Category Archives: Makerspaces

Open Shop Time Projects

On Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings we have open shop time at the makerspace. It’s a time when folks can bring in projects and our members, or anyone who happens to be there, can try and help people create, repair, or build something. It often becomes a fun community sharing time at a spot with lots of maker tools along with various STEAM kits and projects to keep younger kids busy also.

Coin operated riding horse that Castlemakers helped to make the lettering.
Sandy’s horse ride letters created by our laser cutter

Some of the projects that come in are pretty fascinating; ranging from helping restore a coin-operated hobby horse to figuring out how to build a wheelchair cart for a duck(more later on that one!). We also get folks that want help assembling something – those have ranged from 3D printers to even a forge(perhaps a good thing we couldn’t find our propane tanks at the time).

RV satellite tracker
RV satellite tracker brought in that we’ll try to use for ISS tracking.

But often it’s someone bringing in something to give us to fix or teardown later like a bass amplifier or reel-to-reel deck. Even if they can’t be fixed, they make great tear-down items for kids and adults to learn about how things work – we’re big believers in learning through finding out what’s inside. In fact, right now we have a lot of things to tear down for components and/or salvage – stop by and learn something with us!!

August Events

Estes Alpha rockets built in the Castlemakers model rocket clas
Model Rockets from the class lined up before launch.

Two bigger events this month: a model rocket launch locally & Makevention in Bloomington. After the model rocket building class in late July, we had a good crew come out for the August rocket launch at Big Walnut Sports Park. Like last time, after the first few launches from the class participants, some of the older ‘rocketeers’ started pulling pretty interesting designs to shoot skyward. Hopefully Nick eventually gets his rocket back.

Makevention Castlemakers Area.
The Castlemakers space at Makevention.

Also always enjoy participating in Makevention at the Monroe County Convention Center, we had a good crew to help at the booth. It seemed bigger than ever, heard an estimated 1200-1500 people; do know all day there was a steady stream of folks playing our Putt Putnam County mini-golf holes.

Makevention is an event where people show off things they’ve made, demonstrations of creative making, hands-on exhibits, and workshops. This year for example you could learn how to make chainmail, try your hand at soap-making, learn how to pick locks, and make reusable shopping bags out of old clothing. This year there seemed to be more puzzles and puzzle making; the traditional amateur radio crowd was there of course, along with quite a few robots and robotic devices.

The mini-golf holes were popular with kids at Makevention.

Besides the mini-golf holes Castlemakers had model rockets, Raspberry Pi projects, and some micro:bit things we’ve been making. We got lots of questions about the makerspace and Greencastle. Thanks to Bloominglabs for the good location, their volunteers, and of course Jonathan, Brian, Alice, Bella, & Rebecca for the booth help.

What happens at Castlemakers

We often get questions about when to visit Castlemakers; the best place to start is our events webpage. You can drop in during Open Shop or also attend one of the events listed.

4th Graders from North Putnam learn coding on a micro:bit
Putnam County Kids Count catapult design testing with fruit, candy and marshmallows.
Kids test their designs with different size & weight projectiles.

For people not familiar with makerspaces, they may not realize everything going on. For example, limited ‘retail’ hours (what we and other makerspaces often call Open Shop time) reflect the volunteer nature of them. There are lots of passionate people and activities going on outside those times, often working individually and with other organizations.

Attaching bridal to tetrahedral kite before testing at Putnam County Kids Count.
Two teams combined efforts to build a 10 cell tetrahedral kite.

For example, in the last 2 months Castlemakers worked on a number of youth-oriented events not listed on the webpage or on social media. Just a few weeks ago we were out at Heritage Lake working with over 50 kids at Putnam County Kids Count helping younger kids build and test catapults, then the older ones build and fly tetrahedral kites!

Another outreach event involved 2 other organizations in early May: Castle Arts and Putnam County 4H. Thirty North Putnam School Corporation 4th graders came to downtown Greencastle to learn about computer coding. While one group learned and used a robot at the 4H office to sort and count chips, the other group was at the Makerspace.

This robot was coded to put each color chip in a different bin.

Christian Destremps did a fabulous job teaching them algorithms/coding around the corner at the 4H office using Lego EV3 kits built into a color chip sorting robot. Castlemakers helped with assembling his robot design and 3D printing bins to catch the different colored chips.

Learning how G-code is used in 3D printing.

At the Makerspace we showed them how coding is used in 3D printing, laser cutter/engraving, and CNC machines. One section saw the coding (G-code) in action with our makerspace fabrication tools. At the same time the other section programmed a micro:bit, a small micro-computer board, using a block-based coding editor.

It really demonstrates what can happen in our community when different organizations pool their resources together. You’ll be hearing a lot more about the micro:bit board in the next few months here in Putnam County.

Learning with Hams…

Students learn about Amateur Radio Technician license privileges.
Students learn about Amateur Radio Technician license radio privileges and operating procedures.

Last night PCAUXCOM, the local Amateur Radio emergency communications group, began a FCC Amateur Radio operator’s license class at Castlemakers. It’s a great way to study for the test – although you can self-learn the material to get a license.

What they’re doing however embodies what often happens with vocations and hobbies – people practicing and learning with other people. Not only to learn quicker, but for enjoyment too. It can help make challenging things easier; in some cases even provide focus and accountability. In today’s noisy world with more opportunities than time that’s often difficult.

Makerspaces, and one of Castlemakers’ goals in particular, can bring communities of people together to share knowledge and skills by providing a space, events, equipment, and even just a reason for people to share something. Whether it be a CoderDojo (bringing kids and programmers together to explore programing languages), folks interested in 3D Printing (which also met last night to see printers in use at a high school classroom), or Amateur Radio operators and emergency volunteers assisting others to get a communications equipment operating license.

The PCAUXCOM class is meeting every Monday evenings from 6:30 to 8 pm at Castlemakers, it’s free and open to all, and still not too late to join in. They will also be offering a licensing test locally here in Greencastle just after the course is finished, contact George Edenfield for more information.

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).

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.