by Dot Cannon
Vocademy is turning dreams into reality–complete with gears, LED lights, and filament.
As a twenty-first century “shop class” for all ages, the Riverside-based maker space goes beyond teaching the skills that high-school shop classes used to provide.
(After all, what shop class ever taught you how to fix your motorcycle?)
Vocademy is also demystifying cutting-edge technology, as participants learn to make–well, just about anything. (This plaque is a combination of woodburning and laser-cutting techniques!)
“It’s really cool to see people scared of computers coming in, then walking out programming a Raspberry Pi, the same day,”commented Vocademy General Manager Dylan Harter, during a recent facility tour.
Making plus academics
Vocademy, which opened in 2013, is a unique maker space.
While they offer memberships and classes, Vocademy’s focus is on education–and a local charter high school actually sends its students, five days a week, to take classes at their facilities. (A girls’ team made this go-cart, as their project!)
“The reason why they moved into a maker space, instead of starting (their own) maker space, is they wanted to have access to the full thing we have here,” Dylan explained.
For students, members and anyone who just wants to take a class, that “full thing” includes:
3-D printing (on special-edition printers made just for Vocademy!);
A fully-equipped woodshop;
A sewing area;
An electronics area, with LED lights and conductive thread;
And, of course, CAD modeling–to design patterns for whatever anyone has in mind to make.
“This is what machine shops want to be,” Dylan commented as we took in that area’s manual mill, manual lathe and CNC mill and lathe. “A nice, clean environment. None of this room feels dusty-dirty, like a dungeon.”
Mindful use of the equipment, as you’ll note from Vocademy’s signage, is paramount.
“The very first thing we teach you is safety,” Dylan said. “These (machine-shop) machines are pretty dangerous. So the very first thing we go over is…what you are or are not allowed to do, or wear, or have around you.”
On the topic of safety, we’d wondered about laser cutting. Here is Vocademy’s three-foot-by-four-foot laser cutter.
While it can cut through “anything that burns”, there’s a shield at the back, that prevents it from cutting indiscriminately. And while this laser cutter can cut through half-inch-thick solid wood, Dylan said, it can also do the delicate work, like cutting sewing patterns.
“The (handcutting) that could take you an hour, could take this machine a couple of minutes,” he explained. “And if you create a pattern, you can start to make…whatever (size) adjustments you need electronically.”
Walking through Vocademy’s fifteen-thousand-square-foot-plus Riverside facility, we’re struck with an overall theme: imaginative fun. A wide range of creatives have contributed their talents–and a sense of humor–to the facility’s decor.
“One of our members likes to do stuff with some beautiful laser-cut mirrored acrylic,” Dylan said as we admired the “Nerd School” sign. “That’s what he built for us, as a decoration that he donated.”
That same talented artist built this wooden “vault door”. It’s laser-cut layers, with a laser-cut acrylic window.
The “bars” are made with wooden dowels!
Dylan explained that Vocademy made these worktables out of old doors, which they bought for five dollars each. They converted the bottom sections to lockers–and at one point, one table/storage space housed a motorcycle!
Doesn’t this look like a brass porthole? Any stagecraft professional would love it. A member created a vacuum-form mold, then crafted it out of plastic and painted it, to look metallic.
Graffiti on the walls? Absolutely, says Dylan. Vocademy hired a graffiti artist to add these touches.
“It was really pretty funny, because my neighbor in the back actually called me (and said), ‘Hey, look out! You’ve got someone spray-painting your building.’ (And I said,) ‘No, I’m paying to do that.'”
And a group of members actually built this massive standing 3D printer, the “Raptosaur”! The project took them at least two years, Dylan said.
“They just wanted to do it, they just wanted to say they had done it. They had a lot of planning they had to do…They had to make versions, iterations, changes.”
Vocademy is currently exploring options for a second Southern California location, which will open in approximately another year. Meanwhile, the Riverside facility continues to upgrade-adding to its electronics station, and their finishing room for painting.
“It’s still in progress,” Dylan said. “”We’re a normal business, just like a mom-and-pop restaurant, so unfortunately we don’t have any nonprofit funding or anything like that. We’re still working on building things…making it better and better.”