I was recently in Georgia for a for a non-HaD reason. This was my first trip to Georgia and it was hot, really hot, something I’m not too accustomed too. They also have nice condition roads there, something else I’m not accustomed too. I did have some free time while down there so I hopped on hackerspaces.org to see what was around. There were several spaces that were within driving distance but Freeside Atlanta was the only one that had an open event while I was available. That was the sole reason for my decision to stop in and I’m glad that happened because I had a great time.
Not long after entering I was greeted by a member, my new pal [Steven], who turned out to be the president of the group. After a quick exchange of pleasantries [Steven] started showing me around. My first impression was that the place was inviting. It seemed pretty big and there was little clutter. There were plenty of tables for working on your project and shelves with parts and components. These spare parts were not piled all over the shelves but were in boxes labeled with what was inside. I liked this because it was neat, tidy and it would be easy to find exactly what you were looking for. I know from experience that keeping this level of organization is hard in a community workshop environment.
Getting back to the tour, I was shown a separate dedicated classroom that holds 16 students, complete with dry erase boards. I passed a bunch of open work areas and tables as we continued into the space. A little further down there was a lounge area with couches and a huge projection screen next to the kitchen where I enjoyed some member-baked cookies. At that point I thought I had seen the entire space, but I was wrong, there was another door along what I thought was the back wall. That is the entrance to the shop area.
The front part of the space was pretty big, the shop was at least as large. I later found out that the entire place is about 5500 sqft. They have a pretty capable wood shop with work benches, a table saw, miter saw, planner, etc, not to mention plenty of hand and power tools. Moving a little further back there is a metal shop complete with mills, lathes and welders. There’s also a little CNC Router for cutting out parts. If this wasn’t enough so far, there’s a CO2 laser cutter, which was my favorite part of the tour….
The laser cutter was the open source buildlog.net 2.X. The reason this was my favorite part of the visit is because I got a one-on-one laser workflow lesson using CAMBAM to generate g-code from a DXF file, running the g-code through Mach3 which sends the step/direction/laser signals over to the laser cutter control board via parallel port. We started with cutting cardboard into simpIe shapes but then I got to burn some Roadrunner images into cardboard. My cuts may not have been the most impressive thing in the world but I personally learned a lot and can apply that knowledge in the future. Learning from others is a huge benefit to being part of a hackerspace.
While being shown the laser, I noticed something that now seems so obvious to me: basic instructions posted at the machine. It was just one page long but had general instructions for how to turn on the laser, set it up, run a program and what to do to shut it down. I can see something extremely simple like this being a huge benefit to any hackerspace with an even semi-complicated/expensive piece of equipment. Lesson #2!
With all the learnin’ I received, I was glad that I was able to help at least a little while there. I pitched in with setting up a new work area. The group received some old lab desks. You remember these from high school science class, the hefty wooden cabinets with heavy chemical-resistant stone work surfaces. They fit in with the space well and I’m sure they will get a lot use.
This place has too much going on and I can not cover it all in detail. It’s worth mentioning there is also a 3D Printing area containing 3 working printers that are ready to print out your next project. There is a dedicated room for member project/part storage. I’m positive this helps keep the rest of the common areas free of junk. If you are into Ham Radio or making podcasts, there’s a small room set up for that. While I was there some members were setting up a Media Lab and Bio Lab. From my perspective the members I met were active and engaged in the ‘space. The group has their stuff together, for sure. If you are ever in the area I recommend stopping by.
After getting back home I noticed that Freeside Atlanta has sprung up on HaD quite a few times over the years. [Caleb Kraft] and [Josh Marsh] have visited in the past. There are also some posts about how Freeside members made an Infinity Portal and a Sunrise Emulating Alarm Clock.