The Columbus Idea Foundry kicks ass

After building my first coffee table, my mom not-so-subtly hinted that she would be interested in one as a birthday gift.  I reluctantly shot the idea down for two reasons: 1) I couldn't have made the first one without the help of my incredibly talented jack-of-all-trades friend and neighbor Joe, and 2) I couldn't have made one without access to a workshop and tools that Joe had graciously lent.  My mom understood, but I was bummed because I'd enjoyed being able to work with my hands, but knew that I couldn't keep asking Joe to lend me his tools and work space.

After giving it more thought, I remembered that not too long ago I'd taken a tour of the Columbus Idea Foundry (CIF).  I knew that at the time I had thought it seemed like a cool space, what with all the 3D printers, laser cutters, and other high tech tools, but I hadn't envisioned that it would be of much use to me.  CIF is Columbus's 65,000 square foot makerspace, which I'm told is the largest on the planet.  What's a makerspace, you ask?  In a nutshell:

Makerspaces are community centers with tools. Makerspaces combine manufacturing equipment, community, and education for the purposes of enabling community members to design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the resources available to individuals working alone. These spaces can take the form of loosely-organized individuals sharing space and tools, for-profit companies, non-profit corporations, organizations affiliated with or hosted within schools, universities or libraries, and more. All are united in the purpose of providing access to equipment, community, and education, and all are unique in exactly how they are arranged to fit the purposes of the community they serve.

Now getting back to my story, I realized that CIF was actually an excellent solution to my dual problems of lack of experience and lack of space/equipment.  For a small monthly fee, I could become a member and make use of the tools and workshops 24/7.  I could also take classes on anything that interested me.  So that's exactly what I did.

My first goal was (and currently is) to build another coffee table, similar to the one I made with Joe.  To do so, I was going to need to use the tools in the CIF woodshop, and I also needed to learn to weld (for assembling the table's legs).  CIF wisely won't let you use any tools that you haven't been trained on.  They also won't let you become a member unless you first attend a couple classes (I assume to make sure that you're not a jackass).  Luckily, the classes aren't boring lecture-style classroom drudgery.  Instead, they're hands-on, and often involve the chance to take home a completed project of some kind.

The first class I took was taught by Todd Sweigart (you can check out some of his amazing carpentry projects here), and it entailed making a handle and base for an Alaskan ulu knife blank (provided for you).  Unfortunately, I didn't think to take pictures of the whole process, so all I have to share is the finished product:

I love how it turned out.  The two-tone wood base is gorgeous in its simplicity, and the blade itself looks pretty killer.  I still need to sharpen it though, which isn't an easy feat for a curved blade like that...

After another woodshop orientation class, I had met the two class requirement for applying for membership.  I quickly submitted my application, and a week later I was all set to start using the woodshop.  I wasted no time getting started assembling another coffee table, and I found the convenience of using a professional grade woodshop to be a tremendous productivity booster.  I worked quickly enough to be able to present my mom with a (unstained, unsealed, leg-less) coffee table just in time for her birthday.

Next up, I needed to learn how to weld in order to fabricate some steel legs for the table.  CIF to the rescue once more with a class on MIG welding taught by the infinitely patient Gavin Bruce of Gavin Bruce Creative.  At the end of this class, I was able to walk away with a fully functional decorative water fountain.  Once again, I didn't think to capture photos of the process (I was too busy trying not to lose a finger in a welding accident), but here was the end result:

So, to wrap things up, I've been super impressed with CIF and the tremendous resources (both people and tools) that are available to anyone who wants to join.  I also really appreciate the DIY ethos that permeates the maker community, and the egalitarian nature of making tools available to people who would otherwise have no way to acquire/use them.  I'll keep posting as I complete other projects!