11 Entertaining Projects for Engineers With Household Items

Stuck in isolation? These projects will keep you busy and entertained. All the things you need are household items.
Trevor English

Are you an engineer stuck at home in self-isolation? You're probably itching to make or create something to keep your technical and creative juices flowing. While you could certainly be learning how to code or doing something computer-based, nothing beats getting out and actually creating a functioning machine or project with your hands. 

For that reason, we've compiled 11 weekend or weekday DIY projects that engineers will likely love. Take a look. 

1. Egg drop

We'll kick off this list by recommending you work on a project that harkens back to many engineers' high school days: the egg drop! Most high school physics classes will employ the egg drop project to teach students about shock absorption, acceleration, and crumple zones. It's an effective project in that it offers immediate results to the effectiveness of your design. 

Test your engineering skills to see what contraption you can build to make an egg survive a great fall or throw. Take a look at these sample rules for help getting started. 

2. Rubber band or mousetrap car

Harkening back to nostalgia again, try building a mousetrap car. Many of us remember the mousetrap car as one of our first introductions to mechanics and kinetics, but now that we're educated engineers, don't you think we'd do a better job at it?

The rules of creating a mousetrap car are simple, using only the energy stored up in a mousetrap, try to see how far and or fast you can make your car go. You can watch the video below for tips and tricks, but it might spoil all the fun. 

3. Rube Goldberg machine

Rube Goldberg machines are the perfect use of engineering talent all for a fairly useless or meaningless goal. Why not try your hand at designing a long string of mechanical and/or kinetic interactions, all with the goal of doing something simple, like, starting a kettle to boil, or perhaps, swiping right on Tinder? 

Take a look at the video below for some common techniques to keep in mind while engineering a Rube Goldberg machine. The best part is that you can use literally any object in your home, and the device never has to end!

4. Van de Graaf generator

Van de Graaf generators are fun demonstration tools for static electricity. They're safe ways to make our hair stand on end or give us simple shocks. While you might think that you'd need to shell out some cash to get a large one, it turns out that with a few simple tools, you can build one at home.

This is probably the most "dangerous" project on this list. However, what's being an engineer if you don't have to mitigate some risk every once in a while. 

5. PVC longbow

This next project requires that you have a few more uncommon things in your house, but they're still common enough that we thought we should include this on the list. If you like archery, then try making your very own longbow out of PVC. 

With a few simple modifications, you can turn a 5 to 6-foot length of PVC tubing into a highly accurate longbow. If you don't have arrows already on hand, try making some out of dowels or even rolled-up newspapers, as the Mythbusters did! 

6. A wire Klann mechanism 

Many of us probably have a spool of wire in our utility closet or in a junk drawer. Wire, assuming it's a sturdy gauge, is a great material to start building simple mechanisms out of. Utilizing wire, you can build a Klann mechanism, like what's seen in the video below. You can also build a ton of other wireframe mechanisms as well; it's all up to your mechanical skill. 

7. Build an electric skateboard

If you have a skateboard and a cordless drill, you might have enough to make a rather speedy and sturdy electric skateboard. The drill can act as a motor and handheld controller. Through some mechanical connections, you can transfer the rotation of the drill in your hand into the wheels of the skateboard, propelling you forward.

Check out our article on the topic here to learn how to build it.

8. Build a wind turbine

Since the coronavirus is causing global panic and meltdown, it might be time to start prepping for the apocalypse. If it isn't already here, that is...

One of the best ways to do that is by finding a source of power that isn't reliant on the energy grid. With that in mind, try building a DIY wind turbine generator that can power your phone or a lightbulb. This is not only a fun project but one that might turn out to be pretty useful. Get the instructions here.

9. Make a carbon filament light bulb

Did you know that you can make your very own lightbulb? This may seem impractical or unnecessary, but after you build your homemade wind turbine, why not use it to power your homemade light bulb? That's sure to get you a few million hits on YouTube.

Take a look at the video below to learn how to create your very own lightbulb using graphite from a pencil.

10. Hydraulic excavator toy

If you have any old syringes lying around (minus the needle), then you can utilize them to make miniature hydraulic machines. The mechanisms of syringes are basically miniature hydraulic pistons, to begin with, so you can have a lot of fun utilizing them in home-built toys.

The video below will give you a good idea of how far you can take this project, like building a fully functional toy excavator.

11. Build a phone charger

Staying connected to your mobile phone is another big necessity, which means that you need to find a way to charge it. If the power is out or if you just want a creative way to charge your phone, you can build a phone charger utilizing an old computer fan. Most electric motors from devices work in reverse. This means that they can be used to generate electricity if you supply rotational energy.