Want to Create a FabLab in your Garage? Start by Joining your Hackerspace

For many hardware enthusiasts, it’s hard to stop imagining the possibilities of an almighty fablab in our garage — a glorious suite of machines that can make the widgets of our dreams. Over the years, many of us start to build just that, assembling marvelous workbenches for the rest of us to drool over. The question is: “how do we get there?”

Ok, let’s say we’ve got a blank garage. We might be able to pick up a couple of tools and just “roll with it,” teaching ourselves the basics as we go and learning from our mistakes. With enough endurance, we’ll wake up ten years later and realize that, among the CNC mill, lathe, o-scope, logic analyzer, and the graveyard of projects on the shelves–we’ve made it!

Image Credit: [Rupunzell] on EEVBlog
Image Credit: [Rupunzell] on EEVBlog

“Just rolling with it,” though, can squeeze the last bits of change out of our wallets–not to mention ten years being a long journey while flying solo the whole time.  Hardware costs money. Aimless experimentation, without understanding the space of “what expectations are realistic,” can cost lots of money when things break.

These days, the internet might do a great job of bringing people together with the same interest. But how does it fare in exchanging the technical know-how that’s tied directly to tools of the trade? Can we get the same experience from a chatroom as we might from a few minutes with the local ‘CNC Whisperer’ who can tell us the ins-and-outs about tuning the machine’s PID controllers?

I’d say that we just can’t. “Getting started” in any subject often seems daunting, but we’re at a compounded disadvantage in that the gurus on the forum have some shared implicit knowledge and jargon on the subject that we wont have if we truly are taking our first steps. (Not to fear, though; none of us were born with this stuff!)

Ruling out forums for taking our first baby steps, where can we find the “seasoned gurus” to give us that founding knowledge? It’s unlikely that any coffee shop would house the local hardware guru sippin’ a joe and taking questions. Fear not, though; there are places for hackers to get their sustenance.

Enter the Hackerspace

Enter the hackerspace. With coffee mugs and doilies replaced with soldering irons and 3D printers, these places are scattered worldwide and filled with tinkerers and DIY-enthusiasts drawn to the same machines. Hackerspaces put a roof over the heads of local hackers, bring in a few tools, and roll out projects. Some, like the Bay Area’s HackerDojo, have a general set of tools. Others, like BioCurious, cater to a more niche interest. With a membership fee and possibly some light equipment training, you’re in!

The Hidden User Manual

Tinkerers at BioCurious. Image credit: BioCurious
Tinkerers at BioCurious. Image credit: BioCurious

Hackerspaces give us something that the internet and our empty garages just can’t: a foreground of tools and a background of “after-hours” engineers who can show us how to use them. If you’ve never taken a chunk out of aluminium with a spinning endmill, the Hackerspace might be the right place to do it. First, we don’t have the up-front cost of paying for the machine ourselves. Second, given some machine time, we now have the opportunity to learn how to use it properly. I’m not suggesting that aforementioned “blind experimentation” with “someone else’s equipment.” Rather, I’m suggesting that here, in front of that CNC desktop mill, is a great time to ask “how to I cut this aluminum stock down to shape I want?”

The Workflow

Hackerspaces also demonstrate a workflow. For any tool we’d someday want in our garage, setting up a “toolchain” to make that tool useful is a non-trivial process, and we’re bound to have a series of questions. Take that CNC mill for example. To go from initial idea to final design takes several steps along the way. First, there’s the computer modeling software for designing the parts. “What did the hackerspace use? Blender? AutoCAD?” Next, there’s the CAM software that translates our 3D model into a list of instructions, a.k.a GCode, for cutting our part. “Did the hackerspace use Mach3 or CamBAM?” Finally, a CNC mill (or another machine) cuts out our part based on the tool paths defined in the GCode. “How did the hackerspace convert their manual tools to CNC? Did they use GRBL, LinuxCNC, or something else?” A hackerspace is a great place to see a successful workflow in action. It’s a place where we can ask questions about the process so that we can someday define our own.

