in, where they do a smog test and so they said, “You have to take it to Volkswagen dealership to either reprogram or replace the computer” and that’s like frustrating and you’re right, today’s consumer technology is very user unfriendly, they have all no user serviceable parts inside labels on them and the parts are glued together often rather than screwed together. So you couldn’t even open them, if you wanted to and their surface mount components, instead of discreet components if you wanted to try to replace them would have a hard time.

I remembered when I was really young, we had TV sets that had tubes in them and when the TV started to wonky or when the picture was bad. My dad would take the back of the TV and just pull the tubes out and you could drive down to the local drug store and they would have a tube testing machine and you plug the tubes into these sockets in a little needle on a meter, would tell you whether or not the TV – good or not and then you could just buy the tubes and take them home.

Now if a TV breaks, you just throw it in a trash and buy a new one.

Brett McKay: Yes.

Mark Frauenfelder: Because one thing is, they’re lot cheaper, but the other thing you couldn’t fix it, even if you wanted to.

Brett McKay: Yes. I mean, I guess the reason why companies do that because you have to buy another TV right that’s more money for them because you have to buy new TV instead of actually fixing it.

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes.

Brett McKay: I think you actually mentioned this in your book, I might be confusing Soulcraft, but like back in the day, when they created appliances or machine companies did so with the intention that the user would actually repair it themselves like you could buy parts right for your John Deere Tractor and fix it or your television set or your vacuum cleaner.

Yes, it’s just so frustrating you can’t do that anymore, even if you wanted to. It’s hard to do that.

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, exactly and that’s why some of my friends will only buy used appliances for their household use like industrial juicers and all like industrial and kind of professional grade equipment because those are meant to be easily repaired, you know there is like little access panels and parts that come out easily. So like, if they’ll buy and then a commercial grade espresso maker because they know that, they will be able to replace the parts rather than the kind of plastic one you would buy and as soon as it is broken, you just well time to throw it away and get a new one.

Brett McKay: Okay, so you mentioned the espresso maker, which reminds me of my next question. Are there – let’s talk about some of the projects that you highlight in your book. The espresso maker was one of them, which was really interesting. Was that one you really enjoyed or is there another one you really enjoyed and was there project that just really frustrated you, but in the end was rewarding?

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, I think they all had different levels of frustration, but the one that I think was frustrating at first and then was rewarding, I might not have talked about the rewards in the books because, the reward didn’t come in until I wrote it was beekeeping.

I wanted to start keeping bees, so that I could collect honey and honeycomb wax and I had a hard time because the bees were absconding from the hive. What we did, I worked with this guy, who is like the leader of a beekeeping club here in LA. And instead of mail ordering bees, what he does is, he runs a bee removal service and then saves the bees and then populates people’s hives like amateur beekeepers.

And so we fortunately or unfortunately had a whole bunch of bees in rafters of the house we live here in Los Angeles and so Kirk and I got the bees out and put them into the bee hive in my backyard and it was hard to keep them in there, they left and so we had to get more bees and put them in and they finally took, but they it took a while, well they didn’t make honey and so finally I started getting honey after the book and then once I got the honey. Oh! this is amazing and people were telling me, it was the best honey that they’ve ever tasted and I ended up realizing how much fun it is to be a beekeeper and to give honey away to people and use the wax for various products that we make and it’s something also that, my daughter’s really enjoy.

We just – this summer harvested about a gallon of honey.

Brett McKay: Wow!

Mark Frauenfelder: Which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it last a long time. Especially because what I’ll do, I’ll put it in little tiny glass jars and just give it to friends when they come over to visit or I go to see them. It makes a great little gift to do that. So that was like a great experience and I hope we will have those bees for many years.

Brett McKay: And it’s also great for the environment, right because I guess there is a bee shortage going on.

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, the colony collapse disorder which no one, there is a lot of fear about – is about why and it could be a combination of several factors, where the people treat bee mites, which is a parasite problem. This little mites get on bees and the fact that, they’re kind of monoculture of bees where people mail order bees and there is no enough diversity and then pesticides and all those kinds of things, so the beekeeping club I belong it, Backwards Beekeepers and we do everything backwards compared to most beekeepers.

There is no chemical treatments. We really just kind of let the bees be – and it almost like the less you bother them, the happier they’re, you just provide them with a nice place to live and let them be bees and that has once I finally took, if that’s been a great way to do it.

