After all, this all make believe. It seems to me that to be obsessed with "keeping it real" is a bit silly imho.
If you make something that is actually a working device how is that make believe?
If you use your imagination to create a real physical object that is exactly what is appears to be then is that make believe? or is that just making?
The way I practice steampunk requires no belief at all other than in reality. You don't have to pretend my hand cannon is a gun, all you have to do is pull the trigger, feel the recoil and watch the target get slammed by 3/4" lead slug. I didn't have to pretend anything when I made it or when I use it. (although having a story in your head is a good way to keep your work consistent)
If you wear a corset covered in gears and a top hat do you have to make believe that you are a victorian living in an alternate history? Haven't you actually created a part of that alternate history by what you've just done?
I guess this is the big schism in steampunk, is it just a fantasy and are we just part time actors? or are we eccentrics living our lives?
I for one completely dismiss make believe except for entertainment, ie books, theater, etc. I keep it real, because it is. There is a term for people who don't believe in reality.
I've found myself thinking differently in terms of home building. I am actually trying to get my head around basic mechanics involving differentials and such. I don't personally have much of an interest in building props and I'm certainly no artist in the true sense. But building functional gadgets is definitely an aspiration. It is complicated however (people don't take degrees in this stuff for nothing)
Of course one of the problems in my country at least is all down to legalities. We can't even legally carry Kubotans here anymore. If I built a fully functioning weapon of pretty much any description. I would likely be arrested and possibly even shot if I started brandishing it around in public. At the very least it would most likely be confiscated.
I am aware that education in these matters would certainly prove useful if the shit hits the fan as it were. But as I say I'm not a cosplayer or LARP'er so I really have no outlet for prop weapon building. I'd like to pimp my guitar and amp rig however, in fact steamy stage gear in general would be cool. But rather than artifice and veneer I'm definitely more interested in the serious side of Steampunk building, and that of course it what really involves knowledge.
I find it both annoying and useful that the public face of Steampunk, (as largely presented by the media at least) really does mainly seem to reflect the geekcentric cosplay LARP'ey persona side of things. Don't get me wrong it has it's place, and that type of setting is it would appear where a large amount of the Steampunk sub culture has developed. Obviously it's very easy to poke fun at, which makes it seem all very safe and silly.
Still it's possibly preferable that folks on the outside think we're all aspiring to nothing more than dressing up and being dorky at conventions (and if that is your only aspiration fair do's, these are merely observations not criticisms), than actually building things that could be threatening or allow for some kind of (God forbid) practical Independence.
I also realise that this mentality has been going on outside of SP for quite a while. And I assume that's partly why reenactors and folks who study and build historical gadgets and tech are attracted to it. As well as qualified tekky bods of various descriptions of course. But it's not surprising there is sometimes a clash in attitudes between people who are "keeping it real" and those for whom it really is just playing dress up and nothing more.
Personally I think there's room for everybody, but there may be a fundamental difference in aspirations.