The Culture

CollaborationThumbWhile we’re here, it’s worth taking a step back and glancing around the space. On one end, we might see a bloke putting two stranded wires into a hand drill to quickly spin them into a twisted pair. On the other, we might see a couple of students poised over their Segway-bot, cheering as it balances for the first time! This is our culture, from which we too can learn the tricks of the trade, sometimes by asking questions, sometimes just by looking around. If we’re buried in the garage lair, we might not pick up some of the well-established tricks of our time–or worse–we’ll reinvent yet another wheel and think ourselves clever having done so! Alas, it’s tempting to feel brilliant the day we find ourselves sticking a pair of wires into a hand drill to coil them up, but it’s been done before. Instead, we can visit the hackerspace and discover the edge of the bag of tricks that the rest of our culture has developed. Once we’ve met this edge, we can start pushing it a little further.

A True Story

About a year ago, I made a visit to the Bay Area’s HackerDojo to borrow some time on a bandsaw. For the trip, I packed both the boxed shambles of my latest project and my camera to document the progress. As I unpacked, I realized that, from the corner, an elderly gentleman with a bushy snow-white beard had been focusing intently on my camera. He approached me and said,

“That’s a nice 60D you’ve got there.”

He leaned in and whispered,

“I’ve got the 40D.”

Giving me a good long look over the tops of his bifocals, he told me,

“If you’d like, I can show you how to use it properly. Come back next week.”

I returned the next week, and in the course of about two hours, we went through the basics of f-stop, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings on my camera. I could’ve taken a week to learn these topics on my own, hunting through the internet trying to answer the question “What should I know about taking pictures with my camera?” Instead, in two hours, I had the basics down, and not just the basics, but the vocabulary and the mental model for going forward in my picture-taking escapades. Here lies the true treasure at the hackerspace. Gathered around the band saws, the resistor boxes, and the soldering irons is a collection of everyday tinkerers not entirely unlike you and me.

So go forth; visit these places! Yes, you’ll find the tools you were looking for. But you’ll also find something else: a culture of expertise and the eagerness to share it, and that’s a find much harder to come by.

57 thoughts on “Want to Create a FabLab in your Garage? Start by Joining your Hackerspace

  1. Saying that coffee mugs and doilies are replaced by soldering irons and 3d printers is *almost* correct, except for the bit about coffee mugs, since every hackerspace I’ve seen has them in abundance :)

  2. I disagree. I tried to join my local hackerspace and discovered that there is far FAR too much politics involved. So I just started buying cheap china 3d printers and laser cutter/ engraver and upgrade when I can. I was not going to spend a week going through their “safety classes” that were required no matter what.

    I can understand that some people need it, but if I can prove that i am competent, then let me test past the kindergarten classes.

    1. I suspect the safety classes, besides instruction on safe use [old shop teachers have more accidents than new ones because they think they ‘know’ the power tools], fulfill an insurance requirement – just like lifeboat drills on cruise ships – most people may know from past cruises what to do, but there are sharks out there [lawyers] looking for someone who skipped a class, and decided to sue the hackerspace. – At least, you would only have to do it once, and not every visit to the hackerspace.

      1. yup, I would guess ‘insurance rules’ for the reasons.

        same reason why I am not allowed to wear open-toe shoes when I use laser cutters at techshop. the wood/metal shop area is not even close to the office-style environment where the lasers are. no need at all to wear ‘shop shoes’ but they don’t care. no exceptions ;( I mostly wear sandals every day and had to buy sneakers (fulfilling the ‘closed toe’ requirement) just for techshop. silly! they are fine with sneakers but they really don’t give any protection at all. not like there is a NEED for protection while cutting plastic behind a closed machine’s door (sigh).

        1. I learned at a very early age [7 or 8] never to wear sandals when soldering – I was tinning stranded wires for my father [an electrician], and a blob of solder dropped, went between the weave of the sandals, into my sock and burned me – as a further reminder, everytime I wore those socks, I could feel a bit of the solder blob that caught in the socks weave and itched me.

