Ask a Genius: How Jeremy Fielding turns junk into YouTube gold

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Ask a Genius: How Jeremy Fielding turns junk into YouTube gold

Jeremy Fielding spends his free time salvaging parts from old appliances to build his own custom machines for his YouTube channel. Not the sort of thing you'd expect to go viral.

But Fielding drew coverage from the BBC, Vice and other outlets when he turned to his children as an energy source for one of his creations, rigging a rowing machine to power their video games.

Fielding says he's obsessed with solving mechanical problems. He shared some of his secrets with us.

Our conversation with Fielding is the latest edition of Ask a Genius, our regular series of talks with brilliant people.

What do you tell relatives who don't know what your channel is all about?

I build custom machines usually using parts from salvaged appliances and other machines. I also teach hands-on engineering concepts and give an inside look at how I design my machines and tools.

What part of your work are you a natural at?

I would say the part that comes "naturally" is my curiosity, and literal obsession with solving mechanical problems. In my case it is a blessing and a curse because I can't turn it off.

How do you budget for your mechanical projects?

In general, I limit my projects to the current expendable cash and items I already have in the shop. If the project is essential and not just for fun, I set aside funds until I have enough to get the parts I need, however long that takes. I often come up with simpler solutions during the waiting process.

Can watching your channel help people be more frugal?

I wouldn't say becoming frugal is necessarily something people take away. Based on the thousands of comments and emails I get, I would say most people walk away feeling empowered. Where they were afraid before, they now want to make, to explore, and they begin to see potential in items they previously saw as worthless. For some, that leads to dragging a washing machine out of the trash just to take it apart and look at it. For others that means buying electrical or mechanical components they didn't know existed before watching my channel.

What is your secret for saving time or money?

Solid financial discipline. It's not a secret, but it's so hard, most people ignore it and hope there is a secret they haven't heard yet. As far as time, I waste it on things I love, and do my best to cut short the things that don't matter much in the long run. Sometimes I save time by spending money, or give up time to save money depending on where the particular "thing" falls on the scale. If its something I love, like building things, I give more time and less money. If it is something that doesn't matter or something I hate (like fixing the car) I give my money and less time. While I can always earn more money, once I spend my time it is gone.

What is the best online comment you've heard about yourself? The worst?

I have received so many wonderful and touching comments over the past year alone. If forced to pick one it would be from "Meticularius," primary because of his age, his profession and the comments from others in response to his. It can be found as the top comment on video No. 3 on my channel. It starts with this:

Jeremy, I'm a 69 year old handyman. I want to tell you that [you] are second to none. The quality of your thinking is excellent. Your use of YouTube as a source of education is exemplary. Your use of available space, your demonstrated ability to make things compact, your ability to interrelate components, and your [sic] makes you a young master. Your ability to salvage, and to upgrade, makes you so valuable that I'm glad you're on our side. You have a comforting humble way about yourself, and have an inherent respect for your viewers as shown in your language and tone of voice. More than all, you've learned how to learn and I see you doing very good things in the future.

As to the worst, I haven't received a single comment that I consider to be the "worst" and worth repeating. There are occasional insults which don't pertain to the content of the video, but I take constructive criticism very well, and have incorporated ideas from my neighbors on a regular basis.

What is one fact or idea you wish more people knew about?

When you can answer the question "why am I here," many things in life come into razor focus.

If I gave you a cell phone that could only send one 140-character message to yourself at 18, what would it say?

Jeremy. I have seen your future. Spend your time and money as if you have as well.

What is the first thing you would do if you learned the apocalypse was coming in 2028?

I would immediately start seeking a network of people with the right attitude, determination and self discipline to ride out the storm with me. We can figure out the rest along the way.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

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Image: Jeremy Fielding