Boulder Makerspaces: hotbeds for invention let locals crank out ideas for fun and profit

30 Nov 2018

Making the Most of Makerspaces

By Kerry Parry If your creative spirit is whispering in your ear to make something, whether it be from ceramics, textiles, wood, metal, glass or thin air, chances are there is a makerspace that can help you. Makerspaces (also called hackerspaces) are popping up all over Colorado. They are, by definition, a space available to the community where people can get together, learn, collaborate and make stuff.
TinkerMill has a woodshop complete with large-scale woodworking equipment. (photo by Leah Winkler)
These spaces not only provide an area to work but also tools, expertise and inspiration. Libraries are a valuable community resource embracing the makerspace trend. Boulder Public Library has an exceptional makerspace called BLDG 61—the name stands for Build. Learn. Design. Grow. It recently won an Infy Maker Award and garnered a grant from Infosys Foundation USA to expand underserved high school students through internship and scholarship programs.

Tools of the Trade

BLDG 61 is a vast area with workspace and access to power tools that may not be in everyone’s garage, such as a laser cutter, computer numeric control (CNC) machines, planers, sanders, saws and hand tools as well as a 3-D printer. If power tools aren’t what you need, there are heavy-duty sewing machines, sergers, looms, an embroidery machine, soldering iron, pottery wheel, airbrush and more. Unless you are a regular maker and familiar with this wide variety of machines, the list can seem overwhelming. Luckily, there are regular classes designed not only to instruct, especially when it comes to power tools and their use, but also to inspire. Three creative technologists on staff are available to aid users. They also teach regular classes to certify people in equipment use and safety, as well as courses to provide step-by-step instructions for making a particular creation. Aspen Walker, community engagement & enrichment manager for the City of Boulder Library and Arts, said, “We get a range of people who just want to dip their toe in with step-by-step instruction, as well as folks who can make full-scale furniture and art pieces. We’ve had at least 10 patents filed and over 70 businesses started out of the creations people make at BLDG 61.”

Making Around the County

Lafayette Library has a mini-makerspace, Studio 775. While it has limited hours and lacks the vast array of tools at the Boulder library, it’s a handy place to take advantage of access to devices like a Cricut electronic cutter, a CNC router, a 3-D printer and basic robotics tools.
A group of young girls building with laser-cut wood shapes at BLDG 61. (photo courtesy Boulder Public Library)
The Louisville library doesn’t have a unique name for its makerspace, but they have several items which can inspire creativity and aid in creations, including a 3-D printer and kid-friendly tools to learn basic programming and coding. They also have tools for crafting, like a Cricut and sewing machine, and camera equipment, too, some of which you can borrow, including GoPros. "The library's mission is to create community access to help people learn, create and connect with culture,” Louisville Technology Librarian Jenni Burke explained. “The makerspace is a perfect way to do that.” The beauty of accessing the resources at the public library is it’s free. If you want to create something on your own time without the limitations of a library, there are several makerspaces in the area that can help you do just that. The largest local makerspace, and one of the larger ones in the country, is TinkerMill in Longmont. It began out of a meetup group during the summer of 2013, when like-minded individuals pooled some money, rented space and started making stuff. It has grown to an area with more than 1,300 square feet and too many tools to list for arts and crafts, jewelry making, robotics, electronics, wood and metal working, computer programing, game development, and more. Basically, if you can dream it, chances are TinkerMill has the tools to help you make it.
Welding a work of art at TinkerMill. (photo by Chelsea Farmer Photography)
In addition to tool access, members say the greatest aspect of this makerspace is collaboration. The wide variety of projects from arts to business to technology aid in the collaborative effect. Ron Thomas, executive director and founding member of TinkerMill, reported they have 651 members and that more than 50 businesses have been launched by its users. It’s a nonprofit, 501(c)3, open to the community through a wide variety of classes, but those who want wider access beyond the classroom pay a monthly fee of $50. Other rates are available for organizations, families and students. Smaller makerspaces are available throughout Boulder County that focus on specific creations. Maker General, for example, emphasizes work with textiles and fibers. They offer several classes monthly and sell handmade creations and supplies. Madelife is a makerspace focusing on education for music, audio production, video and photography. They offer regular courses, which include access to a variety of electronic audio and video equipment. They also have a gallery displaying works from local artists. Solid State Depot of Boulder and Gizmo Dojo of Broomfield, both nonprofit member-based spaces, offer a variety of tools and friendly people for any beginner or experienced maker. Regardless of your need or even if you don’t yet know your needs, a makerspace can help you create and expand your vision. Cities are embracing these makerspaces, as they offer value to residents and an increased potential for startup companies sprouting in areas with an active makerspace community. Whether you want to build your own robot or weave a potholder, there is a place nearby that can help get you started.
TinkerMill 720-204-3090 1840 Delaware Place, Unit A, Longmont, Colo. 80501 Open house and tours Sundays from 2-4 p.m.
BLDG 61 303-441-3100 Boulder Public Library 1001 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, Colo. 80302 See website for hours and information.
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