Ask Hackaday: What’s In Your Garage?

No matter what your hack of choice is, most of us harbor a secret fantasy that one day, we will create something world-changing, right? For most of us, that isn’t likely, but it does happen. A recent post from [Rohit Krishnan] points out that a lot of innovation happens in garages by people who are more or less like us.

He points out that Apple, Google, and HP all started in garages. So did Harley Davidson. While it wasn’t technically a garage, the Wright brothers were in a bicycle workshop, which is sort of a garage for bikes. Even Philo Farnsworth started out in a garage. Of course, all of those were a few years ago, too. Is it too late to change the world from your workbench?


We’d argue basements are at least as important (although in southern Texas, they call garages Lone Star basements since no one has proper basements). The real point of the article, though, isn’t the power of the garage. Rather, it is the common drive and spirit of innovators to do whatever it takes to make their vision a reality. A few hundred bucks and an oddball space has given birth to many innovations.

So, what’s in your garage? Or where do you hack? And do you think innovation at that scale is still possible today? When all you needed to build a product that would launch HP was a few soldering irons and hand tools, it was a bit easier slope than standing up a semiconductor fab line.

Easier, Yet Harder?

Then again, some things are easier. Getting a PCB made and stuffed is orders of magnitude easier than it was two decades ago. Prototyping is trivial with 3D printing and CNC machining. Fielding a computer-based application that can scale to millions of users is cheaper and easier than ever, too. So, where are the garage innovators today? Are people no longer willing to work in a garage for little pay, hoping that it will pay off?

And of course, it doesn’t always pay off. You just hear about the ones that do. For every garage band that becomes Nirvana, The Ramones, or Creedence Clearwater Revival, there are probably hundreds like the Fugitive Five you probably haven’t heard of and hundreds more that you absolutely have never heard of. Even Walt Disney (who started in a garage, according to the post) went bankrupt at least once before hitting it big. As investors will attest, you can’t tell who will succeed until they do.

Get Innovating

For a while, big labs were the ones creating innovation, but that’s changed a lot in recent years. Small inventors disrupting the status quo isn’t a new phenomenon. We’d like to see more of it today.

We’re proud to see garage-scale innovation basically every day. Maybe the days when you could start Apple in your garage are gone. Certainly, you can’t actually launch a new personal computer like they did. But will garage innovators play a part in alternate energy, AI, or another nascent field? We hope so. Maybe you’ll be one of them.

Title image courtesy of [Cottonbro Studio]

28 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: What’s In Your Garage?

    1. +1 for the awesome killer robot.

      I’ve been doing a physics experiment trying to measure the non-homogenous character of space, and an experiment trying to find an alternative to the Bosch Haber process (make ammonia from Nitrogen). Neither of these is *likely* to succeed, but if either of them does then the results would be significant.

      Been doing both of those for about 18 years now. I decided long ago that I enjoy the process – results are not required.

      1. Your physics experiment sounds very cool. Very much agree that it’s about the process and the results are an additional bonus, but hard to remember sometimes. I’m actually trying to put a lot more effort into getting a sustainable process, without dis-disillusionment or burn out. Too early to say if it’s working or not.

      1. Oh, we used to dream of working in a hall! Wouldv’e been a palace to us. We used to work in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We started every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! Hall? Huh!

  1. While I dont have a proper garage, I do have an outdoor shed and about 25% of the basement.

    it’s not the garage parts that important, its have a place you can’t work and leave project undone for a period of time.

    The days of the new Apple are not gone, it’s just likely its going to be in another industry. And while one person is not likely to create a new AI, with laptops and a space to get together for a small team any number of new business can be created. The garage Google started in was largely a workspace, it could have been anywhere.

    Now we have makerspaces, how knows how many new businesses started because of them (even our local community college has been used for prototype work by local businesses)

  2. I have a garage (never heard it called a ‘Texas basement’, but that it is) and an office, for more climate-friendly endeavors like 3D printing. The office is starting to resemble the garage in some ways, though.

