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Quotes on the Topic

  • "In Silicon Valley I am a huge outlier in the fact that we're one of very few companies that has the ability to take venture financing and has refused it," Herrick says. "Bootstrapping... really forces you to invent your way out of problems rather than spend your way out of problems [and ] invent ways to grow rather than spend on ways to grow." - referring to WikiHow. [1]. Quote is true - but article is from 2012 - so I am curious as to what happened to WikiHow's revenue model (ads) since then. WikiHow is ad-optional, and never asked for donations, though I see donation buttons on the site now. This financial explanation is from 2014 [2]. Case study worth studying, founder is 'passionate about helping anyone do anything', which is a stated prerequisite to the open source economy.



The term "bootstrapping" comes from the phrase "lifting yourself by your bootstraps", which is not actually possible but gets the idea across of a closed loop process. In the context of Open Source Ecology it means starting from a minimal set of people, skills, money, and tools, and using them to make progressively better tools until the full range of Global Village hardware is available. Along with an expanding tool set comes an expanding community organization. There is no point in having 50 people working when you only have a few hand tools to work with. The design problem is what is the optimal bootstrapping path, and how would it vary according to location, available resources and skills, funding, etc.


Make vs Buy - Unless you want to truly start from nothing but a rock and a stick to make a stone axe, there will always be some level of bought items. To decide whether to make or buy a given item, the following are relevant:

  • Productivity - This is how much you save by making the item divided by the time to make it. If you save $100 by making an item and it takes you ten hours to make it, then your productivity is $10/hr. If you can be doing something else with a higher productivity, such as a paid job, then you are better off in total time required by just buying the item.
  • Service Life - Once you have it, how long will it last? A machine you make yourself will have a lesser or greater life than a bought one, depending on how it is designed.

Tool Grades - For discussion purposes, it is convenient to use existing descriptions of how capable a tool is. These are portable, stationary, and industrial. The different grades are distinguished by features such as weight, rigidity, accuracy, power level, and maximum work dimension. An example is portable electric drill, stationary drill press, and industrial drill press. Ideally you want to use one grade of tools to make the next higher grade. In some cases, a tool can be modified and upgraded to a higher grade.

Tool Functions - A functional category such as "making holes in things" may be accomplished by numerous tools (drill, punch, plasma torch, laser). You can map out the function according to parameters like: output rate (holes per hour), how big a hole, how thick a material, what kind of material, how accurate a hole, side effects on the work piece (such as heating from a plasma torch). A given tool will cover some range of parameters. When planning a bootstrap path, consider how a new tool will extend the range of parameters or overlap with other tools.

Basic Hand and Portable Tools

If you are reading this on a computer, you probably do not need to start at the stone axe level. Let us assume you live in an apartment, so have no land for a workshop, and no ability to convert an existing room into a serious shop. Let us also assume you own nothing in the way of tools. So how do you get started? The first step is to get some basic hand and portable tools and either make or buy some tool boxes to carry them around in and store them. Even when you have a high grade shop, the Boeing airplane factory for example, the workers there still have tool boxes with hand tools, so they are needed at all levels of projects.

Workspace - If you have a balcony or breezeway or parking spot, you can use that temporarily to work in and just put things away when not working on them. It will be inefficient to put things away all the time, so the long term goal is get a permanent workshop set up, but that is a later step.

Finding Tools - You can often find used tools on Craigslist, garage sales, Goodwill and second hand shops, flea markets, pawn shops, and tool rental places. Good quality tools will last a lot longer and do better work, so if you expect to use it a lot, consider paying extra for quality. New tools are available in most cities at home improvement centers, and also by buying online. Less common tools can be found at Industrial Supply places such as Grainger or McMaster-Carr, or direct from manufacturers.

Safety Items - Humans are easily damaged, and any tool that can cut wood or metal can cut you too. Some tasks will require special safety gear, but these would be a minimum.

  • Work Gloves - to protect from splinters, chafing, in some cases nasty materials, or electrical shock. The latter two require specialty rubber gloves.
  • Safety Glasses - your eyes are particularly sensitive to dust, splinters, and other hazards
  • First Aid Kit - Inevitably you will need it. Some bandages and aspirin would be an absolute minimum. You can buy a complete kit as a set, or assemble your own and store it in a fishing tackle box
  • Fire Extinguisher - wood shavings, oily rags, electricity, cutting metal, grinding, metal casting, and many other processes are capable of starting a fire. Besides following good safety practices, you should at least have a fire extinguisher or water hose available whenever there is a possibility of starting a fire.

Hand Tools - This is a list of basic hand tools. If you have no other toolbox, a sturdy cardboard box or two can be used until you can make or buy a better one. Use something to keep blades from knocking about and damaging each other and other tools. Compartments are very useful to keep things organized.

  • Claw Hammer
  • Locking Pliers (Vise-Grip is a popular brand)
  • Screwdriver set - Various sizes and types of head
  • Utility knife
  • Tape Measure
  • Hand saw - for cutting wood
  • Hacksaw - for cutting other materials (metal, ceramic, etc) different blades are used to cut different materials
  • Adjustable wrenches - these come in different styles for heavy pipe and other assembly jobs
  • Bubble Level
  • Assorted Pliers - in different shapes, for grasping small objects, including nails, which keeps your fingers out of the way of the hammer.
  • Wire cutter/Stripper
  • Electrical tester - a small lamp can be used to test outlets, but this device can probe other places to find out if there is live electricity. Usually you do NOT want this while you are working on things.

Portable Tools

  • Electric Drill - With assorted drill bits
  • Circular Saw - including assorted blades for different jobs.
  • Work surface - In basic form this can be two sawhorses and some boards or plywood to put on top.
  • Clamps - power tools often generate enough force to require them, or for holding a guide board for a circular saw.


  • Wood Glue
  • Pen or pencil for marking
  • Assorted screws, nails, and other fasteners - Get some sort of multi-compartment container to keep them organized


You can start doing things by yourself, but as the projects get larger and need more skills, having more than just you on your team becomes more important. A friend or two on a causal basis can be a starting point. As things grow, a partnership or an organized group such as a community workshop association makes it possible to share the cost and skills, do tasks that require multiple people at once, and rent or buy a permanent location. That can lead in the long run to a full community with their own houses, workshops, and farmland.

Bootstrap Stationary Tools

Bootstrap Drill Press - This is taking a hand drill and converting it to a drill press with the addition of a support frame and table. It is based on the Instructables Drill Press.

Bootstrap Workshop and Furniture

Generally to do more complex projects, you need a more permanent workspace out of the weather and some shop furniture like workbenches and storage shelving. Projects that are not finished in one day can be left out and just picked up again without needing to put things away.

Ideas and Notes

This section is to put down and save ideas and notes not formally integrated into the above yet.