Crafting for Manly Men

Crafting for Manly Men

In 1986, I went into electrical engineering because I wanted to make better graphics computers. I didn’t know any better; by the time I graduated, better graphic computers were available everywhere, and there was no longer any immediate need to design a new one. Oops. I don’t regret my brief dalliance with computer engineering, but from time to time I think about majors that I would have enjoyed more. One of them is industrial design, and I’m finding that I’m kind of jumping into the field as a hobbyist. There are two things I’m working on:

  • A new binder system for the printable ceo that will solve some workflow issues I’m having with it.
  • A pen that lies flat, looks cool, and feels good in the hand.


p>While looking into some resin casting links, I stumbled upon this cool thermoplastic forming press for under $100. It’s designed to be used with a material called kydex, which I’ve seen used in the mom-and-pop specialty gun and knife holster market. As it happens, I’m interested in fabricating some rigid pockets for my own use, so this is an incredibly awesome find.

Visit Knifekits For comparison, check out this tutorial on making knife sheaths without the press; much DIY goodness here, but I really just want to buy a press :-)

The manufacturer,, also has unusually beautiful pictures of its products. It makes me totally want to make my own knife, though I’m not sure what I’d do with it.


And check out this rivet press! I totally want one!

Visit KnifeKits.Com I didn’t make the connection between my recent projects and Industrial Design until last night. I was chatting with buddy Alen about the process notebook I was making for a new binder system, along with the cool pen that would go with it. Alen, himself trained in Industrial Design at University of Michigan, pointed out the similarity and then gave me a few tips on how to approach the materials aspect of the project. On reflection, I really have always been excited about making useful things for people that are also attractive and fun, clear in purpose and psychologically fitted to a particular workflow… duh, that’s Industrial Design!

Industrial Design (ID) is an applied art, dealing with ideas, concept, and process. You’re probably familiar with Product Design, which is the “visible face” of ID: cars, electronic gadgets, vacuums, and droolworthy Apple hardware are all examples of the kind of things that Industrial Designers make. Style is just the surface too; behind every gorgeous curve are thousands of hours of research, design, testing and prototyping. And it takes more than just good ideas: you’ve got to investigate materials, manufacturing processes, and engineering. Industrial Designers are modern Renaissance men and women.

If you’re lucky enough to live near a school that has an ID program, see if you can visit their student studio space. In some respects the ID studio is like any creative space, but unlike pure 2D graphic spaces you’ll feel a deliberate attention paid to scale, and your relationship to it. While you’re visiting the school, you might as well check out the Illustration, Graphic Design, and Architecture departments too. Pay attention to scale and creative energy…it’s focused in a different way.

It’s interesting to see how the Industrial Design firms are encroaching on Interactive Design, formally the purvue of software-side designers. Two of the big ID firms, IDEO and Frog Design, have significant sections on their interactive work. The problem-solving skills can be universally applied, so it’s not really a big surprise. What’s also interesting is how these companies are offering strategic services on top of that: a think tank that can actually make cool stuff. That’s pretty exciting. I’m coming from the other way: trained on the software-side, now exploring my desire to make things imbued with utility and beauty.


  1. John Zeratsky 19 years ago

    Great post, David. I’ve been interested in ID for as long as I’ve been interested in design. Though, unlike you, I haven’t made even a step down the path of doing thing about it.

    I think it’s natural for designers of any kind to want to experiment (and even cross over) to other design disciplines. It can be really educational and inspiring to dabble in something that isn’t your primary area of expertise.

  2. C Montoya 19 years ago

    Wow. I’m in Electrical/Computer Engineering right now, and I’m wondering if I would have rather studied Web Design… it’s been taking up all my free time lately. Electrical Engineering is “cool,” but not necessarily fun :(

  3. Dave 19 years ago

    John: Yes, it’s fascinating how once one gets comfy with their own design area, how interesting and transferrable those skills can be in an unfamiliar area. Then when you go back, you see things differently.

    One thing I do that sorta related to this is to go and pick up a new magazine that I have no interest in or have ever read. Usually, the change of scenery gives me some kind of new insight into something…never know what it is.

    C Montoya: Heh, when I was in EE, I spent all my time drawing things on my computer. It kept me from going insane in grad school, until I woke up and decided that I really should pursue it professionally. The EE training gives you a certain analytical / technical proficiency that is incredibly useful at time. For me, what it was lacking was human connectiveness. At the time I didn’t realize it, but actually I was driven just a bit more by feeling than thinking, and that was enough to make engineering not my primary choice.

  4. Brandon 19 years ago

    Make your own knife!  Do it now!

    You’d be amazed how much use you’ll find for it.  The knife is man’s oldest tool next to fire.  Sure they’ve gotten fancy compared to the original “broken rock” models but I couldn’t live with out a pocket knife.  Plus, well sharp stuff is just plain fun.

  5. JOE 19 years ago


  6. David Burch 18 years ago


    I am very intrigued by this. Could you post an example of what you have done with this piece of equipment?

  7. Pauli 18 years ago


    When I was in middle school, planning on becoming a doctor when I grew up, I happened across a book called “Design for Living” that caused an explosion in my world view – and aspirations.  I suddenly realized that all the useful “things” around us are designed by someone – and that could be a job I might do some day.

    Also not knowing any better, I majored in mechanical engineering (not that my school had an industrial design program anyway).  I later dropped out … but that’s another story.

    So – almost 30 years later I finally have a NAME for the career I was so passionately interested in entering all that time ago.

    Thank you,


  8. Brad 18 years ago

    Very cool.  I’ve never seen kydex molding equipment at such a good price.  The end result looks pretty good from the demo pics.  I’ve love to see if you could post some pics of any projects that you finish.