Category Archives: Makerspaces

What is Castlemakers?

Hunter tries the Holographic Prism he just built with an animated jellyfish. The prism was made from a CD case and a laser cutter.
Hunter tries the Holographic Prism he just built with an animated jellyfish. The prism was made from a CD case and our laser cutter, a Putnam County Community Foundation gift.

If you’ve been following our blog, you might think Castlemakers is a just a kids focused nonprofit. That’s definitely how we started, but our mission is broader than that – providing and encouraging scientific and creative skills (i.e. STEM or STEAM) by creating opportunities for all. Much of our first two years has been providing youth-oriented opportunities, which is now being called Castlemakers Kids, but with our new makerspace downtown we can expand to all ages.

First learning to solder class, before we had a makerspace.
First learning to solder class, before we had a makerspace. Future classes will be for all ages.

One way we’re doing that is offering community classes to allow people to learn, try, and build or make things that they may not have experiences with. Certainly software and some of the new digital fabrication tools like electronic cutters, 3D printers, and single board computers(i.e. Arduino & Raspberry Pi). But also how to use more traditional tools and then combining them with electronics/soldering, sewing/crafting (clothing with sensors/electronics are popular), woodworking, and fabrication. Watch for our first community class at the makerspace to be offered in soldering and electronics in March.

At our last 3DPO meetup, Curtiss scans a robot while John sets up a Makerbot 3D digitizer.
At our last 3DPO meetup, Curtiss scans a robot with a Sense scanner while John sets up a Makerbot 3D digitizer.

A third way, using our physical makerspace, is a community location where people can share ideas, have access to tools and equipment, and create things. A place that will spur creativity and innovation in our community. Some of this is outlined on our what we offer page. You can also stop by and see for yourself, perhaps even build something if you’d like, by coming by sometime during one of our ‘open shop’ times where some of the people involved in Castlemakers can help you with a project or just explain/show you what we have. Better yet, get involved and participate – no experience is necessary and you’ll help our community grow!

What’s a Makerspace

It’s been a busy time for Castlemakers this last month; we received our first grant a few weeks ago for equipment. A group of us have been working very hard to create a physical location for Castlemakers, a makerspace, and watch for an announcement soon.

Map of Artisan's Asylum in Somerville, MA
Map of Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville, MA.

Several years ago I wrote something about ‘what is a makerspace’, which have become even more popular since then.

Their numbers and importance has grown since that first post, with the White House proclaiming this week in the US as a Nation of Makers  and hosting a reoccurring Maker Faire this coming weekend (June 18th & 19th). If you visit different makerspaces, as some of us have, it’s a very entrepreneurial movement with many different makerspace models. You’ll find makerspaces as community co-ops, ones associated with libraries, ones that are affiliated with science and children’s museums, and even some at universities.

One of the main halls in Artisan's Asylum. Besides all the workshops, space can be rented for people working on their projects.
One of the main halls in Artisan’s Asylum. Besides all the workshops, space can be rented for people working on their projects.

Perhaps one of the largest and most successful makerspaces is Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville, MA which I visited last year. Started in 2010, it’s grown from a 1,000 sq ft “hole in the wall” to a 40,000 sq ft facility with over 600 members! What impressed me the most in my visit: the projects being built & how they bridged different disciplines along with oozing creativity and innovation. The sheer size & scope of the current facility was also impressive, but the people involved & what the makerspace environment seemed to be the key why it works.

Locally we’ve been making great strides in creating our own makerspace here in Greencastle. Thanks to a June 2016 grant from the Putnam County Community Foundation we’ll be purchasing our first major piece of equipment, a CO2 laser cutter. Of course we’ll need a place to house it, and we’re very close to that.

Making Chicago

Chicago's Maker Lab on the 3rd Floor in the Harold Washington Library downtown.
Chicago’s Maker Lab on the 3rd Floor in the Harold Washington Library downtown.

While in Chicago last month to see the Strandbeest exhibit we took two maker classes. The first  class was creating a greeting card using an electronic cutter and the second an acrylic keychain with a laser cutter. Both were hosted at public makerspaces, although the largest was called a Fab Lab (alternate name for a makerspace).

vinyl-cutter-CPL-makerlab_IMG_0457
Psychedelic flying pig being drawn by a vinyl (electronic) cutter on a greeting card.

The Chicago Public Library (CPL) Maker Lab workshop began by teaching Inkscape to design the greeting card. They supplied a blank template, then using a laptop with Inkscape we added text and art for the card. The saved file was put on a flash drive, imported into the electronic cutter program (Silhouette), and then drawn on the card (the cutter’s blade was replaced with color felt tip pens).

CPL Maker Lab was the first publicly accessible maker lab in Chicago, created in July 2013 with a fairly large corporate grant and a 6 month trial/study. While a major portion is classes, they have plenty of ‘open shop’ times, at least 3 hours/day. They worked closely with the Museum of Science & Industry (MSI) in creating it, which was our other makerspace/fab lab visit.

MSI Fab Lab computer area for classes. On the far right wall are 3D prints and lasercut acrylic objects.
MSI Fab Lab computer area for classes. On the far right wall are 3D prints and lasercut acrylic objects.

The Fab Lab in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry goes back about 10 years and is part of MIT’s Fab Lab network. Located in the back of the MSI it’s easy to miss, I had walked past it on two previous trips to the museum and hadn’t noticed it was there! While not open to the public for personal projects or general use, the classes are available for a modest cost ($7-9/person in our case) once you pay the general admission to MSI. They do fill up, so consider booking in advance.

A lasercutter was used to cutout and etch the acrylic sheet for the participant designed keychains.
A lasercutter cuts and etches an acrylic sheet for the participant designed keychains.

The class was well run and began with an overview of the lab, which has a lot of equipment and well organized. We used Inkscape to create the drawings, like the CPL Maker Lab class, and a template to get everyone started. This was a much more scripted class, which was needed because of the 1 hour timeframe. There was plenty of assistants to coach folks through the lesson and very helpful to all, even offering suggestions to some indecisive younger kids! This lab caters more to the young, although there were adults like myself attending.

Main Fab Lab workshop area with some of the equipment. The 3D printers are in the foreground, the very far wall is an electronics area.
Part of main Fab Lab workshop; in the foreground are 3D printers and very far wall is an electronics workbench.

These were good examples of the Museum & Library-based models of makerspaces. There was significant institutional support in creating both and in these cases they have a massive potential user base to draw on. There are also many makerspaces in our region that started with extremely small budgets and even self-funded. One thing I love about the makerspace community is their willingness to share with others; I ended up with curriculum content and contacts that offered to help we move from a makergroup to makerspace in Greencastle.