        2. mmm.. im sort of with you.. but sort of not.
          that kind of rule needs to be applied in a logical way, and/or as a blanket rule. Like.. “Beyond this door, proper attire is expected at all times”
          Not that the work YOU are doing is potentially dangerous to YOU..
          But when you get a thin plastic shard in your toe you will understand. Simply wearing closed toe shoes would have avoided that. Same in soldering areas. People clip and let fly component leads all the time.. many of them will end up in your sock or toe, which ever comes first.
          Also, just in a general shop safety sense, its all fun and games till someone slices a toe off.. (which I have seen happen)… so.. yeah.. I take shop safety SOMEWHAT seriously.
          (even after two different eye injuries, I still often neglect safety glasses personally, for some sorts of work. Like.. soldering.. grrrr.. safety glasses are annoying then.. but I never forget them when welding, even INSIDE the mask. I’ll weld with short sleeves and shorts.. but never without good footwear and safety glasses.. just ask me why.. PLEASE ask me why.. heh)

      2. Dont forget the cost of some of the tools. I am the chairman of TokyoHackerSpace. We are relaxed about most things. Joining is super easy, with little personal data collected. Jump right in with access to the space. Use and do pretty much what you want.
        But the laser cutter.. you have to take a class first.
        Mind you.. said class can be any one of the administrators working through the basics with you during an open house meeting.
        Same is true of the welder and the metal chop saw.
        In these cases, I do not really care how much you THINK you know. Profess your competence all you want.. but until *I* *KNOW* you are safe and will use it properly (and honestly report any damage caused), then.. no.

    2. Hackerspaces are optimized for the average new member. If you start making exceptions for people who are already familiar with the equipment, it becomes substantially more likely that people will start doing things without any introduction to equipment, putting themselves at risk.

      Many spaces are interested in your contributions to the community – if you think it takes too long to get started, you would be encouraged to help streamline the process, or volunteer some of your time to help the next guy get through quicker.

    3. There’s the other side of this as well. I’m a member of a space which is claimed a “flat organization” based on anarchist principles. In actuality, there is a person (or 2) which are “more equal” in Orwell’s Animal Farm meaning of the word. But the farce still propagates, until you bump against one of the “more equal” members ideas.

      If I had my own house, I would build my own toolset. I’m already a design and process guy, trained in CNC and machinist classes (well, degree) as well as self taught electronics and software design. But the bummer is I currently live in a trailer park with restrictive ordinances.

    4. There’s the other side of this as well. I’m a member of a space which is claimed a “flat organization” based on anarchist principles. In actuality, there is a person (or 2) which are “more equal” in Orwell’s Animal Farm meaning of the word. But the farce still propagates, until you bump against one of the “more equal” members ideas.

      If I had my own house, I would build my own toolset. I’m already a design and process guy, trained in CNC and machinist classes (well, degree) as well as self taught electronics and software design. But the bummer is I currently live in a trailer park with restrictive ordinances.

    5. Ours has similar rules for safety/liability sake and mainly because they let the public have time in the space. This led to the other reason I only went about eight times-they did not have dedicated workspaces! This meant, despite paying the monthly membership fee, I had the added benefit of NO PROJECT STORAGE, my parts and tools constantly getting ransacked or stolen even if labelled, and more than one of my projects being incorporated into another member’s project while I was away. That along with the stupid highschool politics, pushing of MAKE: kits and classes only, and a burgeoning collection of fabric artists that just wanted to make their Etsy gear all day kinda ended up pushing me out to the point that I just went in one day and took my remaining tools and left. I couldn’t give a toot if little Aiden and Dakota want to build an 8 foot tic tac toe to make up for a whole year of skipping science class in the name of “insert psychological issue here” and now need a project that mom and dad pay for in order to not fail. This was a repetitive thing. We also had a few “resourceful” parents of a lower-income wage that simply used it as afterschool care by letting them walk there. The free hours were unfortunately during this time. This leads me to the location. This one was in the downtown city, so you had the added benefit of no dedicated parking to load/unload things and it being in a “reclaimed space” smh (you simply ripped out the copper ceiling and hardwood floors and put them on the wall and added grounded outlets) where you had to haul things upstairs and deal with height and width clearances. As you all can see, there were several problems with this model. On the other hand, they claimed we would never be able to afford the space if it were private, paid membership only without the classes and overpriced MAKE kits. There are several private spaces that I know of, but unfortunately they are all over an hour drive away, so I stay in my cave for the most part. I did luck out recently with a car tuning group who were super nice about letting me use their space for a commissioned project in exchange for assembling a couple of their CAN kits. Not something I want to abuse by any means.

