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Over the next month-plus, David Lang, something of a reluctant maker, is immersing himself in maker culture and learning as many DIY skills as he can, through a generous arrangement with our pals at TechShop. He’ll be regularly chronicling his efforts in this column — what he’s learning, who he’s meeting, and what hurdles he’s clearing (um… or not). –Gareth

My first conversation about Zero to Maker, where I explained my blurry vision of overcoming my fear of getting started in DIY and chronicling the journey, was with Gareth Branwyn, the Editor-in-Chief of the MAKE website. Gareth, of course, was very familiar with the first steps upon the maker path and had tons of great advice for me. So much so, that I’m still absorbing a lot of it and the tracking down the resources he suggested. One of the things we talked about was focusing on Project-Based Learning, which I’ve covered in a previous column. As we talked about the needs of the beginning maker, he mentioned Make: Electronics and how it was structured with the total beginner (and with project-based learning) in mind. I decided to order it because: a) electronics is something I have no experience in and want to learn, and b) I was eager to see what MAKE had to offer people like me, who are approaching DIY with a blank slate.

The Amazon package arrived a few days later, and I blocked off a couple hours to start reading. I was about five pages in when I discovered a major obstacle: I didn’t have any of the tools the book required to do the suggested projects and experiments. I realized that despite my commitment to learning and my eagerness to get started, my goal of going from Zero to Maker would be impossible if I didn’t have the right tools.


A Tormach CNC milling machine and a Shopbot, two tools you’re not likely to find in your garage, but can be found at TechShops or some better-outfitted hackerspaces

One of my sub-problems of not having the tools is not having a huge budget to acquire them. In addition, I’m also constrained by space. I live on a boat in the Berkeley Marina, which is quite the adventure in itself, and great for saving money, but it doesn’t afford nearly enough room to accommodate a tool collection. In order to solve this problem, I’d have to get creative. Luckily, there are a growing number of resources for people like me – options that allow for access (to both tools and space), instead of ownership.

My specific plan was to become a member of TechShop. If you’re in the Bay Area (and soon, Detroit or Brooklyn), this is a great option. For $125/month (or $1,200/year), you have access to the over $750,000 worth of tools and generous workshop space (check out their list of tools!), as well as the opportunity for instruction and mentorship. I’ll be talking a lot more about this in future columns, but for now, it stands out as the most valuable and viable option for me.

I mentioned the access-to-tools problem in the comments of the original Zero to Maker post and received some good advice on other access-to-tools options. Here are a few that we were able to come up with:

Sharing Sites
I asked Neal Gorenflo, publisher of Shareable Magazine, if he could make any recommendations for sharing sites that could help with tool access. His great response:

In collaborative consumption, “access trumps ownership.” The idea is that it’s better for citizens to share or rent because they get the use of an asset but not all the hassle that comes with ownership – the purchase cost, taxes, insurance, maintenance, storage, and disposal. Then, of course, society benefits a bunch too.

The Peer-to-Peer sites tend to be regional because they depend on users for inventory and have the most inventory available in home markets.

Neighborgoods – LA
Rentalic – SF
Neighborrow – NY
Snapgoods – NY
RentCylce – All over US, but only overlays with rental shops.
Lending Libraries – This was brand new to me. Andrew McKay pointed out that a lot of public libraries, including the library nearest me in Berkeley, CA, have an assortment of tools that you can check out with your public library card. A complete list of tool-lending libraries can be found on Wikipedia. Neal Gorenflo also pointed out the idea of starting a tool sharing library in your neighborhood – the true DIY solution!

Hackerspaces
And, of course, there are hackerspaces. They vary widely in terms of what tools they have available. Most have a full complement of electronics tools, some have more exotic gear, like 3D printers, and some even have large woodworking machines, metal shops, etc. Check the Hackerspaces directory and contact or visit your local space(s) to see what they offer.

Do you know of other good resources for tool access? What about workshop space? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

More:
Follow David’s Zero to Maker journey

David Lang

Co-Founder of OpenROV, a community of DIY ocean explorers and makers of low-cost underwater robots. Author of Zero to Maker. And on Twitter!


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Comments

  1. Joe says:

    $125.00 a month is a lot of money, for tool and space use. Since you mentioned The book Make:Electronics, which I completed.  The cost of the tools is small in comparison of the parts you will need. If you rent the space you will still have to purchase your parts.

