How to Start a Makerspace in Small Town America

If the Maker Movement is truly for everyone, one of the challenges it faces is creating bastions for learning in even the most remote places. There’s no doubt that makerspaces, places that are emblematic of the Maker Movement, are spreading everywhere these days. But if we look at where that’s happening, and the places that get the most attention in publications like MAKE, we often wind up in an urban, high-density area.

That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, or isn’t happening, in the suburbs and exurbs, though.

Starting a makerspace in a small town comes with many challenges that spaces in cities do not face. Lower population density, lesser awareness of the Maker Movement, and lack of convenient public transit to and from the space being a few of those things. But with a little luck, a lot of hard work, and the help and understanding of your community, you can make it happen.

SpaceLab, the second small town makerspace that I’ve co-founded in the Chicago suburbs, has just proven that very thing. The first Kickstarter campaign launched since the new “makerspace” category was announced at the White House Makerfaire, and the first successfully funded small town space, SpaceLab proves that Making is truly for everyone, no matter if they’re in a city, a suburb, or a small rural town.

So how did we attack the problems that small suburban spaces face?

To combat the awareness problem, we forged local partnerships with our village government, local libraries, schools, other local non-profits, and a relentless outreach program through local television and newspapers. Ongoing scheduled classes with these organizations, as well as press and media calling for all people to join us, and programs with big speakers from in the city drew people in.

The public transit problem was something else we were concerned about. To fix it, we looked for a location in the most convenient high-density area in our town, eventually choosing a place near the train depot in our semi-abandoned but still convenient commercial downtown area. Being within walking distance of a train, a bike trail, and other local businesses has been a huge boon to SpaceLab.

Finally, we needed to convince people that they were a part of the Maker Movement: they just didn’t know it yet! We did this through a series of articles in the local newspaper, as well as classes, that emphasized the empowering message of creating and fixing the things that we own.

My advice for other small town makerspaces? You need to build a support system within your community in order to succeed. Spread the fundamental ideals of the Maker Movement: teaching, learning, growing. Share your vision with anybody who will listen. Everything else will fall into place.

Making a Makerspace: Case Western’s think[box] and its great playbook

We’ve known Ian Charnas as part of a team that built the wonderfully whimsical Waterfall Swing, which you may have seen at Maker Faire, on “The Today Show”, or on the roof of a museum in Linz, Austria.

But Ian’s day job is welcoming about 3,000 visitors a month to through the doors of think[box] at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. At MakerCon today, he shared some of the strategies he uses as the manager of this makerspace that is free and open to members of the community: not just the faculty, students, and staff of Case Western, but everyone who needs to make in greater Cleveland. Wow!

How can this space run with only two full-time staff and a team of students? It’s not some kind of special Ohio mojo that makes this miracle happen. Ian has built up a rich stash of tutorials and posters and other systems to make think[box] “self-service”, and he shared these in the talk, linked above, and on the site

Anyone starting or running a makerspace will want to check these out.

We have some resources at, too. But if you have anything else useful you use in your makerspace, send it on over so we can share it with Ian and other makerspaces, and get it out there to others who are just starting out or, like Ian, want to make their spaces run more efficiently (all in the name of leaving more time for making!)

Magnetic, 3D Relief Lake Map


Cartographer Caroline Rose cut this map of Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin, out of wood and added Chemetal magnetic laminate to make it magnetic. Using a CNC router at the Sector67 hackerspace, she cut out the pieces in scale 10-foot intervals, screwed them together, and laminated it with the Chemetal.

The map is made to replace one at the University of Wisconsin Hoofers outdoor club, and includes magnets to delineate notable sailing and SCUBA features in the lake. Rose, who has experience with hand- and laser-cut relief maps, posted the project in more detail on the Cartography Lab blog, and the 80-pound map now hangs on campus.

SpaceGAMBIT: Open Call for Proposals


Makers, do you want to help NASA “find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them?” This challenge is for you. SpaceGAMBIT: The Global Alliance of Makers Building Interstellar Technologies is a U.S. federally funded program managed by Hawaii-based not-for-profit Maui Makers. In 2013 SpaceGAMBIT started funding a series of space settlement-related projects including bio-reactors, closed-cycle habitats, and other education projects.

According to their website:

[SpaceGAMBIT is] here to help humanity to survive and expand into space by building grassroots collaborative activities that encourage related education and project development. We enable hackerspaces, makerspaces and other open community groups to work together to carry out space-related research and development, and engage any interested member of their local community in those activities.

In March 2014, SpaceGAMBIT and NASA Ames Research Center entered into a Space Act Agreement to jointly “find crowdsourced solutions through the maker community related to asteroid detection, tracking, and characterization, and novel educational opportunities to expand the understanding of asteroids, astronomy and ultimately increase participation in the Asteroid Grand Challenge.”  To support these initiatives, SpaceGAMBIT has now released the 2014 call for proposals for projects that address the following themes:

  • Fun educational software/websites to explain the Asteroid Grand Challenge and make real science more accessible to the public. This software will be taken to festivals and other events, and be available to use online or download.

