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starting_a_makerspace

How Can We Start A Makerspace?

Since we're starting to get asked this often, we thought we'd write down some key points. We'll keep updating this as new questions roll in…

First off, what a brilliant idea! Starting and growing the Bodgery has been really rewarding and a lot of fun for us. And your community will benefit greatly from this resource you're creating. Good on ya!

Research It

⇒ To get started, do your research online. Search the term “makerspace” or “hackerspace”, utilize the lists of worldwide spaces, and browse their websites. Wonder at the creativity of mortals.

⇒ Makerspaces come in many different models, styles, and community dynamics that they're responding to. Find your favorite(s), take notes on key elements you liked, and read their wikis if they have them. There's no shame in borrowing, especially if you hybridize and modify it to fit your circumstances. In our beginning, we borrowed heavily from i3 Detroit and LVL1 in Louisville, and then turned to our neighbor the Milwaukee Makerspace for advice, and they've been incredibly generous and helpful.

⇒ Now go visit other spaces. There's nothing like walking around, seeing the layout, and talking with their members to get a deeper sense of what a place is like. Try to visit during their normal open hours, as people are busy. If you want to talk with board members or founders, ask them in advance via email/contact forms. Consider bringing a small donation for their time.

Plan It

⇒ Turn all your notes, photos, and links into an outline. Sketch it. Assemble useful documents (bylaws, policies, forms, etc) in a folder. You're welcome to use our bylaws, standing rules, and forms - all are posted on this wiki.

Start talking with other people. Create a MeetUp group, or add an event to an existing group. Hang flyers, create a FB page. Meet regularly in a library, coffee shop, etc. Teach some workshops to generate interest. Reach out to community leaders and talk about your idea. Build allies with your ideas.

⇒ Keep an eye out for board members. People that show up regularly. Hopefully a few with resources or skills that are useful. Most importantly - look for positive, constructive, and flexible people who are allergic to drama. Avoid know-it-all types and people who need to control things to be comfortable.

⇒ Have the board figure out a name for the makerspace. Reserve that name all over the intertubes: buy the domain(s), set up a contact email at the (main) domain, get a FB/Twitter/Instagram/YouTube account in that name, etc.

⇒ Create a folder on Google Docs, and share it with your board members. Keep sub-folders for graphics/logos, board meeting notes, scans of important documents (eg Incorporation certificate), and financial info. Create a spreadsheet for the bookkeeping of revenue and expenses, one for membership payments, one for a membership CRM, etc. When new board members start, add them to the folder shared group, and remove them when they leave.

⇒ Create a “board@yourdomain.org” email address, and add forwards to all your board members' personal email addresses. That way you all can write in one address and reach the whole group. Or create a google group for the board - same idea.

⇒ Create a google group for your community of makers. Use it for your mailing list (you've been keeping a form out at every event asking for emails, right?), and keep people in the loop.

⇒ Figure out your “asks”: inexpensive rent, certain tools, referrals to other community leaders. The best approach is to just ask for advice at first. Especially in the beginning, finding and nurturing allies is the most important goal. Once they want you to succeed, enlist their help in checking off your wish list.

Incorporate It

File incorporation paperwork in your state. If you plan on being non-profit, ask which type is best suited for that in your state. LLC is often not your best bet in this case. Once you have approved paperwork, open up a business account at your credit union or bank.

⇒ If you want to be non-profit, file a 1023 form with the IRS, and ideally the 1023-EZ form. It's very straightforward and easy to complete, and has an expedited approval process. It took us only 2 weeks to get approved! Search the GuideStar Directory for maker/hackerspaces, and see what IRS codes (they call it “Category”) are used.

Open It

Fundraise for your first rent. Kickstarter is difficult venue for this circumstance, so consider asking people to start paying monthly “dues” now as a savings plan - they go into your new bank account, and later will be used for the first few months' rent, utilities, etc. Ask those community allies for advice on fundraising. There are professionals who do this - ask their advice.

