Your Take on Maker Spaces

Your Take on Maker Spaces

Last week, Rob wondered about your experiences with maker spaces. Several readers have plenty to share on the topic! – Editor

“Sounds intriguing! I have all of the equipment I need but have a two-car garage with no room for a car; it would be nice to get some space back. One consideration would certainly be the inconvenience of having to drive to the shop space, possibly lugging materials and project parts back and forth. I would also be concerned about: 1) Safety of anything that I might need to leave in the remote shop; 2) The ‘open’ hours of shop space and equipment availability — when in the middle of a project, I often work late at night to arrive at a comfortable stopping point; and 3) How would overall management of the shared facility/equipment be handled and costs allocated? Repairs and/or replacement of equipment, insurance, upgrades, supplies, safety considerations, on-site supervision, compliance with zoning requirements/restrictions, personal liability, etc. All of these issues have probably been considered and resolved by many others, so there are good ideas that have been successfully implemented. The point here is that although it may be a shared-use facility, someone or some group needs to run it like a (non-profit?) business, and there need to be written agreements that protect the property, the equipment, the participants, etc. And someone needs to be in charge. If it were easy, I might have already done it, but I would rather just enjoy my retirement as a beneficiary. In my earlier days, I was an officer and director of a flying club. I found that the more successful our club became, the less time I had available to do what I was there for: to fly! I’ll be interested in seeing a compilation of the responses you receive.” – Dick van Nierop

“The upside to maker spaces is, more room and better tools. Some downsides are: 1) Not close by; 2) Could be more expensive; 3) Still have to pay when not using; 4) Machine may be in use when you want to use it; 5) Machines may not be well maintained; and 6) Dealing with other people you might not like. Our shop is a morph of this concept: A partner/friend and I share a shop. It is on my land, and he lives next door. We both have contributed large machines to the shop (close to 50/50). At 54′ x 42′, it has plenty of room. Since we have duplicates of our most heavily used machines (routers, CNC, table saws), we are rarely waiting on the other guy. This arrangement has worked really well, but we are really good friends and discussed the arrangement upfront. We do a LOT of joint projects and work well together. That tends to make shop time both more efficient and enjoyable. Having said that, I could only imagine how uncomfortable a situation could be with a group of people you did not get along with. I would be extremely cautious about entering into any long-term commitment with people I did not know well. I will also add that many of us enjoy ownership of nice machines. We do virtually everything with machines (I haven’t used a hand saw in decades). I take great pride in the shop. It took me many decades to get to the point I could afford it!” – James Wilson

“I do most of my work in my own shop. But I do work in two other places. One is a fairly well-equipped shop that makes furniture for charities. Most of the regulars are seasoned woodworkers, and things go pretty well. The others are parents of children in a theater group. Some are good, some are pretty inexperienced. I spend a few minutes of each session putting tools away that were just set down where last used. And of course during the session, I can’t find one that should be in the tool box or wall rack. Several friends have retired and moved to retirement communities (with maker spaces). They report mixed opinions. One is the lack of space, as they are tool-heavy. The other is, people are not always careful to use things correctly and cause damage. This is the same reason I don’t lend tools: it’s too easy for someone to use them incorrectly and damage them, usually without realizing it. There is a maker space near me, but I have not really investigated it. I have most all the tools I need and I know where they are.” – Keith Mealy

“My experience with a shared woodworking space was through the now defunct TechShop. On the one hand, it was nice to have access to a full workshop that included a full-size wood lathe, floor jointer and floor planer, 4 x 8 CNC router, etc. I didn’t have to shell out the upfront cash nor use up the space in my garage. And several machines were 240-volt, so I didn’t have to worry about having the service necessary to support them. But the minuses heavily out-weighed the pros. Many of the people who used the shop did not respect the tools nor other users. I once had to clean out a dust-collection system from the fan/bag all the way to tearing apart the jointer because the entire system was plugged. Someone just kept running boards through the jointer in spite of the fact that it was obviously shooting sawdust all over the floor. Sometimes I felt like I was the only one cleaning up after myself or properly using the tools. The waste board on the CNC router looked like a war zone because people were not zeroing off the table. After TechShop went bankrupt, I ended up renting space with a fellow TechShop ‘refugee.’ It’s just him and me now, and we have the same attitude towards respecting the tools and our fellow shop mate. I will never go back to an open-access workshop.” – Christian M. Restifo

