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Warning: Boys at play

Here's a bit of vintage reading material that might bring a tear of nostalgia to the eye of any diehard do-it-yourselfer: a downloadable copy of the The Boy Mechanic.

Published in 1913 by Popular Mechanics, the book contains "700 things for boys to do" and includes 800 illustrations for building everything from cameras to engines to snow skis.

Browsing through the projects makes it clear that a lot has changed in nearly 100 years, particularly when it comes to what is considered hazardous material. In an era of warning stickers on coffee cups and mandatory bike helmets, some of the projects appear downright dangerous. Here's part of the instructions for creating a homemade Grenet battery: "Dip a piece of rag in a diluted solution of sulphuric acid...rub the zinc well, at the same time allowing a few drops of mercury to fall on a spot attacked by the acid."

For the concerned parent who didn't want their child playing with mercury, there was a fallback project: the gas cannon. "If you have a small cannon with a bore of 1 or 1 1/2 inches, bore out the fuse hole large enough to tap and fit in a small sized spark plug such as used in a gas engine. Fill the cannon with gas from a gas jet and then push a cork in the bore close up to the spark plug. Connect one of the wires from a battery to a spark coil and then to the spark plug. Attach the other wire to the cannon near the spark plug. Turn the switch to make a spark and a loud report will follow."

It's no wonder kids today complain of being bored.