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Most of the things that involve computers are solitary endeavors. Writing. Programming. Building electronics projects. It’s not unheard of for creative-minded geeks to lock themselves away for days at a time, isolated from the world, and hack away on their projects.

But the problem is, that’s not particularly healthy.

People are social animals who crave interaction, and affirmation. They’re collaborative beasts. Which is why countless developers, digital artists, makers, and engineers have launched ‘makerspaces’.

What Is A Makerspace?

Makerspaces – also known as ‘hackerspaces’ Four Reasons Why You Should Visit Your Local Hackerspace Four Reasons Why You Should Visit Your Local Hackerspace Read More and ‘hack labs’ – exist to provide a common space (and often the raw materials) for members of the local maker community to work collaboratively on creative projects. Overwhelmingly, makerspaces are operated by the community, for the benefit of the community, and without any profit motive.

Some even offer ‘hotdesking’ Shared Offices & Coworking: How To Become A More Productive Freelancer Shared Offices & Coworking: How To Become A More Productive Freelancer Working from home might seem like a great idea, but I don’t see it. After more than a year of working from various places of residence I’m thoroughly sick of mixing business with pleasure. Home... Read More , where freelancers and remote workers can informally hire a desk for a short period of time. This affordability, and lack of commitment, has resulted in thousands of startups being born in Makerspaces.

makerspace-hotdesking

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There’s a plethora of reasons why someone might want to open their own makerspace. From laying the groundwork of a maker community, to making new connections and acquaintances.

But it needn’t be expensive, either. Kitting out your own makerspace can be done cheaply, without having to make any compromises on equipment. Here’s a shopping-list for anyone hoping to make their own makerspace on a budget.

3D Printer

Hardware startups are having somewhat of a renaissance right now Why Hardware Startups Are Hard: Bringing the ErgoDox to Life Why Hardware Startups Are Hard: Bringing the ErgoDox to Life Here’s a controversial opinion for you: launching a software startup is easy. Hardware, on the other hand? Hardware startups are hard. Really hard. Read More , due to the fact it’s never been easier to build a physical product. Just create a mockup of your product in your CAD program of choice, and using a 3D printer What Is 3D Printing And How Exactly Does It Work? What Is 3D Printing And How Exactly Does It Work? Imagine if you could print out three-dimensional objects straight from a printer in your home. When I was a kid in primary school, I thought it would be awesome if I could print pizzas out... Read More , wait whilst it’s transformed into something tangible.

makerspace-3dprinter-in-action

The engine powering this process is the 3D printer which, once novel and eye-wateringly expensive, has became affordable. They work by taking a pliable string of polymer, and melting it until it’s sufficiently viscous. The machine then spurts it out layer by layer until it resembles the shape of your design. That’s it.

3D printers are a must for any makerspace. But choosing the right 3D printer for you can be confusing.

There are a plethora of 3D printers to choose from. The cheapest is arguably the Peachy Printer, which costs just $100. For one Benjamin Franklin, you get a quiet, highly customizable printer, based entirely around free-libre open source software. However, some assembly is required, and this is still in a pre-order phase – with new orders currently expected to ship in October 2015.

The next step up in sophistication and quality is the XYZPrinting Da Vinci 1.0 3D Printer, which costs just shy of $500, and offers an expedient and safe printing experience, with the ability to print larger items.

Some 3D printers cost thousands of dollars, like the Makerbot Replicator 2. So, when you spend more money, what do you get in return? In short: higher resolution prints, vastly improved quality – with some 3D printers able to make store-quality products.

Ultimately, it comes to what your budget can bear.

Laser Cutter

But what if you don’t want to just work with plastic?

Laser cutters work on a similar principle to 3D printers. You pass them a computer-designed schematic, and it’ll then set about making it. But rather than applying layer after layer of hot, molten polymer, it instead uses a high-intensity gas laser to cut through paper, cardboard and wood, or to make engravings.

There are plenty of examples of people using laser cutters to build beautiful physical products. A great example of this is the Arduino-powered WhereDial, which was built at the DoES Liverpool makerspace with laser-cut plywood and perspex.

makerspace-wheredial

Laser cutters are versatile, and powerful, but also extremely expensive. Units costing thousands of dollars are the norm, not the exception. Of course, there are some bargain basement laser cutters to be found, if you look hard enough. These involve some pretty big compromises though. The cheaper units often come with smaller cutting surface areas, and boast slightly less powerful lasers.

If you just want to engrave wood and plastic, you can settle for the Arduino-powered SunWin Mini Laser Engraving Machine, which costs a palatable $145.

But if you want something a bit more powerful to actually cut through things, you can expect to pay much, much more. Full Spectrum Laser successfully crowdfunded their H-Series laser cutter, bringing to the market one of the most affordable cutters yet, at $3,499. But that’s still out of reach for a lot of people.

