I’ve had this thought in my head for a few years now, about what seems to me a teriffic idea for a business that nobody seems interested in opening.
Public Workshop. Go in, sign up for time on a given machine, get expert assistance, and make stuff. Drills. Saws. Lathes. Other machines and tools the names of which I don’t know. With professionals to help you use them.
I’m a guy. I live alone, in an apartment. I have a few tools (cordless drill, hammer, few screwdrivers) but I have nothing even close to the type of tools I’d need to actually MAKE something, like a table or chair. And even if I did have the money to go out and buy planing sanders and pit gougers and all the other tools I’d need to make something useful, I have nowhere to put them.
So… if I wanted to badly enough, I could go out and rent a storage space, and set up a nice little garage there, and woodwork my heart out. I could splurge and buy all the tools I could possibly need, and just leave 'em there and go when I need or want to build. Or repair. Or adjust. Or just tinker.
Ahh, but let me repeat myself: I’m a guy, who lives alone, in an apartment. My actual need for any items like this is virtually nil. There’s only so much room for coffee tables and wooden chairs in here. One? Sure. Two? Maybe. Three? Four? A full set? Hell no.
So after one or two uses, any given tool will become a big hunk of expensive metal until the unlikely occasion that I need to use it again. In fact, the entire workshop would be much the same… a huge investment, and very little return (aside from bragging rights amongst friends.)
And then I got to thinking… well, if I got friends to chip in, we could ALL buy this hypothetical workshop, and take turns using it…
And that’s when I thought, Hey wait a minute… this would be an awesome business opportunity!
Anybody remember “shop” class from school? How they had all this stuff humming and people running around making stuff, and you could go in and use THIS tool here and THAT machine there and the OTHER doohickey, and when you were done you had a lame crappy lopsided birdhouse thing that your mom preteneded to like but you could tell she really didn’t and then… well, maybe that last part was just me, but you get the idea. Tools. LOTS of tools. ALL tools, everything you might possibly need, right there ready and waiting for you?
Well… where do grownups go to do that? NOWHERE, that’s where!
Unless I’m badly mistaken, it’s just not done. You can’t just lookup a factory, walk in, use the machines and leave. Trust me, I’ve tried it. At best you get looked at funny and asked to leave.
And I’m aware that, if you really need something, there are places that will make it for you. A specific piece for a car that’s no longer produced? No problem, call around, some machine shop somewhere will be equipped and willing to make one for you, for a price of course.
But what about crappy lopsided birdhouses? My mother’s birthday is coming up, and I’d like to recreate the experiences of my youth… what better way to do so than with poorly-made crafts?
Imagine a warehouse. It’s divided into sections, with big wire cages and painted lines and alarms and bars and all kinds of safety gear, and in each section are different types of tools and machine. Saws over here. Drills over there. Lathes down that-a-way. A section for hitting things with hammers. A section for painting and varnishing. And most importantly, a sound-proofed area where you don’t have to listen to all the noise, ideally with a big-screen TV or five and a deep fryer.
No beer tho, that’s just asking for trouble.
And throughout it all, people in some kinda uniform… orange vests or something… who work there, are qualified to use the tools, and are paid specifically to help YOU make whatever the hell it is you wanna make.
I imagine such a place working like this:
You sign up for a general membership, which gives you access to the least-risky areas ONLY. This includes the sound-proof area and a small variety of relatively safe tools… hammers, screwdrivers, that sorta thing.
Then there are classes. You are required to attend instruction and pass testing for each and every sort of tool you might wish to use. This incurs a small fee, to cover the costs of the instruction and instructors, and upgrades your membership for access to the machines covered in the class.
NOBODY is allowed into an area without this upgrade. This keeps most of the public away from the dangerous things, like table saws and robotic laser-cutters.
There’s a locker/storage area in the back, which is part of your membership. It’s not large, but provides enough room for smaller projects (like the pieces of a chair). Larger storage areas can be rented, for an additional fee, for such items as a bookshelf or a car.
So… one day I decide I need a new dinner table, and I really have to make it myself (the building is more than half the fun, after all) and there’s one of these places on my way to work.
I go in, and I get my membership, and I learn the basics of table-making, and decide on what I wanna make. I buy some wood, and a storage locker, and I take the class on using the saws and planes and drills and stuff. Tuesdays I go in and spend an hour or three sanding or drilling or cutting my wood, under the ever-watchful eye of the dudes in the orange vests. A few months later, I have this crappy lopsided wobbly table which I display with pride and about which I prattle endlessly at dinner parties.
Cost-effective? Hell no. Wal-mart sells much better tables for a fraction of what it’d cost me to make my own here. But it’s STILL cheaper this way than actually buying (or even renting) all the tools and machinery I’d need. Plus I have the benefit of professionals at every step, to ensure that I don’t cut my arm off.
BUT… after a while, those who really want it can have access to the entire shop. So anytime you feel like screwing around in a garage, all ya gotta do is go down to this place, swipe a card, rent some goggles and a dust mask, and wander around fiddling with this and doodling with that, just like you would in your own garage… but THIS time, you’re doing it in a big professional-style factory filled with workers who will do anything you tell them to, and a bunch of like-minded guys equally willing to help you out. And there’s TVs in the lounge, if you don’t wanna make anything at all.
Now, I see three problems with this scheme. One, money. It would be incredibly expensive to set up one of these shops, much less several. Secondly, HIring Opal or other workers. It could be difficult to find qualified employees for all these different types of machines, much less qualified employees willing to teach fat middle-aged men who don’t know a crowbar from a screwdriver, and tend to use them interchangably. And finally, insurance. Thank you Legal System. The liability for a place like this would most likely be astronomical. This is the reason for the classes, the restrictions to certain areas, and the omnipresent workforce in orange vests to help you NOT cut your arm off.
Then again, I think… they let TEENAGERS do this, in some cases require it. And there’s only one guy watching, most of the time. Surely professionals could do it better and more safely.
I know, if such a place existed, I would be very interested in becoming a member just to putter around with stuff, and learn new skills.
What’s your opinion?
Oh, and Chicago Reader, if ya like this idea, it’s yers. Just comp me a basic membership please. Anybody else… well… call me first.