Zero to Maker: Access to Tools

Zero to Maker: Access to Tools

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!

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.

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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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