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TechShop: Paradise for Tinkerers

TechShop has turned the mania for tinkering into a growing franchise
TechShop: Paradise for Tinkerers
Photographs by Brian Sorg for Bloomberg Businessweek; Wood: Getty Images(3)

On March 5, 2010, Patrick Buckley was overcome with the desire to build something. Apple had just announced the iPad, and he had an idea: a retro case for the tablet that had the look and feel of a hard-bound book. “In my mind, I needed to have a product and a website ready to go for that launch day,” he says. Buckley, 31, is a serial entrepreneur. He has built add-ons for Web browsers and co-wrote The Hungry Scientist Handbook, which is something like a cookbook for geeks. He’s done a Facebook app focused on high school sports, an early photo-sharing service, and “a mobile analytics platform.” Making an iPad case wasn’t like building a Web app, though. He needed tools. So he did what a lot of Silicon Valley geeks do: He went to a TechShop.

The TechShop chain is a paradise for people who like to make things. The average facility runs about 17,000 square feet and has all manner of apparatus, from Industrial Age staples such as sewing machines, metal lathes, and mills to $200,000 computer-controlled contraptions that can cut precise patterns out of slabs of metal. For about $100 a month, you can become a TechShop member and use all this equipment. For a few bucks more, you can attend classes that vary from Welding 101 to drawing 3D models on a computer.