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Idea Fab Labs in Chico

07/20/2016 11:00AM ● By Melissa Mendonca

D.I.T. Do it Together

August 2016
By Melissa Mendonca
Photo: Paula Schultz

There’s always been a certain amount of grit to a person with a do-it-yourself attitude. Of those with the grit, there are some who can figure out just about anything with ease, and there are the rest of us who scratch our heads in wonder at how our projects took twice as much time and money as we expected – if they ever get finished at all.

At Chico’s Idea Fab Labs, people can be DIYers in community. It’s a place to Do It Together, if you will. A place to learn with instruction, if needed, or to just create on machines belonging to the space. It’s a place where projects get finished, not just started.

This membership-based community workspace/Makerspace offers learning zones in a 6,900-square-foot building just blocks from Chico State University that includes electronics, audio production, digital fabrication, screen printing, programming, woodworking, leatherwork/ jewelry/textiles, a metal shop and so-called “zombie area” filled with hand tools and a room for paint spraying. An artist incubator program features the work of an artist about 6-8 weeks after he or she receives a crash course in the materials available at the space. Individuals can also purchase private workspace and have access to all of the tools available.

Idea Fab Labs is a collaboration of friends who had all set up individual workspaces of various disciplines in their homes and found they wanted to collaborate more with others. Founder Erin Banwell had a laser cutter and had been working on large scale exhibitions at Burning Man. “His garage at home was getting a little filled up and he wanted some people to play with as well,” says Billy Hopkins, another of the five friends who created the space. Others include James Hall, Jordan Layman and Sean Mitchell.

“A lot of people came in that had a lot of different specialties,” says Hall. Each work zone has a manager, and a group of volunteers organizes the activities and instruction. “We teach every single piece of equipment here,” he adds, ranging from an acetylene torch to industrial sewing and embroidery machines to DJ sound equipment to 3D scanners. 

Engineering students from Chico State migrate to the shops to develop prototypes for their class projects on the four printerbots. Of the laser cutter which etches and cuts everything from leather to wood to paper and acrylics, Hall says, “People run their whole business on this machine. It’s very well used – it’s our most popular piece of equipment in the lab.”

Patrick Bulmer has been a member of Idea Fab Labs for two years and creates man-cave minibars that he sells online (www.mancaveminibar.com). His business is essentially run through the community workspace and brings in significant income during the holidays.

The space offers an open house every Monday from 6-8pm for the public to tour the facility and learn about membership opportunities. Three levels of membership allow access to different machines with an option for private access to particular machines for a set number of hours per week. Individuals may volunteer at the space to help offset membership fees, and a child’s membership allows children to accompany paid adults. Weekly orientation and safety classes are provided.

Class offerings are as diverse as the members, who share everything from American Sign Language classes to the basics of programming with LED pixels. The space boasts a large multipurpose room with an LED ceiling that members write code for. They are currently working on a project to play an interactive game of pong on the ceiling.

During a recent three-day weekend, a group of friends came together to learn how to brew beer. “This is a Maker thing,” says Hall. “We like to drink beer, so why buy it if we can make it ourselves?” The group gathers about once a month and has dubbed itself the Fabrewcation Club.

“You can really be ambitious with that project you were thinking about,” Hopkins says of the possibilities that open up with so much knowledge and equipment available in the shared environment. “There’s a lot of really talented people here with lots of different skill sets. We’re hoping to bring them all together.”

Adds Hall, “The biggest thing for us is creating community. Everyone that comes here wants to learn and teach. If you have a project and you have a problem with it, someone here will work you through it.”


603 Orange St., Chico

(530) 592-0609 • www.ideafablabs.com


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