Marty: Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?Who says you need a billion-dollar grant to build cool inventions? As every wacky scientist knows, advanced inventions can be, in the words of Robert Zemeckis, "built in somebody's garage". Want your own spaceship? Shrink ray? Time Machine? The spare parts lying around in your basement should be sufficient. Of course, Homemade Inventions won't be perfect. Due to being built out of various mechanical parts, they will have a "cobbled together" look. (If this occurs in a film, you can bet the art department had a lot of fun with it.) Sometimes, they'll work in a far more elaborate and convoluted manner than their purpose would seem to require; their power source may be as humble as the family pet in an exercise wheel. Still, they will nearly always work and, when they don't, they'll fail spectacularly. These inventions will probably be created by the Bungling Inventor, the Weekend Inventor, The Professor or the Teen Genius. More than half the time, these inventors will neglect to make sure that they know how to reconstruct their inventions. And, of course, the inventors won't try to exploit their unbelievable science-defying constructions to gain fame and riches. See also: Bamboo Technology, MacGyvering. Compare Gadgeteer Genius and Doom It Yourself.
Doc: The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a car why not do it with some style?
Doc: The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a car why not do it with some style?
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- The inventions of Gyro Gearloose in the Donald Duck comic books. This is especially intriguing in Don Rosa's version of Duckburg which has a distinct timeline where all the adventures take place in the 1960s, but thanks to Gyro Gearloose, all modern technology (and indeed, technology yet to be) can be represented.
- However, Rosa has made some specifications to what Gyro can't do: he can make a functional time-machine, but not an interstellar space ship. So far he hasn't created a computer with a display, either, although he completely accidentally created a functional AI (Little Helper).
- Hedid create an interstellar spaceship, but not every story is Barks-Rosa canon...
- Well, the talk was about Barks-Rosa canon - most writers apart from Rosa set the stories in pseudo-present day, in any case. If Duck-stories in general are a subject, then Gyro can do anything that the current writer wants from him.
- The Junkman, from Astro City, has this as his theme. After being forced to retire, he decided to show the world the foolishness of throwing things away. He robs a bank with toy soldiers made into miniature robots, an Etch-a-Sketch repurposed as a fluoroscope, and other equally recycled equipment.
- In the early days of Dilbert, the title character regularly built strange-looking inventions with (occasionally) even stranger purposes, such as a trash compactor that can pack two tons of garbage into the volume of an ordinary brick or talking robot dog.
- Calvin and Hobbes: The Series has this, the most notable being Sherman's (short-lived) time-traveling washing machine.
Films — Animated
- In Despicable Me, Gru has to resort to this to build his rocket after he fails to get funding from the Bank of Evil.
- Meet the Robinsons: The Memory Scanner, while the Time Machine is just a jury-rigged family car.
- Wallace & Gromit:
- In the very first film, Wallace constructed a working spaceship out of, presumably, equipment you can pick up at the hardware store. It gets crazier from there.
- In a particularly bizarre inversion (especially given the above fact), Wallace's Techno Trousers were apparently made by NASA.
Films — Live-Action
- The Back to the Future trilogy, of course. In addition to the functional DeLorean time machine. In fact in the DVD Commentary, Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis pointed out this Trope's role in history and decided that having Doc build it in his garage was the best way to go. If the government built one it wouldn't work, and if a corporation built one, that would be too scary. Doc Brown's other inventions are also obviously made in his house.
- While perhaps not technically an invention, the ice maker Doc in Back to the Future Part III makes while in the Wild West is probably a good example. He presumably already knew how to make such a thing, but it was far larger and more convoluted than it needed to be, due to some of the necessary parts not having been invented yet.
- In Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Wayne invents a Shrink Ray in his basement. It takes massive providence to get it working, but still, shrink ray. Averted in the sequel, though: his achievement has gotten him work at a massive tech conglomerate and he continues to improve the device there.
- The jetcar in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. We actually see a mechanic working on it in Buckaroo's garage.
- The spaceship from Explorers, which was built from a Tilt-a-Whirl and an Apple IIc.
- Some of the equipment in Ghostbusters (1984) is supposed to have this feel. The boys certainly didn't have much of an operating budget.
