Tim Hunkin Rides Again With The Secret Life Of Components

Long-time readers may remember one of the occasional Engineering Heroes series that focused on the British engineer, inventor and sometime TV presenter Tim Hunkin, known for his intricate creations, unusual arcade machines, and Secret Life Of Machines TV series’ from the years around 1990. It seems we’re now in for a fresh treat as he’s returning to our screens via YouTube with a new series. The Secret Life Of Components will be his attempt to pass on the accumulated knowledge of a long career that most of us would have given our eyeteeth for.

There will be eight videos in the series which launches on the 4th of March, and judging by the snippets in the preview video below the break he’ll be covering a wide range including springs, adhesives, chains, belts, switches, and much more. His entertaining style and beautifully built working models are guaranteed to make for some very good content while giving a unique view into the workshop of a true master of the craft.

As an appetiser it’s worth reading our profile of Tim Hunkin. It features a visit to his Novelty Automation arcade in London’s Holborn, which should be an essential stop for any travelling Hackaday reader finding themselves in that city.

Thanks [Jeff Del Papa] and others for the tip.

33 thoughts on “Tim Hunkin Rides Again With The Secret Life Of Components

  1. There have always been a group of “old guys” (no offense intended) that are either masters of something, or the jack-of-all-trades guys that know enough to be dangerous about every topic under the sun. When I was a kid, you had to be lucky enough to know and hang around them for that experience to rub off. What’s exciting is that some of these guys alive today have discovered Youtube (and services like it), and have decided to impart some of their knowledge.

    I can’t help but think of Doug from SV Seeker, who I’ve called an “old guy” in comments on his videos, for this very reason. He normally dismisses “safety Sallys” with prejudice, but occasionally he stops and explains that there really is a danger to watch out for in something. Most recently, he was working with another experienced guy on a hydraulic system, and Doug asked what the other guy thought was the most common injury to watch out for. Without missing a beat, his helper told him it was hydraulic injection.

    I’d never heard of the injury, but I’ve never messed with hydraulics. You know how you check your plumbing for leaks, by wrapping your fingers around the fitting to see if they get wet? Imagine what happens if you find a leak in a hydraulic fitting, when the fluid is at 5000 PSI. You just injected a highly toxic hydraulic fluid into your finger, and hardly felt the sting. The pictures of such an injury after a few days isn’t pretty. It hadn’t ever occured to me that such an injury was possible, but you bet I’m gonna make sure any hydraulic system I ever work on is depressurized before I go poking at it. I commented that I was glad to have Doug as one of our “old guys” to let us all know what safety gotchas are actually worth worrying about.

    Tim Hunkin is definitely one of these guys, and I’m stoked that he’s joining the ranks of experienced content creators, trying to get some of that experience to rub off on the rest of us.

    1. As one of those “old guys” you speak of, being a jack of all trades, but only a master of a few. I certainly understand the notion of being able to be dangerous in a multitude of fields, physics, chemistry, biology, botany, programming, psychology, robotics, it’s a long list. Frankly that’s where the uncommon concept of common sense comes into play. I’ve never been a fan of all the health and safety nonsense. Hydraulic injection is definitely something to be avoided, so are electric shocks from high current sources, but that’s no reason to avoid playing with them, you’ve just got to remember to have some respect for things that will kill you if you let them. Inspiration can be the limiting factor, perhaps only secondary to legality. There are always new skills to learn. The internet has mitigated some of the government hampering over the last few years. I’m not a huge fan of the computing age, but it has its uses.

  2. God bless him! I did not realize he was still alive. I saw the RIP for his helper here a tear or two back it seems, I am seem to recall that he was younger. Anyway, if this has any of the charm of the secret life of machines it ill be wonderful.

    1. I’d been watching his youtube channel for a couple of years now because I was a fan of the series, and I liked seeing what he was still up to with his arcades. His video last weekend sure took me by surprise though!

  3. YES! Tim (and Rex) was somebody I watched when I was young and aspired to be the mad inventor he was. It’s in part that I do so much with electronics now so I’m pleased to see him return and give more of his unique style of presenting and knowledge.

