State of the expansion: 7/18/2018

So as you may be aware, we recently acquired another 3000 or so square feet of space off the wood shop. A number of members have been going like gangbusters last few weeks getting the new space ready for the metal shop, and the former metal shop ready for member storage to take over. I thought putting up some pics would be a good idea for folks who haven’t been around in the last month or so.

Oh, and did I mention we also replaced the air conditioner in the classroom? Because we did, and it’s now cool and comfy again.

Anyway, the pics:

Here’s the welding corner of the new metal shop. Obviously things are still getting set up, but we’ll have 3 welding booths back here. The welding curtains arrived late last week, just need to finish up hanging the curtain tracks.

The blacksmithing corner is mostly set up, and is very nice. There’s actually room to move around the anvils now!

Here’s the former metal shop, getting masked up for some painting. It’s been a long time since this corner of the shop looked so empty — ah, the memories…

So as you can see, things are moving along nicely. Here’s a few upcoming dates you should be aware of:

  • This weekend (7/21-22): Painting the new storage area. We’ll need hands to work with sprayers, rollers, and brushes.
  • Saturday, August 4: Quarterly Cleanup and Member Storage move. Member storage is planned to move on this date, so all of your stuff needs to temporarily go home so we can move all the shelving. See the previous post for details!
  • Saturday, August 11: Painting in the wood shop expansion zone (old member storage).

Huge, huge, mega-mart-sized thanks to everyone who’s been working to get the expansion done. It’s looking great, folks!

6 year motorcycle project at TCMaker – completion report

Some projects take longer than others.  And some seem like they will never end.  But if you stick with them and do a step at a time, you eventually get there.  This is the story of a project that literally grew up along with the Hack Factory, utilizing almost every tool in the shop at some point, and growing in complexity and ambition as the shop added (or I learned to use) new tools.  Welding jigs and test-fit parts were made in the wood shop, the welding shop was like my second home, and eventually I got comfortable with making some functional and even decorative items in the machine shop.  I even found use for the laser cutter in quickly cutting thin flat parts from wood to see how they would fit and act as a template for cutting the part from steel plate.

If you like motorcycles and you like ‘making’, building your own custom motorcycle is a strong temptation.  I succumbed to that temptation in 2011 after traveling a long winding road that touched on welding (as a sculptor), mechanics (as a bicycle repair tech), and long term interest in the tech behind some unusual motorcycles from the ’70s and ’80s.  Shortly before I joined TCMaker, I picked up this rough specimen for $100 (and with a free drill press thrown into the deal).

motorcycle in pickup bed after purchase

My initial plan was just to re-shape the rear end so that a new seat and tail unit could be mounted.  I wanted something that flowed better with the new tank, and was higher (I’m tall, with long legs, so most street bikes feel to short to me).  The Hack Factory was a much better option for doing this than my dilapidated, unpowered, unheated garage, but the shop manager understandably didn’t want a whole motorcycle taking up (at the time even more limited) storage space, or acting as a fuel & oil filled safety hazard.  To that end, I stripped the bike to just its frame, which was much easier to transport, store, and move.  This also opened up the potential for new modifications, as I could easily position the frame on a welding table and access any part for cutting or welding.  With every part of the bike removed, there was no reason not to change where they would be located when the bike was re-assembled, and in most cases I did!

All the body work was replaced and the battery relocated to under the gas tank.  The rear suspension was converted to a mono-shock, which also required removing the stock air box (replaced with a custom unit made of fiberglass and aluminum).  However, the largest change is that the entire front end is replaced with an adjustable, experimental design.  This setup is used on new BMW K series motorcycles, a few boutique models, and some race bikes.  I’d long dreamed of trying to build such a setup, but it never seemed realistic before (or even after) joining TCMaker.  With some research, patience, and the resources at the Hack Factory, it became a reality!  There were many mistakes along the way, but one of the things TCMaker is great at is letting you try things that might not work, and learn from your mistakes.

To cut a long story short, after about 200 days spread over 6 years in the shop of making parts, here is what I have.  As soon as it was running right, I took it right on the highway, complete with a video of the suspension in action!  There were a few bugs, but after dialing in the shock setting I find it rides amazingly well, as well as any motorcycle I have owned and better than some.  If it looks like something out of Mad Max, that’s fully intentional – I decided early on that my fabrication skills were not up to making something pretty, so I might as well not try and instead emphasize the experimental, improvised nature of the construction.  About half way through the project, I also found out about a Mad Max fan convention that takes place in the desert of California, and found a community of like minded vehicle builders, so ended up designing with that event in mind.  This cemented the name of the bike in my mind – a post-apocalyptic Yamaha SECA, the SECApocalypse.

By using many individual parts bolted together, I was able to avoid having to rebuild any large pieces when I made a design or fabrication mistake.  There are a few tricky parts I made three times before I got a design that worked correctly through the whole range of vertical and steering motion, and many that I made two versions of.  Eventually I got smart and would make the first version from wood to test the fit and movement.