- Iron Man: Tony Stark builds the first Iron Man suit out of spare weapons parts. It's much cruder than his later versions, but it gets the job done and breaks him out of captivity.
- Similarly, his Evil Counterpart Ivan Vanko/Whiplash seemingly just slapped an arc reactor together out of stuff in his garage.
- Technically, Tony Stark made at least the first three versions of the Iron Man armor outside of a real facility. The first version was made from "scraps" in a cave. The second and third were actually built in his garage. It just so happens that his garage contains equipment that most modern factories lack.
- In The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker built a functioning humanoid robot with full human-like AI, and what must have been a super-sonic racer, all on a son-of-a-slave's budget before his voice broke. To be fair, his owner was a droid and starship/podracer/what-have-you salesman, so while's pretty damn smart to make these things as a kid, it's not like he made them out of random parts.
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Caractacus' works exhibit this, such as his automated breakfast maker.
- The Astronaut Farmer builds a spacecraft on his farm, though he orders parts that aren't on hand, like fuel and a rocket.
- The Good Robot Usses from Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. Despite being made out of random items from a hardware store, their quality can be justified as they were made by the smartest being in the universe.
- Star Trek
- Faster-Than-Light Travel is invented this way, according to Star Trek: First Contact. Well, sort of. The main body of the ship is an old missile, which is pretty much beyond the realm of your average homemade invention, but Lily mentions that "it took me six months to scrounge up enough titanium just to build a four-meter cockpit."
- In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Khan and his followers had to fashion protective gear from what they had when Ceti Alpha VI exploded and their planet turned into a desert with constant lethal dust storms. (The mask Khan wears appear to be off-center, made from some other piece of gear with a view-slit punched through it.)
- One of the Wally McDoogle books involves Wally using a time machine made out of a toaster, a vacuum cleaner, and a TV remote. He received this gadget from his future self, who had created it accidentally by trying to fix all three devices at the same time.
- Granted, he's supposed to be insanely klutzy. Enough so that its surprising that he, his family and his friends are even still alive after five minutes.
- In Victor Koman's Kings of the High Frontier a group of PhD students build a working spacecraft out of surplus parts in an abandoned warehouse.
- Isaac Asimov's short story "Robot AL-76 Goes Astray" is about a robot who accidentally arrives at a junkyard and builds a powerful mining tool from the junk, powered by 2 D-cell batteries. No one could figure out how it did it and it didn't know, because when the robot demonstrated his new tool, the top 2/3rds of a nearby mountain were atomized, causing the junkyard owner to panic and tell it to "forget what happened."
- In Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman, the title villainess uses parts from common household appliances to builds robotic duplicates of the two elementary school-age protagonists. Not only can the robots expand to four times their original size, they also have Super Strength, can fly, have rocket-punching arms, and wield hidden starch sprayers.
- The YA novel series Mad Scientists' Club features a group of such inventors, whose inventions get as ridiculous as a remote-controlled flying saucer convincing enough to fool the entire town.
- In Stephen King's The Tommyknockers, after being exposed to the effect of an alien spacecraft, the people in the small town of Haven build all kinds of futuristic devices made out of household appliances and largely powered by batteries, occasionally supplemented by the odd Forsaken Child.
- In the short story "Word Processor of the Gods", also by King, a man inherits a bodged-together word processor with Reality Warper powers, which his nephew constructed from several mismatched brands of computer components, wires from Radio Shack, the motor from an Erector Set and an old model-train transformer.
- Discussed in How to Be a Superhero as a way for cash-strapped heroes to get by, whether it's with homemade equipment or self-inflicted Cyborging...
Live Action TV
- Quinn Mallory, hero of the show Sliders, built a cross-dimensional portal in his mother's basement.
- Monster Warriors is probably the worst offender. Not only Tabby can make laser weapons out of plastic bottles and a blender in a matter of seconds, but she is always able to find a huge pile of trash everywhere. Mainly because Luke's hobby is to collect it inside his house and car.
