North Raleigh News

Raleigh Makerspace gives artists, inventors a place to play

Rebecca and Matt Cooley, co-founders of Raleigh Makerspace, check out a design that will be engraved in wood using a laser cutter. Raleigh Makerspace opened near downtown Raleigh last spring and offers a place for artists to bring ideas to life.
Rebecca and Matt Cooley, co-founders of Raleigh Makerspace, check out a design that will be engraved in wood using a laser cutter. Raleigh Makerspace opened near downtown Raleigh last spring and offers a place for artists to bring ideas to life. sbarr@newsobserver.com

When creativity strikes, some people pull tool kits out of their garages or spread craft supplies across their kitchen tables.

Matt and Rebecca Cooley fire up their laser.

In a warehouse just north of downtown Raleigh, the couple has launched Raleigh Makerspace, where inventors, tinkerers and artists of all kinds can bring their wildest ideas to life with the help of design software and manufacturing equipment.

“We want to start to form a community,” Matt Cooley said. “As an individual, you only have so much space in your garage.”

In one corner of the workshop, a computer station is connected to a laser cutter. The machine looks like a hulking copier, but the laser inside can cut or engrave wood and other materials with incredible precision.

Draw or import an image into a design program, and the laser will render it.

Across the room, a ShopBot also can drill, carve and cut designs from a computer program by using various bits.

“If you can draw it, you can make it,” said Mike Shapiro, a member of Makerspace. “It just really opens up a whole new world of what you can do.”

The members produce jewelry, decorations, electronics and more. They’re part of the larger “maker” movement that celebrates both low- and high-tech do-it-yourself projects, often with a technology component. Some makers find new ways to create traditional handcrafts; others build robots from spare parts.

Matt, 40, and Rebecca, 34, started Makerspace last year, after TechShop, a national chain of similar spaces, closed in Raleigh. Matt is fond of making electronics, such as mini arcade games, while Rebecca designs earrings and other jewelry.

Matt, who works in computer security, had become a loyal TechShop member a few years before, when Rebeccca bought him a Groupon to try it out. He had always been a tinkerer, even rigging an outdoor movie screen at their house. The shop let him go even further.

“I got a lot out of it, and I wanted to offer it,” he said.

The couple began searching for space and asking fellow makers which tools were most essential to their worth that they couldn’t get at home. The laser cutter and the ShopBot topped the list.

Since opening in April, Makerspace has gained 40 members, ranging from beginning hobbyists who put in a few hours here or there to serious designers who use the space to create prototypes for their work.

The Cooleys have built a welcoming space with brightly colored walls, displays of their members’ work and multiple equipment stations in their warehouse bay. They’re eager for ideas about what makers need and want.

Shane Trent, a member, said he likes that Rebecca and Matt are accessible and open.

“This is nice that it’s not some corporate headquarters,” he said. “We get to interact directly.”

The group will kick off its second season, which coincides with the months when hanging out in a warehouse is a little warmer, with a public party on Feb. 27. Makerspace also hosts regular tours and training sessions.

This time around, the Cooleys want to add software design and electronic hardware training to the repertoire of classes they offer.

All members learn how to safely operate the machines and get a basic course in how to use everything. From there they can sign up for memberships that let them visit hourly, monthly or with unlimited keyed access.

The Cooleys say they’re eager to welcome newcomers

“Come play. Come make your art,” Rebecca said.

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