When Kevin Binkert moved into the old Standard Metal Products (SMP) building in San
Francisco’s South-of-Market neighborhood 15
years ago, all that remained of the 1920s metal
foundry was a metal plaque. In homage, Binkert
revived the name and built out an atelier that
melds the most modern Computer Numeric
Control machines with traditional hand tools.
As a maker-for-hire, Binkert has prototyped a
handheld blaster for brain tumors, engineered
hydrant valves for San Francisco’s fire department, produced custom parts for the city’s Italian
streetcars, and restored two historic clock towers.
In between commercial jobs, he worked on
the Spirit of America, a 45,000-horsepower
jet vehicle that tore through the desert at an
unofficial record speed of 675 mph; built The
Spinner, a Ford V8-driven machine that whips
braided cables to deafening supersonic speeds;
and unleashed the Flame Tornado, a gas-powered
sculpture that spews a 40-foot-tall vortex of fire.
These days, he’s taking his talent to the small
screen for Prototype This!, a forthcoming Discovery Channel TV show produced by MythBusters
creators Beyond Productions. Binkert and MAKE
contributor Joe Grand are among the five hosts.
Binkert’s DIY career began in post-college jobs
at movie special-effect houses. His defining
maker moment came when he joined machine
performance provocateurs Survival Research
Laboratories (see MAKE, Volume 07) in 1989.
“I think that around retirement a lot of machinists start realizing they can make art with
their tools,” Binkert says. “I got into this the
opposite way.” —David Pescovitz
1. Okuma three-axis milling machine, known for its
reliability and accuracy. 2. Mori Seiki CNC lathe
used by its previous owner to machine parts for
high-speed centrifuges. 3. Marvel cut-off band
saw. 4. Monarch Model EE lathe, arguably the best
manual lathe ever. 5. Cat- 40 tools for the Okuma.
6. Wheel balancer machined for an SF streetcar.
7. Chip conveyor catches the scraps from the
CNC and drops them in the steel drum. Periodically, a man named Luther retrieves the material
for recycling. 8. Dentures left by dentists who
commissioned a custom denture-cutting tool.
9. Arbor press for installing bearings and pins.
112 Make: Volume 09