⇒ Don't make a deal that you'll regret later, just to get into a space sooner. That'll come back to bite you down the road, and keep on biting for a long time. Be patient until the right circumstance happens.

⇒ Oddly, walk-in traffic isn't necessarily a good thing as you consider location. A billboard is actually better than a storefront - you don't want to be constantly interrupted to give tours, most of whom are just curious and won't become members. Pick a less highly-trafficked area, set recurring “public hours” for visits and tours, and keep all the other time for actually making things in your makerspace!

  • We've found that most times, people walk in already wanting to be members. If they like the place, they'll sign up immediately about 90% of the time. We have had long-time guests that gradually decided to become members, but by far the majority were people who knew they wanted that level of access when they first walked in.

⇒ Create another google group, this time for members only. This is where you talk about shop issues, when monthly dues are due, reminders of workdays, etc. Ideally it's an open forum, so members can bring up ideas, ask questions, etc.

⇒ Install an RFID door lock asap. Keys are terrible to deal with as members come and go. With an RFID system (run by a Raspberry Pi, checking the scanned RFID numbers against a list, and sending a 10-second “open” signal to a magnetic lock), you can easily switch off someone's keyfob and never have to chase them to return a key, or worry about copies manifesting out there somewhere. Worth every penny.

The Bodgery Model

☆ A key feature in our model is the “guest makers are welcome” policy. We want people to show up, use (most of) our tools, have access to materials, and make stuff with us. No pressure to join as paying members, ever. Instead of forcing people to be members to make things, we offer bait/incentives to join - a keyfob for 24/7 access, storage space, access to all the tools, voting rights, workshop discounts, etc. This way, both guests and members feel like they're getting a deal, and we all come together to make things.

  • We hold two “Open Shop” nights each week. The public is welcome, as we have members there to give tours, answer questions, keep an eye on things, check people off on tools, etc. We also hold monthly MeetUps around topics, and workshops that are open to the public.
  • Guests are welcome to use most of our tools, and reasonable amounts of materials. We have donation boxes around the shop, and leave it up to them.
  • We have green, yellow, and red-tagged tools.
    • Green tools are straightforward to use, often hand tools. Guest and members can use them.
    • Yellow tools require a check-off before using. These are power tools, and easier machines. Both guests and members can use them.
    • Red tools are the most tricky, dangerous, and easily damaged tools. They require either a class before using, or a fairly lengthy one-on-one training. Guests are welcome to use red-tagged tools during a class, but outside that, only members may use them regularly.

☆ We work hard at being friendly to visitors, and welcoming to all skill-levels. Too often groups of skilled people can (unconsciously) create an atmosphere of exclusivity or “only the knowledgeable get respect”. We all bring gifts and skills, regardless of what we happen to know about Topic X. The Bodgery's niche demographic is the part-timers, the tinkerers, and hobbyists.

  • As a makerspace with a woman co-founder, being welcoming and non-pedantic towards women is very important to us. This means expecting women to be interested in all areas of the shop, supporting their learning needs without talking down, and valuing traditionally-female maker arenas like crafts as much as any other arena.

☆ Building community among our members is important, and needs continual work. Here are some of the things we do to nurture community at The Bodgery.

  • When new members sign up, we snap a photo and ask them to answer a few questions about themselves (20 word minimum!) - what they like to make, want to learn, are willing to teach, etc. Then we send that info/photo out to the member listserv as an introduction, and hopefully to draw connections as existing members read through the intro. The photo also goes up on the “Our Members” board in the shop so the community is always visible. This also helps if you're trying to refer someone to a member and verbal descriptions aren't working!

☆ We've adopted the “Do-ocracy” model. People will talk all day about what “you should do”, and give lots of advice about a better way to do something. In a do-ocracy the people that actually do something have the power. Whether that's rearranging an area, building something for the space, or starting something new, please go ahead and make it better for all of us.

