10 Affordable Father's Day Gifts for the DIY Dad

Boy and girl watching father open Father's Day gift
By Louis DeNicola

Dad deserves more than a tie, cuff links, or electric shaver this Father's Day. If he's the DIY type, a hands-on gift is a three-fer: You give him a kit with all the necessary components (gift No. 1); he tackles and completes the job with relish (gift No. 2); he then uses and enjoys his creation (gift No. 3). You can hunt down all the parts on your own or take advantage of the growing popularity of DIY kits sold online, at brick-and-mortar crafts shops, and at local crafts fairs. Each of the following 10 ideas leaves opportunity for creativity and customization.

Homemade Jerky. Present dad with a variety of spices and a slab of fresh meat along with jerky-making instructions found on the Web (WikiHow is a good source.) The process is straightforward: Cut the meat into strips, remove the fat, marinate the slices, add seasonings, and dry in a dehydrator or oven. Total elapsed time: a bit more than a day. DIY jerky is often made with flank steak, which currently sells for less than $8 a pound. (This is a good, cheap cut to throw on the grill, as well.) Marinade and spice mixtures cost less than $15, and there will be plenty left over for repeat performances.

Vegetarian Delight. If the idea of homemade jerky is bound to churn your father's stomach, there's always a meat-free alternative: DIY tofu. The website UncommonGoods sells a tofu-making kit for $19 that comes with GMO-free soybeans, a mold, and cheesecloth. The only other supplies this DIY Father's Day gift requires are a blender and a lemon, and the only choice dad will have to make is how firm the tofu should be. The 1-pound brick will be ready in less than an hour and can be used to enhance a stir fry, slapped on to a grill, or marinated and baked for snacks or salad toppings.

Man-Style Terrarium. An enclosed garden may not evoke a mainstream image of a Father's Day present, but these miniature wonders are just the right gift for DIY dads with a green thumb. Once complete, it can brighten his day at work or his favorite room at home. Terrarium kits start at $10, and you can always enlarge the scope by adding unique finds -- a special moss from the garden center or a few trinkets from a flea market, for example. Some kits come with the container; if not, buy a Mason jar at the dollar store or a decorative glass vessel costing $10 to $20 at a crafts store. Send him to sites such as Etsy and Pinterest for inspiration.

Hand-Built Camera. Dad's smartphone may have a camera, but there's still something special about using a device specifically made to take pictures -- especially when dad makes the device. Fotodiox's Lomo Camera kit costs $15 on Amazon.com and comes with all the parts necessary to build a working twin- lens reflex, 35mm camera. The DIY Father's Day gift kit earns 3.5 stars in customer reviews, with users generally saying assembly is fun (heads up: "springs C and D are swapped," according to one post), although reports are mixed about photo quality. Film is not included.

Homemade Infused Liquor. A bottle of store-bought whiskey is just too bland to serve as a Father's Day gift. Instead, let him infuse the liquor with flavors he likes. The site Boozed + Infused offers several recipes, from a classic limoncello to the more risque habanero honey whiskey. Infusing takes anywhere from a day or two to well over a week, depending on the recipe; The Homemade Gin Kit ($50) comes with all the herbs necessary to transform vodka into gin in 36 hours. For a more customized finish, he can use fresh produce from the farmers' market and follow the steps laid out in the Infuse Your Booze post found at Bon Appetit. Either way, you'll need to buy the booze (don't bother with the good stuff); a fifth of serviceable vodka costs $8 to $12.

'Barrel' Aging. For the father who likes the peaty things in life, barrel aging adds an extra touch of mellow to dad's preferred spirit. The website UncommonGoods sells two barrel aging kits: the $20 version is intended for DIY dads who might want to age a bottle of whiskey or rum already on hand; the $35 version comes with a glass bottle that's meant to hold a favorite cocktail mix. Place the wooden staves from the kit inside a full bottle of whatever and let it sit for one to three weeks, according to taste.

Soap. The Web is loaded with recipes and instructional videos for making soap, but there are also soap-making kits. The Lorann Oils Soap Making Kit ($24 on Amazon.com), for example, includes glycerin soap base, liquid colors, cocoa butter, fragrances, and a mold. Or, assemble a DIY Father's Day gift kit on your own. You'll need lye (available at the local hardware store), oils, fragrances and textures (e.g., dried flowers), mixing bowls, protective glasses and gloves, and a plastic or silicone mold, PVC pipe, or a cardboard box lined with freezer paper. Include very specific instructions because working with lye can be dangerous. Although the cost of ingredients and tools for a single batch adds up, the per-bar cost is about $2 and there'll be soap enough for months. The Art of Manliness suggests adding walnut or coffee to make the soap more "manly."

Hot Sauce. The popularity of hot sauce has skyrocketed over the past decade compared with other condiments. The website Grow and Make sells a kit for $30 that contains the ingredients (spices, sugar, peppers, vinegar) to whip up three different hot sauces or three bottles of one type. Supplies (funnel, gloves, bottles, labels, and cleanser) are also included. An extra $5 buys a larger kit that yields six bottles.

Fresh Coffee. A new mug that says "Best Dad" -- so ordinary. If coffee is the special-day theme, consider Sweet Maria's stovetop roasting kit ($41.50). This DIY Father's Day gift contains everything needed to roast coffee at home: a 6-quart aluminum popper with a hand crank, a thermometer, 10 valve bags, and 4 pounds of green coffee beans (choose from espresso or regular; decaf beans are also available). If the kitchen isn't already stocked with a coffee grinder, you can buy one for less than $20.

Homemade Bacon. Pork in all its glory -- and that would be bacon -- is the food of the moment. So why not present dad with a DIY Father's Day gift that lets him partake at a very basic level? The Original Bacon Kit costs $23 and comes with a curing bag, the cure, maple sugar, a thermometer, and directions. All you need to add is 5 pounds of pork belly, currently selling for about $5 a pound at a local butcher. Dad can make the bacon in an oven or a smoker and the entire family can reap the benefits of his hard work.
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