It’s been quite a change, moving from the malleable and forgiving materials of SewShop to the hard-bodied solidity of wood, and making the adjustment from electrical-powered sewing machines to a cadre of hand-powered tools.
Already with WoodShop I am discovering a completely different kind of reaction to the tools and materials we’re using. Hammers and nails are nearly ubiquitous, and most visitors are aware that wood is shaped and altered before it becomes a final product (somehow many people seemed to think all T-shirts sprang into existence through magic). Perhaps due to the very tactile nature of the tools we have in the space, there seems to be a sort of intuition, too, about how to physically manipulate the wood.
Because all of our tools are hand-held it has become apparent, somewhat counter-intuitively, that visitors on the whole require less-intense individual attention than they did during SewShop. Because the actions used to alter the materials are slower and the process needs to be more meticulous if pieces are going to fit together properly, visitors take more time on each step, and each step requires a series of repetitive actions. Once a visitor is shown how to position and use one of the small hand drills to make pilot holes, for example, they are relatively self-sufficient until they finish their task, which may take several minutes.
We found that during SewShop visitors were forced to bottleneck at the sewing machines, waiting for an available facilitator to assist them. With the WoodShop, guidance is needed to figure out the process and individual steps, but not oversee every moment. The number of tools available – eight drilling/coping saw stations and two miter saw stations, plus a table for organizing, screwing and staple gun use – also increase the amount of productivity possible by allowing more visitors to work at one time.
This has both pros and cons: more people can be actively engaged in the shop simultaneously, but the facilitator’s job becomes exponentially more difficult, trying to keep an eye on all of the participants as well as answer questions, get tools and offer guidance.
One method we’ve been experimenting with to handle this problem has to do with simple ways of limiting numbers. Each and every person in the shop area is required to wear safety goggles, regardless of age or use of the tools. There’s no such thing as “just watching” — if you’re in the shop, you wear the glasses. This not only serves as a gatekeeping action to keep the disinterested out (the very young will refuse to wear them and the less-inclined won’t care enough to keep them on) but also provides us with a way to limit the quantity of visitors in the space at any one time. Fewer pairs of glasses means fewer possible bodies in the shop, and more breathing room for the facilitators.
This past Thursday we tried another experiment, inspired by something said by game designer Jesse Schell. Before allowing visitors to enter the shop we required them to not only grab their goggles, but also a piece of paper and a pencil. In order to begin work, they were asked to sketch out a design. It could be simple, complex, a recreation of an example project in the space or something all their own.
Instead of Wednesday’s barrage of nearly-identical wooden cars, asking the visitors to also be designers meant that we had a whole range of inspired adaptions, including a jeep, an ambulance, a limo, a “car for a King”, a semi-truck and, apparently, a tank or two. This is in addition to more unusual creations, like a wooden camera (we added an LED, so that it would have a “flash”), a bicycle, a wooden peace-sign, a grasshopper and a number of distinct variations on birdhouses.
We discovered that the average level of involvement and engagement seemed much higher with this system, in relation to the day before. Our assumption is that coming in with a plan made the visitors more personally invested in seeing their projects through to completion, and more likely to want to reach a particular goal rather than deciding that it was “good enough” and stopping part-way through.
Having the visitors come armed with a plan was also a boon for the facilitators. It made communicating expectations much easier, and allowed everybody to have the same reference point when discussing options for the materials and process. It also allowed the facilitators to more easily talk through and point out multiple steps at the beginning of a project, indicating how all the parts will eventually come together for a final product. One of my favorite phrases became, “Let’s look at your drawing and see!”
We’re still making daily discoveries about what works best in our location, with our audience and for our facilitators. Just as we’re walking our visitors through the process of designing for and working with new tools, we, too, are are learning quite a bit about how to put together a youth-focused, family-friendly, maker-inspired space. If you’ve been in to visit and have any feedback on the matter, or any thoughts or experiences about similar endeavors, we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or drop us an e-mail!