Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dec 3: London's Daily Telegraph does a story on me!

The Daily Telegraph is England's largest newspaper. Today's issue (Dec 3, 2009) contains a in-depth article on Absinthe and Flamethrowers. The reporter, Tom Leonard, is a terrific writer and the photographer took some very interesting pictures.

I've excerpted the article below:

America's DIY ballistics king Bill Gurstelle shoots from the hip about health and safety

Tom Leonard meets the DIY artillery king at his 'barrage garage'.

Boys will be boys: Bill Gurstelle in front of his Minneapolis garage with a flame-thrower
Boys will be boys: Bill Gurstelle in front of his Minneapolis garage with a flame-thrower Photo: DAVID HOWELLS
Bill Gurstelle rams a chunk of russet-brown potato down the business end of a 4ft-long piece of PVC plumbing pipe. He sprays a short burst of hairspray into the other end, screws a cover on and readies his finger on the trigger of an electric stun gun screwed to the piping.
"Could you stand over there, this is kind of dangerous," he says. He's not wrong. Two seconds later, there is a loud bang as the spud explodes out of the pipe at 90mph, taking a branch off a tree 100 yards away.
At that moment, a young woman walks past his backyard in suburban Minneapolis pushing a baby in a buggy. She and Gurstelle smile sheepishly at each other. "They're used to me round here," he says with a shrug. "It's the people who live farther away who tend to call the fire department."
He marches back into his workshop, the "barrage garage", to find something else to detonate. We've already done the fire piston, the carbide cannon and the hot-dog launcher. Soon it will be dark enough to get out his pièce de résistance, a propane flame thrower that sends a jet of fire 30ft into the air.
Gurstelle has been crowned the "king of sling", America's patron saint of DIY artillery. A former telecommunications engineer, he decided to put his mechanical know-how to more practical use and, in 2001, wrote a chatty little book called Backyard Ballistics. Its subtitle, Build Potato Cannons, Paper Match Rockets, Cincinnati Fire Kites, Tennis Ball Mortars and More Dynamite Devices said it all. The how-to-build-with-everyday-items guide went on to become a bestseller – more than 250,000 copies have been sold and it's still going strong.
Its 53-year-old author went on to present television shows and catapult out a string of similarly themed sequels. His latest book, Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously, is a more contemplative work.
"I wanted to understand why people were reading my books and, secondly, whether it was inherently good for them," he explains. "And I say it is good because it adds a bit of reasonable risk to their lives."
Citing various studies, Gurstelle argues that moderate risk taking has various benefits. Canadian researchers found that managers who took risks were more successful while a German study discovered that people who took more risks said they were happier.
Gurstelle believes his books tap into two rich seams in modern society – contempt for the health and safety bullies, and a more general fear of technology. While he describes himself as a liberal and doesn't own a gun, he's with the libertarians on the issue of being allowed to make your own mistakes.
"We live in the age of the lily-livered, where people make terrific efforts to remove all possible risks from their lives," he says.
"It becomes a fairly pallid, sterile experience. You certainly won't be hurt but you won't be creative. And it's especially true for children. Are they going to grow up to be so risk averse that they don't contribute anything?"
To suggestions that litigious America is bad in this respect, he ripostes that Britain is worse, quoting stories about children wearing hard hats for fossil trips and councils cutting down trees in case conkers fall on people.
Readers also buy his book because they feel overwhelmed by technology, he says. "This DIY movement is about people getting control of the technology in their lives. They want to design and make things, even simple things, rather than just blindly using them."
Not surprisingly, many of his readers are fathers wanting to build his designs with their children (Gurstelle did, though his two sons are now grown-up). A lot are teenagers who, he observes drily, "always like blowing stuff up". Would-be terrorists are not likely readers, he says. There is nothing in his books that is sufficiently lethal.
Gurstelle traces his own path to garage warriordom to a day at university when a friend created a mortar out of empty shaving cream cans and shot a tennis ball over their 10-storey building. "It was this sort of epiphany moment. He just took everyday things we had and did something really cool with them." He spent the next 20 years gradually collecting similar projects before he took the plunge and wrote a book about them. Many of his creations are already out there, at least in principle, though he says he will always devise a version that works and can be made without machine tools. Publishers kept turning him down (for safety reasons, he suspects) but then a like-minded agent in New York took him on and landed a deal.
When I suggest his books plough a similar politically incorrect furrow to the immensely popular Dangerous Book For Boys, albeit for rather older boys, he recoils a little. "There's quaint stuff from the Twenties and it's great for getting your kids away from the TV, but that book isn't remotely dangerous."
His latest book ratchets up his own danger factor "a notch", he says. Still, there are some things even he considers too risky to mention. Thermite is one – "easy to knock out and reportedly pretty cool but it can burn through soil and is used for welding railway tracks". Does he have any golden rules? Never mess with flaming liquids, he says, but cannot think of any more. "I don't really have rules. Except perhaps that virtually nothing can't be blown up." Seconds later, a large mushroom cloud rises over his garden as the home-made gunpowder works its magic on a leading brand of non-dairy coffee creamer.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to Build a Flamethrower Poster