    Over the years, I’ve done projects for robotics, Pelican HPC cluster experimenting, amateur radio, delay-tolerant satellite networking simulation, model railroading, and custom keyboard design (soon to be announced!). The list could continue, if I thought about it more. The garage has also been used as a computer (for friends and family) and toy (for grandkids’) maintenance depot.

  3. In its biography (iWoz), Steve Wozniak made pretty clear that Apple did NOT start in Jobs’ garage. They seldom used it for some quick&dirty final assembly line work for the Apple I, but most of the ‘real’ work was done each working in its own flat or room.

      1. It’s a fact vs. a myth. That’s not really the realm of pedantry. “Lay” vs. “lie” is pedantry. “You’re perpetuating a myth” is kinda just prioritizing truth over story.

  4. I joined my local fablab/makerspace and became workshop leader for CAD Workstation, sla and fdm printers, lasercutter and airbrush for post processing. I had to do the work but I also could more or less do what I wanted, and some others helped me along where I was stuck. Definitely an option I recommend when the infrastructure is there.

  5. I moved to an old farm a few years ago.
    Now I am lucky enough to have space for a large hobby lab where I now run my independent consulting business from.

    On top of that I have a wood workshop or at least the space for one. A friend gifted me an old cabinet saw which is going to be the centerpiece of the space
    Lastly I have made a metal workshop / garage and bought a lift for my cars.

    I don’t plan on ‘making it big’ I think I already have that, with access to most of the tools I could ever dream of.
    I’m more interested in getting more people to start tinkering. Try to make something instead of just buying.

    1. That is a great objective, Hans Peter. More should make, create, repair and reuse- rather then just drive more consumption and gobbling of resources.
      We are “renaissance” men l, having all the facilities everyone mentions and more .. through 50 years of “blood, sweat and tears”. Now we have everything from a Unimat to a gigantic 12 wheel Peterbilt roll off truck and warehouses and cranes.
      Now if only God gave us unlimited time AND good health to enjoy it all

  6. Moved recently, so most of my stuff is in boxes as I have had to prioritise family and business needs. It is a horrible feeling not having it all accessible. Very frustrating to have a picture in your head of exactly where something is, at the previous place you lived but not be able to find it now. A well laid out workshop keeps a hacker happy, and sane.

  7. I’m lucky enough to live with my in-laws (no, seriously, they’re lovely), and one of the many benefits of this is that I’ve inherited the use of two generations of tools. Drill press, bandsaw, table saw, chop saw, drills, sanders, and weird things like reamers, riveters, leather punches, tap-and-die sets, etc. I’ve added my own things like a Dremel and a heat gun.

    While the common tools are undoubtedly useful, I find it’s the weird single-purpose tools that are the most valuable — they’re the kind of things that don’t make sense to buy for a one-off job, but they’re just the right tool to use if you happen to have them on hand.

    In the actual, non-Texas basement, I’ve got a 3D printer. That’s all.

    Our other workshop is the kitchen — so nice to have some just-below-commercial-grade tools to make jobs quick and successful. Blendtec blender, Excalibur dryer, and my not-so-pro Coleman cooler with a hotplate and thermostat (that one is for microbe hacking — yogurt, koji, bread proofing).

  8. Longmill (QV) that never gets used… Drill press… Detritus of 3 teens who start projects…

    (for clarity, it’s project detritus, not teen detritus. Probably.)

  9. I got my own “printer farm” (ok well, 4 of them) in a corner of the living room.

    The workshop is for dirtier work. Welding, griding, building motorcycles, making knives, doing crazy stuff.

    If I can get it done, then my next DIY “3D printer” will be a reverse 3D printer, also known as a CNC mill. Reverse because it takes way material, instead of adding it.

  10. Currently, don’t even have the garage yet. The concrete slab is actually getting poured today. I got the tools for a relatively complete woodworking shop, got a decent selection of leather working tools (could use more size punches), sewing machine, cheap wire feed welder, and a good selection of hand tools that will be going into there. In the home office is my computer, 3D printer, and electronics bench. Would love to add more metal working tools including a forge at some point. May end up adding a CNC mill and a laser cutter too.

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