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How to found a Makerspace in 6 months!

"If you make sure that everything works in the end and you pull it all off, no one’s even known that anything was wrong and you don’t really necessarily get any credit for it." – Nadya Peek

Tl;dr I am a tinkerer. In the shop, in the kitchen, outdoors - always taking stuff apart and combining things that "shouldn't" go together. I caught the maker bug from my father, but it was fully cemented working with the Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) at the MIT Media Lab. I haven’t stopped making since then. So, I took on the charge of founding my own makerspace for some residential-based learning fun.

In a semi-order of events, this page will take you through how this grass-roots movements really took off, and how we decided on machines, organized our space, fundraised, trained ourselves, and created a structure to lower barriers of entry, yet keep a safe environment for ourselves.

And, as an homage to Nadya’s post on Hackaday, I’ve titled this “how to found a makerspace in 6 months.” Nadya and her team formed a corporation while in Shenzen to run a workshop during the Fab 12 conference on digital fabrication. (If you are reading this Nadya, I’m sorry I couldn’t make it! Though receiving a text at 11pm saying that I should pack my bags to go to China with your team DID make me feel like a super hero that was summoned). This is my first fabrication space I’ve set up; Just 1095 more to catch up to you!

And finally, when I took Neil's How To Make Machines that Make Almost Anything course in Spring 2015, the most frustrating part was that I did not have a lab on campus through my lab group. All other students were part of a lab that had a fabrication center as part of it, and I remember begging IDC, the architecture shop, and the Hobby Shop to sponsor me for the semester. This is my answer to that; That class would have taken a different turn had this TDC makerspace existed in 2014.

Anyways, here's how I built my first makerspace in 6 months.

The Beginnings: Status Check

I have a maker shelf in my room, complete with some prototyping boards, hand tools, cutting and measuring, and arts and crafts. Though I loved the undergrads coming into my space to use my tools, it was clear that they needed more. After a few emails, I ordered some froyo, and got us all together. We decided to use a room in the basement as our space, presented to each other the work we've done and projects we want to do, and used the Fablab Inventory list to figure out which machines would help us make those next projects we want to get done.

Fundraising: Preparing The Space

In November of every year, our fraternity has an Alumni Weekend in Boston. Coupled with the events of the weekend, we decided to give tours of the house and really let alumni visualize what the final makerspace would look like to encourage them to donate.

So first, you scrounge craigslist to get some large cardboard pieces. Spray adhesive some white butcher paper on them, and cut them to the size of the laser bed. I drew up our machines on inkscape by tracing pictures I found online (svg files here in case you want to replicate). Add a small stand to the back and boom. The machine team (ie, silhouettes) were made up of a 3d printer, drill press, bandsaw, power supply, belt sander, and a shopbot desktop, all cut to actual size. Finally, we also passed out 'business cards' with information of how to donate during the weekend's events for those who couldn't make it to the house.

Fundraising: Bringing In The Money

Although we had the motivation, and the skills, the biggest barrier to entry was fundraising. So let's get alumni nostalgic about how they struggled to make things during their time here, and kindly as for money so we don't have to struggle as much. Ever seen so many ties, heels, and slacks inside a soon to be makerspace? (Don't worry, not only were existing machines unplugged, I also removed the toggle safety switch to ensure no machines could be turned on). Pictures below show me trying to work my magic to get money.


Fundraising was a success! Save for the desktop cnc (which was a moon shot machine anyways), we raised enough funds to purchase all our machines, AND had extra for materials/stock as we move forward. We actually had two alumni donate 3d printers!

So now we got some money. How do you save costs? Wake up at 5am on Black Friday to get some Home Depot, Harbor Freight, and Microcenter deals!

Establishing Rules

At some point, we needed to establish rules to ensure the space worked for everyone. This was done by grabbing shop rules from other shops on MIT campus, and by mocking the use of the space, as in, one day, before building any of the machines, I had the undergrads enter the makerspace and pretend to go through the workflow of entering the space, prepping their work, using machines, storing their projects, and cleaning up the shop to figure out the tiny details of what was missing. For example, after this walk through, hair ties were placed on the entrance to tie hair up, coat hangers were placed as far away from the wood machines, and the 3D printers were moved away from the window since they need better thermal control.

Independent Activities Period

Because there is a deeper understanding of a machine when you can visualize the inner components because you have physically manipulated them (see: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the reason why my car is stick-shift), we decided that our organization structure would be that I am the director of the makerspace, but that each machine in the space would have an undergraduate machine guru. This person is in charge of the assembly and maintenance of one machine in the space. The "ask three then me" rule means that any undergrad, when seeking help, would first ask a brother (or google), followed by the machine's guru, followed by me. This foster's peer-learning in the space. During IAP (MIT's January Independent Activity Period), the chosen machine gurus built their machines in the space.

Besides the gurus, there remained a group of people eager to help, but who felt intimidated by the idea of assembling a machine (despite my continued suggestions that I wanted gurus who did not consider themselves experts in that particular machine; old habits are hard to break, and I can't ensure their habits are good ones). Those people, instead, helped me install various items in the space that are essential to the flow of a makerspace, including a keypad on the door, coat hangers, proper lighting, organizing the circuit station, mounting peg boards, and determining where student projects and extra supplies would be stored.


One of my biggest concerns, was the balance between making the space as inviting as possible, yet providing enough measures to ensure safety without affecting the existing culture of the fraternity around other communal spaces. Because of this, I ended up creating a python security camera that runs off of a raspberry pi. When someone enters the room and triggers a PIR sensor, the raspberry pi takes an image from its picamera as well as a usb webcam, time stamps the picture, and sends it to a dropbox folder organized by day. The point of the camera is not to spy on undergrads; rather, we all agreed this was one way to hold each other accountable for the cleanliness and safety of the space.

Where next?

As of 2024, I live in the mountains of San Bernardino. The need for communal spaces still exists, expecially after a pandemic that forced social isolation. I'm currently working with The Havenwood Foundation to found a makerspace in the mountains in Running Springs =). Follow us on LinkedIn!