space-work

With the recent news about TechShop closing and the more recent news of TechShop reopening, I’ve been following the discussions around what TechShop did right, what TechShop did wrong, and what it should do in the future. All of this is colored by my experience at Milwaukee Makerspace over the last 6 years, including being on the Board of Directors and helping to run the space. I should note that Milwaukee Makerspace is a community-oriented space for adults and focuses on providing a space and equipment for people to learn new skills and make things.

TechShop always came across to me as a more “commercial” space where people who wanted access to tools to create products could go to use the machines. While some spaces do cater to entrepreneurs and people making commercial products, other spaces are not equipped and not as friendly to commercial activity. At Milwaukee Makerspaces we’ve had a loose set of rules/guidelines for people producing commercial work. It’s basically follows the “Don’t be a Dick” rule: don’t hog machines, don’t blow through consumables, and make donations to help cover the cost and maintenance of machines.

There’s a common explanation of a makerspace as “It’s like a health club, except instead of treadmills and exercise bikes we have tables saws and laser cutters!” This falls apart when you think about the equipment in a health club versus the equipment in a makerspace. While someone might use an elliptical machine for 30 minutes, or maybe a treadmill for an hour, people can easily use a laser cutter for hours at a time, and can tie up a 3D printer for multiple hours very easily. While health clubs may have a dozen ellipticals and treadmills, most makerspaces may have only one or two laser cutters and 3D printers.

Besides the issue of how many machines and their availability, expectations are an issue. One of our members, in giving an orientation to new members said “Everyone is here to have fun, just remember that and you’ll have a good time”. While some do believe that to be true, there are definitely members who consider the space an extension of their business, and their “machine shop” to use as needed to create products. (This isn’t to suggest people running a business can’t also be awesome members, but there’s always a chance of some conflict due to expectations.)

So what are expectations? We’ve had members who make demands to the Board of Directors (who volunteer to help run the space) and typically we explain that “no, you are not a customer, you are a member like everyone else”. As a member of Milwaukee Makerspace you can expect being able to get into the building (if you paid your dues) and well, to some degree, not much else. There’s no guarantee the machine you want to use when you show up will be available, or working, or in some cases, still in the building! You have to be okay with that. It’s how we operate.

I’ve read a few accounts of TechShop members (customers?) making demands, and having expectations that since they are paying X amount per month, it entitles them to Y amount of Z. Some of these people do indeed run businesses, and TechShop should provide them with what is promised. Maybe? I mean, I don’t know what exactly is promised by TechShop when you are a member/customer.

I’m not going to say that one way is right and one way is wrong, because there’s room for all sorts of models. A friend of mine joined Milwaukee Makerspace and was hoping to use the CNC router for a project. When he joined the CNC router was down for repairs, and then he wasn’t able to attend the training class, and then months had passed and he didn’t get to do his project. (He told me he totally understands that everyone is a volunteer and he wasn’t upset it didn’t work out. All good.) I do hear this quite a bit. Someone joins and gets really excited, but then has to get trained on the equipment they want to use, and that takes time, and then they get frustrated with the process. To be fair, I’m sure other spaces have this figured out, and maybe we don’t… I don’t know.

Occasionally I wish we had a TechShop-type place in Milwaukee I could send people to when all they want to do is get access to a machine to make something, and maybe be able to take a class fairly quickly to learn a new skill. My friend who failed to use the CNC router said he called a few places about having the job done and it was way over his budget. This is where I see the TechShop-style place fitting in. I have no delusion that Milwaukee Makerspace (with nearly 300 members) is for everyone. There are some people who will want something different in their “makerspace experience”, and I respect that.

At this point I should mention Hammerspace in Kansas City. Dave Dalton is always quick to point out that a space can be both things, a community makerspace and a commercial entity with staff and the ability to do jobs for hire. So yes, there are many models, and some work better than others in various ways.

I’ve talked to others about how their spaces run, and there are so many variables that it may be difficult to replicate something that works in one place to other places. Cities and people and culture are so different depending on where you go, as are… expectations.

MMS

I recently heard the word “potluck” applied to a makerspace. So what exactly is a potlock and how does it work?

A potluck is a gathering where each guest contributes a different and unique dish of food, often homemade, to be shared.

(Okay, ignore that bit about food.) Many spaces are started by groups of people who come together to form a community around making. Making usually requires tools. They may be traditional tools like saws, and drills, and sewing machines, and may include laser cutters, 3D printers, and CNC machines. While you may own a few tools, chances are you don’t own all the tools. Typically there’s two reasons you don’t own all the tools. You probably don’t have space for them all, and you probably can’t afford them all. This is where makerspaces come in.

