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From whittling to knitting, men can bring their own sensibility to crafts

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Crafts for men have come a long way since the days when "Popular Mechanics" advised returning Second World War soldiers in the rustic arts of whittling and leather tooling.

A compendium from the magazine's postwar archives, "Man Crafts" (Hearst Books, 2009), celebrates male-geared hobbies of yesteryear. It reads like last year's cheeky book by Amy Sedaris, "Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People" (Grand Central Publishing).

"It's meant more as an amusement and a fond look back, more than anything else," says Jacqueline Deval, a Hearst Books vice-president, although the instructions in "Man Crafts" are legitimate.

The book throws into contrast how different things are today. Some of its nostalgic hobbies remain popular among women and men, although there might no longer be a market for tin-can candle holders and tin serving trays.

But a quick glance at, an online avenue where people sell handmade goods and old-timey collectibles, also turns up men making soap, glass works and knitwear. Men designing T-shirts and other clothing. Men creating electrical gadgets and making art journals.

And men brewing beer. According to the American Homebrewers Association, based in Boulder, Colo., nearly 750,000 people brew beer at home at least once a year in the United States.

One of them is Mitch Larsen, of Lincoln, Neb., who likes the challenge of crafting a great-tasting beer.

"It's science-y," says Larsen, 41. "There's a lot that goes into making good beer. You can make beer with a kit at the store, but it's not going to be good beer."

Good beer, according to Larsen, requires reading and research, talking with other home brewers, lots of taste testing and making unfortunate mistakes.

"It's a creative outlet for me because I formulate my own recipes," says Larsen.

Joshua Zimmerman's creative outlet is tinkering with small electrical projects. The 28-year-old, fourth-grade teacher in Milwaukee makes Altoid tin USB chargers and flashlights, and small robots from toothbrush heads and solar battery chargers. His creations usually can be made with a few bucks and a few parts, often from recycling old electronics.

"I spend way too much time on researching this stuff for my own amusement," Zimmerman says.

He simplifies ideas he finds online, assembles them in kits, and sells them from his online shop, Brown Dog Gadgets, and at Etsy. He also posts the instructions for all of his projects, most of which take under an hour for a novice and require a little metal soldering.

Many of the men who sell handmade wares on Etsy gravitate to the site's "geekery" category, which includes practical jokes and quirky crafts, says Emily Bidwell, who works in merchandising for the online site, based in Brooklyn, N.Y. A recent perusal found more than 72,000 "geekery" items for sale, including "zombie gnomes" and a "Tera Energy Superconducting Linear Accelerator" ray gun (both made by men).

Men's crafts often fall into that comical, playful category, says Bidwell, or can be more traditional and serious: metal, wood, leather, ceramics, glass.

And while men may share the same crafts as women, they often put a male spin on it, Bidwell says. For example, men are more likely to make leather and canvas courier bags, bicycle accessories and luggage.

"It's not like a pretty purse for a lady," Bidwell says. "They're making things that they want for themselves."

That explains the artwork of both Brian Kasstle, 50, and Joe Bagley, 26.

Kasstle, of Long Beach, Calif., dabbled in scrapbooking and card-making before he hit upon art journalling, using mostly collage, painting and image transfers. Each page tells a story about his life, family or feelings, and he shares much of this at Brian Kasstle's Blog.

"I notice when I don't (journal), I get cranky," says Kasstle. "It's just opened the world of art to me. I love it as a form of expression."

Bagley, of Boston, painstakingly hand-cuts intricate paper art, which he sells at his Etsy shop, Papercuts by Joe. An archeologist by training, he juggles what have become twin careers.

His paper-cutting skills were honed at a young age.

"I think the biggest reason I fell in love with it is that I was 10 and using an Exacto knife," says Bagley. "The draw of that, of getting away with that."

Years of practice have led him to a photorealistic look with his art form. A large, highly detailed piece that takes a lot of time can fetch US$4,000.

"Once I felt like I was doing something new and different, it started to feel exciting," he says.

Peter Clark of Park City, Utah, is a 14-year-old who likes to make Duct-tape wallets and ramps for his Tech Deck fingerboards (small, finger-size skateboards). He's proud of the cardboard rifle he cut out, glued and wrapped in black Duct tape.

"It's fun making it, it's fun using it, and it's fun destroying it," says Jake.



More by men on Etsy:

Contemporary Italian jewelry:

Hand-blown glass pendants and art pieces:

Landscape paintings:

Bird and animal prints made from old maps:

Concrete decor:

Upcycled book iPod and iPhone charging docks:

Hand-turned wood vessels:

Reclaimed wood furniture and objects:

Upcycled vintage clothing:

Hand-stitched leather bicycle accessories:

Hand-forged tools and knives:

Handmade soap:

The Etsy team Men of Etsy, or MOE, includes the work of more than 400 men:

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