      1. Nice! Did they get the original films scanned? There hasn’t been a good copy of “The Car” episode available since the original airing of the series. When the PAL and NTSC DVD sets were made, whomever was digitizing the video tapes didn’t bother to review them and missed that a large chunk of “The Car” has color sync and field order issues. It starts during the segment on using a frame jig to bend a unibody back into shape. That digitization was then spread around to all sites with downloads of the show.

  4. I have to agree with his comments. I find the more youtube videos I watch of masters in their field, the more precise, easy and quickly I do things myself. It’s like being there, some things rub off, the most telling is the ease with which they build things. So if you find yourself struggling, you know you took a wrong turn. there is an easier way out there. And just like applying paint to the surface, half the work is in the preparation.

  5. Watching Secret Life of Machines as a kid (back when you could learn something from The Learning Channel) probably changed my life and set me onto the path to becoming a full-time maker. The details learned from those videos has always stuck with me and assisted me at many times. But I think the most important part of the show was Tim’s overall philosophy. Tim is an anti-capitalist hero, revealing the marketing hype mystery surrounding objects and discussing and illustrating planned obsolescence and the waste created by this. He’s a role model with a shop and collection of old parts that enables him to repair instead of replace, or build whatever he imagines.

    But the thing that stuck me the most with Tim and SLOM was that he made his living building weird and wild one-off clocks for and mechanical devices. He blows things up, shoots things into the air, catches things on fire, and makes a friggin’ stonehenge out of cars. The very fact that he could do all of that as an adult is life changing.

  6. I have watched over and over again SLOM and love the explanation of how a device ticks. From a vaccuum cleaner (‘hoover’ for the chaps across the sea) to the Television. The quirky cartoons and information has made for a very educational program even my pre-teen grandchildren can get into. All in all, kudos to him and continuing on with entertaining through education in his vids.

  7. HOORAY!

    Tim is a great teacher and quite a character. I loved SLOM and couldn’t wait for each episode when it was on in 1988-90.

    What kind of man shows the pressurized oiling system of an engine by hammering a punch into the oil filter of a running engine? Tim Hunkin does. I missed the rest of the episode I was laughing so hard. Nutty Professor or Mad Scientist? Yes.

  8. Thanks for the tip, I’m looking forward to this. I still have vivid and fond memories of the “secret life of machines” show. His unique approach to demonstrating how things work, a down to earth explanation about everyday stuff. Explained in a messy environment with all sorts of interesting stuff in the background. No clean lab, no fancy tools. Just stuff that anybody could make too if they wanted. It made the technology of things within reach and that’s a big thing for a kid in the 80’s. Well, that was my perception as a 10 year old and it didn’t really change.
    “This is recorded on sticky tape and rust!” is something I think of whenever I look at a reel to reel recorder. Or basically any type of magnetic based recording device, although less often.

    I’m pretty sure that many young (and older) people will enjoy his new show. I like the idea of focusing on components. Again, thanks for the tip.

  9. I regularly re-watch his programs, take time out to see what he’s been up to half a world away from me. I look forwards to his program and will surely treasure and share them. Thanks for being you Tim, the world is a better place with you in it.

  10. The original Secret Life of Machines [SLOM] series (three seasons, six 25 minute episodes per season, 18 episodes total) are freely available to watch here:


    Or more specifically here:


    If for some reason, like you want to watch the episodes while on your trip to Mars, it is possible to save each video by right-clicking it and then selecting Save As (or whatever) in your browser. Each episode is a 25 minute .mp4 720×480 29.97 fps file that runs around 200-260 MB. So all 18 episodes may eat up roughly 4.5 GB of disk space, which isn’t too bad for about 7.5 hours of geeky entertainment.

  11. Tim Hunkin is a national treasure. I remember SLOM when it was first aired and have admired Tim’s style (presentation and making) ever since. I owe him a personal thank you for giving me the necessary understanding of how fax machines work – repeating the explanation to a curious aged relative made me look clever beyond expectation and ensured decades of respect thereafter…

  12. You should hunt down his “Rudiments of Wisdom” columns, which ran from 1973 onwards in The Observer Colour Magazine – there was at least one b&w reprint collection “Almost Everything There Is To Know”. That was the highlight of the Sunday papers.

  13. I just finished the new video. Tim still has his style and wits!
    The series is dedicated to Rex Garrod who left us in April of 2019. It’s worth to read Tim’s account on his life:

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.