Luckily, a few spots exist on the web where technology and DIY culture collide. Sure, you can't exactly buy a homemade iPhone or fully functional desktop computer that was made by a college student. But for a few dollars, you can support independent artists and buy some tech with a unique, handmade aesthetic. Let's take a look at a few different types of handmade tech from the online DIY marketplace Etsy.
It's a really simple thing, yes, but everybody needs a timepiece. And the great thing about clocks? You can make one out of almost anything.
- Desk clocks -- Etsy user 8BitMemory primarily creates hard drives out of old NES and SNES cartridges. Those are a bit pricy, considering they run at a minimum of $40. However, he has two desk clocks made from NES cartridges (Duck Hunt as well as the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt hybrid) that run for $25.
- Retro alarm clocks -- Yes, while the grating buzz of a digital alarm clock does the job to wake people up, why not try out the old fashioned alarm clock sound emitted by two bells and a hammer? Etsy user designspirit has a series of "retro" alarm clocks, which have a '50s kitsch aesthetic, for $18.50.
- Wall clocks from recycled objects -- In addition to NES cartridges, clocks can be made out of just about anything. In Etsy's recycled clocks section, there are clocks made of cereal boxes, license plates, VW hubcaps, vinyl records, and plenty of other objects.
Lamps on Etsy run from ridiculously expensive (chandeliers) to affordable and unique. Here are a few cheap, handmade lighting options.
- Solar outdoor lamps -- For small, affordable lamps for a deck or patio, Jan's solar lamps has you covered. The lamps charge up during the daytime and automatically kick on at night. And for $10 maximum, that's not a bad deal at all.
- Alcohol-themed lamps -- Looking for something for that special beer aficionado? LampsGalore has just the thing-- lamps made from mini-kegs for $12. Or how about a tequila bottle? What about a Kahlua bottle? I think you get the picture.
- Night lights -- For those who need a little help finding their way through the dark before bed, there are quite a few interesting, inexpensive night lights. Like most things on Etsy, you can find one made out of tons of things: vintage robot toy boxes (we love robots here at Money College), college sports logos, photographs, soup cans, and of course, pictures of the cast of "Twilight".
Although it might seem more complex than clock machinery in a clock, homemade sound systems exist in copious supply on the web for aspiring young musicians.
- Pocket amplifiers -- It's definitely not going to give you the biggest sound, but man is it cool. For $35, Etsy user HesslerK is selling a variety of amplifiers made from used Altoids tins -- we're guessing he patterned these after the highly popular "cigarette pack" amps of the last decade. It's a simple amp, sure, but it gets the job done and it fits in your pocket.
- Amp kits -- Want to build your own amp? Head over to Boing Boing's Makers Market, where you can buy a DIY "Tubby" amp kit for $30. The result will fit in the palm of your hand, and bring joy to your ears.
- Microphones -- Ever done that old trick where two tin cans tied together by a string serve as a makeshift telephone? The Makers Market has an awesome plugged in version of the same technology. For $7, you can buy a tin can microphone to amplify anything that gives off a mechanical vibration.
Although it's not possible to buy a handmade smartphone or laptop, it's very easy to find a cheap case for your phone that reflects your personality. And if you want to get really special to your tastes, don't settle for the cases they sell at your local cell phone carrier's store. Instead of searching for "phone case," search for something you'd like to carry around every day. There are cases for people who love Dr. Who, Harry Potter, the Muppets, and of course, many options for elegant cases that keep your phone warm. It's as easy as Googling your favorite musician.
Evan Minsker's Thrifty Tech appears Tuesdays. Got a hot, cheap-tech tip, question or comment? Write to Evan via our email address, MoneyCollege@WalletPop.com.