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At DCPL's new maker space, motto is "if you build it, they will build it"

Joseph Koivisto says that the use of this machine could easily cost someone upwards of $1,000. "We're letting people use it for free."

Rawr! These dinosaurs were cut out of cardboard with the library's laser cutter

Actually, stuff all over the new "maker space" in a small room at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library downtown is emblazoned with "We break it better." But the motto really ought to be different.

Not that folks aren't going to be allowed to break things. With a complement of power tools, 3D printers and actually-kinda-dangerous machinery, the "fab lab" is soon to be open to the public so that anyone with a library card--under supervision and with appropriate training--can use DCPL's tools to design prototypes, invent products or just get their hands dirty.

A few hundred people have taken a general safety orientation for the fab lab (sign up here). Unfortunately, the general orientation is just step 1: interested "makers" have to then sign up for an individual orientation for each machine they'd like to use, and those orientations aren't yet being offered. (The library is "on the verge" of being able to offer those classes, says Joseph Koivisto, a library associate within the library's Digital Commons division, so folks should stay tuned.)

Still, the investment is not insignificant, and the logistical hurdles are soon to be overcome.

Koivisto showed Elevation DC around last week.

Some of the tools you can use include CNC routers - The Handibot and Roland MDX-40 are similar products - both are considered CNC routers, or in other words, machines that take a digital design and cut shapes into wood or plastic. The Roland is a bit more "professional" (and expensive). To get access to a Roland at a normal prototyping shop usually costs a thousand dollars, Koivisto says. "We're letting people use it for free." 

What would you make with one of these? Think wooden puzzles, signs, or just designs engraved onto wood.

A laser cutter, with a laser powerful enough to etch glass, stone, wood or metal (or cut all the way through paper or cardboard) is useful for making high-precision designs or just these dinosaurs.

Rawr! These dinosaurs were cut out of cardboard with the library's laser cutter

A wire bender could be used for art projects or robot parts.

Multiple 3-D printers - to turn any 3-D design into reality. 

Around the same time DCPL also unveiled its Studio Lab, which contains pro-level audio and video equipment. (And an electronic drum-kit, complete with 3D printed drumsticks.) "You could conduct a full broadcast in here," Koivisto says of the video room equipped with cameras, a green screen, microphones and lighting. The Washington City Paper rightly pointed out that some of this equipment is less useful if you don't have a sound engineer or a helpful cinematographer. But if you're just messing around--or if you're a teenager with limited resources anyway--the lab is a welcome resource.

"People always rise to the occasion," Koivisto says. "I guarantee you every one of these rooms will be booked."

Read more articles by Rachel Kaufman.

Rachel is the managing editor of Elevation D.C. She also covers tech, business and science for publications nationwide. She lives in Brookland.
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