While honing our soldering skills at the recent lab conducted by Nick Johnson at Make:Princeton, we began discussing the dangers inherent in working with lead solder (fumes, lead leaching/poisoning, burns) and commented on the concept of dangerous projects in today’s litigation conscious world.

Even the recent best selling book “The Dangerous Book for Boys” by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden is mostly innocuous. Oh, to be sure, there are chapters on tying knots, building a treehouse, making a bow and arrow (“You’ll shoot your eye out, Ralphie!”), and hunting and cooking a rabbit, but these few “dangerous” chapters pale in comparison to boys publications of a century ago.

Take, for example, this opening sentence from a 1913 Popular Mechanics article. “Fortunate indeed is the boy who receives a stock of glass tubing, a Bunsen burner, a blowpipe and some charcoal for a gift, for he has a great deal of fun in store for himself.”

What parent today would give their son a gift of glass tubing and a Bunsen burner and say, “Here Bobby, go learn glass blowing.”? And personally, I had extreme difficulty just finding three test tubes for a project I am working on, and searched every toy and hobby store in a 25 mile radius until I found a package of safety glass test tubes in an educational store with very little else in the way of practical chemical science equipment.

But an article on “Glass Blowing and Forming” is just one of the over 700 truly “dangerous” projects for boys found in Popular Mechanics’ “The Boy Mechanic: Volume 1”. This book, beautifully reproduced and hardbound, is available from Lee Valley Tools.

What do I consider “dangerous”? How about How-To’s on:

  • Etching Brass and Copper
  • Electroplating
  • Creating a Jump-Spark coil
  • Creating an induction coil
  • Generating hydrogen for your own working Zeppelin model
  • Creating an Ammeter and static machine
  • Generating Acetylene gas (where does one readily get pieces of carbide?)
  • Creating a 110 volt transformer
    • and the one that really blows me away:
  • Creating a Lead Cannon

    “Any boy who has a little mechanical ability can make a very reliable cannon for his Fourth-of-July celebration by following the instructions given here:”

Lee Valley Tools has published the four volumes, complete with illustrations, covering 1913 (vol. I), 1915 (Vol. II), 1919 (vol. III) and 1925 (vol. IV) for about $22 each. But you can look at volume 1 and print off your own How-To articles such as “How to Create Your Own Metal Foundry at Home” by visiting Project Gutenberg. Even the images are faithfully reproduced in the PDF version of this book.


Part of being a Maker is exploring this “dangerous” zone and revitalizing the hands on skills of the past. These books will help you explore these skills without protecting your from litigation with the phrase:


The projects you are about to read were conducted by amateurs with years of inexperience …
which is how they learned not to touch a hot soldering iron.



2 Responses to “Danger!”

  1. makeprinceton Says:

    Typically, you can buy carbide at welding supply stores, or failing that, stores which cater to spelunkers

  2. Jon Abolins Says:

    The current issue of Make: (#16, the one with spy tools projects featured) has a great annotated look at the old home science kits for kids. Some of them had substances that were quite dangerous and had no real education value.

    See some examples of the science kits from the article “Great Balls of Fire”:

    Ah, those were quite different times. I remember my chemistry experiments at home decades ago.

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