Seattle’s new DIY hardware labs
by Tom Travin
By day, many of Seattle’s part-time creatives work full-time jobs at Microsoft, Google, TMobile and Amazon. By night, they hunker over soldering irons, woodworking tools and sewing machines, creating wearable technology, self-propelled vehicles and fine jewelry.
“There are more than 10,000 professional creatives in the city of Seattle alone,” says Ellie Kemery of Makerhaus, the newest of the city’s maker spaces — facilities that offer equipment, training and support for those of an innovative mind.
Maker spaces are a destination for professional creatives, but also for a larger community of tinkerers, hobbyists and inventors — many of whom have a vision, passion and the motivation to see it through. Below, get to know a few of Seattle's most popular spaces.
This SoDo space houses “a community of people that are willing to take time and sit down with each other and teach others how to code or how to build a robot,” Monica Houston says, “a community of friends, really. … We bill ourselves as a safe place to fail. It’s not a place where you have to know everything.”
Houston is the development director for Jigsaw, a nonprofit space in the Inscape Arts and Cultural Center. Jigsaw's library is filled with materials on electronics, programming and sundry robot parts. There are DIY 3D printers, but no laser cutter yet. The space hosts regular classes, events and meet-ups for local groups and memberships range from $15 to $200 a month (which gets you a dedicated working space).
Jigsaw’s members are a diverse bunch. Houston says: “We have people that don’t necessarily fit the maker mold, so it’s not all tech — there’s artists, and there have been people into textiles or films.”
It’s also home to some of the city's more established creators. Like Zombie Orpheus Entertainment, a multimedia production company that develops and produces scripted content for the web, including the popular video series “JourneyQuest.”
Houston has a day job too — building websites. At Jigsaw, attracting new members is a large part of her role. She says the diversity is both a challenge and a strength from a marketing perspective: “It’s a place where a psychologist can talk to an iPhone app builder and compare notes.”
A Cyborg Camp Seattle attendee plays with fruit and electronics. Photo: Amber Case.
That's also what makes Jigsaw special. Because all of its funding comes from dues, members have an investment in the space and in their fellow creators.
“Right now it’s a small community,” Houston says. “That small-community feel is something that I really want to make sure stays.”
The most decidedly professional of the trio, this Fremont maker space is 10,000 square feet and features wood and metal shops, a materials library, 3D printing, a computer-controlled router for woodworking, industrial sewing machines, a laser cutter, gallery space for members and co-working space for professionals to rent.
Heidi Allen, a local artist behind Arboreal Jewelry, recently showed her wooden wares in Makerhaus’ gallery. She produces her jewelry and even her packaging on the facility’s laser cutter.
But what Mike Kemery and his wife, Ellie, have really created is what he calls “a facility for all types of abilities.”
“What we really want,” Mike says, “is good people with abilities and ideas and motivation and spirit to come in and bring their ideas to life.”
A big part of Makerhaus’ mission is education. It sponsors regular classes and workshops on topics from professional development and business creation to CAD rendering, woodworking and metalworking.
“This is kind of like a graduate program, in a way, for those that already have a background in design or engineering,” Ellie says, “but it’s also a way for people that maybe don’t have access to creative cross-training.”
The Kemerys both worked at Nike and relocated to Seattle after Mike got a job with TMobile. They decided to open Makerhaus after getting involved in the creative community and realizing the need for such a facility.
Makerhaus founders Ellie and Mike Kemery. Photo: Tom Travin
“While it’s a successful model, it’s also very much a passion project for us,” Ellie says, “because this is going to provide people that are incredibly talented in this community with the ability to live their dreams, and make a successful business out of it.”
This Capitol Hill facility provides a place for members to “hack on stuff." "We iterate. We move quickly,” says Matt Westervelt, who opened the space in 2009. Metrix has a strong focus on electronics, but also has facilities to work with wood, metal, plastics and textiles.
“The thing that I find fun,” he says, “is providing infrastructure for other people to get things done.”
Inside Capitol Hill's Metrix maker space. Photo: Mitch Altman
That infrastructure includes knitting machines, industrial sewing machines, a laser cutter, 3D printers, a kiln for firing 3D printed objects and test glazes and a computer-controlled router. The latest addition is an LPKF ProtoLaser S, a device for rapid prototyping of printed circuit boards for a huge variety of electronic applications. It’s the centerpiece of a new event at Metrix called “Circuit Church,” held on Sunday nights.
“You come in, drop the [bill of materials] at 6 p.m., and then you’ve got a couple of hours to design a board using this program called Upverter,” Westervelt says. “We make the board, we hand it back, then assemble and test, and we’ll be able to show it off by the end of the night.” The quick turnaround allows those designing electronic devices to spot potential flaws sooner.
The space grew out of another of Westervelt’s projects — a “non-company thing” he set up in the ’90s to build hardware for Wi-Fi networks and teach friends HTML and Unix. In 2004, he founded Metrix — an actual company that built Wi-Fi enclosures — which, within a couple years, gave him an office and his fellow hackers a regular place to meet.
Matt Westervelt and Richard de Leon of Metrix. Photo: Tom Travin
Despite its tech-heavy roots, Metrix is open to anyone and newcomers are welcome. Today, friends come by to work on projects, to toss around ideas, to help one another with the big picture as well as the nuts and bolts. There are two levels of membership — $50 or $100 a month — as well as walk-in rates for equipment use. Metrix also offers classes, from introductory to advanced levels.
“My goal is to be able to make anything,” Westervelt says. “There’s a future that I want to live in, and I’m working on it.”