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Squinting in the sunlight, Dalton holds open the front door and steps inside. The conversation tracks what his blue eyes flit across. An aluminum owl has been fashioned from the empty soda cans that fill a refrigerator-sized box in the hallway. A tabletop arcade game is in need of a new power source. A T-shirt-spewing Howitzer — the kind of air-pressurized, goody-firing contraption familiar from Royals games — has been retrofitted with an attached seat. The upholstery pattern: camouflage.
"We used it to shoot off foam footballs and whatever else we could think to launch on the Fourth of July," Dalton says.
One side of the hallway is taken up with the more day-to-day things that generate some revenue to fund Hammerspace's fitful build-out. The construction schedule has so far been determined mainly by available materials — items donated by members — and cash on hand. To make money, there's a concession stand that sells pizza, corn dogs, sodas and a sandwich called the Kevin Smith (a grilled homage to the lo-fi movie director: peanut butter, marshmallow and bacon on white bread). Dalton's wife, Beck, runs the food side of the operation from the building's modified kitchenette. She also sells reusable grocery bags that she makes from T-shirts.
Another 10 feet down the hall is the latest addition to Hammerspace, a shop with glass counters and metal racks where Dalton sells small electronic kits and filament for the half-dozen 3-D printers in various states of completion here.
The printers use that filament to render digital models as fully formed objects. In traditional manufacturing, raw materials must be machined down to create a product; 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, lowers the cost of prototyping to the price of that filament. A digital design — made on software such as CAD — can take fast and inexpensive physical form at Hammerspace, generated, layer by layer, in plastic (Dalton's most common filament) or metal or virtually any other material.
Printers like these run as much as $5 million, but Hammerspace's whole 3-D fleet cost a fraction of this. One reason for this: one 3-D printer can produce the parts for another 3-D printer. Among the things 3-D printing has given us over the past year are a burrito (made on a grad student's "BurritoBot") and a prosthetic jaw. In a sign of just how widespread the technology is, Jay Leno uses it to build rare parts for his collection of classic cars.
The technology, which has been around for the past 30 years, is now regularly cited as the digital equivalent of the industrial revolution — and talked about as one way to reverse the trend of outsourced manufacturing. Wohlers Associates, a Colorado-based consulting firm, estimates that the 3-D-printing business has doubled since 2007, becoming a $1.7 billion industry.
But additive manufacturing isn't going to put a roof over Hammerspace's metal shop.
"We've been trying to get a roof over the metal shop for a year and a half, but we got this together in just three weeks," Dalton says.
Half of Hammerspace is made up of three rooms, each crammed with geek memorabilia, enough power tools to start a secondhand hardware store, and mismatched furniture of a certain college-apartment aesthetic. The room closest to the front door is for woodworking and molding.
"You don't go out and buy a new machine because you want to make a new coffee table. You just go out and buy the coffee table," Dalton says. "But if you have access to the guys that know how to make a coffee table, and it will just cost you a $10 sheet of plywood and an afternoon, that changes the equation."
Dalton picks up a severed latex arm, an unintentional lesson in shop safety. It's for an upcoming class on how to build zombies. (Members regularly host evening sessions on riveting, casting and coding.) He hopes to marshal an army of the rubber undead for Halloween, ready to jitter like extras in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, their arms and legs made to shudder with PVC pipes and sprinkler parts.
"The idea is to make it purposefully low-tech, designed from things you might actually have around your house," Dalton says.