Saturday, March 12, 2016

Hackers, makers, typers

This is a makerspace.

Kleinsteuber's Machine Shop, Milwaukee, 1860s. That's where a maker named Christopher L. Sholes, with the help of like-minded tinkerers, invented the Type Writer.

Regardless of any mechanical ability I have developed over the last few years of repairing typewriters, I will never be the innovator that these men were. But I sure wish I could be a fly on the wall at Kleinsteuber's, watching them work. 

The closest thing to Kleinsteuber's in 2016 is a place like Hive13 (a pun on Cincinnati's 513 area code), which calls itself a hackerspace but welcomes all kinds of creators and tinkerers, digital and mechanical.

I was glad to be invited to Hive13 the other night to give a talk. I showed the members and guests some highlights from early typewriter history, various types of machines, and what people are doing today to modify their typewriters aesthetically and mechanically.

I brought along three typewriters: my Sholes & Glidden, my Commercial Visible 6, and my USB Olympia SM3 (created by Jack Zylkin of Philadelphia's Hive76). Everyone wanted to see how they worked. Mechanical engineer Jim Dallam brought a Smith-Corona Silent-Super and a Monroe mechanical calculator.

These folks do not have a passive relationship to their digital devices, or to technology in general. They had lots of good questions for me.

A major piece of equipment in the Hive is a CNC wood cutting tool ...

... which can produce objects like this.

This piece is used at maker fairs to illustrate various kinds of things that can be produced at Hive13. Its centerpiece is a glass "finger of Galileo."

In my book I write:

The maker ethos is one of sharing and innovation: open-source plans, collaboration, borrowing, transformation. This approach has struck a chord. Maker Faires attract tens of thousands of visitors. In over a thousand hackerspaces and makerspaces around the planet, makers socialize as they create new objects. They emphasize generous interactions among people inhabiting the same physical space. This certainly isn’t a rejection of the digital—makers eagerly work with cheap circuit boards and 3D printers to create computer-guided gadgets. What the movement rejects is the passive incomprehension in our everyday relation to high technology; makers take charge, learn by doing, and use their imagination.

Jack Zylkin told me:

Like the slow-foods movement and the self-publishing movement, the maker movement tries to break down the perceived barrier between who makes a product and who uses it. It sets out to debunk the perception that high technology can only be created and disseminated by big specialized companies, like fire from Mt. Olympus, and bring the creation of technology back to the people who use it.

And in my final chapter, I imagine the future:

I’m envisioning a typerspace where insurgents gather for a make-in. We can either set up an assembly line or work on individual projects. We consult digitized original factory drawings, 3D schematics, and a constantly-evolving wiki where those who’ve done such projects in other typerspaces around the world share their experiences and questions. Our printers and other machines generate parts that are supplemented with standard screws, springs, and gears. Eventually we turn off the digital equipment, admire our freshly built Crandalls, Blickensderfers, and Alpinas, and enjoy a type-in over coffee or beer.

I can't wait.


  1. Great post, and your vision for a typer space is right on. I, too, can't wait.

  2. It'll happen, not too far away I imagine (:

  3. This is so cool - creating the new with the old! I'm fascinated with this whole movement. Thanks for sharing this venue with us. Say more, if you can.

  4. This "makerspace" idea is certainly an amazing concept. I wonder how many people have had their creativity stifled because they simply didn't have access to the proper machinery?

  5. Absolutely! Any place where genuine new product development happens, that's a makerspace - unmistakably :-)

    (The main reason I'd like one day to get my hands on a Hammond (or Blick or Mignon) is that I think I could make new type-strips/cylinders for it.)