3 reasons to join your local makerspace
The best thing about makerspaces? The people.
Making something with your own hands brings a special kind of satisfaction that is well known to woodworkers (like me), and all types of artisans. Some may not know this feeling, as many DIY hobbies make it hard for you to get started, requiring tools that may be expensive and take up a lot of space, or specific know-how you can’t learn off the internet.
That’s what I love about makerspaces. These facilities are popping up all around the country and provide people who love to make stuff the space, tools, and equipment to participate in crafts such as woodworking, metalworking, ceramics, electronics, sewing, and more. But most importantly, by signing up to one of these spaces you join a community of like-minded people you can learn and draw inspiration from.
So no matter your needs or level of experience, you should consider joining your local makerspace as well.
More space, more tools
Some hobbies not only require tools, but also the freedom to make a mess without worrying about your furniture.
“I want a space where I can get dirty, and I can’t do it in my apartment,” says Omar Eddin, co-founder, and CEO of MakePlus in Los Angeles, California.
Even as someone with a 150-square-foot workshop in my basement, I can relate. My home space is cramped and dusty, and there’s almost no room to move around without tripping on a hose, cord, or pile of wood. I certainly can’t build large projects like a dining table or kitchen cabinets, and it’s not only uncomfortable, but it could be terribly unsafe. That’s why I decided to join my local makerspace, Lowell Makes in Massachusetts, which offers 3,000 square feet solely to the wood shop—that’s more square footage than my entire house. While not all are that large, they’re likely much bigger than whatever workspace you have at home.
[Related: Get your scratched wooden cutting board looking bright and new]
Another benefit of space that I didn’t really consider when I first joined my local makerspace is the ability to work on more than one project at a time. In my shop, if the glue or finish on one project is drying, I generally can’t work on anything else because I’ll have no more available space. At the makerspace, I can put my glued-up cutting boards off to the side to dry and tackle a batch of headphone stands. The ability to spread out and work across projects is a huge time saver.
And then there are the tools. I’m not going to lie—I have spent a lot of money on tools, and have just about everything that a hobbyist woodworker needs. But a makerspace offers tools that I can’t even dream of having at home, either because of the cost or the amount of space they take up. For example, with a price tag that goes over $4,000, the 25-inch planer at my local makerspace literally won’t fit down the stairs into my basement, so I couldn’t have one even if I were willing to splurge. And if you don’t have any tools, makerspaces usually have absolutely everything a beginner needs to start creating and then some, so you can try a new hobby before you start investing in anything other than materials.
Join a community of makers
A lot of people, including me, first go to makerspaces for the room and the tools. But the longer I’ve been at Lowell Makes, the more I realize that the real value of a place like this is the community. For a newcomer makerspaces are an amazing place to learn, no matter the craft they’ve chosen.
“It brings a non-traditional learning environment,” says John Noto, co-founder, and treasurer of Lowell Makes, noting that the most valuable learning happens during one-on-one interactions between members, not through classes. “You can learn stuff in an apprenticeship-type way. You can work with people […] and a lot of people are more comfortable with that.”
Some makerspaces may have staff—usually volunteers—available to answer some of your questions, but most of the time, everyone is everyone’s teacher. Don’t be afraid to ask around—experienced members can help you learn to use the tools safely, teach you proper techniques, and offer advice when you hit a roadblock.
Many spaces also offer formal education programs, with classes focused around all of the different shops. Signing up for those might be a great idea if you’re starting out or got curious about a new craft you discovered at the makerspace.
“Many people come in with one tool in mind, and then go ‘Oh my God, I didn’t realize you had [these other shops]’,” says Rio Sabella, chair of the membership committee at Lowell Makes.
In addition to learning and improving, just working in an environment surrounded by other creators is also worth the membership. Seeing what other people are doing and chatting about their processes can be a source of inspiration and even collaboration.
Makerspaces help businesses flourish
Makerspaces can also be a major support system for more experienced creators trying to turn their hobbies into businesses. Steve De La Cruz, business development and operations manager at MakePlus in Los Angeles, also runs his woodworking design store, Main & 38th, almost entirely out of the makerspace. For Steve, joining MakePlus cut the entry barrier for his business, saving him tens of thousands of dollars in startup costs like tools, insurance, and utilities.
And saving money isn’t all that makerspaces can do for business owners—they can help you grow it, too. Sabella is another makerspace entrepreneur, running two businesses out of Lowell Makes: Sabella Woodworking and Pipe Dream Arts. In addition to the support and learning, the community is a significant source of clients and referrals.
“Starting your own business or doing any of the DIY stuff is scary,” he says Eddin. It can be comforting to have a community where others have gone through similar entrepreneurial experiences, he explains, and knowing that you can find support and ask questions is one of the greatest values of makerspaces.
What to look for in a makerspace
If you’re interested in finding a local makerspace to join, there are a few things you should look out for.
First and foremost, make sure that it has what you need, meaning the tools and space your craft requires. But you should also consider other aspects like whether they offer storage on-site (so you don’t have to move projects and materials back and forth), classes and training, and 24/7 access if that’s something that interests you.
Lastly, ask about their different membership levels and find the one that works for you. For example, at my makerspace, basic membership tiers offer basic access to all the shops, while higher tiers include storage space, shared offices, conference rooms, and even dedicated office space.
Once you know a makerspace has the nuts and bolts of what you need to be successful, the next thing you’ll need to find out is if the community and culture fit your personality. Noto says the best way to do this is to visit.
“Go to an open house […] get in there, walk around and get a flavor for the space. It’s all about the community. Talk to people,” he says.
Ask about the equipment and logistics, but also ask community-focused questions like member collaboration, opportunities to share knowledge and skills, and community-building events.
[Related: Two ways to joint wood on your table saw—no jointer needed]
You may also be able to get some insights into makerspaces by attending local craft and artisan fairs in your area. Makerspaces will often attend and have members on hand to answer your questions. Other vendors might even be members themselves and able to share their experiences. By chatting with makers in your area you can get a sense of just how vibrant a community your local makerspace has created.
Finally, don’t be afraid. Sabella says as part of the membership committee at Lowell Makes, he comes across a lot of people who think that makerspaces are cool, but are not for them. Still, he encourages everyone not to let that stop them if they’re interested.
“Makerspaces can offer a thousand different things to a thousand different people,” he explains.
“You don’t even have to know what it is you want to do to get involved.”
So if you’re looking for a place to finally build that project you’ve been dreaming about, or want to take your DIY crafting to a new level, then it might be time to find a makerspace in your area. A community full of like-minded creators might be out there waiting for you.