I'd like to pass along a press release from one of my favorite Silicon Valley start-ups. It's a place you can go to make chips... but I'd better explain that.
A lot of people do woodworking at home. The equipment is moderately priced and there's plenty of support available from TV shows such as Norm Abram's New Yankee Workshop on PBS and a variety of woodworking shows on the DIY Network.
But for those of us who like working with metal instead of wood, things aren't so simple. The equipment, for example, is much more expensive. Wood lathes start at just a few hundred dollars. Metal lathes capable of working similar-size objects are several times more expensive. A full-size milling machine-- for which there is no woodworking equivalent--can cost from $3,000 up to $30,000 with computer control. And metalworking can be more dangerous, with sparks, flames, and sharp bits of metal getting underfoot. It's tough doing this kind of work in a garage, though a lot of people do so safely.
And there are no TV shows to help, since most woodworking techniques don't translate to metalworking. So metalworking hobbyists get by with Web sites and hobbyist magazines such as The Home Shop Machinist. And, of course, they get together and share information in person. Often, hobbyists will share their machines and do work for each other.
But that only goes so far. If you want formal instruction from someone trained in metalworking, you generally have to sign up for classes and shop time at a community college, and those courses are usually intended as job training for professional machinists. Plus, when you're not taking classes, you usually can't get access to their shops for your own projects.
Someone's finally trying to solve this problem for the hobby metalworkers of the world: TechShop, a public-access workshop in Menlo Park, Calif. I signed up for a membership before TechShop even opened, but I've had so little time at this job that I haven't started any projects there.
Fortunately for TechShop, a lot of people in the San Francisco Bay Area have had time to spend there. TechShop has (or plans to get) a long list of industrial tools for its current 15,000-square-foot shop. There are lathes, milling machines, welding equipment, and esoteric items including the Dimension 3D printer shown above.
TechShop holds multiple training classes for its tools every week--not just in metal cutting, milling, and welding, but in laser cutting and etching, making things from carbon fiber, and even industrial sewing and embroidery. So pretty much whatever you want to do, but can't do in your garage, you can learn how to do it at TechShop.
TechShop has been so popular--with customers and investors--that by the middle of next year, there will be 10 more TechShops. That press release I mentioned has a list:
- Los Angeles
- Sacramento, Calif.
- San Diego, Calif.
- San Francisco
- Sunnyvale, Calif.
- Orlando, Fla.
- Durham, N.C.
- Portland, Ore.
- Austin, Texas
The Sunnyvale location will be perfect for me. That is, whenever I get some spare time...
Oh, right, I was going to explain that lame pun I opened with.
Remember my little piece on the phrase "Speeds and Feeds" back in June? Well, when a cutting tool advances through a metal workpiece on a lathe or milling machine, the little curls and bits of metal that are removed by the tool are called "chips." So now you know.