Brett McKay: So you’re still beekeeping.

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes.

Brett McKay: Are there any projects that you started that you talked about in the book, that you’re still doing today?

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, I really like fermented foods, I think that besides tasting, there’s health benefits. They’re kind of probiotic aspects of them so making sauerkraut and yogurt is not only a fun thing to do and really pretty easy to do, but it’s actually one do yourself kind of pursuit, where actually it will save you money. There is a lot of DIY things that are much more expensive than buying something like.

If you wanted to make your own TV or your own MP3 player, something it will cost you 10 times as much as then with to buy something, but with yogurt and especially sauerkraut, you can make it for a fraction of how you much you would pay for it into the store and then you also know, what’s going into it and you can A, get the right amount and just really I highly recommend doing those things yourself.

Brett McKay: Yes, when I read that I was like, I need to get started on this because I love sauerkraut.

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, it’s great and I have it sitting on my desk right now, some yogurt culture that makes yogurt at room temperature, so that you don’t need to heat it up. Some people by like heating blankets or special like little incubation devices, which I have been using, but I want to try this. You just set it on your shelf, set the milk on your shelf with the starter and then once you use a starter that’s it, you don’t have to keep more buying starter, you can just use the old yogurt to make new yogurt.

So it’s going to fun to see how it turns out.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome. So Mark, a lot of on our website, we do some DIY stuff articles every now and then and we get a lot of young men, who are just really heart heated on this, like they’re just really interested, but what’s interesting is like when I talk to my dad or talk to my grandpa, who is like 94 it seems like a lot of this DIY stuff, right like how to fix things or how to make your own food or how to process your own deer, that you might have hunted.

It was that sort of information, that sort of knowledge seem like it was just naturally passed down to them like they just, I don’t know I guess the way things, the way we were as a society 40, 50 years ago. It just that, information just got passed down naturally, but nowadays it just seems like younger generations just don’t get that sort of stuff. Why do you think that is, why do you think younger generations lack DIY skills?

Mark Frauenfelder: Well I think looking pretty far back like over 100 years ago 1900, 80% of Americans either lived full time on farms or they worked every day on farms and lived in a very rural area and to be a farm worker or a farmer. You really have to be a jack of all trades, you have to, you’re really good at fixing and maintaining farm machinery and be really innovative and resourceful and coming up with ways to make new machinery and all that kinds.

So every farm had a working machine shop and wood shop on the premise. So people 80% of Americans were really good at making things and then if you compare today, only 2% of Americans live and work on farms. So I think that’s a big thing. We don’t need to make or fix our own stuff. Even people in the 50s who were repairing their own TV sets by pulling their back off and taking the tubes out, had that kind of mindset that the world was something that presented problems that they could solve as individuals.

Today, we really focus hard on these kind of hermetically sealed solutions to everything and if something goes wrong, the answer is either buy one or call someone to come over to repair it for you and so, that’s made people unable to make anything and so for us, for my generation and people younger than me. The idea of making things is kind of novel and it is once you rediscover how great it is to do that kind of thing, you want to kind of shout it from the rooftop and I think that’s like what Make Magazine does and what my book is like, hey everybody this is really cool.

Your father and grandfather, mother and grandmother were doing this kind of stuff and they had to do it. You don’t have to do it, but really you should look into it because there is something that you get out of it that you can’t, it’s inexperienced and that feeling of fulfillment that you can’t replicate any other way.

Brett McKay: Yes and it’s also very counter cultural in a lot of ways. We have a very consumer culture, but doing things by hand just totally cuts against the grain, I guess that pervasive culture we have in our society.

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, definitely.

Brett McKay: Okay, so what do you think keeps people from trying to make things by hand because I know, you know a lot of people talk about it like they talk wishfully about, oh! I want to become a craftsman and make these wonderful handmade goods or I want to change the oil of my car, but a lot of times they never get around to doing it.

From your experience, what do you think is the biggest thing that holds people back from trying to do things by hand?

Mark Frauenfelder: I think that people have been trained to avoid making mistakes as much or not avoid it, they’ve been trained to fear mistakes to the point where they don’t want to take anything new on because they’re afraid, they might make a mistake and as soon as they do make mistake, they quickly lose interest and get discouraged from doing that anymore and I think one of the reasons for that is that, schools train people that mistakes or something to be avoided because when you make a mistake in school, you get a bad grade.

