Getting the STUFF!
Even the wealthiest school can rarely buy all the equipment they want. Personally I recommend letting student and teacher interest guide buying. Still, you may have a list in hand and a need to buy. This post covers some simple ways to get the most for your money.
Under the assumption that your budget has limits, there are practical choices in stocking up your makerspace. Retail price is for the desperate. Used tools and equipment can really help eat away at the overhead. Equipment makers often offer discounts for educational groups. Find out about them. It may require more footwork but it is a way to bring down the price on that shiny laser cutter. Rental is also an option for equipment that is either large or has a short use time in your school each year. This fits into a prioritization plan. You don’t need everything all year long.
General-use equipment that is affordable and simple will get work done. Save the expensive and advanced equipment for when you see specific tasks develop that require those tools. A cheap potentiometer works for most projects. That shiny expensive one that measures electron movement across circuit boards will only find use when you have all the expensive advanced tools for circuit production. Too costly. You’ll break it before you get the other shiny tools.
Consider third-party services. If you have one 3D printer but a huge series of prints to manufacture during one part of the year – you may not need more printers but to outsource the printing during the specific project. Laser cutting, 3D printing, milling and a ton of other services are available. Just send the design files. You might work out a deal with a local makerspace or shop or find a virtual vendor who will ship the finished projects to your school. You miss out on the hands-on experience and the price keeps dropping on the tools but….sometimes you have twenty prints and two days.
Genius Moments and Serendipity
Find a wealthy patron. A foundation or corporation that shares you dream may help support, loan, give, and supply your space. Write up a proposal and budget. See what happens.
Beg….borrow….DO NOT STEAL! Do a tool drive. I plan to beg for legos this summer and fall. Kids do a lot of creative things with legos. Kids outgrow legos. Legos wash in a dishwasher. I will beg for legos. Makerspaces may also loan items. A hard to find tool used for a single use may be an easy give for an established makerspace. Your community may also have a tool library. It is not just for getting a lawn mower once a month. You can borrow some pretty amazing things.
Buy it used. Lots of power tools have ridiculously long lifetimes. Buying used can save you a bunch of money. Craigslist, community Facebook used item trading pages, and the estate sale of a hobbyist can really help. Reduce, reuse, and recycle!
Advertise the shiny dreams. One amazing new machine can do a lot to lure students, parents, and donors into your space. They may see things missing from your space that lie unused in their garage. Lure them in to design for the printer and see if they can help you garner some hammers.
Purchase as you need it. Your makerspace does not need to be some fully equipped monstrosity. Buy when the project requires the item.
Purchase when it is cheap. Cyber Monday and Black Friday make for amazing times to get really good deal. Sarah and I lurk on Amazon and SparkFun waiting for great deals on wearable electronics. You can also hit up maker faires for great deals.
Don’t try to keep up with the newer shinier item. A new printer does not mean yours is old and wasted. It still works. It still prints. Give it a couple generations. These things are still developing and, if you have a tool that works, don’t replace it until you see something that moves your space to a new level.
You can also go with a very basic makerspace. Paper crafts are fun. You get into some serious prototypes. Keep one sector of your makerspace at a basic level. No need for the papercraft section to keep up with the wearables section….or the wood carving tools to outbid the 3D printer. Actually….CNC routers are obscenely expensive when you factor in a vacuum to clean the space and get rid of saw dust. Let things develop at their own pace.
Don’t skimp on the safety equipment. There are programs that hand out free protective eye-wear which is great but don’t forget to buy gloves for the wood carving station, an eyewash station if you are using a chemical to make circuits, and a hefty first aid kit.