The “potluck” style makerspace encourages everyone to bring the tools they have, together, in one space, and share that space, and share the tools. No one owns everything there, but everyone owns something. Now, there are spaces where a single person or small group provides all (or a majority of) the tools, or where the space itself (as an organization) owns all the tools. It can certainly work in many different ways.

Milwaukee Makerspace operates to a great deal like a potluck. When we started, everyone brought in whatever tools they had. We tried to avoid duplicates in most cases. If we had a table saw, but someone else said they had a better table saw, we’d evaluate and discuss and see if we wanted to “upgrade” by bringing in the new tool. Now, the question comes up “What if Bob decides to take his chop saw home? Then we have no chop saw!” and yes, this is true, and it does happen. I’m pretty sure within the last year the chop saw disappeared because the owner moved away, or took it home, or some other weird reason. Typically we’re without a tool for a short time until someone else brings one in, or we find another way to replace it.

One of those “other ways” is a group buy. Sometimes a member (or more likely a number of members) want a new tool. They basically “crowdfund” the money needed to purchase the tool and the tool the stays at the space. Occasionally there is a majority stakeholder who might have paid for a large percentage of a tool. If, in this case, the member who is a majority stakeholder wants to remove the tool, they would have to buy out all the other members who pitched in for it. This is a rare occurrence, in fact, I’m not sure it’s happened more than once or twice.

Occasionally a member who owns a tool wants (or needs) to sell it, perhaps due to financial strain or needing money more than they need the tool. Often members have bought tools from other members so that they can remain at the space. And yes, we’ve also seen group buys so that tools could remain at the space. (This was the case with one of our laser cutters.)

The largest example we have is the Tormach. Larry wanted a vertical milling machine, and was looking at a Haas, or another larger used machine. Since we didn’t have luck with the previous used machine we had, many members were in favor of something a bit newer, and easier to use. The Tormach purchase was funded by over 30 members. Some contributing as little as $10, and a few contributing close to or more than $1000. Larry covered $5000, which was close to half the cost. I personally pitched in $50 and I still haven’t even used the machine! I’m okay with that, because I’ve seen other members make awesome things, and I know that if I have the need, it’s there and I can use it.

What about when things break? Well, each area has a budget for purchases and maintenance (I’ll cover that more in another post) but we also follow the “crowdfunding” method in this case. When the laser tube died pretty much everyone who ever used the laser cutter was willing to pitch in some money. Occasionally someone orders a spare lens, or new saw blades, or whatever other consumable there is because we don’t charge for machine time, but if you’ve used a machine a lot, we expect you to be awesome and contribute in some way. (And yes, there are other ways to contribute, again, that’s a future post.)

Anyway, I hope this helped explained the “potluck” method we’ve used over the last seven years or so. It’s not perfect, but it’s worked fairly well. When we orient new members, we let them know that every tool in the space belongs to someone, and that someone is another members, so respecting and taking care of the tools is just one more way to be excellent to each other.

NoiseMaker XI

This is (almost) the last noisemaker. There’s been a whole series, and they were all at Maker Faire Milwaukee. But don’t worry, if you missed them in person you can read all about them…

This one started out (somewhat) as a joke. While at Milwaukee Makerspace trying to convince other members to join me on this noisemaking quest I found this old radio on the Hack Rack and said “Look! Here’s a noisemaker! All we have to do is connect up a button for power. It’s that easy!” And while I did convince Maks and Dustin to make some noise(makers) others were not as easily swayed.

NoiseMaker XI

Not being one to not follow up on my own stupid idea, I took the radio, confirmed it worked, and then took it home to connect up a button and a power supply. I ended up just using alligator clips and didn’t even bother soldering anything in place. I did however use a generous amount of tape. (This was definitely the shortest/fastest build of all of the devices.)

NoiseMaker XI

As for the button, I already had that handy and mounted, because it was the old button for our garage door. (I replaced it with this one.) Since the old garage door button was something I hacked together very quickly one morning when the original garage door button broke, I thought it an appropriate use.

NoiseMaker XI

This one definitely has an aesthetic different than the other noisemakers, and that’s a good thing. If anything, I wish I had varied things a bit more throughout the process.

Looking back on the whole thing, creating nearly a dozen different noisemaking devices was a lot of fun. None of them were too involved so I could be sure I’d get each one done and move on to the next, and when things got a little more complex or time consuming that it should have, I offset it by working on multiple devices at a time. Some makers I know suggest this is the secret—having multiple projects at once so you can switch between them when you get stuck/bored with the one you are currently working on. Of course the issue with that is to not abandon projects completely, and come back to them in a reasonable amount of time. (Yes, I may be guilty of 4+ years of planning and/or working on a project that has seen very little progress. I ain’t proud!) If you’re interested in making your own noisemakers, let me know, and I’ll do what I can. The world needs more noise!