So you learn from childhood that mistakes are bad. So if you’re doing something and you make a mistake, you think I don’t want to do that anymore, which is like wired into you, but the fact of the matter is, that mistakes are really important way to learn and that the makers that I have met.

The makers, I have met who are like, who I consider alpha makers, who are really good at making stuff. The thing that is different from them and the rest of the population isn’t that they have a lot of skills, the true important difference is that they have learned to accept and even embrace mistakes as part of the process of creating things and they don’t go out and intentionally try to make mistakes, but they know that mistakes are going to be made, that they’re going to make mistakes and that they’re going to use them as ways to learn and as sources of inspiration and creativity.

And so that was something that I learned through the process of doing this stuff is that, mistakes are okay and I actually now kind of bailed that into whatever I’m making that, I think alright this is just going to the first time I make something and I probably have to do it four times, before it’s good enough for me to use and keep as a permanent thing or write about and it’s fine.

It’s like, don’t expect something to be perfect the first time you do it and that has been a like a big perception changer for me.

Brett McKay: I’m sure that carries over to other areas of life as well, maybe your work, your family and I mean even yourself. I mean, I guess maybe you’re not as hard on yourself, when you do screw up in some other aspect like personal developments, and look, this is a process. Okay, I take that mistake, get some feedback, learn from it and move on.

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, definitely. Its such great attitude to have, is thinking. I made a mistake and what did I learn from it and then how am I going to do things differently, what did this mistake teach me?

Brett McKay: That’s handy.

Mark Frauenfelder: And yes so, just not equating a mistake with failure. The only time you fail, is if a mistake discourages you to the point where you give up.

Brett McKay: I’ve had instances where I tried to, I took on some DIY projects and yes, I messed up. Here’s the one that comes to mind. I wanted to make a teleprompter for my DSLR because I do YouTube videos and I’m really bad about talking off the cuff. So I wanted a teleprompter. I found some instructions online, how you can make this teleprompter with wood, with some picture frames and a few pieces of wood and a piece of glass and where I got into, I was really excited and then I just, I totally goofed it up and it wasn’t salvageable and I had to go back Home Depot and get some more supplies.

You know what, I’m just going, I’ll just go and find one and buy it instead and so I really feel kind of ashamed that I did not do that, you know I gave up. It’s like the ruins of this project or like in my garage in a corner, just sitting there. Every time I walk by, it sort of mocks, you know laughs at me.

Mark Frauenfelder: Well, another thing that I learned also is that, you have to keep in mind, the level of complexity of the project that you’re taking on, what works with the amount of time that you have, if you have kids or not, if it works with you know that the space that you have, the tools that you have and sometimes those things aren’t right and you can always go back to them and set your sites on a project that is manageable and challenges you at a level that is appropriate for your current skill level and environment.

Brett McKay: That’s so right. I think, I probably did bite off more than I could chew. So I guess being humble is an important aspect of the DIY.

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, definitely.

Brett McKay: See yourself as you’re really are, not as what you want to be. Okay, so here’s another like whenever we publish a DIY article like how to build something or how to make something yourself or how to fix something in your house. In the common complaint or a common question we get is, people say that, oh! it’s a waste of time and money to do things yourself, just pay for it.

You know time is better spent doing something else. You could be working on a side project that actually earns you money sort of spending time, fixing a, patching a hole in your drywall. How do you respond to those people who say that DIY is a waste of time and money?

Mark Frauenfelder: Well, I think in most cases they’re right about the money. It costs more money to do something yourself than it does to buy it and that wasn’t always true, but it is true now. So when I become a chicken farmer, small scale chicken farmer with six chickens. The amount of time and money I spent building a chicken coop and then taking care of the chickens and stuff.

Those were the most expensive eggs that I’ve ever bought and so they’re right on that level, but then the thing is, like the eggs that I did get, I appreciated so much and the joy it brought me to work with the chickens and collect the eggs and have my kids collect the eggs was really worth every penny that I spent. If you get involved in something, you care about it so much more.

If you build your own chair there is a lot of things that happen. You could probably buy a nice chair for less money, than a chair that you built yourself and it might even look better, but if you build that chair you’re going to take care of it and maintain it because it’s your chair. If it breaks, you know how to fix it.

It makes you more observant of the world around you. You start looking at how other chairs are put together and how they’re fashioned and how did that guy designed, how did they join the wood there. The level of seeing the world with new eyes is really great and it also, one of the best things about is, it makes you appreciate how skilled and artistic other people are when you see a beautifully built chair, it makes you appreciate it on a completely new level, before you wouldn’t have even noticed that or thought about it.

