While fans of comics flock to movie theaters out of pure allegiance to see their favorite superheroes come to life, the fancy gadgets these heroes wield are enticing to audiences that aren’t necessarily devoted to heroes themselves. I’m talking about the various state of the art equipment that belongs to Batman or Iron Man, the superheroes who are vulnerable humans underneath their armed exteriors. This class of superhero is inherently more relatable because we can envision the possibilities of who we might become if we were to get our hands on this equipment. James Hobson—a multifaceted Canadian mechanical engineer who works out of his garage, better known as the Hacksmith—embodies these possibilities for us.
Hobson’s title as Hacksmith is a “throwback to blacksmiths,” the expert people used to go to for everything—fixing tools, making weapons, armor and so on. On his website, he defines Hacksmith as “a multi-disciplined craftsman who can fashion tools, parts or even works of art out of various materials and components items often overlooked as garbage or scraps to the untrained eye.” With a degree in mechanical engineering, Hobson has been tinkering with his toolbox and creating prototypes for over 10 years. He became officially self-employed in November 2015 so he could dedicate all of his professional efforts to his own Hacksmith Industries after he saved up enough money working other jobs. Over the years, Hobson has brought to life a variety of gadgets seen in movies, including his electrified Wolverine claws and an Iron Man-inspired pneumatic exoskeleton, which he used to successfully lift the weight of a Mini Cooper.
As Hobson’s hacksmith title implies, he’s a jack of all trades—a skilled machinist, welder, and general handyman. More recently, he’s experimented with laser cutting after saving up enough money to purchase a laser cuter, which facilitated his latest project: A Batman grapnel that includes a grappling hook, a repelling device, and state of the art Batarangs. Hobson spent about two weeks fashioning the grapnel in the period leading up to the release of Batman v Superman, a huge flop that still managed to show off some incredible equipment. His new invention available for purchase on his Etsy page brings us a step closer to envisioning the power we could hold if Batman’s gadgets fell into the hands of the average person.
Hobson took his inspiration for the grappling hook and repelling device from pallet claws, which are used for pulling fully loaded pallets off trucks. His goal was to make a device that could hook onto any surface, allowing the user to repel down and then have the hook automatically unclamp as soon as the weight was removed. After fashioning the prototype for the hook out of aluminum (he would later use stainless steel for the final model), Hobson decided on kevlar string to facilitate the repelling. The kevlar rope is too thin to hold onto with just your hands, so he created a repelling device from his 3D printer that the rope feeds through and the person repelling can hold onto. To make the device mirror Batman’s gadgets even more closely, Hobson used his 3D laser cuter to add a grappling hook feature to the repelling device so that it can latch onto surfaces like Batman’s gear.
The aluminum repelling device prototype failed its first trial because it didn’t have much of a friction zone, which caused the kevlar rope to snap. Hobson’s Youtube channel is so engaging because he broadcasts the entire process, even the failed trials. The hacksmith found that a repelling device made out of engineering plastic, rather than aluminum, created a more sustainable friction zone, which in turn helped the kevlar rope to stay in tact for his first successful repelling trial. He submitted the blueprints for the stainless steel grappling hook parts for laser cutting, and created some Batarangs while he was at it to flesh out the accurate Batman aesthetic.
Hobson sells the Batman grapnels—full-sized and keychain-sized—on his Etsy shop, in addition to a DIY kit that allows people to assemble it themselves, although those haven’t sold as well. He mentioned that as far as he knows no one has purchased the Batarangs with the intent of using them to hurt someone, but there are always some trolls who further the excessive “fear mongering” on the Internet. Users shouldn
While Hobson is still reveling in the glory of another successful invention, he still plans on making a grappling hook gun as well as an ascender device to accompany the repelling device. He hasn’t seen Batman v Superman yet—or at least he still hadn’t when we exchanged emails—but considering the poor responses the movie elicited, it looks like Hobson has all the best parts in his garage.