Great DIY projects are often easy to do at home, but many require tools and space that you may not have. Just because you don't have a garage workshop doesn't mean you don't get to scratch your DIY itch. Odds are there's a hackerspace in your community, stocked with tools, plenty of space, safety gear and knowledgeable people willing to help you. These spaces offer would-be makers a place to go and safely experiment, tinker and dream. Here's how you can find and get involved with one near you.
Title photo by SFBlogg.com.
What Is a "Hackerspace?"
Put simply, a hackerspace (or hackspace) is a shared workspace where you can tackle DIY projects you wouldn't normally be able to because you don't have the space or materials. Very often, those spaces are loaded with tools, training classes and other experienced members willing to help you get your projects off the ground. Whether you're hacking IKEA furniture or making your own electronics, a hackerspace can provide you with everything you need to get started, as long as you bring the materials, the idea and the motivation to make it happen. Photo by Mitch Altman.
Why Would I Want to Join a Hackerspace?
Dr Lindsay Levkoff, Director of Education at SparkFun Electronics, explains:
Hackerspaces are designed to have an encouraging and inclusive environment so people of all skill levels feel comfortable. People who are just getting started will benefit from various educational opportunities like classes and workshops, and the act of designing, building and creating are incredible ways of building confidence. The sharing aspect of hackerspaces provides incredible resources that most people cannot afford on their own.
Many hackerspaces have machinery like welders, laser cutters, sewing machines, and various other tools. Aside from the physical resources, hackerspaces are also full of incredibly talented people who are happy to share their knowledge.
For example, among all of the other cool things at this year's Maker Faire in San Francisco, educator and Mythbusters host Adam Savage delivered an eloquent argument in support of the DIY community (embedded at the top of this post), not only because it offers a creative outlet, but because DIY projects encourage critical thinking. If you've been looking for a way to do just that, or you just wish you had a place to go to work on your pet project, a hackerspace is for you. Thankfully, they're plentiful, easy to find and easy to join.
How Do I Find a Hackerspace Near Me?
To find a local hackerspace, head over to Hackerspaces.org, a community-maintained wiki with an always up-to-date list of locations around the globe you can join. If you're interested in starting or getting involved in a new hackerspace, the "all spaces" list will show you planned spaces and ones just getting off the ground.
Finding a space is easy, but finding out whether it's the right space for you is a different issue. Check out the events list to see if the hackerspaces near you are hosting anything you'd be interested in. Make sure to visit your local space's website to find out what type of space they are, how to become a member, and what fees they may charge. Some hackerspaces focus on DIY electronics and crafting projects, others focus on traditional network and computer hacking, and others blend both into the same space. You'll want to make sure the space you choose lines up with what you want to do before dropping by for a visit — and you definitely want to visit before you sign up to become a member.
What Should I Know Before Getting Involved?
Before you become a member at your local hackerspace, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Visit your local hackerspace's website. Many are run entirely by volunteers or a by a non-profit group. Reach out to the space's management and find out how you can get involved.
- See if you can visit before you sign up so you can get a feel for the location. Most spaces have open houses where the public is invited to come and see the facility, take tours and sign up to become members. Take advantage!
- Let them know what types of projects you're interested in working on and ask if the hackerspace is well suited to those types of projects. Do they have space available for your new Wi-Fi hacking passion or your sudden desire to build replica props from your favourite TV shows? Are there other members who have similar passions and can help you?
- Ask how much it costs to become a member and how frequently those fees are paid. What do you get in exchange for those fees (free access to the facility, tools or classes, perhaps?)
- When and how often is the space open? Many hackerspaces are only open after-hours when volunteers can break away from work or school to open and manage the space. Do those hours work for you?
- How inclusive is the space? Do members welcome people of all skill levels and regularly help one another with their projects, or does everyone generally keep to themselves? Which answer suits you best?
Dr Levkoff explained that those new to the DIY/hackerspace community "start with a few smaller scale projects that can be completed without too much hassle. It is really rewarding to see a few projects through to completion. Once you have a few projects under your belt the sky is the limit."
Whether you want to sell your work on Etsy, or you just want to build your own desk, or maybe make it height adjustable, most hackerspaces will have the tools to help you customise your gear to your needs or build something from scratch that's better than anything you could get at a store.
Get Involved and Start Making
All of us at have at some point thought to ourselves that our desk, bed, entertainment centre or bookshelf would be perfect if it just had this thing, or some feature we wish we could add to it. Normally we have to suck it up and live with what we have, but being a member at a hackerspace means you don't have to settle for the things you buy or see on store shelves as they are. You can tweak to your heart's content, experiment with new projects, and let the DIY enthusiast in you bloom. Best of all, if you don't know how to make your idea real, there's probably someone there who can help you learn. Photo by Ash Berlin.
Are you a member at a hackerspace in your community? Do you have any other tips for people looking to get involved? Share your tips — and some of the DIY projects that got you started — in the comments below.
Lindsay Levkoff, PhD, is Director of Education at SparkFun Electronics and a passionate maker herself. She volunteered her expertise for this post, and we thank her.