Scanning Around With Gene: Getting Your Kinks at Home


Originally published December 29, 2010

One of my favorite magazines, at least from a vintage perspective, is Popular Mechanics. You can find nearly every issue going back to 1905 at Google Books.

For many years (back as far as 1908), Popular Mechanics Press, the parent company to the magazine, published a series of special editions in a format they called “Kinks.” There were issues on Press Tool Kinks, Drill Press Kinks, Jig and Fixture Kinks, Screw Machine Kinks, and my favorite, Home Kinks. These special yearly editions followed the basic format of the monthly magazine but put the main emphasis on tips sent in by readers. Click on any image for a larger version.

The Home Kinks issues featured today are from 1945, 1948, 1949, and 1950. There are so many good scans that I’m breaking this topic into two parts. This first look is mostly at the kinks themselves. Next week I’ll focus on the illustrations in the kinks issues.

In fairness to Popular Mechanics, the term “kinks” didn’t always have the implications it does today. According to Websters, the definition for “kinks” is multi-faceted.

A kink can be a short, tight twist or curl caused by a doubling or winding of something upon itself; a mental or physical peculiarity; a clever, unusual way of doing something; a cramp in some part of the body; an imperfection likely to cause difficulties in the operation of something; or unconventional sexual taste or behavior.

What you’ll notice about these particular kinks is that our idea of safety, especially for children, has clearly changed over the years. Some of the suggestions sent in by readers seem a little shaky by today’s standards.

And as with many household tips, some of these kinks seem like more trouble than they’re worth. I’ve never had the occasion to slice off a button, but if I did, I’m not sure I’d need a fork to assist me. But I have, indeed, used a pica gauge to measure scale drawings. And if I had a boat, I think the idea of a porthole phone booth is terrific.

The beauty of Home Kinks was that it gave a forum for people to share their great ideas, even if they seemed obvious or of little practical application. I mean, when was the last time you spilled mercury, and would you really have had a feather nearby to use in the clean up?

It’s easy now to make fun of these issues, but of course you have to put them in context to judge them fairly. My dad was a Home Kinks kind of reader and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he had submitted a tip or two.

I suppose we still have the equivalent of Home Kinks in the likes of Real Simple magazine and Martha Stewart Living: titles that specialize in handy household hints and techniques. But the days of back-seat playpens and see-saws made from oil drums is clearly over, for better or for worse.

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Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. He has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. Gene's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on
  • Anonymous says:

    Wow, I love some of these ideas. Of course some of them are just plain idiotic. I think the diving board screwed to the side of the house would be the worst. I can imagine that it would take a full ten minutes before the ambulance would have to be called and a neck brace employed.

    I can imagine the eye screw to keep the phone from being yanked down came after junior was beaned once or twice. Those phones were monstrously heavy.

    I have to say that this my favorite post of all time, Gene. Very Kinky LOL

    • MaidMirawyn says:

      Something similar to a screw eye could still be handy with charger cords. I hate it when I disconnect the cord from my phone only to have said cord slither off the desk and behind furniture. Currently I thread the cord through the loop on a binder clip attached to the back edge of my computer desk, then run the cord to the power bar. (Don’t worry, my power bar is plugged into an outlet which we can turn off from a light switch. Gotta watch the electricity usage!)

      A screw eye would be a more permanent solution if you aren’t worried about the damage it would cause. The trick would be to find one that is just large enough to allow the connector to be inserted, but small enough that it wouldn’t drop back through accidentally. Of course, a Command cord clip would be a more modern approach, not to mention removable.

  • JoeK2 says:

    Great column Gene.

    Some of these ideas remind me of things you would see in ReadyMade Magazine today. They updated the see-saw idea back in the August 2005 issue. They changed it from an oil barrel to half of a truck tire.

    I love this kind of home ingenuity. My grandfather found all kinds of uses for old oil/petroleum barrels. From turning them on their side to create duck and geese shelters to taking 4 that were sealed and making a floating dock.

    Great stuff. Keep up the good work. Can’t wait to see part 2.

  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks for another great article, Gene. I too am a collector of old PopSci, Popular Mechanics, and other handyman magazines, and I love how some of the solutions of yesteryear really don’t work today. Such as the benefit of keeping chickens off the ground by letting them live out their lives on wire screening, which today is seen as animal cruelty.

    Of particular interest to me was how to clean up mercury spills. When we were kids, my brother and I (and, admittedly, our mom) loved it when we accidentally dropped a thermometer, because it gave us a chance to chase those fun mercury beads across the floor. What a blast! And this year, a student in Worcester, Mass., brought a jar of mercury to school, which caused a huge uproar. For some reason, the teacher opened it (“Duh, what’s this?”). This released mercury vapor in the classroom, requiring the school to be shut down, students’ belongings to be confiscated and decontaminated, and a full-blown hazmat team to be called in to clean up the mess!

  • Anonymous says:

    This edition was well worth reading, in addition to the memories. The tip about using your hand as substitute reading glasses is a gas! I had never heard of that – and, it works! Thanks, Gene.

  • Anonymous says:

    Gene, this is one of the best posts ever. Do let us know if you ever figure out if it is for better or for worse that those days are over–I doubt I could ever make that call.

  • kevinanchi says:

    happy to see the good old days :)

  • Anonymous says:

    that fork tip for the button is wonderful. it is almost impossible to slice through the threads on the top of the button, especially without risk of scratching the button, and they are often sewn on so tight you cannot just snip through that section, you have to look to make sure you are not snipping the fabric as well. Why not snip the back? again, you risk slicing through the fabric.

  • Kristin says:

    Wait. Where do we put the fish while we’re mixing? Or do they get a thrill ride?

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