- The title character of The Red Green Show devoted an entire segment of each episode (and later multiple segments of each episode) to homemade inventions that could be built with a pile of junk and some duct tape. A choice example is Red's showing the audience how to make their own backhoe using a luxury car, a Thighmaster, a folding ladder, a trash can, some clothesline pulleys, and a lot of duct tape.
- The robots from Mystery Science Theater 3000. As the theme song from the early seasons explained:
- Now keep in mind Joel can't control
when the movies begin or end,
because he used those special parts
to make his robot friends!
- Not only are the characters themselves built out of spare stuff lying around in universe, but the show creator Joel Hodgson built the puppet props the same way in his garage in about two days.
- In an episode of Stargate SG-1, an alien takes refuge in Carter's house. While there he managed to grow an emerald the size of a tennis ball using Carter's microwave and then later borrows her toaster for parts to make a stargate. Well, that and several thousand dollars worth of specially-ordered parts that he got over the Internet, but hey...
- Due to the lack of available DHD on hand, the SGC spent fifteen years and millions of dollars cobbling together their own dialing computer, while a large part of the base contains the necessary equipment to maintain the gate's extensive power requirements. All to replace something that does both and is the size of a small table.
- Gilligan's Island, of course. As has often been remarked, the Professor can make a radio out of baling wire and coconuts but can't fix a two-foot hole in a boat.
- The Scifi Channel's series Eureka is about a whole town full of genius inventors, all busily cooking up amazing stuff (and amazing trouble) in their garages. One of the main characters even works out of an auto shop.
- Alton Brown of Good Eats can apparently build a time machine just as well as he can MacGyver useful kitchen devices. He uses it to get blueberries in season.
- Star Trek: The Original Series: When Kirk and Spock are stuck in the 1930s without computer equipment because the Enterprise was erased from history, Spock builds a "mnemonic memory circuit" using "stone knives and bearskins". Naturally it works just long enough for them to determine what changed the timeline before exploding spectacularly.
- In Doctor Who, when The Doctor and Martha find themselves in 1960s Britain without the TARDIS, the Doctor builds a device to detect other inadvertent time travelers out of what looks like an old fashioned tape recorder, a telephone handset, a postcard, and other... stuff. It works quite well for what he needs, but not without some unintended side effects:
"Tracked you down with this. This is my timey-wimey detector. It goes ding when there's stuff. Also, it can boil an egg at 30 paces, whether you want it to or not, actually, so I've learned to stay away from hens. It's not pretty when they blow."
- Depending on the incarnation, the Doctor has taken this to an art form, most notably the Third, Fourth, Seventh, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors. Turned Up to Eleven with the Ninth/Tenth Doctor's and the Eleventh Doctor's first console rooms.
- These were Joe's stock in trade on NewsRadio. The gag with Joe was that he would build absolutely everything himself, even gadgets that could be easily and cheaply obtained from a store.
- Most of the modifications done to the cars on Top Gear are done in a standard garage by the presenters (with a little help). Top marks have to be awarded when they attempted to create their own space-shuttle Reliant Robin, even if the task of assembling the rocket motors themselves had to be outsourced... to a tiny engineering firm that was only a small step up from Half A Dozen Guys In A Basement, and thus probably count as a straight example themselves.
- In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Billy often built inventions in his garage.
- The A-Team lived and breathed this trope.
- On Zoey 101, Mad Scientist Quinn is constantly inventing something new—things she calls "Quinnventions." However, none of them ever turn out the way she wants to. In one instance, she almost blew up the school!
- In the The Big Bang Theory episode "The Luminous Fish Effect", Sheldon's mother reveals that at the age of thirteen Sheldon built a nuclear reactor in a shed. Unfortunately for Sheldon, his efforts to obtain enriched uranium were discovered by the authorities, who put an end to the project.
- These are frequent in Junk Yard, and needed to progress through the game. You'll make such things as a radar and a submarine before ultimately making a flying jalopy to head into space and fight Crazy Bob.
Table Top Games
- The Dumpster Diver merit in Genius: The Transgression.
- The Quick Gadgeteer advantage in GURPS is all about this.
- Homemade inventions are the stock-in-trade of one of the character classes in the Underworld RPG.
- Junkers in Deadlands: HellOnEarth cheat by asking tech spirits to make their cobbled-together inventions work.
