Guest Post by Andrzej Tokarski
Tldr: My name is Andzrej Tokarski and I’m the president of FabLab Kraków – a place for hardware makers to learn, experiment and build things. We are located at Czysta 8, and you are all invited. If you want to know more, read on.
The fascination lifecycle
I get easily fascinated by things: woodworking, electronics, 3D printing … you name it. One minute, I’m reading about some slightly obscure way of generating analog TV signals using a small microcontroller. The next minute, I’m ordering parts and changing weekend plans to find time for building a Pong-style game cabinet from an old TV. Do you know this feeling? The pure fascination causing you to buy tools and order parts from China. (“Thirty days shipping?! How am I supposed to wait this long?”) A few days later, you find yourself lost in the woods of half-obsolete tutorials, and your desk drawer is full of failed “prototypes.” Turns out the YouTube video explaining the thing was missing some essential (but not as entertaining) parts. The tools were not right, the materials different than suggested. … After early success, a long stretch of failure seems to take hold of your project. After a couple of days, your plans get changed by a YouTube video about making precise wooden gears. The parts from China for the last project arrive, but you are already doing something else, or you just forgot about the whole thing. The project is dead. The guilt starts to set in.
What’s the moral of the story?
It’s normal. At least, I think it is. First, you pick the low-hanging fruits and get excited, but then you encounter the real issues. If you persist long enough, you may get to experience another small success, but it’s followed by another crushing defeat. Over and over again. Is there a better way? Not really. But there is something you can do to give yourself at least a fighting chance: Don’t try to do it all by yourself. Find people who have similar interests. Share the successes and failures; share the tools. Become a part of something bigger than your weekend project. Even just a little encouragement can get you a long way. And if your project involves any type of hardware prototyping, I’ve got the place for you.
FabLab – the idea
In the far-away land of the United States, at the well-known Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a novel idea sprouted. Someone noticed that very advanced tools got much simpler to use. 3D printers started running open-source software, CNCs got smaller and cheaper, and cutting things with lasers became as easy as pressing “print” on your PC. Small-scale, digital, personal fabrication became possible. Neil Gershenfeld at the Center for Bits and Atoms started an effort to define FabLab – a place where one can build almost everything using modern, computer-aided production methods. They selected a set of tools, guidelines and rules for everyone to copy. FabLabs started to appear around the world.
“Give ordinary people the right tools, and they will design and build the most extraordinary things.” – Neil Gershenfeld
Being a curious man, I have personally built a sizable collection of tools, parts and unfinished projects over the years. I even created a workshop of my own at one point. I was very lucky, and soon my life changed. I moved out of my parents’ house, got married and later welcomed one more (small) person to our home. I was looking for a place that could accommodate my collection as well as my hobbies. So when my employer, Robert Gryn, asked whether I had any ideas for something the company could do for the local community, I pitched the notion of opening a FabLab. Gryn became the founder of FabLab Kraków.
So here we are. About one year later, we have a small community, run by a core of five volunteers who keep the doors open. On 200 square meters in the center of Kraków, we provide tools and space for everyone who wants to build things. We organize events to introduce people to the possibilities, but the day-to-day operations of our FabLab look more like a gym. People come in, build, experiment, learn and leave, only to come back when the next project shows up.
The tools of the trade
Almost every tool can be replaced by a good amount of elbow grease. But having the right tools often makes the difference between finishing a project and giving up in the middle. At FabLab Kraków, we try to make things as easy for newcomers as possible.
Our workshop is equipped with all basic hand tools, some small-scale woodworking power-tools and all the things we needed for our projects. We have sewing machines, electronics prototyping stations (Arduino!) and a paint station complete with an Aerograph. We also plan to buy a CNC machine soon.
But here are the two things that represent the cornerstone of every FabLab:
This is our gateway drug. 3D printing hit the news hard a few years ago and left a mark in creative minds: I’ve seen this cool widget on thingiverse.com, and I want one for my own. I just broke the handle of my something-something, can I print it? I hate paying for expensive GoPro mounts. There’s one element missing for my project …
It takes time, and 3D modeling is not an easy skill to acquire. 3D-printable materials have their own limitations, and the printing itself takes time. People quickly start looking for other methods of creating physical objects from thin air.
Our crown jewel: a 60-watt CO2 Universal Laser Cutter. It cuts all kinds of wood, some plastics and fabric and engraves almost everything not metal. It’s surprisingly easy to use. You start with a vector drawing (Inkscape, Illustrator, Corel) and add some configuration. Next, you select your material, adjust the focus and press start. A few minutes later, you take the result out of the machine.
You are invited
If anything mentioned here interests you – the tools, the community or just the idea of building things yourself – visit us at Czysta 8, Kraków, or check out our website, http://fablabkrakow.pl.