A happy compromise can be found on Ebay, which is littered with affordable laser cutters. Some of which are second-hand, but others coming from no-name Chinese manufacturers.

A cursory glance at Ebay US showed a 40W Co2 laser cutter from an Asian OEM for only $400, plus $200 shipping and handling.

Of course, one should always be wary when buying equipment from a manufacturer you’re not familiar with.

Vacuum Former

Vacuum formers are a time-honored tool used in manufacturing. They work by taking a single sheet of a meltable, pliable polymer, and pulling it down against a mould, thereby creating a like-for-like facsimile of it.

markerspace-vacuumformer

These are often used in industry to build plastic-based products at a large scale. But there are smaller, and cheaper vacuum formers, which can comfortably fit in a workshop, and would make a fabulous addition to any makerspace.

When it comes to vacuum formers, you’ve got a lot of choice.

Sitting at the bottom end of the vacuum former market are homemade, DIY vacuum formers, which can be bought easily on Ebay. These work by using your kitchen’s oven to heat the plastic, and then affixing it to the mould through light suction, provided by a shop-vac. The cheapest units of these cost around $45 for the smallest model. Larger models cost more.

If you can only foresee yourself making small moulds, an affordable way to get a vacuum former is to purchase a dental moulding machine. These work on the same principles, but are smaller. Cheaper, too, with some generic models costing only $160 on Amazon.

Electronics Gear

Every makerspace worth their salt has a decent arrange of electrical engineering equipment. Because, let’s face it, once you’ve made your beautiful 3D printed product, you’re going to want to make it do something.

But unlike the previous tools we’ve discussed, it’s relatively cheap to kit out a makerspace with some usable electrical engineering gear.

First, you’ll need some good soldering equipment. This usually means a soldering iron, and somewhere safe to put it when not in use. At $30, the Aoyue 469 Soldering Station offers a solid 60 Watt soldering iron, plus a sponge, and holder for when not in use.

makerspace-solder

In our article on soldering tips for beginners Learn How to Solder, with These Simple Tips and Projects Learn How to Solder, with These Simple Tips and Projects Are you a little intimidated by the thought of a hot iron and molten metal? If you want to start working with electronics, you're going to need to learn to solder. Let us help. Read More , Guy McDowell also recommends some decent safety eye-wear, plus a fume extractor.

Soldering is a tricky, difficult business, and one that requires precision, particularly when dealing with components that can be as small as a grain of rice. The SE MZ101B Helping Hand is ideal for those circumstances. For your $6, you get a magnifying glass that can be fixed into a set position, and adjusted as required, making it easy to solder even the tiniest components.

No electronics kit is complete without a multimeter. These allow you to measure current, voltage, and resistance, in one small package. Prices for Multimeters range from $10, to multiple thousands for laboratory grade kit. The INNOVA 3320 costs just shy of $20, and is the top-selling multimeter on Amazon, but if you want more accuracy, you could consider the Fluke 115. Accuracy comes at a price, however – the Fluke costs around $155.

Miscellaneous

Finally, it’s good to have some general purpose supplies for creative working.

It’s always good to bulk-buy resistors, capacitors, LEDs and other electrical goods, and make them available to your users. You can recoup your costs with an ‘honesty box’.

makerspace-resistors

If you decide to turn your makerspace into a co-working space as many have done, you’ll need some office furniture. This can be acquired at no cost from Freecycle Get Free Stuff, Give Away Your Junk & Save The Planet The Freecycle Way Get Free Stuff, Give Away Your Junk & Save The Planet The Freecycle Way Freecycle is the world’s largest network of recyclers who, instead of throwing away, selling or otherwise disposing of their unwanted goods, give it away instead. It’s both an environmentally and pocket-friendly way of picking up... Read More , or on Craigslist.

Some makerspaces offer refreshments to their users at a reasonable price. Of the ones I visit, the majority bulk-buy snacks and soda from Costco, with users dropping a few coins into an honesty box for what they consume.

Thinking Of Founding A Makerspace?

Perhaps you’ve already founded one. Either way, I want to hear about it. Drop me a comment below, and we’ll chat.

Photo Credit: Makerspace der SLUB by SLUB Dresden, Wheredial (Cory Doctorow), Vacuum Former (Does Liverpool), Liverpool April 2014 (Mitch Altman), Resistors (Windell Oskay), 3D Printer In Action (Michael Coughlan),Ada Lovelace Day Attendees (DoesLiverpool)

  1. Corina Hayes
    November 3, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    hello I would like to build a maker space community building where youth as well as adults can create with different mediums. my challenge at this point is the education required as i am not a licenced educator nor have a degree in business. what should be my steps toward my makerspace

  2. Matthew Arjonillo
    October 30, 2016 at 4:42 am

    Hi Mr. Hughes,

    I'm with a small group of students trying to start a makerspace in a university.
    We've been able to get an abandoned room (approx. 9.9x10 m^2) and some unused furniture, comprised mostly of plywood/laminated office desks and some old school chairs. We're not yet sure exactly which equipment we need for a small scale makerspace, and the maker community in the Philippines is not yet that widespread. Any tips?

