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VOL. 41 | NO. 12 | Friday, March 24, 2017

Knox Makers leaving mark

Community workshop unleashes creativity

By Mike Blackerby

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“Makers” often start honing their crafts early – even before they realize they have special gifts. It all started for Don Sell in 1968 when, as a sixth grader, he helped his father build the family home in Warren, Ohio.

“It instilled a sense of creativity in me that has served me well,” says Sell, one of 99 people who are members of Knox Makers.

A 501c3 nonprofit, Knox Makers, is a gathering place and think tank for the area’s engineers, artists, hobbyists, innovators, educators and entrepreneurs.

Its roots run back to the 1990s Do-It-Yourself movement and the advent of the DIY Network.

“What we want this place to be is a place that unlocks your creativity,” says Doug Laney, Knox Makers president.

Knox Makers member Don Sell, who is a wood worker and glass worker. He holds a miniature hutch he made that will go into his granddaughter’s doll house.

-- Adam Taylor Gash | The Ledger

“You can come here, see cool stuff and get inspired. This is like a YouTube where you can ask questions. If you have an idea, you can make it a reality without ever having to leave the building.”

Part of a loosely knit, but growing, national and international movement, the Knox Makers have been in their current location at 116 Childress Street in a South Knoxville warehouse for almost a year.

The Knox Makers are housed in a 7,000-square-foot workshop that is chock full of tools ranging from the simple to the ultra-sophisticated.

Projects, both bizarre and commonplace, are scattered throughout every nook and cranny of the makerspace.

It’s a strange melding of technology, art and electronics where members bring their expertise to both individual and collaborative projects.

For Sell, 61, his specialties are wood and glass working.

The “Makers” movement started to take off  in 2005 with the launch of Make, a San Francisco-based magazine. Knox Makers started in 2010 in response to a Craigslist ad.

-- Adam Taylor Gash | The Ledger

One of his favorite things to do is build intricate dollhouse furniture for his grandchildren.

Sells points out it’s about much more than the end product.

“It’s the fellowship of it and the free flowing of ideas,” he says, his voice almost drowned out by the high-pitched buzz of a table saw in the background.

“If you’ve got a question here, you don’t have to go far to find an answer.”

After all, Knox Makers is all about sharing information and teaching.

They usually host a talk or workshop at 6 p.m. every Tuesday that is free and open to the public. A small fee is also charged for monthly workshops.

Cool stuff abounds

Knox Makers president Doug Laney discusses the future of the company with fellow members of Knox Makers.  “Access to technology is what we’re all about,” he explains.

-- Adam Taylor Gash | The Ledger

While it’s a community workshop space, specialists make the Knox Makers go.

The metal-working area features a welding spot and a plasma cutter.

“Any type of metal work you want to do, we can do,” Laney explains.

There are also areas for wood-working, leather-working and arts and crafts.

There are laser-cutters, a 3D printer and a silhouette portrait machine capable of producing life-like 3D figurines taken from body scans of people.

The figurines come in different sizes and are made of different materials. They start in price at $30.

“Access to technology is what we’re all about,” Laney says.

“By combining skills and working together, they can make things that they wouldn’t be able to make alone.”

From humble beginnings

Laney says the Makers movement started as an outgrowth of the DIY movement more than 20 years ago.

“It started when people had access to the internet and started sharing information,” he notes.

“In addition to sharing, people realized they could collaborate and network.”

Laney adds the Makers movement really took root in the mid-2000s when Dale Daugherty began publishing Make magazine.

Knox Makers got its start in 2010 when eight people answered a Craigslist ad.

Those first meetings were at homes of members.

“It came at a high social cost,” says Laney with a laugh.

“You’re talking about a bunch of social introverts talking about meeting at someone’s house.”

Knox Makers went through three more meeting places before settling in South Knoxville 10 months ago.

Since the latest move, membership has boomed.

“When we moved here we only had 25 or so members,” Laney recalls.

“Now we’ve got 99. Our oldest member is 83 or 84, and our youngest members are college age. We’ve got folks from tradesmen, like welders, to PhD researchers at the national lab in Oak Ridge. Our diversity is our strength.”

Makers open house

The Knox Makers will hold a grand opening from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 1 at their new makerspace.

It promises to be a grand opening celebration like no other as Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero cuts a metal ribbon to kick off the ceremony.

“What we’re trying to do is let people know that our workshop is here,” Laney says.

The event is open to the public and will include tours of the new workshop spaces and displays of projects made by Knox Makers.

“The collaboration brings a real sense of community to the space,” Laney adds. “Being a part of that community is the best thing about Knox Makers.”

Knox Makers will be signing up new members and selling t-shirts during the opening.

Issac Merkle, who is on the Makers board of directors, says the goal is to keep membership prices as low as possible.

“For $50 a month we give you the keys and the codes and you can come in and use everything as much as you want,” he says.

Monthly membership fees are just $20 for students and senior citizens.

He expects a big spike in membership following the open house on April 1.

“We’ve almost been intimidated by the response since we’ve moved to Knoxville. Membership could take off like crazy.”

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Mike Blackerby is a freelance writer living in East Tennessee

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