Truckee makerspace inspires creativity, learning


Photos: Clayton Coates

Roundhouse patron Dave Richardson uses a router to shape a cutting board.

The excitement radiating from the patrons gave the large cool airplane hangar a warm, lively atmosphere. A gentleman in the corner operated a lathe with precision as two other members removed what appeared to be a cutting board from the computer numerical control (CNC) machine and moved to a router where they rounded the edges of the cutting board. The thick smell of fresh cut wood filled the air, like an old sawmill. Here, members can test the limits of their own creativity.

The Truckee Roundhouse (TRH) is located at the Truckee Airport. It is a non-profit “makerspace” that supports the teaching, learning, and practice of a variety of crafts, skills, technologies, and arts in the Truckee-Tahoe community.

It comprises five workshops: wood, metal, ceramics, textiles, and technology. Each workshop has tools and facilities for members to design, make, create and build. Tools and facilities include a lathe, commercial and specialized sewing machines, three-dimensional printers, an electrical engineering station, and an array of computers to build illustrator or computer assisted design files for the CNC-driven equipment. The TRH will be expanding its workspace 1,200 square feet, adding new entrance within the airport hangar. The space will include a new classroom and house the textile and technology shops, which will open more space in the main room for the other disciplines.

Truckee resident Grant Kaye is a founding member of the TRH board of directors. He has a background in sciences, where he was formerly a geologist, cartographer, and hazards scientist for the USGS and the New Zealand equivalent, the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences. Kaye approached Sierra Nevada College about creating an online course for its environmental science department titled “Introduction to Modern Climate Change,” ENVS 200/205.

“I participated in an invention/makerspace contest called Red Bull Creation, which took place in Brooklyn, New York,” Kaye said. “It was a contest between teams of fabricators and makers from makerspaces to create a unique item, video it, and submit it to a contest, the winners of which were chosen to go to NYC in July 2011 to compete in a 72-hour ‘build-off’ that was filmed for a TV pilot.”

Accompanied by friends in Truckee, Kaye and the team built a grandfather clock out of steel that shot flames out its top from a remote control. After being chosen to participate in the final “build-off,” their team created an electric bike that towed a trailer salvaged from a clothes dryer which had a wireless remote that enabled it to make margaritas. The rolling margarita machine was defeated by an 1800s-style large-front-wheeled bicycle towing a trailer that printed text messages sent to itself on the pavement behind it with spray-paint. During the competition, the small group from Truckee met members of other makerspaces around the U.S., and decided to bring the idea to the mountain town.

Volunteer Nathaniel Mayer has been with TRH for 18 months. Mayer compared the roundhouse to a gym; once membership is purchased, you as the patron gets to use the tools.

“Welding, woodworking, and ceramics classes are the most popular classes offered on a regular basis, but TRH also offers expert hours,” Mayer said. “If people want to get trained on more specialized equipment, you can reserve an expert for a number of hours to teach you something specific; and usually its project based.”

In the event a patron wished to make a set of shelves to hang in their garage, then the expert would assess what tools and materials would be needed and teach the patron how to properly create their project.

Photo: Clayton Coates
Clamps secure project as the glue dries

“People come in all the time to work on project X and meet someone else working on project Y in a different shop or with a different set of tools and they cross-pollinate and not only become friends but share knowledge and end up making something totally new,” Kaye said.

Dave Richardson and Tod Zaayer have three years experience as patrons. They came for the tools and stayed for the people. After befriending each other while working on a separate projects, the two decided to create a cutting board together to learn the intricacies of the CNC machine. However, this project is simple in comparison to some of their earlier creations, such as building a steam box to bend wood for guitars or chairs.

“When I first came here it was to build an apparatus that would age bourbon faster using a stainless-steel cone and oak plugs instead of a barrel,” Richardson said. “Now I can replace the plug instead of the whole barrel because the stainless-steel cone remains.

Now Richardson can create a decent bourbon after about 90 days, as opposed to seven years. Zaayer, however, first came to TRH with the intent to learn a new trade.

“I just wanted to learn to weld so I’ve just been practicing welding for hours and hours, without a particular project most of the time,” Zaayer said. “This winter I did a few coat and shoe racks which spawned a few requests from friends and neighbors.”

Thirty-six-year-old Kings Beach resident Kim Vail has been a volunteer with the TRH for almost a year. She came to TRH in search of a unique community space for people to create and share knowledge.

“It’s an awesome place to come and find out your creative side, even if you think you don’t have one, you probably can find something that interests you that you’re good at,” Vail said.  “You might not even be aware. It’s important in everyone’s life to have some sort of creative outlet and this is a great place to have it.”