WRAL.com at the State Fair

TechShop at the Fair: a whole lotta hardware

Posted October 16, 2009 8:12 p.m. EDT

"Soldering iron."


"Metal lathe."


"Um... band saw."


Inside the Commercial building you'll see a huge exhibit for the Durham TechShop, a fairly new (it opened in March) outfit located in Durham. This site has over 25,000 square feet -- or if you feel like counting it monetarily over $250,000 worth -- of over 400 different tools. TechShop describes itself this way: "TechShop is perfect for inventors, "makers", hackers, tinkerers, artists, roboteers, families, entrepreneurs, youth groups, FIRST robotic teams, arts and crafts enthusiasts, and anyone else who ever wanted to do something, but couldn't." If you want to create, or improve, or otherwise stretch yourself creatively, it's got a whole lotta hardware.

"We're aiming at the Maker generation," said Scott Saxon (the founder of the Durham TechShop) when I talked to him. "People who just like to create things.  Actually 25% of our members are women. We even have one lady who comes in to paint just because she likes the atmosphere, she likes the creativity she's around." Scott saw the original TechShop in Menlo Park, California, back in 2006, and wanted to bring the same kind of thing to North Carolina.

At the moment the Durham TechShop has about 130-150 members, with room for many more. Find the idea of so much different equipment interesting but lack the knowledge of how to use it? (That would be me -- I've been messing around with computers for over 20 years but I haven't even gotten around to learning how to solder.) Over 250 classes -- everything from beginning sewing to welding to metal lathing to soldering to an introduction to microcontrollers using the Arduino -- are planned for November and December. Maybe you have the knowledge but you don't have the equipment. The Durham TechShop also offers memberships; you can become a member for as little as a month or as much as a year. There's also a lifetime membership if you have a lot of cash floating around. Once you're a member you can use any of the equipment at the TechShop or even reserve time on it if you want. (For some of the equipment you will have to pass a safety and basic usage class. They don't want you randomly going there and trying to run the plasma cutter or bench grinder or sheet metal roller or...)

Membership IS pricey; $99 a month or $999 a year. (There are some specials going on that you can get at the Fair; see details at the TechShop booth.) Scott did emphasize to me that you did not need to be a member to take the classes (and the classes are a much cheaper deal; I can get someone to teach me soldering for $45) or to join the forums that are on TechShop's Web site at http://techshopdurham.com.

Sound intriguing? Are you one of those people that just likes the idea of a big building full of tools to mess with? TechShop is offering an open house on both November 7th and November 21st, from Noon to 4pm. You can get a tour of the place, and talk to members about their projects. You can get more details about the open house at TechShop's Web site.

I'm intrigued both by what TechShop is offering now and what I see as potential for the future. I hope their 2010 Fair booth is full of finished projects...