    If you live on a boat you still can put together a small set of tools and work space for well under two months of rental space at TechShop.   Kitchen table, protective work mat and some plastic storage boxes in addition to your basic set of tools is all you really need.  Any higher end tools you more than likely can rent. You may be limited in your project size, But there are tons of Electronics and DIY projects you can build on your kitchen table. A lot of hackerspaces provide use of tools.  Take Electronics class at the local community college just to get access to some of the tools would be worth the 3 units you would have to pay.Just my two cents.ThanksJoe

    1. David Lang says:

      Thanks Joe! It’s interesting you say that about the boat because a friend was telling me earlier today he just met a guy who had a whole fabrication lab in the bow of his sailboat. Incredible! I’m still trying to get a picture of it…

      I love the community college idea! Everyone I know who takes classes at community college remarks how much they get out of them and how underrated they are.

    2. David Lang says:

      Thanks Joe! It’s interesting you say that about the boat because a friend was telling me earlier today he just met a guy who had a whole fabrication lab in the bow of his sailboat. Incredible! I’m still trying to get a picture of it…

      I love the community college idea! Everyone I know who takes classes at community college remarks how much they get out of them and how underrated they are.

    3. David Lang says:

      Thanks Joe! It’s interesting you say that about the boat because a friend was telling me earlier today he just met a guy who had a whole fabrication lab in the bow of his sailboat. Incredible! I’m still trying to get a picture of it…

      I love the community college idea! Everyone I know who takes classes at community college remarks how much they get out of them and how underrated they are.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I suggest that you just buy or seek after the tools you need as you tackle projects, especially if you want to start with simple electronics.  Have to agree with Joe, the parts for Make: Electronics are far costlier than the tools! I assume you have some basic tools, so head over to Sears or Radio Shack and get the other fundamental ones you don’t (multimeter, wire cutters, etc.)  Everyone should own the basics like screwdrivers, saws, etc., it’s the others that you don’t use often that are best to borrow.  In my opinion, there’s no need to have access to a CNC machine (and all of the other fancy things that a great deal of Maker articles always seem to focus on) until you actually work in a project that requires one. 

  3. Anonymous says:

    I suggest that you just buy or seek after the tools you need as you tackle projects, especially if you want to start with simple electronics.  Have to agree with Joe, the parts for Make: Electronics are far costlier than the tools! I assume you have some basic tools, so head over to Sears or Radio Shack and get the other fundamental ones you don’t (multimeter, wire cutters, etc.)  Everyone should own the basics like screwdrivers, saws, etc., it’s the others that you don’t use often that are best to borrow.  In my opinion, there’s no need to have access to a CNC machine (and all of the other fancy things that a great deal of Maker articles always seem to focus on) until you actually work in a project that requires one. 

    1. Garrett Mace says:

      You can’t just jump on a CNC machine, or a welder, or a lathe, the minute you need to use it. These are things you need to be able to practice using, and then you will actually be able to identify the correct tool to use for various parts of your project. This requires that you have access…the kind of access where knowing the tool is there encourages you to use it. Only using a machine for a specific project is how tools and people get broken. TechShop actually has a multi-step and multi-hundred dollar process before you can actually use the large CNC equipment.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Fully agree with the need to have proper training on using machine, although the comment that machines/tools break when they are for a specific project doesn’t make any sense. Someone on a budget and without a specific project in mind should wait until they actually need a machine like that before they get spend money and get trained on using it.  They are more likey to retain what they learn and know how to apply it when working on a specific project, rather than a vague I want to be a DIYer theme.  He can read articles and know that joining metal together requires welding skills, he doesn’t need to go to techshop to be told that.  Then further down the road when a project comes to mind that requires welding, he will know that he will have to learn to weld and can make arrangements to learn how.  That’s all.

  4. chic says:

    I would have thought that living on a boat would mean you needed to have a basic toolkit anyway?

  5. in Frederick, MD there is the Haven. Its a space that is focused on re-enactors but they have a huge shop they let members use for next to nothing like ($15.00 a month). http://WWW.HistoricHaven.Com

  6. dr says:

    Local highschools and community colleges. These guys have workshop space to spare, especially in the summer (until they shutter their programs). They already exist in almost every small town and are already paid for by public (read: open and accessible) money. If they charged a nominal fee to keep out the riff-raff and cover things like having a person staff the office, it could be a huge boost to both makers and the economy.

  7. dr says:

    Local highschools and community colleges. These guys have workshop space to spare, especially in the summer (until they shutter their programs). They already exist in almost every small town and are already paid for by public (read: open and accessible) money. If they charged a nominal fee to keep out the riff-raff and cover things like having a person staff the office, it could be a huge boost to both makers and the economy.