Matthias Wandel is living the twenty-first-century dream. In 2007, he quit his engineering job at Research in Motion, turned his attention to his website, and now makes most of his living doing what he loves, tinkering in his workshop and posting his creations online. Over the last few years, Wandel’s innovative and beautifully crafted wooden machines have become viral sensations: his YouTube videos alone have been watched almost ten million times. This week, Torontoist had the opportunity to talk to Wandel about his machines, the success of his website, and some of his other projects.
According to Wandel, his fascination with woodworking began at a young age in his father’s workshop. “My dad also used to make custom furniture for people,” he explains on his site. “This has always been lucky for me, as it meant having access to a large and well equipped workshop, as well as lumber.”
Today, he has his own workshop in his basement in Ottawa, and although other materials might be better suited for some of his projects, he still prefers to work with wood. “I have wood and you can make things out of wood a lot faster than you can make things out of metal,” Wandel told Torontoist. “You can also cut wood a lot faster than you can cut metal, so it’s quite logical.”
While some of his machines, like his combination lock, were built to drive traffic to his website, others were born from necessity. In 2003, when a neighbour’s apple grinder was unavailable for his parents to use, Wandel decided to construct his own, and in 2009, he built a marble run track out of wooden blocks to give to his nephew for Christmas. Wandel admits that the gift was probably too complex for a three-year-old, though he reports that his nephew’s parents had “a blast playing with the blocks.”
One of Wandel’s most time-consuming projects was his pipe organ, which he was inspired to build after taking an introductory music course in his final year of university. “The organ was also quite a challenging project,” said Wandel. “I wanted some kind of keyboard instrument and I didn’t really feel like buying one, so I started experimenting…It’s a good conversation piece for whenever I have visitors here.”
In addition to woodworking, Wandel has also built Lego marble machines, domino stackers, a digital camera from the components of a flatbed scanner, and a few online games, including an eyeballing game that tests geometric perception. (Warning: If you start playing the eyeballing game you won’t get anything else done today.) “I always felt that some people are better at [eyeballing] things than others,” explained Wandel. “So I thought, well, wouldn’t it be neat to write a little test for that?”
So far, working from home has been pretty lucrative. In October 2008, after receiving dozens of emails from fans wanting to buy plans for his machines, Wandel started selling some of his schematics online. “If you have a customer base, and the customer base keeps asking for something, they’re telling you there’s an opportunity,” he said. “A year ago I was selling one or two plans a week. Now I’m selling about thirty to forty plans a week.” From ad revenue and design sales, his site pulled in more than three thousand dollars in December 2009, and he expects to make around $3,500 this month.
Wandel told us that he’s still somewhat amazed by his site’s success, but added that while he appreciates feedback from his fans, he’s sick of people suggesting that he build a wooden clock. “Why would I build a wooden clock?” asked Wandel rhetorically. “That’s been done before.”