- Gnoblar scrappers in Warhammer tend to build things out of old rubbish and whatever they've scavenged, such as scraplauncher catapults. Ork Mekboyz in Warhammer 40,000 take this to truly extreme levels, cobbling together anything from a chainsword to a building-sized gargant out of scrap metal and interesting shiny things.
- The Military Engineer and Improviser classes in Star Wars: Saga Edition allow you to take this trope to ridiculous extremes, which can include cobbling together a fully functional blaster cannon using nothing more than some scrap metal and a few bits of wire you happen to be carrying, in less than six seconds.
- Well, there's Commander Keen's Bean-With-Bacon Megarocket, which is capable of interstellar travel (at well above lightspeed, obviously). It was made from, among other things, his mom's vacuum cleaner, a Nintendo controller and his dad's lawnmower.
- Heart of Darkness, featuring Andy the kid genius. Among his inventions are a cobbled-together interdimensional vessel, a plasma-gun and a control-helmet made from a colander.
- Earthbound: Any broken item "fixed" by Jeff.
- Several of Bosco's Boscotech creations in the Sam and Max games from Telltale Games. They're surprisingly effective (even the tear gas grenade launcher that's just a salad shooter loaded with onions), but all of them are overpriced (like a hundred million dollars for a "truth serum" that consists of a bottle of vodka).
- Fallout 3 allows you to collect various "schematics" for weapons, which you can then build from the junk that clutters the environment. The results resemble this trope. Good examples include the shishkebab (basically a lawnmower rotor blade connected to the petrol tank of a motorbike to form a flaming sword), the Rock-It-Launcher, which is built from a vacuum cleaner (amongst other things) and can fire pretty much anything you find lying around, a rifle that shoots railroad spikes, a landmine (made out of a lunchbox, a cherry bomb, a sensor, and a few bottle caps) that's about five time stronger than ordinary landmines and has roughly the same firepower of a mini nuke as well as, of course, the Nuka-Cola Grenade that's made with turpentine, Abraxo cleaner and the radioactive variant of Nuka-Cola in a tin can. When thrown, it explodes in a giant blue fireball, with lingering radioactive damage afterward.
- Dark Cloud 2. You see a belt, a milk can, and a pipe. Max sees an renewable energy pack for his personal mecha —which is also built out of a barrel (or a refrigerator,) piping, and traffic lights for eyes.
- In Jagged Alliance 2 you could make a barrel extender out of a tube, glue and duct-tape (never mind it's not rifled and somehow the perfect caliber no matter what weapon you put it on). You could also make a rod-and-spring attachment, and build a fully functional X-Ray scanner out of a Lame Boy, a Fumble Pack, wires, chewing gum, and an X-ray lamp. Worked on AA batteries.
- That is the way most technology in Arcanum works. Half of the parts used in making technology items can be found in a garbage bin. Some others must be bought, though. And all of the recipes can be assembled in a complete wilderness without access to any thing like a workshop.
- In The Sims 3 addon "Ambitions" the new skill and career choice allows Sims to invent a time machine with nothing a single work table and some scrap metal.
- One playable character in Resident Evil Outbreak can assemble a stun rod from a car battery and a metal pipe. Of course, since there's a Zombie Apocalypse going on, improvisation is key.
- Team Fortress 2: According to the Bazaar Bargain's publicity blurb, the Sniper created it from an old bolt-action rifle, a long piece of metal, some bolts, one half of a binocular and a military-grade laser sight, all bought for just under three dinars.
- And there's also the Saxxy-winning "Meet the Dumpster Diver", where Soldier makes a new rocket launcher, grenades, and helmet from discarded trash.
- In Wario: Master of Disguise, Wario invents a device in his back room that lets him warp into his TV so he can appear on a Show Within a Show and become a Phantom Thief.
- The Haunted Carousel features Miles the Magnificent Memory Machine, a riddle-spouting robot built from an old oven, bicycle parts, and the trumpet off a gramophone.
- Kat's anti-gravity device in Gunnerkrigg Court, which she somehow made out of a thermos and coat hangers.
