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Do-It-Yourself Engineering

Crack those knuckles, 'cause we're building our very own catapults, bridges, blimps, rockets, and other feats of engineering.
Do-It-Yourself Engineering is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 91.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course, great projects. Remarkable course. I have only built three of the projects but they all worked well. A tremendous amount of labor went into this and it shows. Instructor is enthusiastic and the course guidebook is excellent at helping to source the various parts and pieces needed for each project.
Date published: 2023-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love this prof and this was a FUN class I watched this as part of my yearly video subscription, and loved it. The prof is energetic and teaches while making it fun. Not a builder (engineer), I'm a science nerd so I followed along with pencil and paper, to understand. After dinner education for a week! My only engineering knowledge prior to this class is this other prof's classes but hubby is an MIT master's grad and loved it even more than I did.
Date published: 2023-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Harder Than I Thought It Would Be This course was great! I'm a social science guy and this engineering stuff is way beyond my purview. I had no idea engineering was so filled with mathematical calculations as this course was. But the professor made it all run very smoothly and quickly. He's a great choice for lecturer, and I'm looking forward to watching another course by him on ancient technologies. Really, even if you won't understand much of the technical side, the course is worth watching just for him. He's a great orator.
Date published: 2023-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lots of fun! I have now watched 5 Ressler courses on various views of engineering: Greek and Roman; Great structures; Epic failures; Everyday engineering; and now DIY engineering. A multifaceted set of presentations, held together by Ressler's enthusiasm and gifted teaching. I plan to watch them all again some time in the future. I will never actually make any of these DIY models for practical reasons, but it was very interesting to see what is available in the real world as starting materials, and how everything can be planned and assembled. Bravo! Once again, Prof. Dr. Gen. Ressler has masterfully presented a series of demonstrations showing how things work. The takeaway lessons are new insights into the technology around us and its underlying principles. This instructor has done us all a big favor by taking the time to give us these wonderful courses. Thank you sir.
Date published: 2023-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The professor is truly excellent and the course material is interesting and fun. As an engineer I marveled at how well the concepts were explained. I thought it would be way too complex for my 14 year old grandson but he was able to understand quite a bit and enjoyed the experiments.
Date published: 2022-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Series This was my first course. I thought it was great. I had no intention of building any of the projects but learned a heck of a lot about different engineering concepts and applications. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2022-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great projects Have not gotten too far into the course yet but am really enjoying it. I don’t have any engineering or technical background so I’m probably a slower student than many. But the instructor explains things very well.
Date published: 2022-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good demonstrations Excellent review of structural engineering with demonstrations
Date published: 2022-05-29
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Master the principles of engineering with 17 hands-on projects you can do yourself, taught by a West Point engineer.


Stephen Ressler

In over two decades as a teacher, I've never experienced anything quite like commitment of The Great Courses to rigor in the course development process and uncompromising production quality in the studio.


United States Military Academy, West Point

Stephen Ressler is a Professor Emeritus from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he taught for 21 years. He holds an MS and PhD in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University and is a registered professional engineer in Virginia. He served in a variety of military engineering assignments in the United States, Europe, and Central Asia. He has focused his scholarly and professional work on engineering education and has won numerous national awards for engineering education and service.

By This Professor

Understanding the World's Greatest Structures
Everyday Engineering: Understanding the Marvels of Daily Life
Understanding Greek and Roman Technology
Epic Engineering Failures and the Lessons They Teach
Do-It-Yourself Engineering
Do-It-Yourself Engineering


Why DIY Engineering?

01: Why DIY Engineering?

Follow the seven steps in the engineering design process to create a golf ball launcher that can hit a target ten feet away. Apply the principle of conservation of energy to select the right steel spring for the job. After building and testing the launcher, consider the joys of do-it-yourself projects and the insights they provide about fundamental engineering concepts....

36 min
Exploring the Science of Structure

02: Exploring the Science of Structure

Get started on DIY project number two: use cardboard to build a tower capable of supporting a 100-pound gravity load and a 10-pound lateral load simultaneously. This exercise closely replicates problems faced by real-world skyscraper designers. In this lesson, use vector math to analyze the forces exerted on each structural element of the building....

