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Makerspace in Portsmouth is the place for tinkerers & inventors

Union Leader Correspondent

February 10. 2013 5:37PM
Tim Yeaton puts his new welding skills to the test on the frame for a custom-built cargo bike at Makerspace in Portsmouth. (BARBARA TAORMINA PHOTO)

PORTSMOUTH -- ONCE A MONTH, people meet at Portsmouth's Makerspace to chop bikes.

Pink-flowered BMX frames are cut and welded together with pieces of racers, spare parts from mountain bikes and whatever else is available to create a recycled and restyled one-of-a kind ride.

"It's relaxing and invigorating," said Kittery resident Tim Yeaton, who on a recent day was learning to weld parts for a cargo bike, a combination wheelbarrow and bicycle. "You're solving puzzles."

But cargo bikes are just the start of the stuff people are designing and building at Port City Makerspace, a community workshop, with tools and space for wood workers, welders, small boat builders, electronic gadgeteers and people who just can't stop inventing things. Members pay $50 a month to use an extensive collection of tools and wide open work areas.

"It's like having a membership to a fitness club," said Gorham native Clint Crosbie, who launched Makerspace with longtime friends Zak Robinson and Ross Beane. "Just like you can't have all that exercise equipment at your house, you can't have this many tools."

Makerspaces - aka hackerspaces or makeitlabs - are all part of a broad movement that's been gaining steam in cities and towns, libraries, schools and college campuses across the country. Although they share a basic philosophy and structure, workshops are independent and driven by the unique interests and needs of their communities.

At Nashua's Makeitlab, members are working together on an electric motorcycle. Port City Makerspace members sign up to learn how to build a dinghy with Bill Thomas of Maine's WoodenBoat School.

Still, the community aspect plays a big part in all of makerspaces or makeitlabs.

"Some people join adult sports leagues, some people go to bars, but there wasn't a focus for people who like to make things," Crosbie said.

And Makerspace's founders are all about leaning, innovating and inventing.

"I love this stuff," said Robinson as he looked for pieces to add to the frame of the cargo bike taking shape in Makerspace's metal shop. "I go to work and dream up projects and say to myself, 'This just has to be done.'"

Robinson, an engineer at Shoals Marine Laboratory, and Crosbie, a before- and after-school instructor, have been pounding nails since they were kids.

"We always had access to tools," said Robinson, whose dad was a logger. "We fixed things because we couldn't afford to buy new things."

Crosbie's dad and grandfather were both machinists, which gave him a chance to understand the value of that trade and other types of practical knowledge. In high school, he decided to take up blacksmithing because he wanted to learn a dying skill.

"There's a lot of things we're not really doing any more because we don't need those skills to make money," he said. "But those skills are transferable skills."

And Makerspace is committed to transferring transferable skills to anyone who wants to learn. Different classes, presentations and events are always on the calendar.

Crosbie teaches a beginner's class in woodworking, and Robinson teaches introduction to metalworking, which filled up and sold out early this month.

"Welding is really sexy," Crosbie said. "You're wielding the power of Zeus and hellfire."

Makerspace members work closely with newcomers to make sure they know how to wield hellfire and power tools. Crosbie admitted it can be a little nerve-wracking to put a table saw or a torch in a beginner's hands, but Makerspace's priorities are safety, education and fun.

"If you're not safe, and you're not learning, then chances are you're not having any fun," he said.

Dan Bolan, a student at the University of New Hampshire who's new to Makerspace, gives the workshop teachers high marks.

"I met some of the guys, and I told them I had zero experience, but that didn't matter," said Bolan, as he filed down a piece of metal for the cargo bike. "These guys are really open and their teaching is so laid back, it's great."

Crosbie and Robinson run classes, but business members, friends and other experts also bring their skills and experience to the Makerspace table. Jesse Fox, a designer from Newmarket's Independent Fabrications, which builds custom-made bikes, comes every month to help with the bike chop shop.

Fox likes sharing what he knows about bike design, but he likes picking up new ideas and information.

"If you come here you learn just by looking around the room," Fox said. "That's what creates a community."

There's a fee for most classes, but Makerspace also hosts plenty of free events like the Hacker's Lounge, where people can brainstorm on how to hack or find new and unintended uses for all type of parts and products. And anyone with a broken coffee maker or problematic laptop can bring it to the monthly Repair Cafe, and Makerspace members will take their best shot at fixing it.

Makerspace has plans to grow and add new equipment and classes. An auto repair shop is a possibility, but Makerspace is open to exploring all new ideas. The goal is to do for design and production what the Internet did for publishing - open the door and give the skills and opportunities to anyone who wants them.

"It's about tools and technology," Crosbie said. "We're empowering people to deal with the world around them, as complicated as it is."

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