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August 11, 2015

4 Bad-Ass Hobbies That Are Surprisingly Easy to Learn


For the Maker: Blacksmithing

"Smithing" may conjure up images of a workshop and forge, but the term really applies to all forms of metalworking. Thus, while hammering molten steel isn't entirely off the table (more on that in a moment), the craft doesn't demand a huge investment of time or money.

The easiest way to start is to take a metalworking class, and to pick up a copy of Edge of the Anvil to learn the fundamentals. From there you can pick up tools to work on unheated metal (hammer, anvil, vice, and tongs), and while a serious amateur blacksmith should invest in quality gear, there are many cheaper alternatives that a novice can pursue.

If you do decide to make the jump to heated metal, the costs can still remain manageable. Many trade schools offer basic classes on welding, and you can join a local chapter of The Artist-Blacksmith's Association of North America (ABANA) to learn about meetups and "open forges." A propane forge can cost as little as $250, and tools like an acetylene torch can provide high-intensity heat without the need for a full-size forge.

In short, modern technology and enthusiast groups make this craft surprisingly accessible, no matter your level of commitment. The Art of Manliness offers an in-depth primer if you want to get started.


For the Daredevil: Paragliding

First, let's get one thing straight: There's a difference between parasailing, where you're pulled behind a boat, and paragliding, where you're flying through the air like a god damn human fighter jet. While soaring for hours at 10,000 feet may seem like an expert's craft, it's surprisingly easy to learn. You can earn your novice certification (which means you can fly without supervision) via a week-long training coursethough more courses are recommended before you set off on solo journeys.

After that, all you need is a rig, which will cost about $3,000 (less if you buy used). This might seem like a major expense, but it's really your only one: Once equipped, all you need is a big open field on which to take off. Considering that skis alone cost a solid $500 (plus the cost of boots, accessories, clothing, transport, lodging, lift tickets, etc.), that initial $3,000 doesn't sound that excessive.


For the Mad Scientist: Home Distilling

Many men have been entranced by the prospect of home-brewed beer, and while we won't speak ill of this long-cherished pastime, we prefer the road less traveled. An at-home distillery provides a much heartier pay-off, and while the process is more involved, the tool kit itself is simply.

The first thing you'll need is a still, which you can DIY yourself, or purchase for $150 from Clawhammer Supply. After that, you'll need an aging mechanism: You can purchase oak barrels online, or use a set of barrel-aging staves for an even more streamlined approach.

From there, it's simply a matter of practice: You can test different mashes, char your oak, or add various spices to the barrel during aging. To get started, check out this article on Supercompressor for a step-by-step guide.


For the Space Cowboy: High Power Rocketry

There's a fairly good chance that your childhood featured encounters with Estes rockets: those foot-tall model rockets they sold at the arts and craft store. These are not those kind of rockets. The grown-up version (known as high power rocketry) involves some far more serious firepower: These rockets weigh 60+ lbs., reach upwards of 6 ft. in length, and achieve a peak altitude of 10,000 ft. or more. In fact, they're so legit that you need an FAA waiver to legally launch one: If that doesn't make you feel like a bona fide rocketman, we're not sure what will.

Of course, you can't purchase this kind of hardware over the counter, but once you obtain your (free) FAA waiver, you can purchase a kit online or at an officially sanctioned launch site. Also, like blacksmithing, rocketry is a hobby with a strong support system, so visit the National Association of Rocketry website for more information, or to find a local chapter that can help you get started.


Nathaniel Nagy

Copywriter, cold brew advocate, purveyor of handcrafted birthday haikus since 2009.