First question: Where are you? It matters. You’ll have much better
luck in a large, artsy sort of town than you will in a village in
That said, I have various opinions on the subject. I’m probably at
least as heavily tooled as you are. Several lathes, ranging from
watchmaker’s size up to a 22x40 gap bed, bridgeport, etc.
When I moved up to the bay area a few years back, I was introduced
to maker spaces, specifically the TechShop, by a friend of mine. I
ended up teaching for them for a year. It is a symptom of some of
the organizational acumen of these sorts of places that an MFA
metalsmith with 15+ years teaching experience ended up teaching
woodshop safety. Go figure. (On the other hand, teaching woodshop
101 to a class of deaf Egyptian exchange students was one of the
high points of my teaching career. Great fun, and one hell of a
challenge.) I haven’t figured out exactly what I’m about to say, but
first let me say that I stayed around TS for as long as I did
because I genuinely enjoyed the people. Maker spaces are a great way
to find all sorts of smart, interesting folk. I walked in there the
first time and said “I’ve found my tribe!”.
Looking at it from the standpoint of someone trying to keep the gear
both (A) running and (B) running safely, it was a real challenge.
For every wonderful craftsperson, there was at least one 'special’
individual. They tended to be the PhD engineers. “I’m an engineer! I
know how this works!..” even if they didn’t really.
(That could be an artifact of being in deepest Silicon Valley, but
the type is universal.)
Most of the big tools tended to get crashed on a regular basis. I
know the bridgeports were regularly coming out of tram, and the
lathes got whacked a fair bit. In point of fact, I sold off a 10x40
class lathe before christmas to a TS refugee who was looking for a
lathe of his own just so he knew it hadn’t been crashed recently.
If you’ve got big tools, you’ve probably got a lot more money tied
up in tooling than you think. What would you do if somebody milled a
groove into your BP’s table, or drilled through the vise? All of the
mills at TS when I was there had at least that much damage on
them. It isn’t a matter of malice, but crap happens, especially with
beginners. What would you do if you went to use your favorite and it
Equally, what would you do if somebody got hurt? That was the
ultimate reason I stopped teaching for TS: they kept dragging their
heels on finding some way to indemnify the instructors. We were all
’independent contractors’. I could just see somebody getting hurt in
the woodshop, suing TS, and having them sidestep and say “it wasn’t
us, go after the contractor”. In fact, that seemed to be
specifically what they were setting up for. So I stopped teaching,
and had my name removed from the instructional materials I’d written
That isn’t to say that I think that TS are evil, quite the contrary,
I really enjoyed the members, and the vibe. Had a great time. I just
didn’t think the risks were worth the rewards.
If you’re going to let other people play with your toys, you need to
think very hard about which toys, and what games will be played, as
well as who gets invited to the party. We’d all like to believe that
everyone will respect your tools just as much as you do, but that
isn’t always the case. Even with all the best will and respect in
the world, not everyone is as good with your gear as you are, which
means that accidents will happen. Think hard about how you’ll deal
with that, both in terms of broken gear, and broken people.
I wish I had a more cheerful answer. In many instances, it depends
on the nature of the community of makers you find, or build. Build
the right group, and most of these problems won’t ever happen. But
don’t bet the farm (or your shop) on it.
Best of luck,