For those who love the art of living dangerously, check this out: the "How to Build a Flamethrower" poster. I developed this full color, 36-inches high X 24-inches wide poster with a professional graphic designer. Add some real excitement to your life. Everything you need to know (with a bit of web support) to build a kick-butt, working flamethrower on a wall poster!

Whether you build it or not, the poster looks cool on the wall of your workshop, bedroom, or classroom.

Find out more at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wired Magazine - October 2009

This month's Wired Magazine cover article is entitled  "The
Smart List: 12 Shocking Ideas That Could Change the World."

My essay, entitled "Take Smart Risks," is number 11, (between
Gregg Easterbrooks "Embrace Human Cloning" and Robert Gates
"Overhaul the Pentagon.")

You can read the entire article in the new October issue of
Wired, or online (for free!) at bookmark

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Today in the Washington Post

Absinthe and Flamethrowers was reviewed in today's (September 9) Washington Post in a piece entitled

"Careful! Peril Stalks the Unwary: Four books explain how to avoid life's hidden dangers"

An excerpt from that article is below:

But why live dangerously if living dangerously isn't fun? Absinthe & Flamethrowers (Chicago Review; paperback, $16.95), William Gurstelle's book about "doing interesting, exciting, edgy, and artful stuff," is a guy's Anarchist Cookbook. Inspired by Hunter S. Thompson's drug-addled, ill-advised vision of "edgework" as outlined in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," Gurstelle offers lessons in whip-cracking, Bartitsu (a lost English art of self-defense practiced by Sherlock Holmes) and even building a DIY flamethrower that would surely run afoul of the Patriot Act. . . . Gurstelle's tome . . . offers advice on recognizing good absinthe, for which van Gogh enthusiasts and visitors to Prague will be grateful.

"Thrill-seeking behavior in the real world is modeled by what statisticians call a normal curve," Gurstelle writes: Evel Knievel on one side, J. Alfred Prufrock on the other ("Do I dare to eat a peach?"). Maybe, in order to survive, it's best for us to float between these two extremes, driving 55 -- Sammy Hagar be damned -- with our seat belts fastened until, late at night on an empty country road, we can step on the gas and test our limits. Safely.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

KARE -11 Minnesota Showcase - The Water Rocket

The water rocket is one of my favorite projects. It's cheap, easy, and great for scientists aged from 8 to 80. I showed Corbin Sietz how to use one last week on KARE-11's Showcase Minnesota.

The video is available at

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Book Signing at Boswell Books

Last Monday I gave a reading and did a book signing at the marvelous Boswell's Books in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was so pleased to be able to speak at Boswells. Good crowd of people and great interest!

A&F on TPT Almanac TV Show

Eric Eskola and Cathy Wurzer invited me back to Twin Cities Public Television show, "Almanac" last night. They are such insightful interviewers -- I really enjoy talking to them.

