ON Chris Hackett’s personal periodic table, the world’s most interesting, and abundant, substance is an element he calls obtainium. Things classified as obtainium might include the discarded teapot that he once turned into a propane burner, or the broken beer bottle he used to make a razor, or the 9-millimeter shell casings he acquired some time ago, melted in a backyard foundry (also made of obtainium) and cast into brass knuckles for a girlfriend.
If you ask Mr. Hackett — or Hackett, as he is uniformly known in the Brooklyn bohemia that skips south, from the G station at Greenpoint Avenue to the Gowanus Canal — where he got the components for his homemade still or the numerous jet engines he has built from scratch, he will likely shrug, smile and say, “Around.”
Last month, Mr. Hackett, 39, was working in his Gowanus workshop, a ground-floor space on Butler Street, near the head of the canal. The workshop is a veritable obtainium mine. In one corner sat an upright piano transformed into a cabinet for fasteners. In another was a rack of reclaimed two-inch metal tubing. There were doctored band saws, jury-rigged drill presses, repurposed metal barrels. A shop cat, Shop Cat, napped in front of a plastic chest of drawers marked with labels reading, “ball bearings,” “flange bearings,” “regulators,” “pulleys,” “rivets,” “channel locks,” “drills” and “more drills.” The backyard was heaped with obtainium: half of a car’s rear axle, bolted I-beams, a yellow boat built from scrap.