  • If it's a big change, it's courteous to send out an email to the member list with a heads up. If you're modifying a shop area (metal working, wood shop, craft, electronics, etc), definitely let the Area Captains know. But there is value to things being accomplished.

☆ Almost all of our tools (so far) are member owned. Members can store a tool in their basement or garage and use it a few times a year - or store them at the Bodgery and still use it the same amount. While this carries the risk that someone else will damage or break it, they also now have a group of handy people that can help fix it or fine-tune it, which they might not have at home.

  • We do get some donated tools, and gratefully accept them. At a certain point, you'll be in the position of having to screen the tool offers. Our rule is that if the offered tool is better than our current one, we'll accept it. Otherwise, thanks but no.
  • Our board decided that we would not buy big tools until we'd saved 6 months of expenses, as an emergency fund. We bought smaller items (like bits and blades, etc), but not larger purchases. Now that we've completed that goal, our money goes into a savings pot, which we'll apply toward our member-ranked wish list.
  • The Milwaukee Makerspace has a great process: the final $5 of each member's monthly dues are dedicated toward “area improvement” (new tools, repairs, supplies, etc). Each member decides how their $5 is allocated per area (by the even dollar), which provides an “area budget” that is member-driven. This also gives a good idea of how valued an area is by the members (vs just the board), for allocation of other resources. Members can change their 'votes' at any point.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are your biggest challenges?

Avoiding a burned-out (volunteer) board, and keeping up consistent promotion/marketing efforts. It's a slog. Luckily, it's a labor of love.

What are your most-used tools?

It might be our dynamics, but we find the woodshop is the most used by guests. Lots of people live in apartments or homes without the space for power tools, so the occasional house project is challenging. Having a fully-stocked woodshop is a tremendous resource for our guests. We started with a circular saw, chop saw, and a corded drill. A table saw and small drill press soon followed. Etc.

For members, the Laser Cutter/Engraver is the most popular tool. Once you get into the CNC arena, these are tools that most people won't have in their homes. A laser cutter, CNC router, 3D printer, vinyl cutter, a metal mill, etc. Luckily for us, one of our board members stored his company's laser cutter at our shop right away. If you can, aim for a cheap laser cutter and something like an X-Carve (or OX router, etc). People often have a 3D printer they can share; Barnes & Noble released one that's pretty idiot-proof for only $350 in 2015.

How did you build your RFID door lock?

One of our first members built it, Timm Murray. He posted the complete code on github.

The important parts of this code are in client.pl (which runs on the Pi, reads codes, and opens the door) and app.pl (which is a webapp that accesses the member database and says if the ID is valid or not).

The hardware is a Raspberry Pi, an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS), and a magnetic lock. You also need a USB RFID reader like this one.

We ended up gutting the reader and putting the internals into a new box for mounting. It works just like a keyboard entering the RFID tag number.

For the lock mechanism, you have a few options. A “fail secure” method means that if the power goes out, the door will be locked, even if the UPS is out of juice. There are some electronic strikes that work that way. We didn't go with them because we weren't quite sure how to adapt one to our door. The other method is “fail safe”, which means you can open the door when the power goes out. The magnetic door hold is fail safe.

Either way, you'll want a relay to control the door opener.

Our magnetic holder requires 1,200 lbs of force to break. There are 600 lbs ones that are a bit cheaper, but those aren't considered enough against a good crowbar. Our metal and glass door could be bent at the bottom with far less force. That said, it'd make the break-in obvious, which is what you need to take things up with the insurance company.

Back-of-the-envelope estimates are that a decent sized UPS should be able to keep the system running for 24 hours without power. We haven't had to test that estimate yet.


Thanks for your interest in how this makerspace works. Best of luck in your process, and let us know how it goes!

starting_a_makerspace.txt · Last modified: 2016/10/05 20:15 by John Eich