      1. Must be easy to access
      2. Rudimentary secure storage or dedicated workspace
      3. Parking and unloading spot
      4. Plugging a bunch of expensive shields together like legos is not super hacking
      5. Stop naming your children dumbass shit. The names on the reserved kits looked like the Greek and Roman deities were suiting up for Arduinowar in the midwestern states.
      6. Lock the door on your way out.
      7. Cheap n cheerful
      8. No public music system (ugh-dubstep does not make you Neo or something)
      9. Separate metal-working facility and electronics lab-also for loudness reasons
      10. Ability to kick someone out for violating the rules repeatedly after a vote.

      1. Well when you put it THAT way….
        Heh.. thank you for being much more specific about the things that bothered you, rather than just whitewashing all hackerspaces as a waste of space.
        Legitimate gripe lists are useful to remind all spaces of. Certainly, you cant please all of the people all of the time, and concessions have to be made here and there. Our space does not have locked boxes for members, but we rarely if ever had anyone ransack another persons box.. in fact we have boxes of people who stopped paying memberships months ago still on the shelf, untouched.
        Number 4 I give thumbs up too.. but there again.. some allowance for beginners is important, and getting people up to a project idea quickly. But yeah, lets not tag them with “EE” just yet ;)

        1. Yeah I can only say what bothered me about the space. I guess it works for others or it would be closed ;) I was reading further down in the comments where a user differentiates between the different types of groups. I think I was looking for a less corporate group. I had brought up the idea of community service (computer/electronics repair workshops) but that was quickly poo-pooed for attending a Make: event in NY thru blinky xmas ornament fund-raising (smh). The folks of the group had that weird mixture of wide-eyed optimism and sickening insta-capitalism that seems more common these days. “It is awesome you built widget! You can sell it on some site and make money. You should setup a kickstarter!” etc. Again, like you said, that was a personal preference of mine. Funny coolstorybro- after writing that other comment, I hit up the tuner group again and I am set for Sunday to use their space :) It is great because I get to learn a little bit about cars (I severely lack knowledge in that area) and they can bounce their electronic hiccups off of me :)
          Hope your space functions better than mine and hope everyone finds a good spot for them to keep the leds lit :)

      2. Interesting how much of your list is incompatible with the seventh item. Many of your desires do have a cost that’s not cheap & in reality quite expensive. Cheerful? Not if you judge other people’s projects and and are overly concerned with their names. I agree with item 8. I also agree with item 10, but I understand that requires a private business like organization, that in itself, involves a cost. One can argue if membership cost is too expensive, based on facts but unrealistic to expect a free public space, where just about any layabout gets a vote. Hopefully you are active in trying to create the sort of space you desire.

    6. Beside “insurance purposes”, there’s always the chance you’ll learn something. That’s the problem with being an autodidact, or even if you’re not one, it’s a problem with knowledge altogeher. You don’t know what it is that you don’t know. You could be completely oblivious to some point.

      And even if you’re not, some other guy might be. And you can’t tell unless you actually go through it. Just take a breath, get it over with as quick as possible, satisfy the other members that you’re not going to maim somebody and put their insurance rates up (possibly making the place unfeasible).

      Just one of those things you’ve got to do. Hopefully if you actually know what you’re doing, you should be able to go through it quick enough.

    7. This comment had me wondering how any hacker space can test if anyone should be competent, then I recalled an experience of mine.. I was a part of a rural Red Cross Chapter that was at that time the smallest chapter in the US. We required to be certified in CPR and first aid. Training was scheduled. I went to the first aid training location. The only ones there was the instructor and myself. After waiting several minutes after the scheduled time. The instructor ask what if any training first aid training I had. I told her I had periodic training because I work in the oilfield and it was requirement. She said she would have me take the test that used after training course, and if I passed we review what I missed and she would issue me the card. I easily passed, the questions I missed concerned triage, not actual care of an injury. No doubt there are those individual who believe themselves of above taking such examines. Most groups are probably glad if such persons move on, an attitude problem walking out the door That is not to say politics aren’t not existent in such groups, but safety related requirements generally have nothing to do with group politics. Nothing wrong with being a lone wolf if one wishes, but that is being more and more difficult to do, and impossible for many. For those who it’s difficult or impossible, they soon figure what is life’s small sheet not to sweat.

