Tech and Crafts
The homemade gifts we made as kids shouldn’t go away when we’re older. People of all ages are trying their hand at designing and making crafts using the latest technology at area makerspaces.
Makerspaces are growing in popularity as a way to bridge technology with creativity, and they’ve become a breeding ground for hands-on experimentation as well as a place to make hand-made artisan crafts for the holidays. MakerPoint Studios and Gizmo have classes year-round, but they take a different spin around the holidays.
MakerPoint Studios, Sandpoint
At MakerPoint Studios in Sandpoint, founders Matt Williams and Mike Peck run a for-profit makerspace. Members can use anything from welding equipment, a CNC (computer numeric control) machine, a laser cutter and laser engraver to woodworking equipment and a screen printing machine in the makerspace’s 5,300 sq. ft. building. The space, which turned two this past November, had been a longtime idea for Williams and Peck. They both had worked at Coldwater Creek: Williams led the e-commerce technologies group and Peck was a software developer there. After Coldwater Creek’s demise from retail, the two devoted themselves to expanding the facility’s equipment and membership base.
Both grew up making and fixing things but wanted that community aspect and now have about 50 members in addition to individuals and businesses who hire them for projects. They’ve done work for xCraft, Litehouse and Kochava. Members come from all walks of life from retirees, veterans, self-employed and those who come to the shop after work. They also help members sell their work on the website.
“It’s a melting pot of different skills,” Williams said of their members. “Some are electrical engineers, car whizzes or computer guys. We’re just a small community compared to where we want to grow.” They even have a member who worked on the Mars Rover and one on SpaceX. “It’s pretty amazing to meet people in that line of work.”
“Lots of people have ideas but not the tools, so we provide them those and the expertise,” Peck said. If they don’t have the expertise on how to make something, they likely have a member who does.
“We want folks to understand it’s OK to not know how to use something but that it’s accessible to them,” Williams said. Many individuals come in with just an idea. It might be a certain style bed frame or dining table but just about anything goes. No idea is rejected.
Peck said many people come in to use the equipment during the Christmas season to make gifts, such as etched bottles and glasses, screen-printed t-shirts and customized gift boxes. Watch for new longer intermediate and advanced classes in the new year too.
“We want people to know that when you go to the store, you kind of get what you want but here you can make exactly what you want,” Williams said. Their most popular classes include using the laser engraver, the 3D printer and TIG welding classes.
“Those are a gateway to show folks what the shop’s about. We want to get folks to see what we’re capable of doing and also what they can do,” Peck said. “I think there is a relationship between learning how things are made and how design interacts with the world.”
Gizmo CDA, Coeur d’Alene
Gizmo has been alive and kicking in Coeur d’Alene for two years now with a host of projects and classes constantly coming together. Like MakerPoint Studios, they teach TIG welding and help members run the laser cutter, but beyond the classes, the makerspace in Coeur d’Alene is about bringing people together as a community.
Co-founder Barb Mueller said lately they’ve been bringing together professionals who want to get involved with the makerspace but don’t have a particular project. Local engineer, Chris Beaty, is one of those professionals. While brainstorming about science projects, Mueller had the idea of a near space balloons project; Beaty had experience with submersibles. Together, they began the Gizmo2Extremes project to measure the hostile environments of both.
“We were both intrigued by both space and deep water being a hostile environment, and we could create a project to see the similarities and differences in them. When we held the town hall meeting, we presented the up and down concept to the community to create a road map for exploration,” she said.
Beaty, participating children and adults designed and built a submersible and tested their first model in Lake Pend Oreille in October. Using the results from that test, they modified and retested a few weeks later, successfully seeing a “party of lake creatures.”
Gizmo also focuses on teaching girls-only classes to introduce them to code, an industry less chosen by women, in addition to art and science-oriented ones for children and adults.
With so many science-centered projects, many students from North Idaho College and University of Idaho mentor younger students at Gizmo. As a result, the makerspace will be moving from 4th Street to the NIC campus next year.
“Right now, we’re crammed. It’s noisy and it’s a hodge podge to make work in a small space,” she said. The new space will be the Hedlund building, which has 22 ft. high ceilings, perfect to become the Rapid Prototype Center for higher end printers and robotics. There will also be an Innovation Lab and a children’s makerspace added to the new Gizmo space.
The classes take on a holiday theme as Christmas gets closer, and they will be using the laser cutter to make ornaments and the CNC router for signs and books. Some of the ornaments will be donated to the Festival of Trees.
“We’ll have maker nights where anyone can come and pay to use the space. The projects that we can do are amazing,” Mueller said. One group, for example, is taking quilting to a whole other level with the laser cutter. They cut intricate patterns with a special applique as a backing.
Eventually, as these two young makerspaces grow with members, they will enrich the local community with highly skilled individuals that can attract tech companies and create more opportunities. Even if people use the makerspaces for their own benefit, they are making things locally as opposed to buying mass produced items produced with less thought or ingenuity.
“We live in a very global environment, yet as humans we want to be part of a community,” Mueller said. “And though it can be powerful to be part of a global community online, there is also real power to be able to have a spontaneous conversation and work through an idea face to face. There is a true form of connectivity there which is why we created Gizmo.”