“When I think about shared woodworking spaces, I’m reminded of my early days learning woodworking (circa 1950s-60s) at a Junior Achievement. I TOTALLY remember working intently on a number of beginner projects that each required several sessions to complete. Saw, sand. Plane or file, sand. Drill, sand. Glue, sand. Finish! That was the plan anyway. (Did I mention that I had to sand occasionally?) Turns out that my project(s) were always stored in a locked cage with my name on a paper tucked neatly in it until the next week, along with everyone else. In several cases, when I went to retrieve my ‘beautiful’ project-in-process, I pulled out a bizarrely shaped chunk of wood with my name on the paper that remotely resembled my intended project. I’m sure I saved a few fellow ‘wood butchers’ a lot of work. But this has now reminded me that most EVERY tool in the shop was either dull, chipped or broken. I now enjoy my own well-maintained tools in my own secure workshop! Expensive, but worth every penny.” – Paul

“What a coincidence! I have a very nice shop, 20′ x 30′ with 12′ ceilings, radiant floor heat and a SawStop with a 7’6″ x 8′ outfeed table, so there’s lots of assembly space. I’m barely proficient as a woodworker (my father would call me a tool collector), but I’ve always wanted a decent workshop. So when I retired, I rewarded myself. Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of looking for some folks who are actual woodworkers that would like to rent some space with the ulterior motive of learning from them. I’ll be very interested in hearing what your readers have to say. I can imagine all kinds of nightmare scenarios!” – Tim Leach

“We here in Ohio, outside of Cleveland, built a woodworking club with a fully equipped shop. It is a nonprofit with over 70 members and growing. We’re just past our 10-year anniversary and look forward to 10 more. Keep making sawdust.” – Bill McCracken

“I belonged to (a maker space) several years ago. They had the full complement of wood shop and metal shop equipment, and they offered lessons on equipment usage. However, it got so popular that you had to schedule time on the machines, so if you needed several machines for your project, you were probably out of luck — especially if you couldn’t ‘batch’ your steps to one machine before moving to the next. And lots of times you didn’t know how much time you needed on a machine. One additional downside: it was 10 miles from my house, and having to load all the wood, etc., in my truck to take it there, then unload it to work on, then load it all back up to bring it home when your time was up…that was a big hassle.” – Paul Bailey

“I am currently a member of MakeICT in Wichita, Kansas, and I love it. While MakeICT is not a fancy place, it is certainly more affordable than buying a bunch of machines for my already overcrowded garage. Our dues are only $25 per month. The wood shop is set up with a SawStop table saw, 8″ jointer, multiple band saws, miter saws, lathes, 4′ x 8′ ShopBot CNC, plus many more hand and power tools. In addition to the wood shop, there is a metal shop, ceramics, print shop, 3D printers, 4′ x 4′ 80-watt lasers (two of them), a sewing area, IT area and several classrooms. The building is a very old elementary school, which is in nowhere-near-perfect condition, but it is functional. So my bottom line: I love it!” – Tony King

“I like to think of my shop as quasi-communal. There are three main tenants and then four sub-tenants. One of the main tenants does furniture restoration, refinishing and finishing, and they have two sub-tenants who also very rarely use the machinery. Another main tenant is a cabinet shop (at least five or six employees in the shop), but only two usually use the machinery. The last main tenant who I rent from has three to four employees usually, and the other sub-tenant along with me who also uses the machinery. Thankfully, communication is really good amongst everyone and the current group of employees for the main tenants are considerate of others. It’s also a lot better than a full communal shop, which can see upwards of 15 to 25 individual entities using the machinery. Having people around to bounce ideas off of or for an extra set of hands is quite nice. There have been times when an employee in the past was a bit selfish about the machinery usage, but they didn’t last any longer than a year. Of course, it’s very likely when they quit or were fired some personal tools might have been liberated.” – Jonathan Eigen