  3. my love/hate relationship with techhop (bay area) story:

    during the summer, techshop had signed up a bunch of kids (teens and much younger ones; the noise level was unbearable the one time I was there during the daytime) for ‘steam classes’ while they were out of school on summer break.

    fine, on the surface; but realize that techshop often has 3 laser cutters and they MONOPOLIZED 2 OF THEM during the 8-5 daytime hours. exclusive use by the kids. I mean, abuse (I saw one machine catch fire when the idiot kid didn’t understand that curved items cannot be focused and if the laser gets too close, well, flames happen!)

    I sent email to the shop owner and, of course, got no reply. I’m told he ignores his customers. great, huh?

    paid close to $1k for a year access only to find out that 2/3 of the laser cutters (which are the most popular thing there) were not available for paying regular members duing most of the summer months.

    this will be the last time I pay for a year’s membership at techshop. it seems that the almight dollar is the only thing they really care about.

    the members are great, there! the staff is mixed (some are truly great, others belong more at TSA checkpoints, given their total lack of customer-focus). the manager of that store seems to think it exists for his profit, only. very sad.

    we need more hackerspaces so that there is competition. the hacker dojo in the bay area is a nice big space, but no parking, too expensive and only 1 laser cutter which is locked away in some back room somewhere.

    mostly, I just need the lasers; but they are too expensive to own and maintain (the good ones are 10’s of thousands of dollars).

    1. Are the online laser cutting services useful? I vaguely remember pololu doing something like that.

      I think I heard a coworker say he ordered some laser cut acrylic from some DIY home improvement store. Maybe I’m misremembering. Also it sounds like 3d printers are popping up in stores sometimes.

      1. 3d printing is even more frustrating. I’m holding off on that until it matures, more, for consumers.

        horror stories of spending hours getting a model printed only to find some jam or heating problem and you’ve wasted material and time. and your time slot is over, so you have to give the machine to the next guy in line.

        very high end 3d printers are good; the industrial ones. and the professional 3d cad guys can make it all work; but for hobbiests who are not at pro-level with their tools and technique – 3d printing does not sound ready-for-prime-time to me. I’d love for it to be, but it does not appear to be, at least at the affordable level.

    2. I’m Australian and recently travelled to Hawaii and island hopped by plane. At worst the TSA people were indifferent, but the vast majority were pleasant. I’ve found the same with Sydney customs people.

      TSA staff are probably more reflective of the general population they come from, so if you’re not happy with the TSA from your city, it’s your fault for being a *sarcasm* sour bastard.

      Your complaints about Techshop sound well justified however.

  4. lasering, for me, is VERY interactive. small adjustments often need to be made since my boards are almost always hand made perfs and the alignments vary (front buttons, etc). my trick is to start off with manilla folders (cheap and rigid), shoot the laser thru that (its also very fast) and do a dry test fit. keep doing it until the fit is perfect, THEN waste a blast on plastic. it cuts down on time and wasted material.

    also, I’m very visual and seeing 3d models just does not really give me a feel for the box that exists in meatspace. once I cut the plastic and see it IRL, I often will make changes that I would not have thought about if it was only a cad model that I was reviewing.

    and if I measured wrong, I can quickly make a fix and not wait a whole extra vendor cycle. yesterday I was cutting a plastic support for a perf board, realized that I blocked 2 .1 spaced holes and had to recut the small spacer support. I did not catch that during 2d layout but it was obvious to me once I put the spacer behind my perf board. oops. to fix, just draw a small rectangle that you want to notch out, put the plastic back in the machine, do an air run for alignment and cut your notch out. no extra shipping or time wasted.

    I could not be effective if it was mailorder only. plus, the fun part is walking out THAT DAY with your completed project, even if it needed custom tweaks or spacing to make things fit.

  5. My local hackerspace seems to be quite nice, but there are two strikes against it: 1) it is way across town (probably a 45 minute drive without traffic), and 2) has a $50 membership fee that, while reasonable, adds up quickly. (I spend less than $600 / year on tools).

    I already have pretty much all of the woodworking tools that I require (yes, I “just rolled with it” for 10 years, but the total cost was far less than 10 years of hackerspace membership fees). The other tools that I would find useful and that the hackerspace has (mostly metalworking, CNC, and laser cutting), I can’t justify the expense. For laser cutting, I can get a lot of cuts done from Polulu for the same price (and for much of what would be nice laser cut, I can do the same with my scroll saw). Metal working is done infrequently enough that it is probably just not worth it.