34 min
Design and Build a Cardboard Tower

03: Design and Build a Cardboard Tower

Now that you understand the forces your cardboard tower must withstand, conduct a series of compressive and tensile strength experiments to determine the size and shape of your structure's beams, columns, and braces. After completing your design, build the tower using ordinary wood glue and simple tools. Then pile on concrete blocks and marvel at the strength of your creation....

36 min
Bridging with Beams

04: Bridging with Beams

Design and build an 8-foot beam bridge capable of carrying a swarm of pedestrians across a small stream. First, consider three alternative concepts, with beams made of identical wood, but of different configurations. Then develop these designs, analyzing their stresses and failure modes before selecting the optimum, building it, and inviting your friends onto the span....

34 min
Make a Suspension Bridge

05: Make a Suspension Bridge

Elegant and efficient, the suspension bridge is your next DIY effort. Span the same small stream as in the previous project, but support the deck with suspension cables draped between two 5-foot-tall towers. Analyze the flow of forces through the structural system before designing each element. A 3D computer model helps you plan this impressive project....

34 min
Design a Concrete Sailboat

06: Design a Concrete Sailboat

It may sound suspiciously like a lead balloon, but a concrete boat can be made to float. Your engineering challenge is to create a concrete sailboat that can operate safely in 10-mph winds. Hydrostatics comes into play in designing a hull with sufficient buoyancy, and aerodynamics enters the picture in designing a sail that doesn't cause too much heeling in the wind....

33 min
Set Sail!

07: Set Sail!

Build your concrete sailboat. Consider the enhanced strength of a concrete shell that has been formed into a curved shape-a feature exploited in many buildings. Then apply basic aerodynamics and vector mechanics to determine how the wind propels a sailboat-sailing with the wind, into the wind, and at right angles to the wind. Try out these points of sail with your model....

29 min
Make a Radio-Controlled Blimp

08: Make a Radio-Controlled Blimp

Who has not tied a paper cup to a helium party balloon to make a primitive airship? In this lesson, design and build a far more advanced version: a radio-controlled blimp that you can remotely pilot around your house. Calculate the volume of helium required to lift your blimp and its control unit, borrowed from a toy tank. Use two motor-driven propellers for thrust and control....

32 min
Exploring Aerodynamics

09: Exploring Aerodynamics

Start your project on fixed-wing flight the way the Wright brothers did: by building a wind tunnel. Use it to test different wing shapes at varying angles of attack, exploring the phenomena of lift, drag, and stalling. Your goal is to design a wing appropriate for a low-speed model plane, powered only by a few strands of rubber and flying without remote control....

33 min
Build a Model Airplane

10: Build a Model Airplane

Dig deeper into aerodynamic science so you can choose an airfoil shape and appropriate wingspan, aspect ratio, fuselage length, and stabilizer dimensions for your model plane. Pay special attention to aerodynamic stability and such factors as the dihedral angle of the wings, noting these features on full-size aircraft. Then build the airframe, using wood, tissue paper, and metal wire....

32 min
Take Flight!

11: Take Flight!

Complete your model plane by assembling a rubber motor that will serve as a source of power. Design, carve, and install an efficient propeller. Learn how to balance your aircraft and adjust its flight characteristics. Then find a large, open field, and try a few test glides to fine-tune the plane's performance. Finally, watch it take wing on a full-power flight....

33 min
Build a Model Helicopter

12: Build a Model Helicopter

Now tinker with helicopter aerodynamics by adapting the classic Penni model helicopter design used by many hobbyists. Discover the importance of countering the main rotor's torque, and investigate the mechanical genius of the rotor hub-fortunately simpler on our model than on full-size aircraft! With its 16-inch main rotor, your super-light helicopter can safely fly indoors....

32 min
This Is Rocket Science

13: This Is Rocket Science

Tackle the problem of designing a model rocket that carries a miniature video camera to 500 feet and then returns safely to earth by parachute. In this lesson, focus on selecting an off-the-shelf model rocket engine that can do the job. Use the impulse-momentum principle and thrust curves for various engines to predict your rocket's maximum altitude....

