“You can tell a lot about the quality of your weld by the sound it makes. It should sound like bacon sizzling in the pan,” says Corey Fleischer, as he expounds upon the fundamentals of melting two pieces of metal together for his Welding 101 students.
Fleischer is teaching the class of about 10 at the Baltimore Foundery (the “e” is intentional), a new 2,000-square-foot makerspace at 207 S. Central Ave. in the Harbor East area.
A makerspace is simply a community space where people make things. The Baltimore Foundery, in particular, provides Baltimore’s handy and do-it-yourself types with low-cost access to industrial-grade tools, classes on how to use them, and camaraderie.
Fleischer, an engineer at Lockheed Martin, along with fellow engineers Andrew Stroup and Jason Hardebeck, founded the Baltimore Foundery, a few months ago.
“Every generation has its motorheads or gearheads. A makerspace is what hipsters call a workshop,” says Hardebeck, who is also executive director of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council.
“What makes a makerspace different is it’s a community workshop,” he notes.
Fleischer and Stroup met as contestants on a Discovery Channel show called “The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius,” where technical innovators solve engineering challenges, and became friends. They shared a love of working with their hands, which, counter-intuitively, Fleischer says is not typical for engineers.
“Engineers who like to roll up their sleeves and get dirty are actually a rare breed,” he asserts.
After seeing an impressive makerspace in Boston, the two wanted to create a similar space in Baltimore city. “Rowhouses are small, and not everybody has the room for a workspace,” says Stroup, who lives in Canton.
The two did some marketing research and determined that a location between Fells Point and Harbor East would be ideal. When they met Hardebeck, a former nuclear engineer in the Navy, they found a kindred spirit.
Hardebeck, who grew up on a farm, says this generation is high-tech, but technology for them tends to mean computers and software.
“It’s important for people who live in a high- tech world to have hands-on tech skills, too. When I was a kid, I took things apart and wanted to put them back together. Today’s kids don’t have toys and games with screws on the back—you can’t take them apart. You ever try to take apart an iPhone?”, he asks.
The Foundery, he says, can help people, younger and older, develop that hands-on technical expertise.
But there’s more to the Foundery than hands-on skill building, Hardebeck says.
“It’s about community, too. You learn faster in the company of others.”
Hardebeck distinguishes a DIY environment from a makerspace.
“DIY tends to be more solo. Maker is more collaborative,” he says, adding that in a high-tech world a collaborative, real-world space is especially important.
“Technology has democratized knowledge—you can learn how to build almost anything on YouTube or online forums—but you can’t learn in isolation. You need a place to try out stuff: a physical place and other people to bounce ideas off of,” he adds.
Stroup notes that the Foundery is attracting people with different skill sets in art, technology, and computing. The projects they are working on run the gamut from the practical to the whimsical.
“One guy is making a custom-designed item he needs for work. It was cheap for him to make here, but expensive for him to buy. Another guy is making a table-top trebuchet, “ Stroup says.
Hardebeck adds that about one-third of class attendees at the Foundery so far are women.
The Baltimore Foundery, like most makerspaces, is a nonprofit. Its model incorporates classes (Welding 102 and a microcontroller class are in the works) and a membership structure.
Membership begins at $30 per month for tool access and rises to $100 a month for tool access and full workbench space. An all-day pass costs $5, and classes start at about $65 for a three-hour welding course.
“Makerspaces tend not to be profit-making endeavors, but they can be sustainable and grow. That’s our goal,” says Stroup.
In fact, the plan is for the Foundery to eventually outgrow 207 S. Central’s space and move in to the much larger 27,000 square-foot-space next door at 201 S. Central, which Hardebeck also owns.
“More Foundery classes are in the development stage,” Stroup says. “We’re trying to tell the Baltimore community, ‘Hey, you can do these things. You can make things.’”
“Once people get started making stuff, they always want to learn more.”
You can learn more about the Baltimore Foundery, its tools, classes, project nights, forums, and future plans at: http://bmorefoundery.com/; or @BmoreFoundery on Twitter.
by Danielle Sweeney