Vegas’ First Hackerspace

Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on February 21, 2013

As of last week, SYN Shop is open for business.

Nestled within a row of shops on Fourth Street between Fremont and Ogden, the freshly painted space is bustling with activity as founders and friends build shelves, test hardware and set up equipment. Rows of soldering irons, copper wire tip cleaners and multimeters sit on a workbench under an oscilloscope, waiting to be arranged. A 4-foot-tall wirelessly controlled PDP-11 microcomputer, christened “NOMAD” and mounted to an electric wheelchair base, rumbles around the room.

With its origins in the monthly gatherings held in the garage of founding member Krux, SYN Shop is five years in the making. Several years of planning, negotiation and finally the acquisition of a viable location has led to this: Las Vegas’ first hackerspace.

Think of a hackerspace as something like a gym membership for your brain — a community workshop where, instead of treadmills, ellipticals and weights, you are given access to tools, electronics gear and manufacturing hardware. A place to create and a place to meet, collaborate and learn from other creators.

Hackerspaces are not new. However, aside from a few standouts early on in their history (with the majority of those started in the 1990s), they have only in the last decade begun to be seen as generally viable and self-sustaining, bolstered in part by the growing awareness and popularity of the maker movement.

A repurposed traffic light in the front window shines steadily, indicating the current hours of operation. Green for open, yellow for an hour or less remaining and red for closed. This is especially useful, as while there are posted hours (Monday and Thursday from 6-10 p.m., and Saturday 3-10 p.m.), founders will often open the doors as available, and anyone is welcome to come in and check the place out when the light is on. Access will expand once the space is fully up and running, but for now, the traffic light acts as gatekeeper.

Brian Munroe, ringleader of the group of volunteers that manages SYN Shop (everyone involved is a volunteer), walks me through the space, which features a planning area, a classroom and a maker’s dream list of hardware and machinery.

Thanks to member donations and the support of Work in Progress (which is itself funded by Downtown Project), SYN Shop has already acquired an impressive list of gear, including a Full Spectrum 90w laser cutter, an electronics lab, hand tools, an industrial sewing machine and other crafting tools, two 3-D printers (including a top-of-the-line MakerBot Replicator 2), a Shapeoko CNC mill and the crown jewel of the hackerspace, a Shopbot full-size CNC router.

Everything in the hackerspace is accessible after paying the $40 monthly membership fee, although members must supply their own materials and undergo a brief certification process with the more complex machines to ensure proper use and safety. For traveling makers looking for a place to tinker, day rates will also soon be available.

As the goal of the space is to give builders and tinkerers a place to share, create and learn, Brian emphasizes that SYN Shop is not a traditional or service-based business. At SYN Shop, parts or projects cannot be simply ordered for pickup later — this is an entirely do-it-yourself operation.

Thankfully, makers will not be entirely on their own when it comes to building their creations, as classes will be scheduled frequently, covering everything from basic soldering technique to advanced electronics and hardware design.

With so many of us spending our day-to-day lives working digitally, we often miss out on the pleasure of creating something we can grasp with our hands. To conceive and plan and construct, from the tactile pleasure of handling your own fully formed 3-D model, to placing a soldering tip to a board and seeing that which you’ve labored over suddenly come alive, that is an experience worth having.

Now that can be ours, simply for the price of membership and the willingness to learn.

SYN SHOP 117 N. Fourth St.,

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