Makerspace provides place for collaborative work

For folks in need of tools they can’t afford or rarely use, or in need of some advice or motiva­tion to get a project done, Amherst Maker­space may be the place to go.

The nonprofit, membership-supported organization provides use of Amherst Middle School’s innovation and design wing to adults to use after school, on weekends and holidays, and dur­ing the summer.

Described as a "gym member­ship for your creative mind," the dual-use space provides its members with access to modern tools and technology so they can design, make, build or repair just about anything.

The space, which opened last month, includes a fully outfitted woodshop, metal working and welding, electronics lab, 24-inch color printing, laser cutting and etching, large-format 3-D print­ers, vinyl cutter, two computer labs, a culinary arts and sew­ing classroom, kilns and two art rooms.

"The tools are great, but it’s re­ally the community of like-minded people that makes it what it is," said Brad Freeman, a network administra­tor for the Amherst School District and one of Amherst Makerspace’s founders. "Everyone’s sharing ideas, we all each have our own strong skills and bring it all together and help people bring their project ideas to fruition."

Makerspaces are known as collaborative work spaces in schools, librar­ies, and other public and private places where people can explore, learn, make and share different things. MakeIt Labs in Nashua, for example, strives to match its resources and brain­power with the needs of small technology-based businesses.

The makerspace in Amherst, a subsidiary of the town’s Recreation Department, is funded by donations and work­shop fees in addition to its paid memberships, so there’s no impact on local taxpayers.

In fact, by acquiring new tools and equipment that AMS students can also safely use, it allows the school’s innovation and design program to grow and has a positive impact on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

To date, Amherst Mak­erspace has 15 members. They include people building wood stools, members who want to do cabinet work and a man who wants to build a kayak.

"I want to see people explore their desire to build and design and create things, and sharing (their) experience and knowledge," Freeman said. "It’s about gaining knowledge."

Steve Opre, the school’s innovation and design teacher, provides mem­bers with safety training and teaches Makerspace classes, including "Saw­dust Tuesdays." He said that collaboration is an important benefit of be­ing a member.

"I think that we have so many people with a diverse set of knowledge, combined, they (can) col­laborate together to do things," Opre said.

During a recent eve­ning, member Dorothy Chabot used a router to smooth out the edges of a stool top. She said she en­joys using the space and would like to someday create a box for holding playing cards.

"This gives me access to tools that I couldn’t … af­ford or (don’t) have space for in my house," said the Amherst resident, adding that the hub also provides tools she might not use often.

Her husband, Marcel, believes that having a common space where people can work together – rather than working alone in a garage or base­ment – provides people with motivation to get their home projects done.

"You can hang out here with people who are also working on projects," he said. "It’s not quiet like your shop. There’s a social element, and when you’re stuck, someone can help you out."

Family and individual membership are avail­able to residents and nonresidents for three months or one year. Mem­bers can access the space from 4-11 p.m. on school days and from 7 a.m.-11 p.m. on weekends, school holidays and during sum­mers.

Currently, regular workshops are offered in woodworking for women, welding and arduino.

Makerspace is seek­ing instructors to teach workshops, and dona­tions of hand and power tools, multi-meters, tape measures and assorted electronic components for projects are welcome.