Where a Wood Shop Goes, a Hackerspace Follows

The 2×4 Contest at my local hackerspace captured my interest. The challenge was to build something cool out of a single eight-foot 2×4 with the winner getting free wood storage in the space. I had half an idea for a project, but I ran out of time and never even started it. My idea was to cut the board into half-thickness strips and glue them edge-to-edge with some biscuits holding them together — to basically make wider, thinner boards to do… something cool with it.

One of the entries is pictured above. [Jon Alt] designed this clock and phone charger that includes a capacitive charger for his smart watch. He makes use of the 2×4’s grain to make a gorgeous enclosure, carving away the rear of the front panel so only a credit-card’s thickness of wood remained, allowing the 7-segments to shine through. The other entries were great as well and I especially liked the 2×4 guitar.

Mostly what interested me about the contest was what it showed about the wood shop: thanks to the volunteers and board, that is a wood shop doing well. Stuff is going on! A sad wood shop doesn’t hold contests. By extension, when the shop is doing well, that means the hackerspace is also doing well.

A wood shop is one of those areas of a hackerspace that is tool-driven. It’s not just a gathering place for like-minded folks; people go to use a specific tool or tools they can’t afford, and let’s face it, there’s always tools to buy that costs a bunch of money.

I’ve seen this particular shop begin as an empty concrete room with a cheap drill press and someone’s old bandsaw. Pretty soon worktables, shelving, and storage were built. More tools arrived, some donated, some loaned, some purchased with dues. So how can other spaces replicate this wood shop success story?

The Hack Factory has a morticing machine that the board paid for. The spindle sander is a loaner, and the standing saw is rumored to be as well, though it’s been in the space since at least 2013. A sound-dampening box was donated by an acoustic paneling company to house the belt sander’s shop-vac dust collector. With every donation or loan or purchase, the shop gets stronger. Here’s why: when the space does well, the board has money to spend on new tools. Cool tools attract new members who want to use them, so everyone wins.

I especially love seeing communal projects done to improve the space. The wood shop folks built a lovely rack for their collection of block planes, and I honestly have never seen a better way to display the clunky tools. [Jon] assembled a Moxon vise (pictured to the left) on hardware which was donated by Benchcrafted. We bought a Saw Stop and quickly filled up a wall with burnt-out cartridges.

Less elegant but just as useful, shop regulars built a rack for the shop’s extensive collection of tube clamps, part of their One Day Builds project that encourages members to actually finish the project before they leave, in many cases allowing the project to actually get finished.

 Of course, the wood shop folks don’t just build stuff for their own department. Those tools get used to build out areas in the space, from sawing beams for the finishing room to rehabbing the old office into a laser room. Those tools donated to one department absolutely help others.

I suppose you could say that it’s true of all departments: you grab a meter from electronics to test the wiring on the room you’re building out, or get the metal folks to weld together a bike rack. But for me, the wood shop leads the way. The barriers for participation are low, the specialized tools are many, and there are so many uses for the shop beyond simply building one’s own projects. Maybe the wood shop is the soul: if it’s healthy the space is healthy.

The secret to success is to build into your schedule these social activities which bring the veteran woodworkers together and attract the beginners looking to get started. It’s not a place to dump tools but a space to socialize, to ask for help and answer questions, and to build a story into every creation you work on. I want to hear what’s going on in your wood shop. Leave a comment with some details. And don’t forget to give a shout out to your wood shop manager for changing blades and hauling out bags of sawdust — [Jon Alt], that means you.

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