Here's a clip of the show:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Throwing Knives

So, you want to learn how to throw knives? It pays to start with good equipment. The most important thing is to use knives made for the purpose. They should be neither too heavy or too light.

Choosing a knife. The type of knife you choose will have an incredible impact on how much you’re able to enjoy knife throwing. Keep in mind that quality throwing knives do not have a handle. The blade is the throwing knife.
▪ Size: Knives that are between 12”-16” are a good size. They aren’t too big and not so small that you’d have to throw harder and strain to watch them in flight.
▪ Weight: Knives of the above size will fly fairly undisturbed from wind and make a satisfying sound when they hit the target.

more at

I ordered a set of 11 ounce Pro Flight throwing knives from The Great Throwzini and they seem just right. (Earlier, I bought a set of lighter knives from a different vendor and they just didn't have much sticking power and just seemed harder to throw.)

You should spend time thinking about the target. Soft pine works much better than a plywood sheet. The plywood is pretty hard so getting a consistent stick can be difficult.

Twin Cities Business Magazine Interview

The fine people at Twin Cities Business wanted to talk a bit about Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Jack Gordon, a fine writer I've known for a while, called me and we chatted for a while.
What Hunter S. Thompson was to gonzo journalism and Miss Manners is to etiquette, Bill Gurstelle is to suburban dads who think it would be way cool to take some chemicals and PVC pipe out to the garage and construct a cannon that fires a potato with a muzzle velocity of 70 miles per hour.

The full interview is available here:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Great Absinthe Drink - The Sazarac Cocktail

In 2008 the Louisiana House of Represenatives voted to make the Sazerac the official cocktail of New Orleans. It’s a great mix of flavors and packs a kick. A favorite with those who understand the art of living dangerously.

• 1/2 cup ice cubes
• 1 sugar cube
• 3 dashes Bitters
• 2 ounces rye Jim Beam or Old Overholt RYE (not bourbon) whiskey
• 1/2 teaspoon of absinthe
• lemon twist

Chill an old-fashioned glass by filling it with ice and water. In second old-fashioned glass, mix together sugar, bitters, and ½ teaspoon water thoroughly. Add cognac or whiskey and remaining ½ cup ice, and stir well, at least 15 seconds. Take the chilled glass, discard ice and water and pour in absinthe. Swirl it around so the absinthe coats the interior of the glass. Add rye whiskey mixture into the chilled, absinthe-coated glass. Add lemon peel and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Popular Science August 09

Hoo-ray! The new (August 09) issue of Popular Science (which of course, the above picture is not) sports a fun article featuring me and my flamethrower. The article is basically an abridgment of Absinthe and Flamethrowers. It presents five ideas for adding danger to your life. I liked the ideas they chose: making gunpowder, using a whip, making a rocket, eating fugu and of course, building a flamethrower.

You can see the article by clicking here.

It also features a picture of me and my flamethrower standing in front of my garage in the middle of winter. Brrrrrr.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Live in Washington with Jack Rice

I was on the Air America Radio Network today, discussing the art of living dangerously on "Live in Washington with Jack Rice." Fun interview, the host is pretty engaging. Air America used to handle Al Franken's radio show from 2004 to 2007.

I think it's a fairly new show.. Air America is left leaning radio network, I assume to counterbalance all the right wing talkers on the radio.

Listen to the show here!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Today on WHYY: Absinthe and Flamethrowers

Today, I'm being interviewed on WHYY- Philadelphia's NPR Affiliate:

Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane is an intelligent talk show dealing with issues of the Delaware Valley, as well as issues of national and global concern. Radio Times is produced by WHYY in Philadelphia.

Hour 2 (11 AM Eastern Daylight Time)
This hour, learn how to make a flamethrower in your own garage with engineer and author WILLIAM GURSTELLE. Gurstelle gives instructions on this and other explosive projects for the do-it-yourselfer in his new book Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously.

