The factory is coming to us.
That’s the hallmark of the makersmith movement and Loudoun County is on the front lines of this budding industrial revolution.
As Leesburg’s Makersmiths prepares to celebrate its second anniversary on Lawson Road, it also is setting up a new shop in Purcellville and looking to expand its Leesburg operations.
The nonprofit, founded by Pat Scannell and Mark Millsap, recently completed a Kickstarter campaign for its Purcellville location, which will set up in a building leased from the town government on South 20th Street. A summer opening is expected.
The search for a bigger space in Leesburg continues, as it appears the South King Street location previously under consideration may not be a possibility.
The Makersmiths operation on Lawson Road has attracted a wide variety of users, from a brewer opening a new space, to local educators, artists and even large corporations.
Leland Rogan, one of the owners of Crooked Run Brewing Company, came to the makerspace when he was looking for a way to make tap handles for the brewery’s new Sterling location. Usually, handmade tap handles cost $30 to $40. He encountered Brad Hess, a founding member of Makersmiths, in his brewery and Hess told him about the laser cutter available for use there.
Armed with a background in construction and love of building, Rogan’s first time at the makerspace was not his last. In addition to the tap handles, Rogan made the pallet benches and tables, and flight paddles that can be found in the Sterling brewery. Much of the wood used is repurposed, with barn wood from George’s Mill Farm fashioned into the Crooked Run bar.
The table donated by Makersmiths to the brewery will be emblazoned with its logo, and Rogan is hoping to be able to raise awareness of the makerspace among his customers.
“I want to make sure other people know I built all this stuff at Makersmiths,” he said. “This place is really a hidden gem.”
Some of the equipment at the facility cost tens of thousands of dollars and may be out of reach for individuals or even small businesses to purchase. Makersmiths provides it for a monthly membership of $100, plus access to valuable expertise from individuals skilled in various trades.
Round Hill resident David Painter was perhaps one of the original makers. He jokes that they used to be referred to as “hobbyists.”
“I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands, and now that I’m retired it’s time to indulge myself. The whole idea of a makerspace is just spectacular. It gives you a place to go where there’s already equipment so you don’t have to buy your own, and people who know how to do things you don’t know how to do. … It’s a win-win all the way around.”
Painter has a fairly extensive shop at his home, but has used the makerspace to take classes on things like Arduino—manufacturing and programming microcontroller boards—and is looking forward to learning more about computer-controlled equipment. Noting that home workshops, and the availability of skill courses in schools, are becoming things of the past, he has hopes that the next generation of young makers will thrive with the growth of makerspaces.
“I think it’s an overdue movement. They probably will learn more skills that will be useful to them throughout their life than by staying at home and playing on a computer,” he said. ” No matter what catches your fancy there’s someone in the organization who knows something about it and is willing to share.”
Focusing on engaging teens in the maker movement is of keen interest to Andrea Cubelo-McKay. When she found out about Makersmiths, she was already in the process of starting her own alternative learning center, called the Embark Center. She reached out to Scannell “to find out if there was a way we could work together and create connective space over our shared mission.”
Scannell was on board, so the students who use Embark will also have access to Makersmiths, she said.
“It’s a natural marriage,” to partner the two centers, Cubelo-McKay said. She borrows one of Scannell’s favorite phrases for the best use of a makerspace—”hang out, mess around and geek out.”
“One of the things we know is opportunities for that are becoming fewer and fewer,” Cubelo-McKay said. “Kids are getting more and more structured, schools are more test driven. We’ve created a whole movement around STEM and STEAM, but it’s with a particular outcome. But the most important part and the most exciting part is the process.”
Giving teens the opportunity to make mistakes along the way—and thus learn something new—while working with their hands, is an invaluable opportunity, she said.
While makerspaces can create new opportunities for children, schools and learning centers like Cubelo-McKay’s, large corporations are also tapping in to makerspace operations. In Leesburg, REHAU and K2M have agreements to allow their employees to work in the Makersmiths shop.
It’s an effort to encourage creativity and innovation among their employees, company representatives said. About 16 REHAU employees have been using Makersmiths, which academy training manger Max Rohr appropriately refers to as a “tinkerer’s paradise.” One project they have recently been brainstorming is how to renovate its Academy Training Center space.
“We’ve developed better ways to make the training center more of an interactive, almost children’s museum-type space,” he said. This has been accomplished by bringing in employees from different divisions within the company who may not normally brainstorm together, and use an offsite space that encourages thinking outside the box. Prototypes can easily be developed at Makersmiths with its plethora of high-end tools, not to mention in-house expertise.
“To go over to an offsite property to talk about innovation is against all the rules of corporate culture,” he noted. “The extra faces in the crowd [at Makersmiths] is kinda fun. That atmosphere is very, very creative. It’s a very innovative climate.”
Two engineers at K2M, Chris Straight and Nicole Huang, have used Makersmiths through a corporate membership. They use the space for non-work projects, and Straight said K2M employees are encouraged to patronize Makersmiths to be creative not just at work but on their own time.
“I think it helps people to realize they really can come up with neat ideas and make things and then can apply that [thinking] to the business,” Straight says.
Huang used the makerspace to make gifts for family and friends, and that creativity has helped her with her role at K2M, she said. “It’s great way to just exercise the mind outside of work.”
For more information about Makersmiths, go to makersmiths.org.