This adventure is less about learning the tools for how to do woodworking (the whole reason for going), and more about the shop where I’m taking the lesson. It is called TechShop, and it is a full-out fabrication shop – focused on providing practically any high-tech (and low-tech) tool needed to create things, such as waterjet cutting tools, vacuum formers, metal drill presses, and more. Their blurb states: “Part fabrication and prototyping studio, part hackerspace and part learning center.” We’re talking cutting-edge. How cutting edge? It is funded in part by DARPA – the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The one I went to in Arlington is one of nine TechShops in the nation – scattered around to help increase innovation throughout the nation. And it looks pretty darn cool.
So what can people learn there?
- There’s a class on “an introduction to drones,” which in this day and age should be a requirement.
- There’s a class on silk-screening.
- Some cool tool classes include: injection molding, carbon fiber basics, sandblasting, waterjet cutting, and, of course, 3D printing.
- Other standard classes (intro to woodworking, automotive, welding, and the advanced sewing of decorative pillows) help get regular folks like me, and kids as young as 12, in the door. For a full list – see here.
And for those who want to use these tools to create art, potential products for testing, and actual objects to sell, or just for play, TechShop also has memberships under which you can reserve the tools (after you’ve taken some of the safety and use classes). Benefits?
- big collaborative workstations and free popcorn;
- 15,000 square feet of dedicated workshops and equipment rooms;
- an incredible list of tools one can use, some of which were mentioned above, but also include a $25,000 laser cutter. To quote various websites: “$1 million worth of equipment.”
- classes on design software, very expensive design software, to which TechShop provides free access for members.
- funding for vets via the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Oh – and to my serious biker friends, they have a class/meet-up for how to build your own bike from scratch. Pipe-bending and everything.
It is expensive. The woodworking class costs $100 for two hours, but, for serious artists/innovators, you can get one-month to one-year memberships for $175 to $1395 respectively, which include unlimited access to tools (after training), and cheaper class fees. Seeing all the tools – and what can be done with them, that is a great deal – if you already have projects in mind.
But what’s cool also is that these shops are making an impact. Square (the mobile card reader that just yesterday scanned my credit card multiple times at a craft festival – much to my bank account’s dismay) was created via a Techshop. There’s more background about these shops and others in the Washington Post, NPR, etc…: apparently there are/were similar ones in DC itself, such as a spring 2014 popup GE Garage on Connecticut Ave, and another, IdeaSpace, is opening (?) in SE, right off the the Green Line, in a cool, upcoming neighborhood.
And here I had just came across Techshop via a random search for woodworking and welding workshops! I wish had known about this earlier, so I am helping spread the word. According to the BBC, each Techshop needs 800 members to break even, so I guess I don’t feel bad about contributing my $100 this round. And, now that I’ve been, this artist-wannabe may get addicted.
Oh – and how did my class go? Well, slight problem. They forgot to tell me they canceled the class tonight. They were quite apologetic: thus the one-on-one tour of the facility. But here’s a picture of the tools I was going to learn to use tonight – and will the next available class: