Gear, Gadgets & Gizmos, Oh My! A Review & Interview with Thomas Willeford
Created by Professor Upsidasium on 12/14/2011 6:30:29 PM

Correspondent Professor Upsidasium both reviews Steampunk Gear, Gadgets, and Gizmos: A Maker's Guide to Creating Modern Artifacts by Thomas Willeford as well as interviews the author for a special Steampunk Chronicle Feature!

(Photos owned by the watermarked photographers)

For the purposes of full disclosure, let me state that I have met Thomas Willeford on numerous occasions starting in 2009; I've even interviewed him at AnachroCon in February of 2011 for my own project, the Visuatronic Audiographic Steampunk Archive.  This September, at Dragon*Con, I saw a truly unique item at his vendor's booth; the announcement for his upcoming book – “Steampunk Gear, Gadgets, and Gizmos: A Maker’s Guide to Creating Modern Artifacts” (or “Gear & Gizmos” for ease of reference), complete with a glowing foreword from Kaja Folio, author of "Agatha H. and the Airship City" (aka part of the spectacular team making the award winning "Girl Genius" webcomic).  I have made my own share of contributions to his shop (and I always promise myself to bring more money next time), but I count myself as a friendly consumer and archivist of the Steampunk genre, not a conspirator of Mr. Willeford's, which is why I feel fortunate to be given a chance to review this Steampunk crafter's "how-to" guide.

By all accounts, great "mad science" is part art, part danger, part beauty and usually comes to a terrible end. Thomas Willeford is therefore very qualified to be a mad scientist. His work, which he sells under the banner of Brute Force Leather, uses industrial strength cutting lasers (among a wide variety of tools), a well-informed design aesthetic, and a truly unique vision of straps and buckles which become fashionable brass goggles, or eerie glowing boxes, or replacement arms. He smartly knows drama in costuming, not only from the shape and curve of some of the most sought-after leather corsets in Steampunk, but also down to tiny details such as where to place the needle on an ominous gauge.
Design-wise, I find that it is always preferable to position the indicator in the red zone or danger zone of a gauge scale. It gives the impression that something serious is happening. It creates a level of tension (no matter how small or insignificant) and frankly it just looks kinda cool.
This attention to detail coupled with an informal bantering tone is what helps make Gear & Gizmos one of the most relaxing technical manuals of workshop mayhem you could sit down and enjoy; possibly while cackling out loud and planning your next attempt at world domination. Willeford knows Steampunk doesn't live on fashion and gizmos alone, but also thrives on a good diet of high imagination and make-believe. He places each of his chapters in the context of fictional interludes which give even novice Steampunks a toe-hold on some of the ideas behind our cherished hobby. I loved some of the interludes so well that I hope he considers a companion anthology of "expanded" short stories based on those vignettes.
Speaking of newcomers to Steampunk, or to artifact-making, Thomas is very aware that not everyone has computer controlled milling machines or laser cutters laying around the den. He opens with practical lists of easy-to-obtain tools for making the devices and props you will find in the subsequent chapters along with some words of wisdom.
Need to scavenge for decorative parts? He includes advice about dealing with flea markets versus antique shops (including: research your purchase before you shred it. Intact, it might actually be worth more than the number of gears you get out of it). Plan on doing anything with a power tool? Be sure you are being safe and cautiously aware first. The appendices thoughtfully include conversion charts and other references to keep you expanding your knowledge outward.
Gear & Gizmos works not only as hobby guide with projects that should inspire, but also as a great conversation-starting coffee-table book. Just leave it out where others can see it and let the mayhem begin. Willeford even graciously invites you to continue the conversation with him at his myriad convention appearances or via the online places he is most commonly found. 
Oh, and that "terrible end" I mentioned? Well maybe not so terrible, but at a 215 page count, I still found myself wanting just a tiny bit more. Not that the eight full projects in here won't keep you busy for hours on end! I just wanted one more project or slice of fiction - just something to keep me engaged in Willeford's world of British cyborgs and time-travelling drunkards who get all the best toys that they - and now you - can build. If you still haven't finished out your holiday shopping list, then "Steampunk Gear, Gadgets, and Gizmos: A Maker's Guide to Creating Modern Artifacts" has enough fun and value for your dollar that you might want at least two - one for yourself, and one for someone lucky enough to be that high on your list.
Oh! ... And speaking of Yuletide presents, Thomas Willeford was kind enough to answer some questions posed via aethernet:
Steampunk Chronicle [SPC]: FIRST - I love the book! What was the turning point where you made the decision to make this wonderful tome?

Willeford: ‘The turning point where I made the decision’?  McGraw-Hill called me and said “Would you like to write this book?”  Normally, how you write your book is this: you write your book, you get an agent, and then the agent spends forever pimping it to the publishers. 
 In my case, a publisher called an agent and said “Find someone to write this bloody book!” and then he went online, got rejected by a bunch of other people, ended up calling me and said “Would you like to write this book?” and I did and I said “Sure! It sounds so glamorous, writing a book!” (laughs) That’s what happened.