  • Training material for the Asteroid Grand Challenge to engage the maker movement, citizen scientists and the public in general

  • Making telescopes more accessible to citizen science.

To make proposal writing easier, SpaceGAMBIT provides proposers the opportunity to receive feedback on ideas by filling out a project summary form. All projects are required to be open source and all activities must be done in collaboration with a hackerspace, makerspace, FabLab, or similar community spaces. More can be found at their website:

Fairfield County Makers’ Guild Fosters Creative Community

These workshop tools are located in the second, smaller room in the makerspace.

After rotating through members’ houses and teaching classes in local libraries, the Fairfield County Makers’ Guild officially opened a makerspace Feb. 22 in Norwalk, Conn.

The Guild members renovated a long-unused space near batting cages, then pooled their own money to furnish the new home with all the essentials, including soldering irons, a drill press, mini lathe, milling machine, bench grinder, 3D printers, and even a 3D scanner.

The Guild’s founders: Vladimir Mariano, Louis DiCarro, Chuck Allen, Billy Shaw, Brian Davis, Ed Kalin.

“My ideal place would be like Artisan’s Asylum,” said Vladimir Mariano (one of the Guild’s six founders), who recounted his visit to the notable Boston makerspace. While searching for inspiration there, Vladimir saw something strange that piqued his curiosity. There were the usual workspaces where members built projects … and then there was one workspace that had nothing on it. Except a pad of paper.

“I thought it was a receptionist’s desk,” Vladimir said with a laugh. It turns out that the workspace belonged to an artisan who crafted not with tools, but words. The poet found the Asylum so inspiring, he had settled there for its creative vibrance. (Reminder: Writers are makers too!)

One of Vladimir’s visions for the Guild is to grow a creative community that drives art and technology. Fairfield county makers are already helping to make that a reality: Balam Soto, 2012 NY Maker Faire Editor’s Choice winner for his “Body Sound Suit,” hopes to teach at the makerspace. Two Guild founders, Ed Kalin and Brian Davis, met through the group and started their company, Jolly Roger Labs.

The Make: Electronics book makes a guest cameo!

Makerspaces develop through different styles. While some groups build a fabrication studio before establishing a community, this risks funding a space without membership strength and knowledge.

The Fairfield County Makers’ Guild grew in a more organic fashion, establishing a solid foundation of Guild members first. With more than 120 members in their Meetup group, recognition from Norwalk’s mayor, and an excellent turnout for its grand opening, the team cleared some initial hurdles.

Still, the best is yet to come. Vladimir noted future milestones for the nonprofit start with economic self-sustainability, then extra funds to upgrade equipment and hire full-time staff.

“People kept coming [to the grand opening] until we finally closed at 2pm,” Vladimir said. “It reinforces my belief that this is a space that the community really wants.”

You can visit their site at

Drones and Makerspaces: Best Marriage Since Chocolate and Peanut Butter

It’s a DRONE-A-THON in the DC region and this time we’re not talking about a filibuster in the Senate.

About 50 drone enthusiasts from the DC Area Drone User Group swarmed Nova Labs this past Sunday for an all day build and fly session. The event was organized by Christopher Vo, a drone researcher and Ph.D. candidate at George Mason University’s Autonomous Robotics Laboratory.

Here’s a montage of the event. What’s better than a montage ?!!

From the number of build sessions we’ve hosted and the individual drone projects that are ongoing at Nova Labs we’re realizing just how pervasive drones are in the maker movement. It’s a perfect marriage of tools and skill sets that enable drone building and innovation at makerspaces. What I’ll do in this post is highlight some of the ways members have used our tools, labs, and techniques on their drone projects.

3D Printing

Ted Markson designed and printed this gimbal for his GoPro.

Laser Cutter

Our laser cutter is a centerpiece of our space. When building drones, a custom-designed piece of laser cut acrylic is often needed for hardware mounts.


Electronics Lab

The soldering stations are an obvious need. But we also find that the random bits and bobs we have in inventory often smooth over any gaps in the parts list. Things like connectors, heat shrink tubing, third hands, leads and our heat gun are sought out multiple times during these sessions.

Blacktoe CNC

Many a gimbal mounts have been cut out on our Blacktoe. This has recently expanded to entire airframes for fixed wing UAVs.

Bo Pollet, a Nova Labs member and an aerospace engineer at Aurora Flight Sciences, produced the following foam frames:

Materials Lab

Bo also set up a a materials lab and has taught numerous classes on carbon fiber and vacuum form molding.

Drones are finally getting the attention they deserve. Chances are they are being built at a makerspace near you!

