TechShop Provides Equipment, Instruction to Budding ‘Makers’
Jan 30, 2017 07:44PM
● By Hilary Daninhirsch
From 3D printing to textile work to jewelry making and more, TechShop, based in Bakery Square in East Liberty, is a treasure in a STEM-focused world. Pittsburgh is lucky to be one of only nine U.S. cities that TechShop currently calls home; the 16,000 square foot space is a place to literally make your dreams a reality. Bill Gearhart, manager at TechShop Pittsburgh, explains how it all works.
North Hills Monthly (NHM): How long has TechShop been a Pittsburgh presence, and why was Pittsburgh a good fit for the business?
Bill Gearhart (Gearhart): Techshop has been in business for 10 years as a company, with the first shop in Menlo Park, CA. It was actually opened up in Pittsburgh in March of 2013 at the behest of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to support the Veterans Administration (VA) in the area. We now have around 400 VA and non-VA members.
NHM: How would you describe TechShop?
Gearhart: TechShop is a space that allows individuals and companies to be makers and creators. TechShop is a member based ‘maker’ space, which means that we deliver the tools that people need to develop whatever they want to work on. They can come in and work as an artist, work as a hobbyist, as a start-up business, etc. Our shop allows people to utilize $3 million dollars of tools to develop whatever they want.
NHM: How does it work?
Gearhart: In general, if someone has an interest in making something, we have a team here that will guide them to discover, make or finish a project, or learn new skills to enhance the project. I don’t think everyone has to take project-based classes, but we offer them. We do that to develop the inner hobbyist, developer, maker and tinkerer. We have a whole team from member ambassadors to dream consultants to educators and support staff.
NHM: What are some of the services that TechShop offers?
Gearhart: We offer not only consulting but safety and basic use classes so you know how to operate a piece of machinery. We also have project-based classes so you can build something and take it home with you, so it’s a form of continuing education.
NHM: What are some examples of your on-site tools and equipment?
Gearhart: We have laser cutters and etchers, a full metal machine shop, a sheet metal shop, a full weld shop, a blacksmith shop, a paint booth with powder coating capabilities, a cabinet shop, an electronic shop, a jewelry shop, textiles, including vinyl cutting, heat transfer, screen printing and CNC embroidery.
NHM: What are some examples of the projects people have made here?
Gearhart: In our blacksmithing shop, we have a number of people that make wrought iron projects or do knife-making projects. In our laser-cutting shop, we have people that create mementos for weddings or events by etching glass or by designing lampshades or different sorts of bowls and intricate patterns in wood or plastics. People use our welding shop for doing metal art or signage. The list goes on.
NHM: So can anyone just come in off the street and make something?
Gearhart: Before anyone is allowed to operate a piece of equipment, they have to take a safety and basic use class (SBU), and after that, they can come in anytime and use the equipment. The most popular classes are woodworking, blacksmithing, laser cutting and textile classes.
NHM: Is it a child-friendly place?
Gearhart: We’re booked solid with our afterschool programs and our weekend STEAM and STEM classes. We’re open 9 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday, and people can bring children over age 8.
NHM: Why would someone come in to TechShop to work on a project rather than doing it at home?
Gearhart: Well, we have $3 million dollars’ worth of tools, and we have everything to support that. We have power tools and advanced CNC tools, but in addition to all of that, we have a community which is a resource not only for discussion, but it is also a force multiplier. When you come to TechShop, you may be working in one direction on a project, but after you discuss it with the community, they may suggest a better, easier or simpler way.
NHM: Do you have to be a member to use TechShop?
Gearhart: We have a number of different sorts of memberships or access points. You don’t have to be a member to come and take classes; you can be a single member by joining and paying membership or you get discounts through programs like the VA or a university student discount. It can also be company benefit; a number of companies provide memberships to employees.
NHM: How does TechShop promote the arts as well as technology?
Gearhart: We work with a number of schools, doing afterschool and in-school programs in support of STEM and STEAM. In addition, we’re working with The Sprout Fund in conjunction with Pittsburgh Citiparks to develop a project called Rec to Tech—converting rec centers into tech and STEAM centers for afterschool activities. We did a pilot program with Comcast, The Sprout Fund, and Citiparks—it was huge. We are looking to carry this over as a full-time thing. We have an entire department dedicated to just STEM and STEAM programs.
NHM: Since TechShop’s opening almost four years ago, how entrenched in the community have you become?
Gearhart: Well, in addition to our work with schools, we support a number of different groups in the Greater Pittsburgh area—for example, Maker Faire Pittsburgh with the Children’s Museum and the Hand Made Arcade. We work with Innovation Works, with The Sprout Fund, and a lot of nonprofits to support not just kids but continuing work programs such as Made Right Here and Abraxas, and we are a benefit for members of the USW Union. We have long-term plans to continue to grow and support the community.
To learn more about TechShop, visit www.techshop.ws/pittsburgh.html or call 412-345-7182.