A very important part of this project was safety testing.  After talking with some vehicle engineers on an email list dedicated to experimental & racing motorcycle construction, I figured out that each axle needed to be able to take a load of as much as 1000 lbs (vertically).  For a margin of safety (since I would not be testing fatigue cycles) I wanted to test with 2000 lbs of force.  Its not easy to apply such a large, controlled force, but by building a heavy metal frame and using a crane scale and turnbuckle, I found a way.  A similar test was performed to ensure that pushing backwards on the front axle (and also on the brake tabs) with any force the front brakes could conceivably apply would not result in a disaster.  It was nerve wracking performing these tests knowing that a failure might mean months of rebuilding, but the confidence it gave me to take this bike on the road was well worth it.

I’d like to give special thanks to Steven Anderson (who has long served as our machine shop manager) for valuable input, education, and assistance as well as some mission critical tool repairs and upgrades, and for a lot of general interest info, safety tips, best practices, etc.  Clara Schiller (co-manager of the metal shop) helped with some challenging welds and keeping the welding machines and other metal shop tools consistently stocked.  Every time I went to cut a piece of metal or laid down a bead, the work these two did was making my work possible.  I’d also like to thank them both as well as the entire managing crew and board at TCMaker for constantly upgrading the metal working and over all work environment at the Hack Factory.  Without the classes and tools there, not to mention the space to work on and keep it in, this project would never even have started.  As I researched hacker spaces in general, I was surprised to learn that pace to store a project of this size (and several boxes of related tools) for 6 years is something most maker spaces either can not or will not do!  Apparently I was in the right city, at the right time.
Thanks also goes to Philip Williams, a member who loaned the shop some wicked machine tools just when I needed them, helped me to make a few of my more complicated, high precision pieces, and helped me figure out what I was doing wrong with some of my first cuts.

If you like to dig through a huge a random jumble of words and pictures, there is a compilation of all my forum posts related to this project in a thread on 

CNC Sunday space ship cutting

If you are interested in CNC routers, and making complex shapes come join us on Sunday afternoons from 2:00 – 4:00 where we discuss and do all things CNC. For the last two weeks I’ve been working on cutting out a model to put in the lobby display case, so I have an answer to the question, “what can you do with it”.

What would you like to do with a CNC? Come talk with us next Sunday. Subscribe to the TC Maker google group for updates on meeting times, and themes for the day.



Project updates, macro and micro

Time for a couple of updates:

The lobby is closed for now

The floor in the lobby was painted and sealed on Friday. The sealer will need at least the weekend to cure, and possibly longer than that. So, until further notice, the front door is locked and the lobby is off limits. Don’t even think about trying to go in there! You can get into the shop through the yellow metal shop door, or the dock door if it’s open.

To stave off your curiosity, here are a couple of teaser pics (taken before the floor was painted):

Scanning Electron Awesomescope!

This morning I met up with the SEM’s former caretaker, and he fixed a couple of mistakes we made while setting it up. Then he showed me how it works. So we now have a functioning scanning electron microscope!

That said, please don’t try to run the SEM without first being shown how it works. It’s a complex scientific instrument, easy to break if you don’t know what you’re doing. We’ll will be working out the training details, and there may be a SEM party somewhere in the near future.

Here are a few photos for you to drool over in the meantime:

Shapeoko: It’s alive!

Thanks to the folks who helped put our Shapeoko CNC together. Last Saturday evening, Mark and Pete helped me assemble the hardware. Then on Wednesday, Bill put the belts on, and Jim and Adam ran the wiring and hooked up the electronics. We ran the “Hello World” test with a pencil jury-rigged in place of the rotary tool. Success!

Now it’s time to dial it in and start getting some experience on it. CNC people, let me know if you want to play with it. Not a CNC person? Hang tight while the Shapeoko gets calibrated, then we’ll start turning other loose on it.

Seward Winter Art Frolic

CNC-cut chair by Pete.

ATTENTION EVERYONE: The Hack Factory will be a stop on the Seward Winter Frolic Art CrawlWe want YOU to come display your cool projects, teach people skills as you work on a project, etc.

The Winter Art Crawl is THIS WEEKEND, December 7 & 8 (Sat, 10am-5pm and Sun, 12-5pm).  We advertised our stop in City Pages so we can expect a good turnout.  This is an important opportunity for us to show off the space and to promote Twin Cities Maker.

To learn more about the Art Crawl, go to  To participate in or volunteer for the event email Susan at



Make Magazine and Ford Motor Company’s Ultimate Maker Vehicle Challenge

Ask not what TC Maker can do for you, but what you can do for TC Maker!

“What can I do for TC Maker?” you ask….


Here is the link:

I need for each and every one of you to go give this awesome design all 5’s, every single day, from now until December 12th. Yes, you can (and should) vote every day.


