Colin Furze on How to be a successful inventorThe backyard boffin reveals how to channel your inner MacGyver
“Isn’t there a better way?” That’s how Colin Furze describes his mindset. The former plumber once designed better plumbing tools, but decided the expensive patent meant he “wouldn’t have sold enough to get the money back”.
Instead, he chose to invent things people really wanted. An ejector bed, a hoverbike, magnetic boots and a 360-degree swing are a few of the creations that have earned him nearly four million YouTube subscribers. “I’m good at making stuff for very little,” says Furze.
Here’s some of his advice for free…
1 Don’t let planning slow you down
“I might do the odd rough sketch. I wouldn’t call it a blueprint. With more complex inventions there’ll be a prototype. Take the arm-mounted rocket launchers – they pop-out on a cantilever system – I got some wood and screwed it together to see if that was going to work. The problem with expert advice is you’ll get the typical view: ‘It won’t work very well. It’s not worth doing.’ Sometimes it’s good to try, fail, then ask. Say: ‘I did something and it nearly worked.’ You’ll get a different response because you already made a step.”
2 Seek out the right parts
“For the magnetic boots I needed electromagnets. The ones that would hold my weight were massively over-budget, so I looked at whether you could make your own. A magnet is just a coil of wire around a bit of metal, and that’s when I found you can take an old microwave to bits, pull out the transformer and put a 12-volt battery across it. It’s the ultimate YouTube project – cheap, everyone can copy it and you get a brilliant result.”
3 Know your own safety limits
“People say, ‘I can’t believe you didn’t have any straps on that massive swing.’ I say, ‘You can hold on to it, you didn’t need any.’ It’s typical thinking now that everything has to have a safety device. With the world’s fastest mobility scooter, I wore a helmet, gloves, everything. I got on it thinking: ‘Let’s go for a slow one, get used to the machine.’ I got to second gear and thought, ‘Let’s just hammer it!’ Everyone’s perception of danger is different.”
4 Learn from your mistakes
“There was a gas leak in one of my jet engines. It was on the workbench, a spark caught and the whole lot went up in milliseconds – took all the skin off my arms. The lesson learned is: wait for the neighbours to finish their tea party. They had people in the garden, so I closed the door to avoid annoying them. If I hadn’t been in a closed environment, it wouldn’t have gone up. It’s educational to see the sort of mess you can get in with very little exposure.”
5 Make sure you’re street legal
“There’s all these weird courses you can go on – it just means you can order gunpowder, but they’re not a pyro course. It’s a bit of a grey area. I got arrested once because I had a flamethrower on the back of a moped – the police generally don’t like that. But it was because the photo in the newspaper was me on a public road. If I’d done it somewhere private, they might not have done anything. I’ve made flamethrowers since. I’ve put one on a guitar and not been arrested.”