Reuse and ingenuity in Nairobi's metalworking industry

Afrigadget reports from Gikomba, a metalworking district in Nairobi where ingenious reuse and improvisation are the order of the day:

I ran into a George Odhiambo, a bulk fabricator of everything from wheelbarrows to chisels. The chisels caught my eye, primarily because one of them looked a lot like a shaft straight out of a Land Rover. It turns out that they reuse multiple types of iron for their goods, including leftover pieces from old vehicles. Nothing goes to waste here.

Even more interesting to me (probably because it moved and did stuff with fire), was the bicycle-turned-to-bellows that kept the fire going that would heat the metal rods. It’s a fairly simple, yet ingenious contraption that utilizes old materials with a little bit of engineering. The thing runs all day, every day too, so it’s made to last.



  1. You know, there was a time when people here in Canada and the US did that sort of thing. The side effect was the industrial revolution.

  2. I feel for the lots of hard work my fellow Kenyans have to go through before industrial evolution reach Africa fully. Its hell of struggle but the minds are engineered and fueled with ideas. All they need is guidance. Thanks for writing about it.

  3. This is why I don’t buy the arguments that we could never have another industrial revolution, on the grounds of all the easily reachable iron ore and whatnot having been extracted already.

    My beef with these arguments is that the ore hasn’t somehow vanished – it’s been made more accessible than ever. Considering that a single junked car probably contains more good metal than a wealthy iron-age town, I can’t see how it would be difficult…

  4. Muthumbi: Oh yeah! There’s a sleeping giant there! Wackyvorlon’s observation I think is spot-on… Ingeniousness, hard work, then opportunity taken!

    I wish someone would do a detailed interview, how-to, on the reliability aspect. I WANT TO KNOW! how they’ve arranged things to get good reliability, like the furnace bellows.

    Technique matters, and clearly they have that.

    I rant and rave and try to teach about thinking and making reliability all the time. It’s a discipline and a way of thinking. People here are hung up about “products” when they should be thinking of doing things for themselves.

  5. If you’re really interested, you can get started here: .

    You can find a local chapter, or independent blacksmithing organization somewhere in your region, all over the states, Canada and a lot of the Western world. Blacksmiths on the whole are extraordinarily generous about passing on the craft.

  6. Presumably, the bicyle bits allow the smith to stop cranking without being smashed in the elbow by the handle as the blower spins down. I can’t really tell if there’s a freewheeling hub in there or not, though, so maybe the bike wheel is just there to move the crank further from the heat.

    The blower looks like a champion-type blower (with a sheet-metal volute instead of a cast housing) but it’s really hard to tell from the pics. Champions are geared and have considerable intertia, so that you can let go of the crank and pick up the work piece before the air cuts off.

    The blower pics are a little frustrating. It’s like a picture of a cool home-made car that only shows the steering wheel and tantalizing glimpses of the rest of the rig.


  7. This kind of scrappy genius is found throughout the developing world. Whatever will the shopping specialization skills do for the majority of the developed world when the oil runs out? Thanks Cory for sharing.

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