- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2011

Crafts for men have come a long way since the days when Popular Mechanics advised returning World War II soldiers in the rustic arts of whittling and leather tooling.

A compendium from the magazine’s postwar archives, “Man Crafts” (Hearst Books, 2009), celebrates male-geared hobbies of yesteryear. It reads like last year’s cheeky book by Amy Sedaris, “Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People” (Grand Central Publishing).

“It’s meant more as an amusement and a fond look back, more than anything else,” says Jacqueline Deval, a Hearst Books vice president, though the instructions in “Man Crafts” are legitimate.

The book throws into contrast how different things are today. Some of its nostalgic hobbies remain popular among women and men, though there might no longer be a market for tin-can candle holders and tin serving trays.

But a quick glance at Etsy.com, an online avenue where people sell handmade goods and old-timey collectibles, also turns up men making soap, glassworks and knitwear. Men designing T-shirts and other clothing. Men creating electrical gadgets and making art journals.

And men brewing beer. According to the American Homebrewers Association, based in Boulder, Colo., nearly 750,000 people brew beer at home at least once a year in the United States.

One of them is Mitch Larsen, of Lincoln, Neb., who likes the challenge of crafting a great-tasting beer.

“It’s science-y,” says Mr. Larsen, 41. “There’s a lot that goes into making good beer. You can make beer with a kit at the store, but it’s not going to be good beer.”

Good beer, Mr. Larsen says, requires reading and research, talking with other home brewers, lots of taste testing and making unfortunate mistakes.

“It’s a creative outlet for me because I formulate my own recipes,” Mr. Larsen says.

Joshua Zimmerman’s creative outlet is tinkering with small electrical projects. The 28-year-old fourth-grade teacher in Milwaukee makes USB chargers and flashlights from Altoid tins and small robots from toothbrush heads and solar battery chargers. His creations usually can be made with a few bucks and a few parts, often from recycling old electronics.

“I spend way too much time on researching this stuff for my own amusement,” Mr. Zimmerman said.

He simplifies ideas he finds online, assembles them in kits, and sells them from his online shop, Brown Dog Gadgets, and at Etsy. He also posts the instructions for all of his projects, most of which take less than an hour for a novice and require a little metal soldering.

Many of the men who sell handmade wares on Etsy gravitate to the site’s “geekery” category, which includes practical jokes and quirky crafts, says Emily Bidwell, who works in merchandising for the online site, based in Brooklyn, N.Y. A recent perusal found more than 72,000 “geekery” items for sale, including “zombie gnomes” and a “Tera Energy Superconducting Linear Accelerator” ray gun (both made by men).

Men’s crafts often fall into that comical, playful category, Ms. Bidwell says, or can be more traditional and serious: metal, wood, leather, ceramics, glass.

Although men may share the same crafts as women, they often put a male spin on it, Ms. Bidwell says. For example, men are more likely to make leather and canvas courier bags, bicycle accessories and luggage.

“It’s not like a pretty purse for a lady,” Ms. Bidwell says. “They’re making things that they want for themselves.”

That explains the artwork of Brian Kasstle, 50, and Joe Bagley, 26.

Mr. Kasstle, of Long Beach, Calif., dabbled in scrapbooking and card-making before he hit upon art journaling, using mostly collage, painting and image transfers. Each page tells a story about his life, family or feelings, and he shares much of this on his blog.

“I notice when I don’t [journal], I get cranky,” Mr. Kasstle says. “It’s just opened the world of art to me. I love it as a form of expression.”

Mr. Bagley, of Boston, painstakingly hand-cuts intricate paper art, which he sells at his Etsy shop, Papercuts by Joe. An archaeologist by training, he juggles what have become twin careers.

His paper-cutting skills were honed at a young age.

“I think the biggest reason I fell in love with it is that I was 10 and using an Exacto knife,” Mr. Bagley says. “The draw of that, of getting away with that.”

Years of practice have led him to a photorealistic look with his art form. A large, highly detailed piece that takes a lot of time can fetch $4,000.

“Once I felt like I was doing something new and different, it started to feel exciting,” he said.

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