- In Narbonic, Dave tries to fix a friend's microwave and ends up creating an interdimensional portal that causes his gaming group to be attacked by angels. (Guess what was wrong with the microwave? It was unplugged.)
- This ability also shows up when most mad scientists first manifest. Helen Narbon created life - horrible, tentacled, man-eating lifeforms - from the food in an Italian restaurant's kitchen, plus some chemicals from their women's restroom.
- Padma Maharassa of Friendly Hostility uses a variation on this. Despite being a genuine engineering genius who has worked for the government before (for obscene amounts of money), all of his inventions, homemade or not, have a disquieting tendency to, well... eject toast. Why this is so is open to speculation, although it has been suggested that Padma simply really likes toast.
- This is a staple ability of Sparks (mad scientists) in Girl Genius, especially Agatha.
- Tony in Real Life Comics is known to do this with alarming frequency. And half of them are about 50% bubblegum. And old modems.
- Building super-tech out of random junk is an important part of Molly's shtick in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!.
- Gary in TRU-Life Adventures built half a time machine in his apartment as part of a revenge scheme against the toy store.
- Erwin the sentient AI in User Friendly, especially considering he was programmed in COBOL by a sentient life form born from lint and dust accumulated in a server casing. Some of the various bodies he builds for himself may also count - Lego Mindstorms battlemech, anyone?
- Riff's inventions in Sluggy Freelance sometimes invoke this trope.
- Mad Scientist Tigerlily Jones of Skin Horse once built a spring-powered wormhole generator out of wire coathangers lying around in Tip's apartment. She also built a six-foot-wide sentient spider-shaped robot out of an old Cadillac.
- Tedd in El Goonish Shive built a belt that could transform the wearer into a cat-person, tweaked a Wii Fit balance board so it could measure the weight distribution of someone as they transformed and built a series of devices that can transform the wearer under certain conditions out of toy gadget watches.
- Just about all of the devisers and gadgeteers in the Whateley Universe start out like this, since no one knows they have a superpower until they've built a robot out of old junk from their basement, or whatever. The deviser Knick-Knack still builds stuff that looks like this, including a capture bubble that looks like a lava lamp, and a laser hidden in a Harry Potter souvenir wand.
- Chief engineer Dave Howery is known for this in AH.com: The Series, a character trait first introduced in "Hey Hey We're the Monkeys" which soon became a defining one. Mainly he builds excessively advanced (and psychotic) robots to do the most mundane functions due to being Brilliant, but Lazy.
- The prototype in The First Run was made from Scraps from junkyards, trucks, telecom stations, old fighter jets, all recycled.
- Strong Bad's alternate universe portal is simply a blender with a game boy floating in some strange green liquid.
- Jimmy Neutron does this all the time.
- The 2×4 technology in Codename: Kids Next Door.
- Buckwheat often built these in Hanna-Barbera's version of The Little Rascals.
- The various devices built by the Eds, especially Edd, in Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy.
- The Simpsons:
- In a Treehouse of Horror episode, Homer made a time machine out of his toaster. By accident.
- The season ten episode "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" note was all about Homer creating homemade (and really dangerous and/or useless) inventions, such as the make-up gun and the "Everything's OK" alarm.
- Kim Possible: Wade does it. The Tweebs does it. Evil!Ron does it.
- Even the animated version of Gyro Gearlose in Ducktales would build all sorts of stuff as cheaply as possible. Possibly justified since his employer was such a cheapskate.
- Homemade Inventions are Donatello's brain and butter in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons. It grows to particularly ridiculous levels in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), where he is able to build submarines, hovercrafts, and drill tanks with homemade materials and the occasional bit of salvaged alien technology.
- This is usually what Phineas and Ferb are going to do today.
- Phineas and Ferb are actually a brilliant subversion, because while they make stuff at home, and often use rather unusual components, they are constantly having supplies delivered and as a result their inventions tend to be more reliable and less Rube Goldberg as a result.
- Timmy's Dad on The Fairly Oddparents makes several of these. Most of them blow up. It hurts him when his family try to use real technology, though not as much as his inventions hurt them.
"Wow, I'm a genius! I'm gonna go make ice cream out of birdseed and gum!"