Listen on line at:

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Takeaway - PRI and WNYC national radio interview

I did a national radio interview from a phone booth in Lisbon, Portugal last week. It was a bit strange but I think it worked out okay. It was a pleasure talking with John Hockenberry, the host of The Takeaway. The picture above is me in a phone booth taking via cell phone to the host. Alison is the BBC producer who is taping me on a digital voice recorder. A bit crude but they got it done. The audio got fixed up in post production by the crack WNYC producers.

The Takeaway, according to Wikipedia:
The Takeaway is a morning drive radio news program co-created and co-produced by PRI- Public Radio International and WNYC-New York Public Radio with editorial partners the BBC World Service of the United Kingdom, The New York Times and WGBH Radio Boston of the United States. In addition to co-producing/co-creating the program, PRI also distributes the program nationwide to its affiliate stations. The program's goal is to advance an authentic American conversation on issues and topics of importance.
You can hear the Takeaway episode here at:

Saturday, July 4, 2009

NPR's Science Friday

The 4th of July is the time when people really start thinking about the things that go whoosh boom and splat, so Absinthe and Flamethrowers is getting a lot of media attention.

Yesterday, I appeared on National Public Radio's Science Friday show. The subject of the show was how to make those oh-so-interesting projects such as spud guns and smoke bombs.

Science Friday is a live show, but I was on a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Luckily there was a good satellite connection, so the call and the interview could happen.

You can here the interview at the NPR Science Friday website or by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

KARE -11 Minnesota Showcase

Click here to see segment

KARE -11 (the Minneapolis/St. Paul NBC affiliate) asked me to appear on their daytime show, called "Showcase Minnesota" today. Rob Hudson, the host, was very enthusiastic about Absinthe and Flamethrowers. The segment went well and they asked me to return on July 14 to demonstrate some projects from my books.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

O'Reilly Ignite

I did a 5-minute overview of my book's philosophy at an Ignite Event in San Jose, CA, which was captured on video. Ignite presentations are cool: 20 slides in five minutes, one slide every 15 seconds which changes automatically. What pressure!

Thanks to Brady Forrest at O'Reilly Media for producing and hosting this video.


A very Safe Way to Disable a Boxer who Attempts to Rush You when You are Armed with a Stick.

Tony Wolf, an expert practitioner of, and a leader in the Bartitsu community sent
me additional information regarding the Bartitsu self defense moves in Absinthe
and Flamethrowers. Much more at

Imagine the case of a man armed with a serviceable stick being
attacked by a skilled boxer. One of the safest and most reliable
methods of defence against a boxer's fists is as follows: --

The man with the stick faces the boxer in the back-guard position --
that is to say, with his left foot and arm extended, and his right arm
guarding his head. His left arm is thus free to guard his face or
body, if, by any chance, he should fail to evade the blow.

As soon as the boxer opens his attack with a direct blow upon the man
with the stick, the latter jumps with one movement to the former's
left, bending well forward in a crouched position, so as to avoid any
possibility of being hit. Then, turning half round on his left toe,
and drawing his right foot in a line with his left, he makes a low,
back-handed sweep with his stick, and strikes the boxer across the
knee, disabling him, and bringing him to the ground.

But for the sake of argument, we will suppose that in the excitement
of the engagement the blow missed the boxer's knee, and struck him on
his shin, in which case he might still be able to show fight. Quickly
recovering his balance, the boxer turns on his left toe by stepping to
the right with his right foot, faces his opponent, and puts in another
blow. But here, again, the man with the stick anticipates the move,
and bayonettes the boxer in the heart before the blow can fall. As his
stick gives him a longer reach than the boxer's, he runs no danger,
and the strong, upward thrust with the stick should completely
incapacitate his adversary.

