We learned to cut with plasma at South Africa’s newest makerspace, and so can you

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When Henry Levine, CEO and founder of South Africa’s newest makerspace – Made in Workshop – visited TechShop in San Francisco,  he knew he wanted to bring a maker mentality to South Africa.

“When I walked through that door, it was like walking into heaven. There was every single tool that I had seen on TV and YouTube available for us to use. Yes you had to learn to use them, but it was available, it was there. All I had to do was take a class and I had access,” said Levine, “When I got back [to South Africa] I was determined to find a way to bring this concept into the country.”

TechShop is a makershop franchise in the USA where visitors can pay for memberships to use tools such as CNC machines, lathes, plasma cutters, 3D printers and much more. They also offer classes for anyone to attend and learn how to use the tools and machines to make. Once they get certified with the machinery, they get to use them as members.

This is what Levine had experianced in America and he wanted to bring the concept to the country. Fast forward a year and a half and Made in Workshop has opened its doors and has began taking memberships.

We visited the space in Fontainebleau, Johannesburg to see what the space had to offer.

To kick things off Levine threw us in the deep end by giving us a crash course in using a hand plasma cutter. With that in our minds we put on a welding jacket, protective gloves and mask and begun cutting up a piece of scrap metal.

While we have experience working with metal, we’ve never used a plasma cutter before, and our inexperience showed. The first few cuts we tried out – a motley crew of basic shapes – was not worth the scrap metal they had been cut from.

But that’s the purpose of a makerspace – to fail in a safe environment surrounded by those more experienced than you.

So if you want to learn how to plasma cut, or any other manner of making, all you need to do is to book yourself into a class for a fee and learn the skills. If you want to return to use the tools you’ll need a membership which gets you tool time (not to be confused with Tool Time).

But there’s more to it than that. if you have the skills and want to teach others you can enter into a profit-sharing system with Made in Workshop in which you teach a course and use their facilities.

[su_box title=”This space for hire” box_color=”#f37021″]Small companies could use this makerspace as their place of business. “Take a membership if you need it,” says Levnie, “If you already know how to use the tools and you just have a small job you want to do at nights or on the weekend, take a day membership. You get access to the facility and all the tools, then go ahead and make. If you have something that’s a bit longer, then take a week. It’s seven days but it doesn’t have to be Monday to Monday, it can be Tuesday to Tuesday, Wednesday to Wednesday. Our operating hours are from nine to nine so you can work late into the evening. We then have a monthly membership that just offers so much more apart from what I’ve mentioned.

“You can actually run your business from here. You sit here, take your orders, manufacture your orders, get it out to your customers, store material in our lockup room or the storage outside… It’s really for small manufacturers that need to have all this expensive equipment that is already here.[/su_box]

Those memberships can be found on the Made in Workshop site. You’ll be paying R340.86 for a day, R796.86 for a week and R1 708.86 for a month. While that may sound expensive, the amount of machinery and expertise available here is so immense that  it makes up for it. If you need access to a machine that costs hundreds of thousands of rands, this is probably the cheapest way you’ll get access to it. Check out a gallery of the machines below:

If you want to get making we suggest you start with one of the classes offered at the space. Keep your eye on the schedule as they change regularly.

The class suggested to us was the so-called “steel box project”. In this class you’ll be taught how to create a simple box out of steel from designing it in CAD, cutting the metal out of sheets on a CNC machine and then spot welding it together, it covers the basics of many skills you’ll want to be familiar with.

So sign up for a class and remember not to look directly when people are welding (arc-eye is terrible), and we’ll see you at SA’s newest makerspace.

Clinton Matos

Clinton Matos

Clinton has been a programmer, engineering student, project manager, asset controller and even a farrier. Now he handles the maker side of htxt.africa.