    As for the distance, driving over an hour round trip makes things very impractical. I can’t just swing by the hackerspace for 30 minutes on a week night after the kids are in bed, but I can go downstairs and do my own soldering.

    Anyway, while I like the idea, and think that it can definitely work for some people (perhaps those in apartments who can’t fit tools in their place), it doesn’t really make sense for everyone.

    Cheers

    1. This is my issue also.
      Being a minute away, I can actually use the tools in my garage without dedicating at least half a day to load up, drive out, unload, wait, set up, then do what I wanted, then tear down & clean up, load up, drive back, unload.

      That kind of time commitment means that when I need to use a tool I don’t have, I first consider buying one, and if I can’t buy, I usually look online for a service, or batch everything together in one long day.

      Of course, the high school is 2 blocks away, and I’m pretty sure they have a better equipped shop that I have no hope of accessing.

      1. That raises another very good point… it would be awesome if the local high school would open up their wood / metal shops for evening drop in courses. I suppose demand would determine if it was economically viable or not, though, once one considers staffing (you would need someone to be there to supervise, and they would need to be paid), wear and tear on machines, liability, etc…

        Oh well, it would be nice but I guess it won’t happen any time soon.

        1. It would, and I’m sure it’s been discussed before many places. There are so many resources tied up in schools that are not accessable to the community (even after hours).
          Also, never going to happen for the exact reasons you listed (supervision & liability)

          I recently watched what it took to allow access to a gym. It was a private school, the administration wanted it, the community wanted it, all involved stakeholders wanted it. They were willing to allow free access, but it took several months to get the administrative overhead set up so that insurance was either extended to cover those who would be there, or proof was provided that the ‘renting’ organization’s insurance would cover them while there. That’s just liability for injury in a big empty room.

        2. back in my HS days (late 70’s) I remember my wood and metal shop teachers telling us that, for as long as he is still there, we could come back (years later) and still use the shop. I don’t live near that school anymore and I’m sure that his words are not worth anything compared to the litigious US society we now have, but at the time, I bet he meant it and people probably did make use of it after graduation.

          in the 50’s they had self-serve car repair bays. now, its laughable (the concept). no insurance company would ever go for that again.

      2. One other comment… I have a few friends nearby with like-minded feelings about DIY stuff, and we have an informal tool swap thing going on. Depending on the tool / person, I am fine either lending the tool (if it is portable and I trust that the person will take good care of it), or bringing the person to my own shop to do whatever needs to be done (if the tool is annoying to move or the person does not have much experience with it). Likewise, I have gone to other’s houses to use their tools when I lacked something.

        While it may not work everywhere (I am lucky to have a few friends at work + church who are into the same things that I am), it is definitely an option for some, and gives you a nice ‘half way’ point between buying everything yourself vs. joining an official hackerspace.

          1. Not the same thing, but a former member of our hackerspace moved away and found an old church for $5000.
            He couldn’t afford to buy it, but a hackerspace is what he would’ve liked to use it for…

    2. Similar experience here. What more, the one local hackerspace I found here is discussion club more than hackerspace. I was quite clueless what to do with people having different mindset at place with worse technological ecosystem than I have. I can’t work there any time, because there are sometimes workshops or what.

      On the other hand – at home, I can work any time I wish, don’t share any tools and I don’t need to leave home. Though I have to cram all my “hackerspace” into few square meters, it’s more sensible to me than the real hackerspace.

    3. Hackerspaces are so, so much more than a place to rent tools.

      The most valuable aspect of many spaces is the community – there’s always someone who knows about what you’re trying to do or is willing to give you input/feedback. It’s a place for you to hone your own understanding by teaching others, it’s a place to collaborate.

    4. Another to the chorus. I lived in a flat and rented a industrial unit for my workshop many moons ago, only it was 30 mins ride/drive away. So… I almost never ended up just popping there to sort things out, I had to dedicate a day I would be there, and as I worked full time it didn’t happen.
      Now, I walk across the yard to my shop, its there. I can wake up and get a hour in before work, after work, after the kids are in bed whatever. Its been a hard slog getting it together over 15 years now, but I have significantly more capability than the local gov sponsored hackerspace about 45 mins away, and I know in advance the tooling etc is all going to be in good shape and the machine working + I can leave setups + fixtures in place for complex work.