31 min
Build a Rocket

14: Build a Rocket

Put together your model rocket, paying special attention to the engine mount and fins, then giving the completed vehicle a drag-reducing finish. Apply the science of aerodynamics to calculate the required diameter of the parachute. Then check the rocket's stability by determining its center of gravity and center of pressure locations. Your creation is now ready to fly....

31 min
Make an Electric Launch Controller

15: Make an Electric Launch Controller

Get a taste of electrical engineering by designing and building an electric launch controller that will ignite your rocket engine safely. Design a circuit that meets all code requirements. Use Ohm's law to determine the number of batteries and type of resistor required. Also, get a lesson in proper soldering technique for assembling the circuit....

35 min
Let's Do Launch!

16: Let's Do Launch!

Finish your launch preparations by building a theodolite to measure the altitude of the rocket's trajectory, building a launch pad, packing the parachute, choosing a safe launch site, setting up the site, and coordinating the activities of the mission control team. Once all systems are go, conduct the countdown and press the firing button......

32 min
A Tale of Three Catapults

17: A Tale of Three Catapults

Delve into the history of the most potent artillery weapons in the era before gunpowder: catapults. Examine the workings of the ballista, onager, and trebuchet. Then get started on a model ballista capable of hurling a golf ball 200 feet. Analyze the machine's nylon torsion springs to ensure that they can store enough elastic energy to achieve the required 200-foot range....

36 min
Build a Ballista, Onager, and Trebuchet

18: Build a Ballista, Onager, and Trebuchet

Build your model ballista. Then construct two other types of catapult-the onager and trebuchet-designed such that they store the same amount of energy as your ballista. Field test all three to determine which throws a golf ball farthest. Will the winner be the weapon from the Hellenistic (ballista), late Roman (onager), or medieval era (trebuchet)? You may be surprised!...

33 min
Design a Hydraulic Arm

19: Design a Hydraulic Arm

Plunge into hydraulics, learning how force is transmitted from actuators to hydraulic cylinders through fluid-filled lines. Then use this knowledge to design and build a hydraulically powered mechanical arm that can grasp and manipulate a concrete block-controlled by four hand-operated syringes. Along the way, use 3D printing to fabricate several crucial parts....

35 min
Make a Water Turbine

20: Make a Water Turbine

Harness the power of moving water by building an impulse turbine capable of lifting a 2.2-pound weight through a distance of 2 feet. First, use Bernoulli's equation to determine the required height of the water reservoir. Next, focus on the turbine, plotting power versus load to determine the turbine diameter that will produce the required power output optimally. Then build!...

31 min
Design a Gear Train

21: Design a Gear Train

Test your water turbine, comparing its performance to the theoretical ideal. Next, modify it by adding a set of spur gears that will allow the machine to lift a 6-pound weight, which is well beyond its ungeared capacity. Calculate the optimum gear ratio, use laser-cutting to fabricate the gears, install them, and watch a modest stream of water lift a disproportionately heavy mass....

31 min
Make a Mechanical Clock

22: Make a Mechanical Clock

The pendulum clock was the standard for precise timekeeping for centuries. Plan and build one using your newly acquired knowledge of gears. Start by exploring why a pendulum keeps accurate time. Then calculate an appropriate pendulum length for the clock. Design the escapement mechanism and gear train, then add a suitable power source to keep the pendulum swinging....

33 min
Design a Motor-Powered Crane

23: Design a Motor-Powered Crane

Test the limits of small, inexpensive, off-the-shelf hobby motors by building a motor-driven crane capable of lifting 100 pounds-a tall order for a motor that weighs only a few ounces! First, construct the world's simplest electric motor to gain insights about how they work. Then calculate the torque requirements for your crane, and add gears and pulleys to achieve mechanical advantage....

33 min
Creative Design: A Tribute to Rube Goldberg

24: Creative Design: A Tribute to Rube Goldberg

Your final DIY project is a tribute to cartoonist Rube Goldberg, famous for sketching machines that perform the simplest tasks by the most complicated means. Accordingly, combine twenty design elements from this course-from airfoil to electric circuit-to create a machine that will click a computer mouse. Professor Ressler offers a solution that produces a surprising outcome....

38 min