TechShop opens doors to world of making

(Photo by Alexis Macklin)

Ryan Murray, an instructor of metals and plastics at TechShop, is demonstrating how to bend metal. (Photo by Alexis Macklin)

TechShop brings tools, professional equipment and software, along with education, to students and the public in ASU Chandler Innovation Center.

A fabrication and prototyping studio, TechShop is set to empower people to move forward with their long-nurtured ideas by providing more than $1 million worth of equipment, classes by highly qualified instructors and helpful staff.

Established in 2006 in Menlo Park, Calif., by former “MythBusters” science adviser Jim Newton, TechShop celebrated the grand opening of its seventh location in Chandler as a result of collaboration with ASU and the city of Chandler, which offered a building. TechShop offers safety and basic classes, which allow members to utilize equipment, and specific classes for advanced knowledge.

Jon Barbara, TechShop’s general manager, said there were several available locations at ASU, especially at the Polytechnic campus, where there is a lot of equipment, but the public needed one place that would unite people with similar interests, knowledge and skills.

TechShop joined under one roof a wood shop, a metal shop, a textiles lab, a machine shop and a grinding room and provided access to such tools as the waterjet, vinyl cutters, welders, plasma torch and others.

Barbara said the most used areas, or the “gateway,” are laser cutters and 3-D printers.

(Photo by Alexis Macklin)

The miniature T. rex is a prototype for a larger wooden T. rex skeleton that TechShop employees are building. (Photo by Alexis Macklin)

“They’re super easy, and there’s a ton of different applications for them,” he said. “You could engrave mugs, make gifts for people, create prototypes, make displays. We had somebody recently who made name tags for their business on the laser. It’s more cost-effective to do it yourself sometimes, and now they have an ability to come back and do it again and again.”

Barbara said the education TechShop provides, along with the equipment, is very important and makes it stand out from other maker spaces.

“We’re empowering entrepreneurs and people who don’t have that background in engineering,” he said. “We’re empowering just the general public, who have ideas, great experiences in life and great understanding what they want to make, but don’t know how to do it. Maybe they’ve had this idea for the last 20 years, they just didn’t know how to make it. We’re empowering them to move forward with their ideas.”

TechShop is willing to accept any new ideas from people and therefore be as expansive as possible. The shop’s management takes into account the number of requests for a particular type of activity. Many people are looking to do sand casting, gravity casting and blacksmithing, Barbara said.

“If there’s a need, there’s a reason for us to have it,” he said. “We want to try to cover all of our ground. So if somebody wants to do casting, it’s just a matter of figuring out what tools we need, what the cost it is going to be and moving forward from there.”

TechShop helps remove fear of an instrument and inspires those people who have an idea but don’t know how to approach the machine.

Tiffani Mascarella, dream consultant at TechShop, started welding as a teenager with her parents’ help. She moved from North Carolina to Arizona to help people overcome obstacles in any part of the creative process.

“People come in with their ideas, and sometimes they don’t know how to fully execute it either from the design stage,” she said. “They might just have an idea, but no design, or they have a design and they need help building a model, or they have their model and they need help building their actual item. We’re here to help get through the roadblocks of that.”

Mascarella is also in charge of fixing equipment, making sure everything is running smoothly, getting members whatever they need and offering an extra set of hands and eyes.

People are welcome to do any projects they have in mind, from small-scale Christmas presents, such as personalized glassware on the lasers or ornaments on the 3-D printers, to massive projects, such as a T. rex wooden skeleton.

(Photo by Alexis Macklin)

Ryan Murray, an instructor of metals and plastics at TechShop, demonstrates how the metal mold forms melted plastic into shapes. (Photo by Alexis Macklin)

Some of the projects include a wooden topographical map, a metal hula hoop for professional acrobatics and a guitar pedal that could be inserted in a shoe.

“There’s no limit to stuff people can make here,” Mascarella said.

John Resler, one of the first members to join TechShop, works on about everything. Alongside the Christmas and birthday presents for kids and grandkids, he strives for a greater project building a 12-foot-tall, high-power rocket.

“My big goal is a high-power rocket,” he said. “When I was in the Air Force, I went to 50,000 feet in supersonic a couple of times, and my goal is to beat that record. So, I’m building a high-power rocket all by myself, and it’s going to go beat those records.”

TechShop has been a great help with this idea, he said.

“It’s been hard to make any progress, because I live in a condominium, and I sold all of my wood shops when (I) moved back here from Kansas,” he said. “I’ve been building my own rocket motor, knowing eventually I was going to have to build the rocket itself. So when I found out about this place, it just expedited things tremendously. I hope to have it done in a couple of months.”

Ryan Murray, an instructor of metals and plastics, said anybody can learn, regardless of age, gender and physical ability.

“When I was in college doing my TA, we had a blind student who wanted to know how to weld, so I got to teach him,” he said. “It was basically all by the way it sounded and you feel a lot with a torch.”

Although still at the initial phase of development, TechShop in Chandler is already involved in many socially-oriented events, such as logo-cutting for Chandler High School students, the Ostrich Festival and Chandler Art Walk. TechShop is looking to expand within the year, hire more staff and purchase more equipment.

Reach the reporter at kmaryaso@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @KseniaMaryasova