  6. Being that I come from the “less technologically advanced, yet resourceful” state of West Virginia, I have been wanting to get some sort of Hackerspace set up for the like-minded individuals like myself. I am an engineer by day, and an engineer by night in my basement workspace filled with throwaways from the 70’s and 80’s. I have re-purposed old power supplies, put Arduinos and Raspberry Pi’s in old CD/DVD drives, and so forth. I’ve collected over 575,000 IC’s all from DTL, TTL, CMOS, and other varieties, but it seems that they will all just be buried with me when I go (along with the Excel spreadsheet of the tallies). I would love to get the youth involved, along with the creative types out there to help make a Hackerspace viable. To have companies donate their items as a tax write-off. To help those “sparks” (my daughter reads Girl Genius Comics) have a place to safely discover, recreate, build-on, and improve through tactile work in a safe area. To help in STEM work with schools. To help people improve on their skill traits through classes and workshops. There is a future in education, and it is a Hackerspace. I just wish there were more people that would not just buy something new, when they can modify the existing and make it new once more. *sigh*

  7. Another vote for sorting out your own personal workshop. With time pressure from family and life in general, it’s great that I can just pop out to work on something without getting on the motorbike/car. I would never find the time to get to a maker space. Plus, I like collecting tools and spending time working out how to get the best out of them and improve them myself. That’s all part of the hobby.

    1. if you have seen what some of these hackerspaces have, you may change your tune ;)

      I got a tour of the san jose techshop and it was just after they finished getting their 5axis water jet thing going. took a good portion of a year to plan out and install and get up and running. you are billed by the electric-second (so I’m told). this is NOT something you are going to ever EVER have at home and, for many of us, we’d never see one IRL either. there are some high end cnc’s, saws, powdercoaters, sandblasters, welders – the list goes on – at that san jose techshop. the other techshops have similar gear, more or less (not all have that fancy waterjet, though). to my knowledge, that’s as high-end as it gets in any hackerspace, world-wide (true? can anyone confirm?). I’ve never heard of hackerspaces or even ‘tool rental’ shops having that kind of machinery available for the unwashed masses, so to speak ;) I’m sure its a huge investment to get something like that going and its probably why there are few places of that calibre.

      I just wish they were a bit easier to afford. I’m paying for so many things I’ll never use or care about, in the monthly fee.

      each time I’m there, I run into people who are tired of the cost from tecshop, and like me, they mostly just want quality laser cutter (and maybe cnc) access, but that’s it. but I never hear of any bay area places opening other than techshop and I think there’s a place called ‘sawdust’ that is wood based (or more?) and I have not yet been to that one.

      back to your point, no one joins these places to use hand drills and table top drill presses. there’s 0.0% chance of me owning a $30k epiloque laser OR even of me paying for the install and the maintenance of it all. and once you move up from simple tools to more repeatable automatic tools (lasers and cncs and 3dprinters) its really hard to go back to one-off style tooling again, even if you are only doing a single build of something.

      1. Never say never. I’ve got a 5 axis cnc edm in my shop that I bought cheap after it had a small fire inside the electronics cab and declared scrap. Lots of intricate love on the insides saw it up and running for under 2000 thousand bucks.

  8. A fablab is not a hackerspace! (and vice versa)
    They are very similar, but a fablab is a concept by Neil Gerschenfelt, originally only consisting of 5 machines (lasercutter, vinyl cutter, small + big CNC router, polycom video conferencing thingy). Its aim is to make these machines as accessible to almost everyone. (I’m starting my first fablab after working 5 years in a big one). A hackerspace (afaik) exists mostly for its users only, has no machine requirement and is aimed at HaD readers. At least in my country the term is trademarked, restricting the use to ‘true’ fablabs only. I’m sure MIT/CBA holds the trademark in the USA, so you might get a friendly letter asking you to correct this misuse of the mark fablab.

  9. Too bad my “local” hackerspace is around 200 miles away, just like my “local homebrew supply”. I guess I will keep flying solo, until I find the time to open one, or someone else here does it before I can get it done.

