I can’t remember the first time I saw some sort of steam-punk accessory, but I fell in love instantly. There’s something about naked metal adorning stripped-down mechanics that pulls at my geek nature.
There’s one glaring problem, though; I couldn’t find any examples where steam-punk was anything but pure fashion, without any function to speak of.
Show me the Light
Last month, while visiting the uncle of a friend, I tried playing his cello. While acquainting myself with it, I noticed that the strings weren’t tuned by turning pegs directly attached to the bit the string was wrapped around; rather, a cog was in its place, and a sort of thick-threaded screw coming from behind turned the cog to tune the string.
Finally, he could keep the thing in tune, and I found a beautiful example of working steam-punk.
Since then, I’ve been looking around and examining some issues:
- There are usually better ways : With today’s technology, we very rarely have the chance to use victorian engineering effectively. Steam is out of the question, with electricity virtually everywhere, and mechanical sytems are being replaced by solid-state technologies.
- Different Aesthetics : Modern-day design tends to reduce everything to its simplest components, which really doesn’t help those big clunky steam-punk attributes.
- Everything is Manufactured : In today’s world, everything comes ready-built. You can sometimes move a couple parts, but overall the only thing you can do is re-case it. It seems kind of backwards to rip something apart and rebuild it differently if the new build isn’t actually better.
Marriage of Mechanic and Electric
The obvious question, then, is “What can we do to keep the charm of the mechanical while using electricity?”
- Think Outside the Circuitbox : The most obvious use for steam-punk is in things that require engineering and mechanics. The clock on your wall, your cabinets, your doors, and all manner of appliances have a multitude of mechanical bits.
- Jewelery : Try not to. Dangling cogs from your ears or wearing vacuum-tube necklaces can be gaudy and rarely works well. Gears are supposed to make things move, so use them for that purpose if you use them in ornamentation.
- Strip it Down : Forget mechanics for a while. Half the beauty of steam-punk is the display. Strip off as much of the casing as you can; perhaps bolt the pieces together if they fall apart without the case. Never again will your toast get stuck in the toaster.
- Always look for Opportunites : Keep an eye out for anything which could be solved using gears or widgets. Keep in mind that a solid engineering mind is needed to get everything working as intended.
- Other Victorian Fashions : Engineering wasn’t all the Victorians were good for! Some of the patents from that era are stupendous: couches and beds and desks, all in one, and combinations of all sorts of household furniture into compact, transformable pieces. As they say, convergence technologies are coming strong!
So I’m optimistic for the future. I think I’ll find a great number of things that could be made steam-punk, and I’ll eventually find myself with a full complement.