Inside TechShop, Your DIY Workshop To Build The Next Big Thing

If you're looking to get away from the computer screen and use your hands to build something tangible, look no further than TechShopWith three locations in the Bay Area and new locations regularly sprouting up around the nation and world, these fully-stocked DIY workshops are an "inventor's paradise" touted for democratizing innovation and reviving local manufacturing.

But that doesn't mean novices itching to get busy building must steer clear. TechShop offers plenty of opportunities for the curious, uninitiated neighbor.

Touring The Shop

For those who haven't stepped inside the Fifth and Howard shop since it opened five years ago, here's the gist: TechShop's three-story, 17,000 square-foot warehouse South of Market offers every piece of equipment one needs to make just about anything from scratch. 

Upon arrival, you'll step into the lobby, where you can peruse and purchase products crafted by local TechShop makers. A few of the products on display include the Oru Kayak, a kayak that folds into a compact package for easy travel and storage; the Lumio, a modern lamp that unfurls from a hardcover book; and a line of sculptural jewelry by Orly Ruaimi, a Mission District designer who won the Lady Gaga International Design Competition in 2012.

Just beyond the lobby is the metal workshop. Here you'll find a variety of machines that cut, carve, bend and weld metal.

The crown jewel here is the high-pressure water jet, capable of cutting six-inches into any matter—steel, marble, glass, etc. Catherine Tran, a "dream consult" at TechShop, says its rare to see such a machine in a public fabrication studio. A common use for it is carving metal signs for shops and cafes.

High-pressure water jet.

In an adjacent room, you'll find a similar space for woodworkers. Here it's common to see people reclaiming slabs of old wood, carving plates and bowls, and carving furniture legs, among other projects, Tran said.

The most popular machine here is the ShopBot, which is used to drill shapes into wood—making it highly popular among Burning Man campers to create intricate temples, Tran said.

The ShopBot.

The second floor is primarily comprised of computer labs for classes, conference rooms and office space, so we'll jump straight to the third floor. This expansive space offers various 3-D printing machines (including one invented at TechShop by Type A Machines), computers stocked with any and all necessary software, laser cutters, screen-printers and sewing machines plus open workspaces, a lounge and a communal kitchen.

Classes, Workshops, Evening Events & More

Experienced or not, Tran said a two- to three-hour orientation to the shop's machinery will have any new member up-and-running. But beginners need not worry. For those in need of more hands-on support, she says there are always two to three "dream consultants"—Jacks and Jills of all trades—available to help members turn ideas they're not quite sure how to build into tangible products. It's also common to see members helping each other out with the machines, she said.

If you're not ready to spring for a membership, TechShop's doors are still open. The space hosts nearly 300 classes a month across a range of skill levels, Tran said, and all are open to the public. Some of the most popular classes for newbies are laser cutting, screen printing, 3D printing and using the ShopBot, Tran said. 

If you're not quite sure which skill you'd like to pick up, TechShop's regular community events are a solid alternative. Monthly gatherings like Date Night and Ladies Night offer anyone age 21 and up the opportunity to try their hand at making something new. For example, during last month's Date Night, the group learned how to sew and personalize underwear with vinyl decorations, Tran said.

Overall, anyone curious at trying their hand should just "jump into it," Tran said. "Everyone starts somewhere," she added, noting that during her time at the shop, they've had a retired grandmother join and take almost every single class offered. "Some of the machines [she's mastered], I've never used myself," Tran said.

TechShop San Francisco is open 8am-2am daily at 926 Howard St. (at Fifth Street). Tours of the facility are provided every half hour. Reservations aren't necessary, but they do ask interested parties are asked to arrive 10-15 minutes before the half-hour so a tour guide can be made available. To stay apprised of future no-skills-necessary public events at TechShop, keep an eye on the Hoodline events calendar and our weekly South of Market event roundups, or join TechShop's Meetup group.

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Inside techshop build the next big thing