I’m William Gurstel, Author of Backyard Ballistics and This Is How I Work

William Gurstel knows how to create very kinetic things. He often examines objects that appear dangerous from a distance – such as cannons and catapults – but are safe if you are scientific.

He is the author of the bestselling Backyard Ballistics , which details many homemade projectile throwing projects, as well as other books such as Absinthe and Flamethrowers , a personal favorite that recommends getting your hands a little dirty and leading a dangerous lifestyle ( well, to a certain extent). ). He also writes for magazines such as Make and Popular Science and has appeared on the Discovery and History channels as a science advocate.

His latest book is Ready Your Cannons! Returning to ballistics, Gurstel explores the different types of grenade launchers and their historical context. Of course, he also explains how to make your own miniature versions. These range from marshmallow guns to steel rubber shooters, as well as larger designs that are pretty much real guns – real ones, even if the ammunition is potatoes. Of course, safety is always a priority; after all, you should never turn your back on loaded potatoes.

We spoke with Gurstel to find out how he works.

Location: I’m in St. Paul, Minnesota. My home office and workshop overlook the only deep river gorge along the Mississippi River. Current gig: I’m a writer and I also talk a lot professionally about risk and creativity. I specialize in natural science and history, with an emphasis on incorporating DIY projects into the curriculum. My dozen or so books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. I also work as an editor for Popular Science and Make Magazine. One word that best describes the way you work: “Connections.” When I write, I like to find connections between ideas. When the connections are numerous and strong, then I know this is a good topic to write about. Current mobile device: iPhone 5 and older iPad. Current PC: This is an old HP laptop. So far, he is doing everything that is required of him. Although it weighs a ton.

What apps, software or tools can’t you live without?

Some things are better than others: Google, Gmail, my vintage Montgomery Wards (over 30 years old, still sturdy), my Estwing framing hammer, and my Dremel rotary tool.

How is your workplace arranged?

I have a large separate workshop at the back of my property where I prototype and build things. It’s light, airy, and has a giant door, so it’s easy to bring in and out projects. Perhaps Lifehacker readers will be interested in interior walls made of half-inch plywood and fitted with ” French spikes .” Basically, it’s a powerful, flexible and very cheap DIY storage system that allows me to easily store and place heavy items anywhere in the store I need to.

In my home office, I built a custom seating table to which I hooked up a large kidney shaped glass tabletop that I got cheap from Ikea. Kidney-shaped countertops are, in my opinion, the most effective of all possible table shapes. Everything is within reach and there are no distant corners to pick up the mess.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

I use a wide variety of lists. For simple things and coming soon there is an app called MomoNote which is pretty good. It doesn’t have many features, but everything I write is displayed on my computer, iPad and phone and that’s all I ask. For long distance work, I use ToodleDo, which has many features.

What device, besides a phone and a computer, can you not live without and why?

We have just got a DeLonghi Magnifica automatic coffee machine . This is great – I just press a button and I get the freshly ground coffee just the way I like it in just a few seconds. Another important item for me is the Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean electric toothbrush ; it makes my mouth happy.

What tools do you use for writing?

I am using Word to write text. DropBox is really good for document sharing. I work with a lot of different editors at different publishers, magazines and so on, and having a shared folder system makes it easy to keep track of things.

Are you always working on something? Or when you finish a project, do you take the time to let your mind wander without worrying about what comes next?

I always have a lot of projects in my head. On my ToodleDo list, I categorize projects as those that I am actively working on, those that I don’t work on but believe I will, and those that sound good but who knows if I’ll ever get to them.

I spend quite a lot of time just wondering if something is possible or not, and if it is possible, is it really worth doing. I had a lot of ideas that initially fascinated me a lot, but over time I lost steam. They stay on my list, but between you and me, I’ll probably never make them.

What are some of the things you do best in everyday life? What’s your secret?

I am really good at making things that shoot, throw or throw objects. Not so much real weapons as things like potato cannons, catapults, blowguns, trebuchets, air pistols, rockets, etc. There are interesting scientific and historical connections between these things that I really like. They call me and often ask about this in the media and others. Yes, this is a weird little niche, but by golly, this is my niche.

What do you listen to while you work? Have a favorite playlist? Maybe we can talk on the radio? Or do you prefer silence?

I like the silence in my office so I can concentrate. In my workshop, I like to turn on the TV due to background noise, but I only put on shows that you really don’t need to watch in sequential order; things that you can look up to from time to time and at the same time know what is happening; for example, ” Cops” , ” Danger!” and Forensic Files .

What are you reading now?

I just started writing a funny book from the 1930s called The Worcester Code by P. G. Wodehouse. Woodhouse is the genius of comedy. I just finished Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim . It was a fun read.

How do you replenish?

Every day I take my dog ​​for a walk – in the summer, in the winter (it is -20 F in St. Paul), in the rain or in the sun. The more pleasant the day, the longer the walk. Some of my best ideas come from walking. When something good hits me, I use Siri to take notes so I don’t forget.

What is your sleep pattern? Are you a night owl or get up early?

I usually get up around 7am and fall asleep around 11am. But I travel a lot around the world and find it difficult to sleep and stay awake normally after crossing multiple time zones, especially if I am traveling east. I tried light therapy, but it didn’t work for me. I would like to get ideas on how to overcome jet lag.

Fill in the blank: I would like ______ to answer these same questions.

Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo is arguably the world’s most famous polymath. So many thoughts and so many different ideas! I saw his notebooks filled with tiny, messy scrawls, mirrored across the page. I would like to know how he supported all of his projects at once.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I think it’s important to communicate with positive, optimistic people. You get energy from other people, so hang out with energetic people. I got this advice from my mom, who is the most positive and upbeat person you can imagine. She is 94 years old and is still completely independent, always positive and optimistic.

What else would you like to add that might be of interest to readers and fans?

I love quizzes and every Monday night on Mondays I have a quiz competition at a bar closest to my house. I once appeared on a TV show called Win Ben Stein’s Money . I won Ben Stein’s money. Here is a question I answered by then-WBSM host Jimmy Kimmel: “What volcanic igneous rocks are formed by solidified lava?”

The answer is basalt.


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