Duluth MakerSpace: Gather, Create, Invent and Learn

By Kathy Hanson
Photography by David Ballard

By definition, a makerspace—also called hackerspaces or fablabs—are usually spaces designed so people of all arts, trades and crafts at all levels of expertise can gather, create, invent and learn. With an emphasis on technology and electronics—and with sophisticated equipment loaned or purchased by the members themselves—people come together to work on projects while sharing ideas, skills and knowledge.

Drum roll please: Duluth MakerSpace has arrived! Officially open since September of 2016, this large 11,000+plus square foot industrial building—formerly a machine shop—is located
at 3001 West Superior Street, Duluth.

Its mission: To offer the best sustainable multi-field cooperative workshop possible for local artists, inventors, experimenters, teachers, learners and makers.

Joe Durbin, one of the brainstorming founders and shop manager, explains that in the fall of 2014 a small local group of like-minded people came together, organized by Matt Faris and Russ Kurhjetz.

Durbin says there was a good mix of about 20 interested folks who met and were involved in the brainstorming, decision making and labor from the very beginning. He and his wife, Miranda, had the freedom of time and funds to help make the collective visions happen.

“After a few rushed meetings and group discussions, we then moved forward on buying our building. It was discovered near the Duluth Children’s Museum and Clyde Iron Works. With only a three minute drive to downtown and yet affordable for the square footage, it made an easy decision,” Durbin says.

A major volunteer clean-up effort and build out was required to create the group’s vision.

“The place was in rough shape,” he notes, adding that lots of cleaning and power washing was necessary.

The transformation, however, is mind-boggling. The space is dynamic and there are always new ideas for additions and improvement. Many of the tools are loaned to the space by the members; other tools were purchased.

Amenities include:

      • Arcade games in the front entrance, along with a front desk and a sign-in tablet.
      • Break room with member bins for personal storage, a refrigerator and snack area.
      • Craft room with industrial sewing machines, embroidery machines, vinyl cutters, jewelry tools and a Dremel station.
      • Tech shop with soldering station with ventilation, electronics/robotics, battery-charging station, bench power supply, several lasers for cutting and etching wood, acrylics, leather, for making stencils and creating either functional or artistic projects.
      • 2,500 square-foot woodshop with CNC routers, drill press, sanders, SawStop table saw, band saw, jointer, lathe, router table with lift, work tables, clamps and a 20-inch planer.
      • Metal shop with grinders, drill press, plasma cutters, every kind of welder one can imagine, metal mills, anvil, mini forge, mini metal lathes, benders and sandblaster.
      • Lapidary room for cutting and polishing rocks, equipped with tumblers, Dremel press, slab saws, trim saw, grinding wheels, polishers and finishers.
      • Pottery studio with wheels and pug mill and kiln.
      • A nine-seat PC classroom and an additional nine-seat craft classroom available for people to take and run classes.
      • Several rentable offices and private desk areas.

Build it and they will come

Everything you can imagine is built, imagined, repaired and rebuilt here. One of the more unusual projects was a yurt. Built from scratch,this 22-foot diameter Mongolian tent, with custom-stitched wall canvas using the industrial sewing machines, even had a skylight.

Durbin notes the group also built a professional infinity mirror with kid-friendly controls, which it donated to the Duluth Children’s Museum to inspire interest in Arduino programming and learning.

“We also built a 60-foot pong game and installed it on the front of our building. Passersby could play this two-person challenge at any time.”

Membership

Currently there are 80-100 active members who pay only $45/month in dues ($60/couple), which keep the space sustainable. They also offer discounted memberships for volunteer staff. The dues give a member full access to all of the tools of the various shops.

Members may access the space at any time during the day.

All staff are volunteers and are available to provide tours at the shop from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and noon to 6 p.m. weekends.

Classes

A wide range of classes are offered and members receive a discount. Typical classes run an affordable $10 per hour with small class sizes.

Here is a sampling of some of the classes offered:
  • Making Music with Robots
  • Electronic Soldering
  • Lasered Plywood Box
  • Wire Wrap Jewelry
  • Introduction to Industrial Sewing
  • Lapidary 101: Stone Cutting and Polishing
  • Welding 101
  • Intro to Big CNC
  • Arduino 101
  • Intro to 3D Printing
There are also various demonstration evenings at no cost. Visit DuluthMakerSpace.com for more information, times and costs.

 

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