I usually feature a local park or museum, historic site or other destination for families in this space on Fridays.
Today, I'm featuring something a little bit different. It's TechShop, a membership-based do-it-yourself workshop that features the kinds of tools and equipment that the average person wouldn't dream of having access to.
TechShop in north Raleigh is a real shop, and it's not for little kids. Rather, it's designed for teens and adults. Kids 12 and up can take many of the shop's classes and work on much of the equipment, though mostly under their parent or guardian's watchful eye.
The 20,000-square-foot space is filled with everything from a computer lab with high-end software, sewing machines, silk screening equipment, an electronics lab and 3D printers to laser cutters, welding equipment and CNC machines, which use computer programs to create products, and much more.
Ilona Isaacs, TechShop's education and events consultant, said the business draws all kinds of people, of all ages. Some are serious hobbyists, building remote-controlled airplanes, for instance; some are small business owners, creating the products they sell; others are inventors, working on a prototype; and some are folks who just like to create.
But TechShop also is perfect for creative, handy families with teens who have ideas and the interest in creating products and pieces, but need the tools to execute them.
"If you have kids who want to get beyond that computer screen and into a hands-on situation, this may be just the thing," said Marie Taylor, a Raleigh mom. Several of Taylor's children have worked on projects at TechShop, including her 13-year-old and 16-year-old. Family members have created wooden boxes, a puzzle, decorative lamp posts, a board game and a hammered dulcimer at TechShop, among other projects.
TechShop's logo is "Build Your Dreams Here" and Taylor said that's been her family's experience.
"I've had plans to do stuff for years and never really have been able to get it to happen until I joined," she said.
Jim Newton, a former science advisor on the hit TV show MythBusters, started TechShop about six years ago in the San Francisco Bay area. He missed having access to all the equipment on the MythBuster's set. About a year later, Triangle-based Scott Saxon stopped by that first TechShop when he was visiting family and eventually brought the concept here.
TechShop opened in the Triangle about four years ago, first in Durham, and now in its location on Triangle Drive off Glenwood Avenue near Interstate 540 in north Raleigh.
There are three costs: Membership allows unlimited access to TechShop's facilities and can cost $99 per person per month and an additional $50 for a family member. Safety and basic use classes are required for much of the equipment. And TechShop also offers various project classes.
You don't need to be a member to attend the classes, which range from making an artisan cheese board and holiday cards to electronics demolition where students will take apart a microwave.
David Thornbury, 16, has designed and precision-cut fine veneer pieces for an earring line he hopes to market; lathed a couple of chess pieces and will soon help his dad with vacuum bagging a collection of "green-sourced" skateboard decks, said dad Les Thornbury.
Together, they've taken a vinyl cutter course to prepare for the design and silk screening of 75 T-shirts for a church youth group fundraiser. David also has taken computer programming course for Arduino microcontrollers as he gets ready to learn more about robotics, his dad wrote me in an email.
"With its comprehensive 'tool and lessons' infrastructure and 'maker' membership, TechShop is the ideal place to expose adolescents to a rich art/crafts/technology setting where anything's possible and the imagination can run (relatively!) wild," Les Thornbury said. "For all machine use and some courses, parents must be present for youth participation, so it's definitely a bonding experience."
For many, the best part of TechShop is the sharing, advice and camaraderie from other members. When one member is stuck on a problem, members are quick to offer aid.
"You're limited here only by a lack of imagination," Isaacs said.
For more about TechShop, including details about all of its equipment, class schedule and more, go to the website.