It has been a year now that I have been a part of a large makerspace. As I have mentioned before, I work out of Techshop in the Washington, D.C. area. Techshop is a wonderland of tools, creativity and positivity. They are located throughout the country and offer makers a centralized location of millions of dollars of equipment with training, courses, and supportive staff to back it all up.
When I first started at Techshop, I was unemployed and actively looking. I have always just worked out of our small apartment refinishing furniture, fixing things, and taking on small client work. Becoming a member of Techshop finally allowed me to expand myself with access to more tools, larger work benches and a supportive staff of makers to help with creativity and project ideas. During my first 4-5 months of membership, I was a religious zealot about going to the shop. I would wake up every day and get there as it opened, I would attend every class and workshop, absorbing as many courses I could pack into my schedule and go home at night drained of energy but always smiling. I was cranking out projects at a fast pace and loving the new lifestyle and digs.
When I started working for the Federal Government, everything changed. In all honesty, I chose to be a member of Techshop because it was within walking distance to potential jobs and that has served me well for this past year, however, it was also my downfall. First, I live centrally in DC and Techshop is located in Arlington, Virginia, a 25-45 minute drive from home depending on traffic. After work, I can walk to the shop and start making, but on weekends or days off, coming to the shop is a miserable experience. DC/VA traffic is the thing of nightmares and the thought of having to drive 45 minutes each way to use the shop seriously detracts from my overall enjoyment of the shop.
Also, my attendance at the shop has dropped off in the past couple months due to the lack of availability of free nightly storage. This is a rule they implemented a few months ago and it has really started to affect my workflow lately. One of the pluses of a shared makerspace is the availability of large work tables and many clamps for glue-ups. However, the lack of ability to store projects for free overnight has led me to waste hours waiting for glue, stain, finishes, and paint to dry before I can transport them home. Usually I cannot wait all day for this so I end up having to schlep the project to my hatchback, where it can dry overnight before I re-schlep it back to the shop the following day to finish the project. I cannot even begin to tell you how miserable this process is. With each project, the car becomes a caustic of wasteland of stain, glue, poly, wax, paint, and mineral spirit stink that is really not good for anyone’s health, especially since it is my daily driver. So ya, my excitement for going to Techshop and completing projects there has waned over the past few months.
There is a bright side though. I do truly enjoy the camaraderie involved with having tons of makers nearby to bounce ideas off and to ask for guidance. This has made my work better in the end as I get multiple perspectives on topics I am not as knowledgeable about. Love that aspect!
One of the pitfalls that Techshop is going through and an issue with shared makerspaces I have seen in other cities is the gym-effect. We all know we have bought a gym membership and have gone for a couple months and then just stopped and have made excuses. Well makerspaces go through the same ups and downs. So much so that several Techshop locations have gone bust over the last couple years. I have seen this myself all the time when many benches are empty or just taken over by a small startup company. To counteract this, Techshop seems to have upped their push for membership expansion by increasing the number of SBUs (safety and basic use) classes they give. In order to use most tools in the shop, you must take a SBU and be certified to use the tool(s). These classes take around 2-3 hours and all work in the proximity of the SBU is shut down during that time, creating a huge backlog in the availability of many tools. In an attempt to gain more members and create more buzz with the after-work crowd such as myself, they run many SBUs around 5-6pm. Basically, my bread and butter time. When they shut down the woodshop for 3 hours to host a lathe class, no one is allowed to use any noisy tool in the woodshop. So that cutting board I have been letting glue in my car for 24 hours that needs to be planed down, cut to size on the table saw and the edges routered before oil finish, ya that has to wait for perhaps another day. That is, IF there are no SBUs at the end of that workday also.
As you can tell, this whole issue of makerspaces has really affected me lately. On one hand, I love the open, creative, positivity, and huge selection of tools available as a Techshop member. I love their connection to young makers in the STEAM classes and the robotics teams from local high schools. I love the idea of a shared makerspace targeted at people living in small apartments and the shared knowledge and experiences that come with that much raw energy under one roof. On the flip side, there are many drawbacks that keep me at arm’s length, and as is apparent with the trend of makerspaces closing or scaling back around the country, this may not be a localized event. Regardless, I will continue to use my membership to make and to continue my goal of one day doing it fulltime.
Comment below to tell me what you think about makerspaces and how they play a part in helping or hindering the creative journeys of makers.
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Thanks for reading!