    Thanks.

  3. Matthew Arjonillo
    October 30, 2016 at 4:38 am

    Hi Mr. Hughes,

    I'm with a group of students trying to establish a small scale makerspace in a university.
    We were able to get an abandoned room and some unused furniture. The current furniture are mostly plywood/laminated office desks and some school armchairs. However, we're not yet sure which specific equipment we really need for a small scale makerspace, and the maker community is not yet that big or widespread in the Philippines. Any advice?

    Thanks.

  4. Steve Noll
    September 16, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    These are not the real costs that need to be considered for starting a makerspace, it's:
    Rent ($/square feet), liability insurance, internet hookup, water, gas, electricity, trash pickup, city permits & licenses, hiring a manager after your volunteers burn out, etc. I'd like to see real-word estimates of those month after month costs! It's probably in the thousands.

  5. Amy
    April 23, 2016 at 2:41 am

    We are trying to start one at our K-6 Elementary school! Wrote a grant and got three 3-D printers! That's all we have so far!

  6. Michaeel
    April 16, 2016 at 11:02 am

    Getting the business Plan together for one right now. We have a group we are working with to take disadvantaged youth and through the space teach them or at the least introduce them to STEM programs they may be interested in. We have a small proof of concept we are raising money for right now as well. The PoC is doing some three D modeling and printing for a major U.S. Museum. If they like how we use the program to instruct the kids they will present us with continuous modeling and printing work. Very exciting. Any help is appreciated.

  7. Kelley
    April 15, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    I have an idea to start a maker space, but I want to start specifically with 2D cutters, like the Silhouette Cameo. Perhaps sell supplies as well, such as vinyls and paper.
    I'm just curious if anyone has had success with such a specific model.
    I feel like it would be less daunting for our location if you had nights set up to teach specific projects, like pallet signs or t-shirts or cards, while still allowing those who are looking to advance a bit more to have a go at it during specifically laid out times.

  8. johnshaffstall@comcast.net
    April 4, 2016 at 2:36 am

    Hello Mr. Hughes,
    This may be to late but since I want to start a "HackerSpace", I would like to know how to start. The very first steps. How much moola in the beginning? How to locate, locate, locate a good location. What are good initial abilities? What is the monthly cost of an average "Community Shared Workshop"? How many members does it require to sustain a good "Space"?
    I'm tired of being retired. At 58 with years of experience, I want to pursue my "Happiness" by running a "Space" for people to "Do It To It". What "It" is. But how do I start? I'm done dreaming about it and ready to do it. But how? Just can't seem to find the first steps.
    Thanks in advance for any help.

  9. Freek van Keulen
    January 15, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    I just started a makerspace. I was wandering if I can use the name Makerspace without restrictions?
    That would be "MakerSpace Tiel" (a small town in the netherlands)

  10. Dustin Hollis
    October 2, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    My suggestion is to offer project-based classes to get people interested. How to Build a Drone, How to make a laser-cut wallet, etc. You can get a lot of ideas from Make or Adafruit.

  11. Mike Hull
    September 29, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    Hi, I'm Mike. We are setting up a makerspace in Blackpool, UK. It has evolved from a computer group and we are now preparing to move into new premises. We have been donated a 3D printer which we have to rebuild and are planning to buy a Chinese K40 Laser Engraver as a start. We are participating in the UK Craft Council Make:Shift:Do open day event 24 October 2015 as our launch date.
    Makerspaces are a great idea and good for "oldies" to pass their experience and knowledge to an inquisitive younger generation.

  12. sanchit mishra
    September 6, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    Hi! I am sanchit mishra , I am a teen and I have started a group called Phoenix DRONES | LIVE . we are a group of technogeeks and drone developing enthusiasts. Our main motive is to help people as much as possible through our new innovations and innovative ideas. That's why I am looking forward to start a makerpace in my locality so that students and makers like us can come and develop new solutions or products to help other peoples. Can you please contact me through my email ----sanchitmishra.technogeek@phoenixdroneslive.com
    As I want to discuss more about this with you!

  13. Steven Yabsley
    August 31, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    This is the exact shopping list I've been looking for in order to start up my makerspace. Mine is specifically for a nonprofit youth development group that I run. Thanks for the article, now to get funded...

  14. Kalenin Moraes
    July 10, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    Hi.. I have founded a makerspace in Brazil..I t's in Santos, a litoranean city in the state of São Paulo. We have here some equipments as 3d printers, a laser cutter and a 3d scanner. But we have a giant hardness on bringing members in... Could you please give me some tips on how to spread the makerspace, and how to call people from the community to make stuff here? Thank you!

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