I should like the reader to thoroughly understand that in every form
of self-defence the first and most essential thing is to have a
well-trained eye. This trick is entirely dependent upon the quickness
of the eye in judging the right moment to jump on one side, so that
the boxer does not become aware of the fact until he has struck at you
and overreached himself, when it is too late for him to make good his

Friday, June 12, 2009

Publishers Weekly Review of A and F

Absinthe and Flamethrowers, was reviewed in April 7, 2009 Publisher's Weekly:

Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously William Gurstelle. Chicago Review, $16.95 paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-55652-822-4

If you can imagine Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes all grown up, this supercharged guide for amateur thrill seekers would probably replace Hobbes as his constant companion. Ostensibly in order to encourage the notion that “to a point, the ability to wage risk is a useful and worthwhile attribute,” professional engineer Gurstelle (The Art of the Catapult) lays out detailed instructions for making “black powder” (gunpowder), rockets, flamethrowers and other devices that will endanger your digits and eyebrows. To the author’s credit, he is equally detailed in his prescriptions of safety gear and precautions. He also details more hedonistic thrills, such as absinthe, cigarette smoking and “thrill eating” à la the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern—“in small amounts,” he says, “they add bite and depth to the flavor of life.” Most of the recipes and blueprints that Gurstelle shares with fellow “Big-T” (thrill-seeking) personalities, can be found all over the Internet, but this antidote to the usual cautious self-help guides is written well if occasionally in overheated prose, and, more important, is presented responsibly. Illus. (June)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

MinnPost Reviews Absinthe and Flamethrowers

David Brauer reports on the local media for MinnPost, writes the Daily Glean and authors Braublog. He's covered the media and politics for a couple of decades, as an alt-weekly staffer, talk-radio host, local/national magazine writer, MPR analyst and community newspaper editor.
I pass along with pleasure this enthusiastic New York Times review of local writer Bill Gurstelle's new book, "Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously."

Bill did some writing for me when I edited the Southwest Journal, and he's a first-class talent and mayhem engineer. As reviewer Dwight Garner notes, Gurstelle "staked his claim to do-it-yourself greatness in 2001 with his friendly paperback book 'Backyard Ballistics.' Its subtitle tells you all you need to know: 'Build Potato Cannons, Paper Match Rockets, Cincinnati Fire Kites, Tennis Ball Mortars, and More Dynamite Devices.'"

Gurstelle's newest tome tells you how to build a homemade flamethrower — somewhat chilling on a day when domestic terrorism dominates the news. But Bill also wants to explore modern humanity's lust for, or repugnance of, such devices, in effect building an intellectual containment vessel around the creations.

I'm not enough of a thrill-seeker to attempt such a liability-inducing maneuver, but I'm happy Bill's risk seems to be paying off.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Correction Page 181 Assembly Diagram

Item D is the 24-inch long, 2-inch diameter pipe, threaded both ends.
Item C is the 2-inch diameter iron pipe coupling

A & F Book Sales Gaining Momentum

Between the New York Times article, the Popular Mechanics post, and the BoingBoing guest blogging stint, books sales are heating up. Absinthe and Flamethrowers has been #250 and #300 most of the day on the Amazon best seller list, and has been #1 in several science categories.

New York Times Gives Terrific Review to Absinthe and Flamethrowers

There's a review of Absinthe and Flamethrowers in today's (June 10, 2009) New York Times. And it's a favorable one.

Reviewer Dwight Garner gets the motivation behind writing this book and I'm so pleased.

Two books that put me in the mood for rockets’ red glare are George Plimpton’s classic “Fireworks: A History and Celebration” (1984), and, less conventionally, Jim Paul’s shaggily artful book “Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon” (1991).

But when it comes to the theory and practice of making your own noisy, mildly dangerous fun in the backyard, America has a new poet laureate. His name is William Gurstelle, and he staked his claim to do-it-yourself greatness in 2001 with his friendly paperback book “Backyard Ballistics.”