“I’ve shared woodworking spaces before I got my own shop built at my house. It has pros and cons, in my opinion. Pros: I really enjoyed the comradery of working with others around. We would visit, help one another and share ideas. I felt safer, too, because if an accident were to happen, I knew there would be others around to help. It was great having access to big industrial-sized machinery I could never have in my home shop. I also learned from others who were doing things I’d never tried before. Cons: There were some woodworkers who did not always follow good safety rules, so there was the danger of getting hit by another woodworker’s kickback or a big block of wood flying off a lathe, etc. It was not as convenient, since I had to load up my vehicle with everything I wanted to work on and drive to the shop, carry everything in and then load it back up afterward to drive home. That took a big chunk out of my day. At home, I can just walk out to the shop and work a short time if desired. I usually had to take several projects in case the machines I needed were being used or happened to be broken, which occurred on several occasions. I think shared space is a very nice option for anyone who doesn’t have the space or finances for a home shop, though. It’s also great for retirees. I live in Arizona, and we get many retirees who spend the winters here. Some of the retirement communities have woodworking shops you can pay a fee to use. This gives woodworkers a nice opportunity to continue doing something they enjoy without having to transport tools/machinery back and forth each year.” – Lori

“I recently moved. Had my woodworking equipment and supplies in storage for two years waiting for a garage to be built for my new workshop. Did use a shared space to build cabinets for our new house. Generally had plenty of space to work (even when others were there). Biggest problem was having to drive and transport material, as opposed to walking into my garage shop at home. Seemed to be a great deal for others I saw using the space. Price was fair, equipment was great (e.g., two SawStop cabinet saws, lots of clamps, etc.), and the owner did a great job of keeping place clean, equipment in good condition and helping novice woodworkers. Would highly recommend. Would use again if circumstances change to where I no longer have my own new, spacious workshop in the form of a three-car garage that is fully equipped for my woodworking with no room for any automobile. Next owner of this property will have either a fabulous three-car garage, workshop for whatever hobby is chosen or a combination thereof.” – J. W. Thorp

“The Minnesota Tool Library is my go-to woodworking maker space for the Minneapolis and St. Paul area. My home shop is small with limited space for larger woodworking equipment. The Tool Library has two locations with full-size surface planers/sanders, lathes, jointers, stationary sanders, SawStop table saws with large surface areas and workbenches to assemble large projects. The shops have dust-collection systems and all the power tools and hand tools you need to complete your project. They even have a milling machine to use. It’s a fun place to work and a great opportunity to meet other makers.” – Bruce Mielke

“Check out my buddy Rodney Fickas and his very unique take on a shared maker space (click here). From the location he chose to move to and live (in Ferguson, Missouri) to set up this space, to his passion for reaching people through woodworking, Rodney’s story is worth investigation.” – Mark Schweigert

“I am a member of SHAK Makerspace in Kokomo, Indiana. Anytime you get more than one person using a wood shop, you have issues. However, our maker space allows me to continue to do woodworking and a lot of other making as well. I was able to bring most of my woodworking tools here to share with others and have a place to work at a very reasonable $35 per month. Since we are a non-profit, there is a good deal of work required to keep it going, but it is worth every bit of effort. We have a very diverse membership, which allows us to experience a broad range of projects. I am particularly happy with our ‘Pens for Vets’ outreach, where vets are able to turn their own pen blanks and assemble them, all at no cost due to the generosity of so many people from across many states!” – Randy Martin

“My partner, Kathy, convinced me to spend the winter with her in Tucson rather than our home in Homer, Alaska. I like the winters because I like to cross country ski and when not skiing, I have lots of time to spend in my shop. However, she won the discussion and I am in a RV park in Tucson until January 15 (I’m counting the days).

The park has a nice shared woodshop and I joined to be able to make a little sawdust. The nice thing about the shop is that it provides access to some tools that I don’t have room for in my shop as well as the opportunity to consult with some very experienced woodworkers.

What I don’t like about the shop are the rules and the lack of storage space for projects. The problem with the rules is that any significant change to tool set up, such as changing the blade on the bandsaw or table saw must be done by one of the ‘supervisors,’ even though you know how to take care of the action yourself. I guess they have had problems in the past. Also since the space is shared and storage space is somewhat limited everyone must take projects home when they leave for the day. This requirement certainly limits the size and complexity of projects that can be undertaken.” -Charlie Franz

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