So is that a waste of time and money to build a chair if you gain all of that kind of new awareness for some people maybe, but for me, it’s very much worth it.

Brett McKay: I’m there with you, totally on that. Mark, so I think you mentioned it throughout our conversation, but how has becoming a tinker or DIYer made you a better man in other areas of your life?

Mark Frauenfelder: I feel that it has given me the courage to take on all sorts of challenges that I would have either avoided or outsourced in the past. So I think that level of confidence that it’s given me in all aspects of my life has really helped a lot, you know, I feel like once I started kind of changing the world around me, I looked at myself and decided to do something about my kind of sedentary lifestyle with a not very good diet and started really researching the ways to exercise and stay fit and the kinds of foods to eat and improving my sleep and all those kinds of things.

And I think I’ve really improved my health quite a bit. I’ve lost a lot of weight, I think I’ve gained a lot of, I’ve become much leaner than I was and that just helps me feel stronger and healthier and better able to take care of my wife and kids too, when you feel good mentally and physically like that, you’re able to work harder and work smarter and I think it’s good for the whole family.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome. Do you feel like, you mentioned when you’re on the island that you lost that social network has becoming a DIYer like expanding your social network in some ways?

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, it definitely has because one of the cool things about the Maker movement is that, you have seen a rise of they’re called makerspaces or hackerspaces there are places where people chip in a little bit of money every month $50 or so and they get access to a room full of tools and equipment and then most importantly, they get access to other people, who are also into making and so I will go to these places whenever I travel and there is one here in LA called Crash Space and it’s great hanging out with them and learning from them.

I pick up so many ideas from what they have to say and have made friends with these folks. So I think the social network aspect of making is one of the important things. Every year we have something calling Maker Fair and we have one in New York and one in San Mateo near San Francisco they’re two official ones.

And the one is San Mateo gets like 120,000 people a year.

Brett McKay: Wow!

Mark Frauenfelder: They love, the big thing is talking and hanging out with each other and seeing what other people have made and learning from them and lots of deals are made and lots of collaborations are form there and then there are many maker fairs that have attendance of 10,000, 20,000 all over the world.

So making is a very big social aspect of being a maker is huge.

Brett McKay: One of those mini maker fairs are actually is coming to Tulsa.

Mark Frauenfelder: Oh! cool.

Brett McKay: Yes, me and my brother-in-law we’re going to check it out, really excited.

Mark Frauenfelder: Oh! good.

Brett McKay: Well, Mark do you have any final bits of advice to our listeners, who are, they want to do this, like they want to become a tinker. They want to become a DIYer. Any final bits of advice for them help them get started?

Mark Frauenfelder: Yes, I would say like my particular interest in, when I wrote the book Made by Hand was that, I thought that food would be a good project for me because A, I like to eat and it’s something that I do three times a day and so having, getting involved with that would have a pretty profound effect on my life.

So my advice would be, find something you’re passionate about. So, you know say you’re interested in music looking into DIY music making your own musical instruments or making your own recording studio. There is got to be something that you’re interested in and that is going to have lasting value.

I’ve friends who are into robotics and make really cool robots. I personally would not be that interested in doing because I might have fun making the robot and everything, but once you’re done you have this robot and I’m like, okay it’s going to walk around and avoid the walls, but I would play with it for 15 minutes and then it would go in the closet.

So find something you’re passionate about and then the other thing I would say is, find figure out an appropriate challenge level. If you aim too high, you’re going to get discouraged and abandon it and if you aim too low, you’re going to get bored and so Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book called Flow, which you probably heard about, where he talks about, a state where you’re sufficiently challenged by something that you become engrossed in it and you don’t even, if you’re hungry you don’t think about eating, if you’re tired, you don’t think about sleeping.

You’re just like, this is all I want to do. I don’t want to do anything else. Find that and do it.

Brett McKay: Very good. Well Mark, it’s been a pleasure, it’s been a fascinating conversation. Thank you so much for your time.

Mark Frauenfelder: You bet, Brett. Thanks a lot. It was really fun talking with you.

Brett McKay: Our guest today was Mark Frauenfelder. He is author of the book Made by Hand Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World and you can find his book in Amazon.com. Well that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast for more manliness tips and advice make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com and until next time, stay manly.


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