Mr. Gurstelle, a professional engineer, has now returned with a more contemplative if no less wonky and gonzo book called “Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously.” It explores the significance of moderate risk taking to our happiness, well-being and career advancement.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Interview with Bill Gurstelle in Popular Mechanics Magazine Blog

Questions for Bill Gurstelle About the Art of Living Dangerously
In his latest book, Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously, Bill Gurstelle gives detailed how-to instructions on building rockets, throwing knives, "thrill eating" pursuits like fugu and absinthe, as well as plans to construct a flamethrower. We recently talked with the disarmingly mild-mannered author to ask about living on the edge.
By Harry Sawyers
Published on: June 3, 2009

See full article here:

Metro Magazine - How to Live Dangerously

Very flattering write up on me and Absinthe and Flamethrowers in Metro Magazine; article written the talented Chuck Terhark and fanstastic photo by Marshall Long. See the entire article here.

Amazon Reviews

New Amazon Reviews:

A five star Amazon rating from reader Bre Pettis:
"Besides being a book that gives you a roadmap for making life more interesting, it's got great projects and Bill's storytelling ability makes it a great read.
A four star rating from reader Wil Kalif:
"This book is kind of The Dangerous Book for Boys but for men. It covers a variety of subjects like eating dangerously, making a flame thrower and making gunpowder or your own Absinthe. There is some interesting stuff in it and an important thing to realize about this book is in the title "Projects and Ruminations" It isn't just projects it also talks about various pursuits that are a bit dangerous like eating dangerously or the hottest pepper in the world."

Errata - Saturn Fuel Rockets are Liquid Fueled

Update: A different reader wrote in with more information on the Saturn Rocket in the Apollo program.
On page five of your book Absinth and Flamethrowers, you state that solid rocket motors
were used in the Saturn V rocket during the Apollo missions. This is incorrect.

The first stage of the Saturn V (the S-IC) had five F-1 rocket engines. The propellents in these
were liquid oxygen and kerosene. These were the largest liquid rocket engines ever built.

The second stage (the S-II) had five J-2 engines. The propellents in these engines were liquid
oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

The third stage (the S-IVB) had one J-2 engine, also propelled by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

The propellents in the Apollo Service Module were hypergolics, not needing an oxidizer for ignition.
For this nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine were used.

The lunar modular also used hypergolics -- nitrogen tetroxide and Aerozine 50 (a half and half
mixture of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and hydrazine). These were used in both the descent stage
and the ascent stage.

The only place solid propellents were used in the Apollo system were in the launch escape system.
The escape tower sat atop the command module. There were three solid rocket motors attached to the
tower. In the event of a booster malfunction, the solid rocket motors would be used to pull the
command module free of the Saturn V. Thankfully, this was never necessary.

The use of solid rocket motors in manned spaceflight is the source of some controversy since they
cannot be throttled and once activated they cannot be turned off. The worst case scenario played out
in the case of the Challenger disaster when an O-ring failure in a solid rocket booster led to the
explosion. Reportedly, von Braun was opposed to the use of solid rocket boosters in the shuttle
system for just this sort of reason. However, solid rockets are cheaper than liquid rockets, and due
to budget cuts NASA incorporated the solid rockets into the shuttle system.

But solid rocket motors did not boost the Saturn V to the moon.
A reader wrote in an Amazon review that in Absinthe and Flamethrowers, I referred to the engines of the Saturn V rocket as being solid fuel, when in fact, they are liquid fuel. Evidently, this freaked out the reader so much that he one-star rated the book on Amazon, based on this single error.

Sheesh, that seems pretty harsh.


I'm the current guest blogger on the well known blog BoingBoing, which was started many years ago by my friend Mark Frauenfelder. The other bloggers include Xeni Jardin, Cory Doctorow, and David Pescovitz.

BB is quite influential, receiving upwards of 3 million hits a month. The vociferousness and ardor of the commenters is legendary.

Most of my posts so far have been well received. I'm particularly happy with my serious of Wails and Mumbles posts.

Visit and search on "gurstelle" to see my posts.

Blogging on GeekDad

I was guest blogger on's GeekDad blog in May. This blog gets a lot of attention from people with interests similar to mine. The head geekdad bloggers are Ken and John and there's a host of assistant bloggers who post on subjects relating to raising techno-able children.

Introductory Post

Art of Living Dangerously Post