What would it be like if you had access to just about any kind of metal or wood cutting and shaping tool right in your neighborhood, with the ability to learn how to use the more advanced equipment from the most patient teachers? That is somewhat what the new TechShop facility is like. The shop, located at Forest Park Blvd. and Duncan (in the Cortex District), is open from 9 am to midnight to anyone who becomes a member at $150 a month. It is the ninth location of the franchise, with other locations in California, Texas and Michigan, which is where I first experienced the wonder of the place.
Now, I should say right up front that I am not a guy who can use tools. If a job requires something more than a hammer and a screwdriver, I am going to call in a professional. My father didn’t have much of a workshop, and he wasn’t tool-friendly either. We both did our best work on keyboards. But if I were tool-adept, I would be at the TechShop as often as I could.
The place has over a million dollars of machinery, including high-pressure water jet cutting beds (see photo below) that can slice through 8 inches of steel or wood, various lathes, 3-D printers, computer-controlled sewing and embroidery machines, various other woodworking tools and enough computers to fill several classrooms. There is also welding equipment where you put on your leather protective gear and dark glasses and pretty quickly can be controlling a flame that is as bright as the sun just inches from your face.
Lest you think everything in there is fancy, high-priced stuff, they have plenty of “normal” tools that can find in the average basement workroom, such as socket sets and drills, below.
What if you are like me and are a complete novice when it comes to operating heavy (or even light) machinery? No problem. There are classes galore to show you the way. Once things kick into gear (technically the place is having a “soft open” for the next month), there will be more experienced hands to guide you around and help you understand the secrets of the tools that they have. When I was at the Michigan-based TechShop, I built this thing out of what seemed like random spare parts, below.
You dream up some gizmo and then you go there to create stuff, part of the “Maker Movement” that you might have heard about. Jim McKelvey invented the Square payment reader at one TechShop so he could take credit cards at the Third Degree Glass Factory. Another person took some classes and developed a million-dollar business selling iPad covers made out of bamboo. There are lots of stories of others who didn’t make big bucks but love to tinker around with the equipment, and have lots of fun.
Things were still being put in place on the day that I visited TechShop – CWE, with construction crews working on installing various things. Honestly, it was hard to figure out what was part of their permanent collection and what was just works in progress, which I guess is part of the charm of the place.
Strom’s last post for this blog was about the construction crane at the building site on Euclid/Lindell.
Many thanks David!