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 77.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from In awe of his talent Stephen Ressler is my absolute favorite GC instructor. I own all 4 of his courses and hope that he does more. I will probably never build any of the projects that he does in this course but I really enjoyed watching him do them and learned a lot about the science and engineering involved. I was very much impressed by the level of his craftsmanship and now I know how he built those wonderful models in his previous courses. I love to build things but they generally involve 2x4s!
Date published: 2020-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great teacher. Great at visually helping people understand basic engineering.
Date published: 2020-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The great-nephews love it! I bought this course for them and I have not seen any episode myself, but they sent me a photo of the trebuchet they built -- very cool!
Date published: 2020-06-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Do-It-Yourself Engineering The textbook which accompanies the set of DVDs is well written. I hope to reverse engineer some of the projects for my elementary school STEM classes.
Date published: 2020-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This title leaves no guessing as to expectations Excellent presentations of subjects. This is a great book for any student (and some grown-ups) to view / take part in the understanding of engineering projects.
Date published: 2020-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Ressler is a great instructor Watched this with my 15 year old grandson. He was fascinated, as was I. Ressler uses his creativity to demonstrate engineering concepts. The course is not for everyone, but for the mechanically inclined it is a winner.
Date published: 2020-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from MythBusters with math -- great fun Is it just me, or was anybody else struck by how similar the content of this course is to MythBusters? We have rockets, unusual aircraft, concrete boats, Rube Goldberg machines... There are no completely gratuitous explosions, for better or worse, but there's a lot of similar themes. In fact, I can see Dr Ressler presenting MythBusters but whether he would be more Savage or Heinemann, I'm not sure. For the avoidance of doubt -- a favourable comparison with MythBusters should be taken as flattery. Still, it's all great fun, and backed up with sound math and theory. The math isn't more advanced than high-school level and, although some reviewers have said they would prefer more math, I really think the level is appropriate for this kind of course. Incidentally, the section of out-takes at the end of the course was very funny, and illustrates how difficult if must have been to make all the demonstrations work out correctly for the cameras. I can only guess at how long it took to prepare the course, and how many failed projects never even made the final cut. My one slight concern is this -- if you actually want to build the things demonstrated, or anything like them, you'll likely struggle to find parts suppliers outside the USA. All the contact details given are for US suppliers. The US focus is made even more apparent by the use of ugly US units, and all the horrible conversion factors this entails. I guess this is meant to make the content more accessible for non-specialists, but what non-specialist ever used units like "slugs" anyway? The arithmetic would be a lot simply with SI units, and I believe the presenter admits this somewhere (or maybe in one of his other courses -- I'm not sure).
Date published: 2020-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Instructor General Ressler is fun to watch and does a great job of blending learning with entertainment.
Date published: 2020-02-19
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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
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
Dr. Stephen Ressler is Professor Emeritus from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). A registered Professional Engineer in Virginia, he earned a B.S. from West Point and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University, as well as a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. Professor Ressler's papers on engineering education have won seven Best Paper awards from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). Professor Ressler has also won numerous awards from the ASCE, including the President's Medal and the 2011 Outstanding Projects and Leaders Award-the organization's highest award. His other accolades include the Bliss Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Engineering Education from the Society of American Military Engineers and the Norm Augustine Award for Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Communications from the American Association of Engineering Societies. Professor Ressler served for 34 years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and retired at the rank of Brigadier General in 2013. While on active duty, he served in a variety of military engineering assignments around the world. He is also a developer and principal instructor for the Excellence in Civil Engineering Education Teaching Workshop, which has trained more than 500 civil engineering faculty members from more than 200 colleges and universities.

By This Professor

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