This is just one post in a series about noisemakers. Check out the other posts as well:

NoiseMaster X

Just a few more of these noisemakers… I swear! Yes, if you are not aware, I made a lot of them. I also brought them all to Maker Faire Milwaukee in 2017 so people could play with them. That’s the sort of thing I tend to do. On with the show!

The speaker for this one is from an old stereo that Dana told me to get rid of because parts of it broke. I did actually get rid of the receiver by dropping it off on the Hack Rack at Milwaukee Makerspace, but I kept the speakers. ;)

NoiseMaster X

The enclosure this time consists of some offset pieces of wood stained two different colors. The electronics are again somewhat exposed. On top are two controls that allow for user input.

NoiseMaster X

The controls consist of a button to enable the sound, and a potentiometer to alter the sound. The knob for the potentiometer is 3D printed, and it’s a knob from this thing. I’ve used these knobs before, many years ago, thanks to the old RepRap. Luckily the new printer did a much better job this time around.

There’s also a ring beneath the button. This ring is 100% there to cover up a mistake I made by drilling the hole too large. I’m more than happy to honestly admit I screwed up, but I also found a way to fix things, and I think it worked.

One other interesting thing abut this one is the pencil lines that are clearly visible on the wood. I realized that I could draw on the wood and still have it show up fine after staining it. Now I’m tempted to explore this method more and see what else I can do with it. Hooray for weird experiments! (Oh, I also totally screwed up with the assembly and mismatched the sides, but again, I made it work and you probably wouldn’t know if I didn’t admit it.)

NoiseMaster X

As for the electronics, I once again went with an Arduino Nano, a super-cheap microcontroller with plenty of inputs & outputs (especially since I only used a few.) It’s also easy to power with a MiniUSB cable and a 5 volt USB power supply.

NoiseMaster X

Here’s a bit more on the knob. The bottom hole is sized to fit the shaft of the potentiometer, and it’s a tight fit (by design) so that it wouldn’t be easy to remove.

NoiseMaster X

The side of the knob features a small hole that accepts a 3mm set screw. It’s a “headless” screw so using an hex wrench to tighten it up hides it inside the little slot. Extra insurance against the knob twisting or coming off.

NoiseMaster X

And here’s the 3D model of the small plate that goes under the button to hide the spot where I drilled the hole too wide. All good. Ready to go!

This is just one post in a series about noisemakers. Check out the other posts as well:

NoiseMaster IX

Once again we’ve got a noisemaker to tell you about. As you may know, there’s a whole series of these things, and they were all at Maker Faire Milwaukee in 2017, and each one is getting a blog post. (More links are at the bottom of this post.)

NoiseMaster IX

This one features a really nice (looking) speaker that was donated to the cause when I posted about needing unused speakers. This one was in a cabinet that was probably 25 years old, and had what I assume was fiberglass insulation inside of it. I ripped the cabinet apart at Milwaukee Makerspace one day and trashed everything but the sweet speakers which have “Muscle Magnet” power!

NoiseMaster IX

We’ve got a Teensy LC in this one, along with a Teensy Prop Shield (Low Cost version). I made the mistake of soldering a Teensy LC onto it instead of a Teensy 3.x and then realized it wouldn’t play the sounds I wanted to play, but it can do some speech synthesis stuff, so I embraced that. (You’ll hear what it sounds like spouting random phrases in the video below.)

NoiseMaster IX

One of the weird things I did with this one was make the wood look like plastic, and the plastic look like wood. Sort of. I mean, the wood is really MDF, but I gave it a glossy coat of paint, to move away from the stained wood I used in other noisemakers, and I sort of thought it looked more like a plastic surface. (Except for the sides, because MDF is stupid.)

NoiseMaster IX

For the “spools” I 3D printed them with wood filament, so they sort of are wood, but still plastic. Sort of. It’s confusing. Everything about this one is confusing I guess.

spool

Here’s the spools I modeled to serve as standoff between the top and bottom pieces. The spools came about after I modeled the feet. What feet?

foot

These feet! While the wood (uh, MDF) and plastic were on the controller part, I made bright green plastic feet, which are actually modeled as tiny speakers, to attach to the large blue speaker so it could “stand” face down on the table.

NoiseMaster IX

Because the Prop Shield has a built-in amp, it was much louder than most of the other noisemakers, so this was a good way to dampen the sound a bit. Hear this noisemaker in all its glory!

This is just one post in a series about noisemakers. Check out the other posts as well:

« Older Entries |

support:



photos:


buy the button:

Buy The Button