- Once, after successfully assembling a personal computer out of a typewriter and a television:
- Rugrats: Stu Pickles attempts this many times. Almost all of them fail with hilarious results.
- Anything built by Gadget Hackwrench on Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers.
- Huey of The Boondocks created the Black Power Fist, basically a taser built into a glove, at home. Justified in that he did not invent it but found instructions on the Internet, and that it was specifically designed to be built from cheap and readily-available materials. Still impressive given his age and lack of any previously-mentioned mechanical background.
- A powerful case of Truth in Television, as decreasing component costs and increasing education have made many fun, dangerous, and hi-tech options available to many garage scientists.
- A variety of enthusiasts, extracurricular students, and bored people have put together giant lasers, glove-sized lighters, electromagnetic 'guns', various pranks, and useful tools.
- One individual teenage Boy Scout managed to strap together a nuclear breeder reactor in his mother's garden shed.
- It's somewhat of a subversion, though, in that the lack of safeguards and solid engineering in the reactor could have very easily gotten him killed, and that the intervention of the authorities probably prevented small-scale disaster.
- Decay not enough? Fission not enough? Why not just go to fusion?
- While this is irrelevant, two things bear noting: One, Mr. Hahn's reactor design was self-propagating; given enough fuel, it would continue to produce energy, and, actually, would produce more fuel, being a breeder reactor. Two, the fusor mentioned above is definitely not a break-even design; it runs off of household power, and is primarily useful as a conversation piece and as a neutron source.
- Don't forget the concept of BEAM robots.
- Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built the first Apple computers in their garage.
- The RepRap machine is a "self-replicating rapid-prototyping tool" that was not only built in somebody's garage, but can create about half of its own parts so that you can build one in your garage as well.
- However, no matter how many internet crackpots claim otherwise, you still can't build a jetpack in your garage, as the MythBusters proved.
- Well, at least not one that works.
- The work of 'home inventor' Philo T. Farnsworth, making this LITERALLY Truth In Television. (He's credited with inventing the first practical TV system)
- Chinese Farmer + Books + Scrap Metal - In A Cave = Helicopter.
- There's also a Nigerian man who built a helicopter from parts of an old car and a crashed aeroplane.
- Hewlett-Packard was founded in a garage. The garage is now a Silicon Valley tourist attraction.
- There are whole subgenres of biopunk dedicated to homemade biotech. Of course, materials and energy costs are still too high for the movement to have gained any real steam as of yet, and then there's all those safety and ethics experimentation laws. If your homemade stove goes off, you might kill yourself. If your homemade bacterium goes off, you might kill millions.
- 'Chechnyan Firecrackers' is a slang term for home-made firearms... which are legal in most states of the US, by the way. Have fun! In fact, there have been several examples over the years of enterprising people building operational firearms with things commonly found in prison.
- The entire website Instructables is based around this concept, and features a wide arrange of various homemade gadgets from online DIY posters, engineering of all kinds, as well as numerous arts and crafts projects. One guy even showed how to make his car run...''on trash!
- Early aviation: the Wright Brothers' airplane; and later, the Silver Dart, the first Canadian flight (also the first flight in the British Empire), the first self-powered aircraft takeoff, and the first aircraft to use ailerons to roll.
- Canada's first working helicopter was made by the Froebes: three brothers who were western Manitoba farmers and aviation enthusiasts. The only part that they didn't make themselves was the engine, which was taken off one of their (full-sized) kit planes. Prior to the helicopter, they had built several human-powered ornithopter prototypes literally recycling trash from the farm - however, none of those actually work.
- Many of the design features of the modern hang glider were concocted by individual enthusiasts messing around with sailcloth and kites on their weekends off.
- Thermal lances made of an air compressor and rather unexpected materials, as in "cuts steel with bacon".
- Much of the Maker movement revolves around this. Device to mute the tv whenever Kardashians are mentioned? Yes please.
- The autobiography The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind revolved around William Kamkwamba's homemade windmill. This included spectacular failures such as a short setting his home on fire when his roof collapsed. In true Mad Scientist fashion, he built a breaker box rather than fixing his roof.