A gymnasium for makers


By Melissa Cowan

Outside of Hammerspace, two sideby- side buttons read “Doorbell” and “Auto Destruct.”

We take our chances, push the left, and “I” alerts the staff of our arrival.

I doesn’t draw a paycheck at Hammerspace, she’s not an employee, a member or even human. She’s an Interactive Realtime Intelligence System that welcomes guests over the loudspeaker and warns them of the eminent robot revolution, led by her and the many other smart machines and technologies that fill this community workshop on East 63rd St. in Kansas City, Mo.

Dave Dalton, the proprietor of Hammerspace and lifelong maker, greets us wearing a white lab coat — like Dr. Frankenstein, preparing to build another monster — but only to protect his Rick and Morty T-shirt from lacquer.

Though we arrive at 11 a.m. sharp, when the space opens to nonmembers, there are already works in progress: an intricately cut metal design, rows of wooden plaques for an award ceremony that evening and a partially finished 3-D printed prosthetic hand, being made for a boy who was born without his.

“Makerspaces give every individual a level playing field for pursuing their ideas,” Dave said, no matter how complex or silly a project — like the Push Button, Receive Bacon machine, constructed from a porcelain hand dryer.

Opened in 2011 with wife Beck — a maker in her own right — Dave describes Hammerspace as a gymnasium for makers, crafters and inventors. Call it a collection of keen minds with access to various manual and digital equipment, all for a monthly or yearly fee and materials for additional low fees. “There’s no such thing as too many tools for a creative person,” Dave said.

Any project you can imagine — from paint, paper and textiles; to costume construction, special effects makeup and prosthetics; to flying drones, submersible robots and even biomedical research — you can create and explore here. They also offer classes and one-on-one mentorships.

“We used to pass on skills from person to person,” Dave said. “[But] at some point, the way we do craft changed. Instead of having guilds and collections of knowledge, it became you go and get a degree from a university and your employer expects you to already know everything about the thing you do.”

Dave established Hammerspace to bridge this knowledge and skill-sharing gap — he has experienced firsthand the importance and impact of real-world learning and practice. At 17, Dave became a blacksmith apprentice after his future master smith complimented a piece of jewelry he made in his high school shop class.

But his passion to create started much earlier in life as he watched his aeronautical engineer grandfather build a steam engine for a Ford Pinto.

“I got the idea from a young age that when you want something, you just make it,” Dave said, and he is not alone in his ideology. Technological advancements have revived this belief and sparked the maker movement.

High-quality desktop 3-D printers, computercontrolled routers, and other costly equipment and software that were once only attainable by large corporations have dropped significantly in price. Now, small organizations like Hammerspace can afford cutting-edge tools — and share them with all types of creative individuals.

“The future of innovation relies on communal spaces like this, where you get a lot of unexpected overlap between disciplines that create these unique, new combinations no one would set out to create, but through just serendipity the right components are all in the same place,” Dave said.

The bigwigs in Washington agree: The White House invited Dave and 200 of his peers to the Office of Science and Technology Policy to discuss federal policy regarding makerspaces and how the government can help the maker movement — which has grown organically from the ground up — become more like the public library system, which has been supported from the top down.

“They really get what we’re trying to do here,” Dave said, “and they’ve done some research that shows that the benefits of makerspaces are transformative.”

As for his makerspace, Dave’s vision is to maintain sustainability. Similar spaces have had a mixed track record of survival — mostly because they’re volunteer based and not well-funded or well-understood by local governments and communities. He hopes to change misconceptions and show people there are no boundaries to when or how they can get the artistic bug.

“[Because] without creativity, we’re just a bunch of boring drones.”

For more information on Hammerspace, go to www.hammerspacehobby.com or call 913- 686-6562.