Smartflix -

Almost four years ago I swapped out my fancy lad IT job in New York City for a 100 percent DIY lifestyle in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The only problem was that I didn’t have any building skills. Fortunately, I came across an advertisement for Smartflix: A DVD-rental service sorta like Netflix except all the videos are how-tos. The library covers everything from how to silkscreen a t-shirt to building energy efficient homes. At only $10 per disc rental (a few are more) and over 6,200 titles this service saved my DIY life. Follow the jump to check out my favorite titles.

First, a warning: There is a wide range in quality among the Smartflix library. Many of the videos have terrible editing, which is tolerable as long as the content is good. And several of the presenters tend to do a hard sell on their particular techniques and products, making them sound more like a used car salesman than a wise mentor. On the other hand there are some real gems in the archives.

Here are the flicks that gave me the most:

  • Building with Awareness This covers the construction of a photovoltaic-powered, passive-solar hybrid home from adobe and straw-bale complete with radiant heated floors and rain water cistern. The architect/owner Ted Owens spent years building this house himself and shows you the drama of taking on such a project on your own. Although I don’t build with these materials, this video did a good job of preparing me for the kind of dedication it takes to build alternative structures.
  • Veg My Ride Upbeat and perhaps a little too over-simplified, this one shows how easy it can be to convert diesels to run on waste vegetable oil. The video was convincing enough for me to take on a veggie conversion of my own, which has worked for thousands of miles, but not without complications. (More on my car to come.)
  • MIG Welding On topics like welding I actually prefer the video as opposed to taking workshops or learning from friends. I find that friends (or at least my friends) skip all of the safety information and workshops don’t allow you to really see the weld beads as they are going down. It also helps to see a clean, high-functioning metal workshop with all the commonly used tools like chop saws and angle grinders. Even the little tips where they temporarily tack down a project to a steel table or make a small jig can be invaluable.
  • Lockpicking One word: terrifying. Especially the scene where he picks the lock of the hotel room door then continues to remove the safety catch and put it back on his way out. This covers how to break into pretty much anything with a lock and make your own keys. If you can make it past the first 30 minutes, you will be a dangerous man.

So yeah, I’m a fan. In fact, after renting maybe 50 movies, SmartFlix reached out to me interview to see what the heck I’m making with all these videos I had been renting.