Mike Senese

April 2011

Mike Senese
When and how did you get into using tools/doing projects?
Honestly, before I can remember. My dad put power tools in my hands at an age much younger than most people would be comfortable with. Even I've had to wonder at some of the stories. "Why would you think that is a good idea?"
I picked up my DIY mentality from both my parents. My grandfather was a cabinet maker, my dad learned from him and was also one of those 50's science-fair guys who built crystal radios and antennas in the attic for fun. My mom, exceptionally crafty, sewed all our Halloween costumes. I actually like sewing a lot (although I'm not very good at it), and I know exactly where that comes from. Just another form of making stuff.
My project making really blossomed in my pre-teen years, when I started skateboarding. I'd steal scrap lumber out of dumpsters to build ramps from. Embarrassingly, I still do that sometimes. I hate the amount of waste that gets chucked into landfills.
What do you do when you're not tinkering in the garage and working on other projects?
My main gig is TV hosting and writing for magazines - science type stuff. For fun, I love surfing and discovering the secret to making the perfect Neapolitan wood-fired pizza. Pizza and surfing - I'm basically still a teenager.
What's the project you're most proud of?
A bowling ball cannon. I was working on an awesome show for Science Channel called Catch It Keep It; the network said, "We want a bowling ball cannon." and I made it happen. Also, rebuilding my 1973 Land Rover and then driving it across the country.
How did you get into TV? Through building things for the shows and then you ended up on camera? Or did you get on camera and bring in your DIY skills?
I was working in San Francisco for a couple magazines (WIRED, ReadyMade) when I was contacted about a new show that needed a science-guy host with a solid rock and roll foundation. TV was never my intention, but I was comfortable with that world through friends in the industry, so I decided "why not" - and I got the position. On that show, we had a great guy building most of the pieces for the show, Doyle S. Huge, who truly is a mastermind of awesomeness. As a "sciency" guy, I helped him whenever possible - the budget for that show was ludicrously low, so we all helped every way we could, and being involved made it a lot easier to talk on camera rather than just seeing something for the first time minutes earlier.
After that, people wanted to keep talking about other "build" shows, and my role on Catch It Keep It came directly from that.
What's the most insane thing you've ever built?
The last episode of Catch It Keep It was an NFL football-themed episode that required the contestants to navigate a football-carrying mannequin on a radio-controlled base through an obstacle course that had liquid-propane flamethrowers, water cannons strong enough to push a compact car, massive swinging weights, and the scariest part to me, rotating "arms" to try to knock the ball loose. For those, I used drill-press motors with 5' steel flat stock bolted to the shafts. Set in place, I realized they were basically lawnmowers flipped upside-down, stripped of all safety gear, and positioned precisely at neck-height. And at full speed, they'd spin silently and invisibly. Horrifying.
Any stories of DIY disaster?
TV-wise, the worst thing was an end-of-the-day test run on one of the setups that resulted in 6 smashed cans of propane spraying wildly, 300 gallons of water dumping on top of everything, and a handful of us rebuilding the entire setup through that night and the entire next day at a crazy pace to get the show ready in time.
Why do you use Craftsman tools?
I trust the lifetime warranty, and I dig the history. The catalog is amazing - Craftsman makes just about anything I can think of, and quite a few things I'd never imagine. Only thing missing is that 4 1/2" cordless angle grinder I've been asking about. Hurry up!
How did you get your DIY skills?
The first part was being enabled by my parents. They let me be curious, take chances, take things apart that didn't always go back together. I kept studying the stuff that was interesting to me, science, physics, electronics, kept my hands busy on corresponding projects, and was never afraid to ask for more guidance. Nowadays, we live in a world that is incredible - the internet has given us instant access to anything we want detailed information about. There are tons of things I don't know about, but I'm online a lot trying to learn it all.
Anything you have to say to other craftsmen out there?
Whenever possible, document the project that you're working on - simple photos and a short write up will suffice if time is an issue (as it usually is) - and post it online to share with others. As we add to this pool of information, we're able to keep the DIY spirit and community thriving, countering the trend in the manufacturing world of putting everything into black boxes surrounded with plastic shrouds, making it next to impossible for the hobbyist to tinker under the hood. Let's not lose our ability to innovate.
Also, I think the Craftsman crowd, being awesome builders and tool guys/girls, will love the new t-shirt design I just finished up. Comment on my site and you might win a free one: (http://mikesenese.com/DOIT/new-shirts/). Thanks for checking it out!