Here is the link, again:

People put in a lot of hours on this. I make a complete fool of myself. At the end of the day, none of us are making any money on this. What more do you want?

What you want is for us to win the grand prize of $10,000, with all money being donated to Twin Cities Maker. This is your maker space and you want some new toys in it! Think of all the stuff that 10 G-notes could buy! A few of us did this challenge as labor of love for a shot at giving back to a community that has given each of us so much. It is your turn to help us out. Go vote.

Madame President

Musical PVC Bench in the News!

A worker in downtown St. Paul takes a break on my bench during the September, 2013 display.
A worker in downtown St. Paul takes a break on my bench during the September, 2013 display.

Hey thanks for checking out my blog!

MPR aired a nice story today on the bench but cut out all 3 of my mentions of Twin Cities Maker at the Hack Factory.  Kind of a bummer.

At least in this short TPT piece you can see the back of my Twin Cities Maker T-shirt!


The final push to installation: volunteers welcome!

Hello and thanks for reading my blog!

This is me testing out my bench at the half-way point.
This is me testing out my bench at the half-way point.

At the time of my last posting I had only 2 sections of my Musical PVC Bench completed.  Again, many thanks to the TC Makers volunteers who helped me get to that point!

Here are all 6 sections lined up as they will be when bolted together.
Here are all 6 sections lined up as they will be when bolted together.

Every section is now welded together.  You can see in the attached photo that I still have some sanding to do (mostly of excess PVC cement) and that it will need to be painted in order to hide markings and solvent stains as well as to protect it from the sun.

My mentor, Jantje Visscher, tests out the full bench.
My mentor, Jantje Visscher, tests out the full bench.

Anyone interested in volunteering to help with final steps will be welcomed. Remaining steps are sanding, spray painting, finishing paddles, attaching paddles, welding/cutting metal anchors & bolting sections together by Sept 22.

Willing to help?  Email me at

Building a musical bench: a Twin Cities Maker effort

A couple of weeks ago I posted an invitation to join my effort to build a musical bench of PVC.  Thank you to TC Makers Becca, Bill D, Bob G, Colleen, Jon, McSteve, Roxanne, Scott and Shawnuk for their generous help over the past 2 weekends.

Section 1 (of 6, foreground) is done!  Sections 2-4 can be seen in the background as well as one paddle prototype.
Section 1 (of 6, foreground) is done! Sections 2-4 can be seen in the background as well as one paddle prototype.

Because of them I now have a paddle prototype, 4 sections cut, 2 sections in welding progress and one section complete!

My original plan was to have the bench finished by last night—not even close!  Several complications arose as we started to build:

1.  Two circles = 0 surface area

Fellow TC Maker, Steve M, pointed out to me that before I began solvent welding, it would strengthen the bond if I increased the surface area where each pipe intersects.

There is almost no surface area at the intersection of 2 circles.
There is almost no surface area at the intersection of 2 circles.

I tried using the band saw to shave off some of the pipe exterior and flatten the places where each pipe meets another but that was really messy and slow.

Bill D generously made a jig for me to use with a router which tremendously speeded the process back up.

This is me using the jig that Bill D made for shaving a flat surface into the edge of the PVC pipe using a router.
This is me using the jig that Bill D made for shaving a flat surface into the edge of the PVC pipe using a router.

2.  Four inch diameter pipes are not musical

My friend Shawnuk stopped by the Hack Factory to help me work out details before I geared up to start building.  As soon as he saw my 4” diameter pipe samples, he pointed out that they would have to be much taller than bench height in order to make a musical note.

We tested this out and he was right.  Luckily, I had purchased only one pipe.   Recognizing that a 2” diameter pipe would probably work, I had to re-draw my design in Sketchup.  In order to keep the bench reasonably large, I now need to solvent weld 270 pieces!

My new bench design (foreground) compared to the old design shrunk along the horizontal axis to a 2" pipe diameter. The old design would have been too small if made with 2" diameter PVC pipe.
My new bench design (foreground) compared to the old design shrunk along the horizontal axis to a 2″ pipe diameter. The old design would have been too small if made with 2″ diameter PVC pipe.













3.  Welding pipes takes TLC

TC Maker, Colleen, can solvent weld better than anyone else I know.  She showed me that although bungee cords and rubber bands can be helpful to hold pipes together as they dry, as the welded section grows there is no substitute for just holding the pipes in place until they are dry enough to stand on their own.  This really slows the overall process when I am working alone.

As the size of the section grows bungee cords no longer work to keep pipes in place as they dry.  Here, Colleen holds several pieces together until they can maintain their position on their own.
As the size of the section grows, bungee cords no longer work to keep pipes in place as they dry. Here, Colleen holds several pieces together until they can maintain their position on their own.

Please stay tuned for future volunteer opportunities!