    1. Me too, there was a local one at a university in the next town, but lack of interest seems to have killed it, looks like it dwindled away. So I’ve got a big plastic box full of the few tools I can afford. A knock-off Dremel and a soldering iron can do quite a lot, along with pliers etc.

  10. There are different types of things called “Hackerspaces”:
    Commercial hackerspaces like TechShop and Makerplace should probably be called rental workshops. They exist for craftsmen who build things to make money and find it more economical not to maintain a workshop or a set of tools. That is a fine and worthy thing for that audience, but generally they are too pricy for the hobbyist.
    Community hackerspaces, which may or may not charge membership fees, might have a lot of the same facilities, but the focus is more on the people and fun projects than on ongoing commercial manufacturing, although commercial products have been developed at these spaces. These spaces generally run on a volunteer basis, and any fees collected go to paying the rent and upkeep of the machines; nobody is getting rich off them. I think this is the kind of place that this article is referring to.
    So, if you’ve only seen a “commercial hackerspace” and been turned off by it, you should definitely take the time to check out “community hackerspaces” in your area.

    1. YES YES!
      We get the question all the time: What is the difference between hackerspace and [insert some commercial venture space here]?
      People do not recognized that we are NOT a commercial space. When they go comparing our tool set vs the other place, our membership verses that one, etc, they cant figure out how to decide who is the scammer.
      non profit, community spaces often have a few people who regularly pump much more money into the place than the average member. One of those people also signed on the dotted line to rent the place and assume responsibility for it. Unlike a business, we cant just “fail, dissolve the company and file bankruptcy” if things go south.
      And when you run into that “person thats is ‘more equal’ than everyone else” consider the possibility that said person has to put that wall back that you decided to knock out just for giggles when the group moves out.

      I think the community needs to put more effort into differentiating the two types of spaces.

  11. I’m one of those white bearded guys in the corner. I have all the tools and own a business that designs and manufactures electronics. I try hard to support the local hacker space, we host the meetings every now and then, I’m active on their forum and I mentor people who ask..

    Here’s the best advice I have for people looking to start. Swallow the ego!

    Hacker groups are often technocracies where your status is largely determined by your skills.. I reckon this is a good thing because it motivates the heck out of people to learn.

    The problem is that there’s also motivation to fake it, and this is counter productive.
    I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has approached me online or in person proclaiming that they were going to build XYZ and (ostensibly) asking for advice, only then, as a matter of principle, to go on to ignore the advice and never complete the project. Joshua’s point that these groups are a vital mechanism for passing on skills is valid. But you gotta listen to the advice you ask for. Losing a little bit of face on a forum because you don’t know something is more than made up for when you present the thing you made after someone told you how to do it….

  12. loved the part about the twist drill making twisted pairs ;)

    I saw that at a car audio shop many years ago and my jaw dropped. such a simple concept. I think I asked the shop owner what wiring he liked and he said he just makes his own twisted pairs, then went on to show me. from one end of the garage to the other, a long length of wire and as he drills, it pulls him closer to the other end where the vise is tightened.

    yup, that’s a really neat demo to give, for those that have not seen it. you end up with a lot of very nicely twisted pairs and the car audio guy surely needed lengths that ran from one end of the car to the other.

    anyway, nice to read about that old trick. for those that have not tried, go try. you’ll like ;)

    1. once did this to build environment resistant ethernet cabling (normal ethernet cables are usually PVC ones). With the right teflon insulation thickness, it is possible to get close to 100ohm differetial impedance.

  13. Whenever I loan tools even as simple as a hand drill or utility knife, to non-strangers whom I know where they live, and set a date I want it returned, 90% or more either 1) never make it back to me or 2) come back a year later than expected or 3) come back broken with no offer for compensation.
    I believe that using tools is an individual sport. Seems like making more than one set of fingerprints on them is just asking for a bunch of hassle to both the source of and the end user of the tools.
    Also, owning tools is an education in itself outside the things you need to learn about using them. It’s gratifying as well. I kind of like the ongoing process of “collecting the whole set” to the point where it’s sometimes enjoyable simply to look at or clean & organize them on some days. If it takes ten years (been 25 for me and I’m not looking for new additions anymore), then that’s 10 years of “enjoying the path” that you’d miss out on if you spend those same years hassling with a hackerspace.
    Just my opinion.

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