SPC: Gear & Gizmos has eight projects ranging from relatively small things (the helmet, the book drive, the Tesla pod) to some fairly complex builds (the replacement arm with gun attachment). What were the driving decisions on which projects you included?

Willeford: I wanted to make an outfit.  I wanted to make something so that, in the end, you could have a full steampunk outfit with various accoutrements and I did them in such an order that you could build skills as you go.  
SPC: Were there any projects you really wanted in the book that you had to leave out?

Willeford: I wanted to put a wrist communicator in the book but hopefully, it will be in my next book.
SPC: Your chapters all open with great excerpts of adventure and I keep hoping there are more of these stories out there. How long have you been writing fiction and have you published any full length tales?

Willeford: I’ve been writing fiction since around 1992 and I have had some short stories published in a few publications, horror and such.  A few people have been asking me about writing a book of short stories or possibly collaborating with an artist on a Lord Featherstone graphic novel. 
SPC: Will we ever see a full length fiction book for Lord Archibald "Feathers" Featherstone and the rest of the cast?
Willeford: I’m working on it.  I would love to do it.  Writing about Lord Featherstone is a lot of fun.  It probably will be called “Featherstone and Other Unnatural Disasters” (like in Gear & Gizmos).
SPC: You've been the mad scientist behind Brute Force Studios since 1996. What was the first convention you went to as a vendor for your gear? Where you primarily a Steampunk gear artist even then, (or when did that happen?) and what were the original reactions to your wares?

Willeford: Hmm…I’m trying to remember the first convention I did.  I think it was Balticon.  Years ago, I did Balticon but it was mostly corsetry and stuff, before steampunk really took off. The first time that I showed my steampunk gear to people was at the Whitby Gothic Weekend in Whitby England about six or seven years ago and the reaction was overwhelmingly cool.
SPC: Do you have plans to make Gear & Gizmos Volume 2? I certainly hope so! If so, what might we look forward to?
Willeford: Yes!  Unfortunately, I am sworn to secrecy on the new projects.  One of them, I will tell you, will be other attachments for the big Gatling gun arm, which was the last project in Gear & Gizmos Volume 1
SPC: You've capped off 2011 with one of the best presents any Steampunk could hope for under the tree. Any special plans for 2012?

Willeford: I’m going to make a more affordable, moderately priced replacement arm, similar to the “Castle” arm but for the forearm only.  That is my big project for the year.  Also, I will be making a new line of “Steam Trek” gear to go along with my story about the Britannic Officers’ Reconnaissance Group, also known as the B.O.R.G.

SPC: Which conventions can your adoring public find Brute Force Studios heading for in the early parts of 2012?
Willeford: This year, we will be vending at AnachroCon, Wicked Faire, Steampunk World’s Fair, World Steam Expo, Arisia, Frolicon, Philadelphia Comic Con, San Diego Comic Con, Dragon*Con, Octopodicon, and Whitby Gothic Weekend, as well as making several appearances at our “home convention” Dorian’s Parlor in Philadelphia.  We’ve applied to some others, as well, but not all of them have gotten back to us, yet.
SPC: Gear & Gizmos is available from your website (autographed!) but also from other places sans script? What else can people purchase from your website?
Willeford: My book is also available on Amazon.  On our website, one will also find our Original Brass Goggles (widely imitated but never matched in quality), leather masks, typewriter key arm guards, leather and brass fans, high quality corsetry, our wildly popular clockwork bra and corset, and numerous other designs, as well as Alchemy Gothic’s “Empire” collection of steampunk jewelry, which I helped design.   We also have additional items available in our Etsy store, including this year’s steampunk Christmas tree ornaments.
SPC: You have always been one of the nicest, most accessible vendor/crafters I've run into, and in your book you encourage people to come speak to you at events to talk about the art and work of crafting these projects and more. What is it about these interactions that you enjoy so much and what are you hoping is going to happen with the conversations spawned by this book?
Willeford: I genuinely enjoy chatting and hanging out with people.  Doing the shows and making the stuff: those are the two parts I like best about this whole business.
SPC: I want to thank you for your time in answering these questions! I hope you and your family have a wonder winter holiday season. Any final comments you would like to offer out to the readers?
Willeford: Never be intimidated. Never be intimidated by what other people do.  Be inspired.
(SPC: I would like to thank not only Thomas, but also his staff who helped facilitate this interview over often-uncooperative aethernets during the start of the holiday seasons!)
Professor Upsidasium is a contributor to Steampunk Chronicle.  He uses the Visuatronic Audiographic Steampunk Archive to capture images and sounds of events he has been to and individuals he has had the pleasure of speaking with.  You can follow his ramblings on Twitter or explore the current iteration of the archives on YouTube.
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