Xerocraft Offers Everyone Hands-on Thrills and Brand New Skills

January 2, 2014

Joining the ranks of the daring do-it-yourself crew is as simple as coming to an open hack and getting a tour.

Joining the ranks of the daring do-it-yourself crew is as simple as coming to an open hack and getting a tour.

by James J. Jefferies

Many of us have had ambitions at one time or another of embarking on some kind of do-it-yourself project. Far fewer of us have actually followed through. Perhaps we’ve had an idea for a specific piece of furniture, or some kind of electronic circuitry experiment, or something along the lines of an elaborate costume or art project that might require fabrication and/or a large workspace.

Problem is, most of us simply don’t have the kind of real estate to set up our own shops, let alone the money to spend on expensive tools for doing that kind of work, and the learning curve can be an equally intimidating barrier. It would be a far more reachable goal if we had access to a big public space with a lot of gear, and more importantly, a group of like-minded craftspeople who were intent on fostering a sense of community by continually handing down the knowledge they’ve gained from being a part of that organization and using the tools.

Xerocraft Hackerspace is precisely this kind of open clearinghouse for those with an urge to dream, design, and build. Now occupying the enormous brick and steel building that was once the Steinfeld Warehouse at 101 W. 6th Street, Xerocraft has been in existence for a couple of years, but has fast become a popular destination for curious Tucsonans looking to get their hands dirty and acquire some brand new skills.

There is one crucial catch to this arrangement that makes the idea really fly, though: once you’re involved with the Xerocraft community, and have picked up some kind of mastery of a new tool, be it the laser cutter, the band saw, or any of the other hundreds of different kinds of tools and processes one could learn there, you are obligated to pass it on and actually teach a class yourself. The arrangement creates this forward-rolling snowball of knowledge and friendly support that is critical to making Xerocraft work in the way it has, continually growing and drawing in new members.

Two Xerocraft ladies, among others, sanding and cuttin' in the wood shop.

Two Xerocraft ladies, among others, sandin’ and cuttin’ in the wood shop.

On a wet, cold, cloudy Saturday, about twenty-three people crowded into a small area of the warehouse as Xerocraft member Alex Barton taught a class on the basics of using a 3D printer. “I’ve been involved with Xerocraft for about two years now,” said Barton. “I had just moved out here, found these guys…there was nothing like this back home. Everyone here is really cool and just wants to help others learn to do different things.” Barton is also a member of Xerocraft’s Board of Directors.

There are two 3D printers currently for use at Xerocraft, and while there, a third 3D printer was being built by another member. It is a massive space they inhabit, and literally every corner of the shop is bursting with different kinds of tools, be it welding gear for traditional metal work, numerous tables, saws, and drills for woodworking, laser cutters capable of a variety of ornamental art, an entire lab space for electronic projects…if you can imagine it, there’s more than likely the right set of tools to help you realize it at Xerocraft.

See this boy? See the absolutely hypnotized look on his face as he watches a laser cutter fire its beam through a plank of wood to create a miniature Tardis model? That's gonna be you. Just accept it.

See this lad? See the absolutely hypnotized look on his face as he watches a laser cutter fire its beam through a plank of wood to create a tiny Tardis model? That’s gonna be you.

Admittedly, this kind of DIY project-tackling has long tended to be an all-boys affair, something that Xerocraft is actually quite serious about changing. Their WTF ‘open hacks’ (WTF standing for Women-Trans-Femme) are held every Tuesday from 6pm-10pm, and represent a time when only women and transgender people and their children under six are allowed to come in and use the space. “(WTF has) become an indispensable part of Xerocraft,” said Barton. Lady volunteers who have more experience with the gear come in on Tuesdays and kick down their wisdom to newcomers curious about how to use the incredible variety of tools, and the community keeps expanding.

Of course, an enormous space and a plethora of excellent gear like this doesn’t come cheaply, and in addition to membership dues, Xerocraft is dependent on donations and sales of T-shirts and other bits of Xero-schwag to stay afloat. If you have a hankering to find out what it’s all about, or would like to contribute time, materials, or a donation, please check out their website for the appropriate scheduled open hack here. A word of caution: your first trip and tour will be a dizzying experience, given the sheer amount of potential exhibited by the space, the toys, and the cool people that inhabit it! Xerocraft Hackerspace can be found at 101 W. 6th St., Suite 200, in the old Steinfeld Warehouse by the railroad tracks near 6th Street and Stone Avenue.