How to Make a Mini Maker Space for Mini Makers

Min Maker Space

A Mini Maker Space

Got a pint-sized Maker just bursting with new projects for the New Year? Christian Tsu-Raun at Scholastic Parents has some great ideas for creating the perfect at-home Maker Space for kids. With advice on tool and supply storage, work surfaces, and project management, Tsu-Raun offers tips for parents to design with their child to create a workbench that is customized to the needs of their mini Maker. As he explains, “For kid makers, having a dedicated space to work on projects can be pretty wonderful, and it just might help them create more than they ever imagined.”

Make iT at the Library Training Session


Earlier this month, a few MAKE staffers ventured to Boise, Idaho in response to an invitation to meet with librarians from across the state and to lead an afternoon training session for the pilot project, Make iT at the Library (begun in 2012 by The Idaho Commission for Libraries.) The project focused on supporting the creation of five makerspaces in libraries. MAKE customized a training curriculum that aligned with the commission’s charter: creating and teaching STEAM-based programming for tweens and teens that could be easily implemented in library programs.

The training highlighted basic analog circuits and e-textiles with hands-on projects curated by MAKE, with an introduction to soldering. The four electronic projects were packaged in a format that could be easily replicated for future training sessions for the Commission. At the end of the training, the participating librarians returned to their communities, armed with the knowledge, confidence and materials from MAKE they needed to continue the transformation of their libraries into makerspaces.


During the course of the training, we also helped librarians navigate the procurement process, including purchasing tools and materials for their projects, pointing to a variety of supportive resources including the Makerspace Playbook. It was a full afternoon, but everyone left feeling enthusiastic and inspired about the prospects . . . and planning the next training module.


For more information contact us at

Make a Makerspace

Instructor of "Making a Makerplace", Founder of Artisans Asylum, Father of Stompy.

Instructor of “Making a Makerplace”, Founder of Artisans Asylum, Father of Stompy.

Judging from people in attendance everyone wants to make a makerspace. At Friday’s session of Make a Makerspace there were representatives from schools, makerspaces, a library, economic development, museums and businesses. In attendance were 30 people from a wide variety of places.

We makers have “gotten it” for a long time. Makerspaces are creative, collaborative spaces for learning and making stuff. The institutions of society seem to be catching on which is good news. Better still, some are smart enough to realize that succeeding with a new makerspace is not easy and that learning from veterans is worthwhile. If you want to start a makerspace then this is the class to take.

How to Make a Makerspace is the result of three years of learning. Gui Cavalcanti founded Artisans Asylum and grew in four stages to a 40,000 square foot makerspace. He’s battle-tested and successful. If you want to learn about makerspaces then he’s the one you want to learn from.

The course runs eight hours and covers five themes: Personal Preparation, Starting Processes, Space Description, Expenses, and Income. It’s an honest description of the effort required. Are you willing to potentially give up your social life and personal making projects? Are you willing to make the effort of outreach it takes to build community? What are your ambitions for the space you envision? Do you understand the many costs and and few revenues streams available to you. Building a makerspace is not a minor undertaking and should be a decision made with a sober frame of mind.

If you decide to move ahead then the hard-earned results can be wonderful. Not only will you have a community of people who share your goals but you’ll have a group of friends with whom you can collaborate, learn from, and socialize with. You’ll have created your third space. You’ll have built a place where everyone knows your name, you’ll have built your Cheers.

So You Want to Make a Makerspace?


Makerspaces are fantastic resources in their communities, offering classes and tools to aspiring and expert makers alike. But how do you start a space? So You Want to Make a Makerspace is a workshop, held on the World Maker Faire grounds, that explains how to get you started. Presenter Gui Cavalcanti helped found Artisan’s Asylum, one of the most successful makerspaces in the world. Attending the workshop are thirty aspiring makerspace founders including representatives from schools, libraries, and museums.

How do you measure success in a makerspace? Artisan’s Asylum sports 350 paying members, 250 student members, 240 volunteers, 150 instructors, they’ve taught 600 classes with 3,500 unique students, and member projects have raised $4 million in Kickstarter funding and $3.5 million in venture capital. One of the most intriguing aspects of the space is that they have achieved gender parity — my own space is around 90% male.

However, Gui was quick to point out that AA is a very unique situation. The demographics of Somerville, MA, is close to a lot of industry as well as big-name engineering schools. It’s also a very dense city with 77,000 people crammed into a very small area with many residents don’t having room for workspace. As such, they were able to find enough members to support a huge (40,000 sq. ft.) space, and half of the members live within one mile.

It was inspiring hearing from all the guests about their motivation for being at the event. They’re from a very diverse set of backgrounds in terms of age and geographic origin, and about half the audience is female. They all come from different kinds of institutions and mostly don’t follow the stereotypical hackerspace model of a bunch of electronics enthusiasts hanging out in a warehouse.

One key point Gui made was that the desire to make and the motivation to find tools to fulfill that desire are qualities found everywhere, and these are the core of a successful makerspace.

We’ll be livetweeting the workshop all day — look for the hashtag makeamakerspace to follow along.