In addition to my work at the Bike Kitchen, I have been fostering my creative side at another workshop called Techshop.
Techshop is a chain of community workshops, with locations in San Francisco, Menlo Park, and San Jose in California and Raliegh-Durham, North Carolina and Detroit, Michigan. Each shop has every kind of tool a builder could want. They have a wood-shop, metal-shop, sewing-shop, electronics-shop, and plastic-fabrication-shop. They have computer labs loaded with expensive design software, 3D printing machines, robotic cutting machines, laser printers and more. Being a creative type, the possibilities were almost overwhelming the moment I walked in the door.
I first heard about this concept years ago, from MIT’s chain of Fab Labs built around the same premise. Their location in San Jose has been around for years, but when I arrived home from Thailand I was overjoyed to find they had opened a location in San Francisco proper.
The first thing I did was take a whole bunch of classes. I started with the metal shop, then moved onto TIG welding and MIG welding, wood-shop, laser cutting/engraving and CNC (computer numeric controlled) machining (aka – programmable robots cutting stuff). My one mistake was signing up for a membership before I had any plans about what to build. I wasted a couple months just mucking around on the machines without any particular goal in mind. But I’ve now become systematic about my crafting. I have a notebook full of sketches and ideas, and try to think up new ideas each week even as I’m working in the shop.
I absolutely love this shop, and lately my whole life has been revolving around going there. It’s almost like a dream come true. If I was to win the lottery, one of the first things I would probably do is build a workshop EXACTLY LIKE THIS. A place where I could go try and make any hair-brained idea into reality. But sometimes Techshop can be much better than a personal workshop – there are lots of creative people under one roof who are happy to bounce ideas off each-other.
The only negative thing is having to share all the tools. They are clearly expanding and going through growing pains. Most of the machines are used 24 hours a day, which means they regularly break down and require maintenance. Also, while most people respect the machines, some people ignore the rules, mistreat the equipment and mess up the settings on machines. But these drawbacks are more than overcome by having access to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, and having a big open space to do messy work while still living in a small apartment.
I will have a lot of posts about Techshop coming up.