Two Virginia Makerspaces

The maker movement is family. Literally. My own mother, Sharon Hodgkins, joined the Staunton Makerspace following my own immersion in maker culture. An engineer in heart and education, she’d never heard of the diverse DIY experiment that is our global accumulation of makerplaces. The concept spoke to her and she set about finding her own local makerspace in rural Augusta County, Virginia.

Staunton Makerspace co-founder Dan Funk and “whack-a-moler” Nelson Patterson had invited me to share my experiences and created an open event on Meetup titled Makerspaces Around the World. Something felt full circle about presenting the story of the last two and a half years of my life to my own mom’s makerspace, which launched in 2014 only a few months before my own adventure. About thirty people showed up for the presentation–I managed to share the good word of Madulthood to a small crowd, and also pitched the Floating Fab Lab as an exciting project to watch.

Staunton is a cool town, and you better not pronounce it Staahnton, it’s Stanton. They’ve got a Shakespeare theater and a couple breweries and one of the United States’ only mechanized felting machines at basement studio Artful Gifts

At her studio store, Lisa Jacenich of Artful Gifts shares how she agitates wool to create one-of-a-kind clothing.

At her studio store, Lisa Jacenich of Artful Gifts shares how she agitates wool to create one-of-a-kind clothing.

You can join the Staunton Makerspace for $50 a month and access two open rooms of woodworking machines, countless saws and untold tools, small CNC mill, new vinyl cutter, plus a co-working space complete with Makerbot Replicator 2, Ultimaker 2, and R2D2 unit. They offer workshops to members and non-members alike. Regular courses include Intro to 3D printing, Woodworking 101, ornamental “lightbox” making, and RC airplane building. Before flying outdoors, everyone must successfully maneuver a computerized simulator, which I’ve heard is more difficult than the actual construction. 

My kid sister Ivy Bollinger points out the airplane she built.

Junior maker and the author’s kid sister Ivy Bollinger points out the RC airplane she built during a Staunton Makerspace workshop.

Due to the mild amount of thrilling publicity generated by my presentation at the Staunton Makerspace, I was invited to also present at Nova Labs in Reston, Northern Virginia, a suburb near to where I went to high school. Incidentally, a good friend from high school and his sister recently frequented Nova Labs to learn everything they could about building drones. Full circle just getting fuller.

Nova Labs is huge, with a massive central co-working space, two conference rooms, start-up incubator, wood- and metal-working workshops, and several nooks for specific activities, such as the “crafters’ cove,” which boasts the first CNC sewing machine I’ve ever seen.

After the presentation and ensuing discussion, active member and volunteer Carrie Hafer led a tour of the makerspace. We met members of Revolve Makers, a team of entrepreneurs who successfully ran a Kickstarter to fund the creation of Alpha, a simple yet profoundly satisfying fidget device. Carrie also told me about Team RhinoHawk, a group specializing in UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), and how they build drones for charity. In the past, they were a part of a competition to utilize drones to stymie rhino poaching.

Just a flesh wound: The big saw in the foreground can sense the electricity in your body and will shut off if you touch the blade.

I’ve been to a lot of makerplaces. Some dozen. Couple score. They’re all different. There isn’t a formula for a successful makerspace or Fab Lab. Staunton Makerspace and Nova Labs both asked the same thing: What’s the difference between a Fab Lab and a makerspace? The answer is fairly simple: Fab Lab is a global network, whereas makerspaces are independent enterprises. But the thing is, some Fab Labs behave more like makerspaces, and vice versa. How much collaboration does the membership want? How do you want to fit into the community? Do you care about intellectual property?

Still, with the growth of the movement, some organization is necessary. We can learn from each other, but we have to interact and share first. At Nova Labs, Jeanne Marshall, co-producer of the Nova Mini Maker Faire, made me aware of the Nation of Makers, a new organization of United States makerplaces. Their vision “is to build a society where everyone has access to the tools, technologies, experiences and knowledge to make anything; to create a thriving, connected, and inclusive community of practice where collaboration fosters a culture of abundance.” Only a few months old, the Nation of Makers aims to unify the country’s makerplaces to revitalize education, stimulate local industry, and tackle the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. No matter how fiercely independent you are, it’s true that more can be achieved together. But don’t worry– no one’s gonna force you. In the end, it’s mostly about family anyway.

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