photos by david j. turner
When the nuclear football is fumbled, or a comet falls from the sky, you’ll wish you were friends with Minneapolis’ Andy George, host of the YouTube series How to Make Everything. He’s made his own clothes, his own food, even his own prescription eyeglasses—from scratch. Not like your grandmother. Like an alien with no concept of money, trade, or Amazon.com. The thrill of watching him succeed (mostly) has made him a star of “competence porn,” the burgeoning genre exemplified by Matt Damon surviving outer-space abandonment in The Martian.
Did you grow up off the grid, churning your own butter?
No, I grew up in Blaine. And the fact that I didn’t do that sort of thing made me more curious about what goes into the products we take for granted. Also, I began the series shortly after moving out on my own, and I didn’t want to be the stereotypical bachelor who just eats microwave dinners. I went deeper and deeper until suddenly I was milking my own cow.
The first thing you made from scratch was a chicken sandwich, and it took you six months and cost $1,500. How was that not the end of the series?
Jumping into a challenge, you find the gaps in your knowledge, and sometimes those gaps are very large. But that’s the fun part. Just making my own salt for the sandwich was a big eye-opener—salt is everywhere in our lives, yet you can’t make it in Minnesota. I had to go to the ocean to do that. It’s crazy to realize that we depend on trade for something as basic as salt.
You consulted Lewis Dartnell, a survivalism guru, to make your own eyeglasses. Do you consider yourself a survivalist?
There’s an aspect of that in the series, though if you took it literally you’d starve to death long before you made your sandwich. It’s not a literal how-to show. It’s a way of exploring the world and trying to understand it.
You cut down a tree to make wooden frames for your eyeglasses. Should you have made the chainsaw as well?
I get a lot of feedback from people quoting Carl Sagan: “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” But I have some time constraints. I can’t raise a cow from birth just to milk it. I try to use what’s normally available to the average person.
At this point, you’re no longer an average person, though, are you?
I sometimes wonder, if I were transported thousands of years into the past how much modern technology I could make. Most people would have no clue, but I could possibly make my own glass in the Neolithic era.
Do your fans suggest things for you to make?
There are lots of suggestions that I don’t think we’ll ever get around to, like “make an iPhone from scratch.” We could maybe make a camera and a telegraph, tape them together, and call it an iPhone.
What’s the hardest thing to make?
Getting metal is hard. I went up to a mine in northern Minnesota and they just handed me a rock.
Your apartment must look insane at this point. Has anyone become suspicious?
When I made a suit with a deer hide, I had to do it in my apartment. There was raw flesh with ticks all over it, and they were dropping off on the kitchen floor. I thought, This would be a bad time for my landlord to walk in.