An Introduction to Makerspaces

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Makerspace, hackerspace; whatever term you want to use, they are a surprisingly underused service. A place to test wild inventions, upskill in your hobby, meet people, undertake a project, and learn for the best.

Why are they not popular among us man-cavers? To be fair, I don’t know. It may be because they are associated with school children & college students. It may be because getting a subscription to build stuff is unconventional. Whatever the reason, I hope this can spark your interest and prompt you to research it further.

What are the benefits?

If you have a garage packed full of tools, equipment, and spare parts, you’re part of the lucky few who won’t get the most out of a makerspace. But for the remainder of you, what an opportunity this is.

1. Access to previously inaccessible equipment

Think of all the projects you have half finished or still in the brainstorming phase and are rattling around in your head. Yes, procrastination is a big reason why projects go unfinished, but another reason is likely that you simply don’t have the tools for the job.

If I had a dollar for every time I found out that a $950 thingymajig was essential for moving the project forward, I’d nearly have enough to afford each thingymajig.

Makerspaces solve this problem by providing the equipment. The ones which specialize in a particular area often have everything under the sun. Remember, the legends who run these places know their fields inside out - meaning that if a tool is needed, chances are they have it.

Think of the 3d printer. Of course, you can buy one of those gimmick printers, but just try convincing your partner that you need a $3000 3d printer and that it’s going to live behind the sofa. Good luck!

2. Experts to ask & learn from

As I mentioned above, the men and women who run makerspaces are incredibly knowledgeable in their chosen fields. This also goes with the teachers and people who regularly go there to build/create/invent.

Expect them to suggest more efficient ways to do XYZ, better materials to use, and new techniques. We all can improve, but not all of us are lucky enough to have someone point out how.

Note: As you’ll see soon, hackerspaces can vary a lot in size. Smaller ones come with more opportunity for 1-to-1 teaching but will cost more. Larger ones are cheaper, but those 5 questions you have lined up? Don’t expect to have them all answered.

3. Ideas are all around

The beauty of these places is that each person has their own unique project in the works. Look one way and you’ll see someone making a custom puzzle; look another way and you’ll see someone fixing the mechanism in their recliner.

The several times I’ve been, my mind bounces between the things I see and how it can improve my man cave.

However, don’t let the shiny object syndrome get to you. In other words, don’t drop your hard work to start on something else.

4. Separation of work & play

There’s a reason why entrepreneurs with small businesses go to libraries, offices, and cafes to work - distractions at home can be overwhelming. Again, those with garages have the upper hand, but if you’re building something while continually glancing at the TV, it’s time to get out and into your focus zone.

Another side product of this separation is being able to fully appreciate the space you’ve created!

Different types of Makerspaces

As posed in the introduction, there seems to be a misconception that this is a place for students. Yes, students may be the main demographic, there are thousands around the world which cater to people of all ages and backgrounds.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” - Albert Einstein.

The limitless nature of imagination means that each hackerspace is unique in what they do and how they do it.

1. By Age-group

You will find classes for specific age-groups as well as ones that accept all. Common groups are: for kids (years 7-12 / after school programs and weekend classes); for teenagers (years 13-19 / classes are generally more specific); for adults (20 and over).

2. Class Size

Makerspaces can host 3 people all the way up to 30 and over. Both sides of the spectrum have distinct advantages and disadvantages. Small = more time with instructors/mentors but are more costly to attend. Large = less time with instructors/mentors but are very affordable, meaning you can attend several times per week.

3. Project/Free-for-all rooms

To cater to the majority, instructors will often have a set project that everyone does at the same time (what I call project rooms). These are great for beginners that are a bit hesitant. But since you’re reading this, a free-for-all room is what you’re after. These are where you rock in, pick up a nail and start hammering. Feel free to build what you want at the pace that suits you.

4. Electronics

This also includes, to some extent, programming and robotics. If anyone other than electricians goes to one, expect to put together a circuit kit alongside everyone else. You know, for safety reasons. That being said, some of the kits on the market are remarkably complex and entertaining.

Keep an eye out for classes teaching something you’ve been meaning to do, such as home automation or programming LED lights.

5. Woodworking

This goes far beyond the stereotypical wooden ashtray. If they have the wood and a vast array of tools, there’s no limit to what you can build.

There’s nothing quite like putting your legs up on an ottoman that you built, and watching TV which is being supported by an entertainment console that your hands made.

6. [Insert topic here]

Think of a creative hobby that would suit being made into a hackerspace. Well, chances are there already it’s already out there.

Go to your favorite search engine and search for:

[type] makerspace near:[your city/town]

If possible, filter down to websites that have been updated in this year.

Be sure to check out these directories:

See you out there!