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Enter the Makerspace

Shop class doesn't have to end in high school.

Don’t have space or money for a shop of your own? Or maybe you need one-time use of a special tool, or some insights on a new technique. Makerspaces—community workshops filled with tools and experts—offer affordable ways to begin or continue woodworking; refine skills or learn a new one, such as glassblowing or metalworking; and collaborate with other woodworkers.

What a makerspace offers

Makerspaces include businesses, co-ops, and nonprofits. So what, specifically, do these shops offer?

•Training and support


Besides advice and assistance provided by technicians and staffers, some makerspaces offer one-on-one training. Sam Watts, cofounder of the American Workshop, a woodworking-specific shop in Burnsville, Minnesota, says, “We have experts on staff who can help anyone with any project. Sometimes customers need just a little guidance and sometimes they need us for the whole project.”
Many makerspaces offer classes that provide opportunities to meet other woodworkers and develop new skills. John Blunt of IsGood Woodworks Collective in Seattle, Washington, says, “My beginning classes serve to break the ice for people who might like to build something but are unsure of their abilities. The classes become an opening to everything else that we do here,” photo below.

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A little help can go a long way. One of John Blunt’s students built this beautiful credenza. Before joining IsGood Woodworks, this student’s prior woodworking experience was limited to a single class he’d taken in high school.

•Machines you don’t have

Some machines, such as 3D printers, CNC routers, laser engravers/cutters, and large drum sanders, cost more to purchase than many recreational users can justify. Fortunately, a makerspace may have these available, photo below. Perhaps your bandsaw doesn’t have the capacity to resaw an 18"-wide board. A community shop may be able to help, but be aware that the more popular a machine, the longer the wait time can be to use it.

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Try a machine before you buy. If you’re entertaining the thought of purchasing a new machine—such as this edge-belt sander—a makerspace offers the opportunity to familiarize yourself with features and operations before you go shopping.

•Access to other disciplines

Some makerspaces offer instruction on using other materials, such as glass, metal, or leather, and crafts as diverse as photography and sewing. John says, “One of my clients teaches a gourd banjo class, and will be teaching the timber-frame section of a tiny-house build”, photo below.

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Try something other than woodworking. Many makerspaces offer unique disciplines. Here, several of John Blunt’s students build a tiny house on a trailer, learning to work with fiberglass and mastering bent lamination for the roof.

•A sense of community

Woodworkers tend to work alone in their shops, but makerspaces foster a sense of community by making the shop a shared space. New woodworkers learn from those with more experience, and the veterans gain the satisfaction of passing on their hard-earned knowledge. “Community-building is the key to everything we do,” John says. “Despite our large number of customers, I make a point of getting to know something about what they do and what interests them, and I am not shy about letting them know that we are building together”, photo below.

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Instructor John Blunt once called upon his students for a project. “I was inspired by a lucky find of hollow logs to build a series of tables. I brought six of my former and current students together to each contribute their own specialty to the project.”

Shopping for a makerspace

Think of a makerspace as a health club for those interested in building something other than muscles. Just like the services offered, pricing varies wildly. Many community shops offer hourly and daily rates to those just needing to use a tool, make a few cuts, or build a small project. For those requiring more shop time, most makerspaces offer monthly and annual memberships. “There is a fairly balanced mix of people doing one-off projects and those pursuing an ongoing learning experience,” John says. “We offer short-term rentals [pay by use] and subscriptions for a given number of hours a month. Mostly, customers choose short term for projects, and subscriptions for ongoing learning.”

Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $400 per month for a standard membership giving you access to the shop. Or, if the makerspace charges hourly rates, expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $30 an hour. One-on-one instructor time and classes may require additional fees.

Some shops limit your access to a fixed number of hours per week or month, while others stay open 24/7 and allow you to work as long as you like. Expect also to have to pay for an initial safety certification, an initiation fee, locker or storage rental fees, and possibly a fee for use of a workbench. Need supplies such as fasteners or lumber? The shop may have them on hand, but expect to pay for those, too.

Sam suggests that less-experienced woodworkers plan on spending longer on a project than they might initially anticipate, photo below. Even experienced woodworkers should budget a few extra hours for their projects. Seldom does a project go exactly as planned, or finish ahead of schedule.

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It always takes longer than you think. Sam Watts says, “A lot of people are new to woodworking, and their only exposure to the craft are shows on cable TV,” where projects seem to be accomplished in 30 or 60 minutes.

How do I find one?

The makerspace movement has spread throughout the country, but you’ll find most makerspaces in larger metros where the population can support them. Retirement communities, too, frequently offer community workshops for residents. To find a shop in your area, conduct a web search for terms such as “makerspace,” “community workshop,” “tool co-op,” and “tool-lending library.” After finding a makerspace, ask for a tour of the facility. Then, carefully assess resources and ask questions regarding rates and rules before signing on the dotted line.

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