The Curious Forge shows off new 20,000-square-foot makerspace | TheUnion.com

The Curious Forge shows off new 20,000-square-foot makerspace

A "makerspace" that got its start in the garage of co-founder Liam Ellerby moved this summer into a 20,000-square-foot building on the campus of Nevada City School of the Arts, becoming one of the largest such facilities in the world.

For the uninitiated, a makerspace is "a place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials." The Curious Forge's members, who call themselves "a community of builders, tinkerers, artists and professionals who love to make," have access to training and more than $100,000 in equipment.

On Thursday, The Curious Forge hosted an open house to show off its new digs, complete with spaces dedicated to making jewelry, woodworking, ceramics, metal fabrication, sewing and more, a wide variety of equipment including CNC equipment, 3D printers and a laser icutter.

In one section of the building, Tom Files wielded a plasma cutter on a sheet of corrugated metal to create a Halloween skull to hang as decoration.

"This is a world-class makerspace," he said. "There isn't any place like this in the United States — the breadth of what they have to offer is wonderful. Not just the tools, but the expertise of master jewelers master wood carvers… There's just a huge variety not available any place (else)."

Files, who joined The Curious Forge as a member two years ago, said having the space and tools available for use was a huge boon.

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"Most people can't afford to buy a plasma cutter or a lathe," he said. "You can use them, and get technical assistance, for the price of membership."

Ron Ramsey, a professional woodcarver and sculptor for more than 40 years, joined the makerspace about four years ago.

The move means that woodworkers finally have the space to work together or on more than one project at a time, he said.

"Before, you had to roll everything out of the way to get to the tool (you wanted)," he said. "It was hard for more than one person to work. Now we have 1,500 square feet, maybe more, just for woodworking, so we can have multiple projects going. We also can have multiple work stations, which is better for teaching classes … It's great."

About 20 years ago, Ellerby took a welding class and later began getting together in his garage with others who wanted to learn more.

"What kicked it off in a more formal way was attending Burning Man," Ellerby said, citing the collaboration and multidisciplinary expertise required to produced three-story moving, flaming structures.

"I attended a Maker Faire after that and that gelled it all," he said, "I decided we needed to have this in Nevada County — that was six years ago."

After putting out the word, Ellerby connected with Kara Asilanis, who helped him found what became The Curious Forge six years ago. The first 1,500-square-foot space was in a warehouse on East Main Street, with about a dozen members.

"We outgrew that pretty quickly," Ellerby said.

The Curious Forge then moved to a 3,000-square-foot space on Loma Rica Drive and grew to about 50 members.

This summer, the Nevada City School of the Arts offered them a space on the campus. As part of the lease, Ellerby said, the Curious Forge will provide makerspace activities and curriculum for their students.

"What we have now is literally a world-class makerspace," Ellerby said. "It just has everything that a makerspace needs — classroom space, clean fabrication space, big high bays for industrial arts — and all the infrastructure needed to support all that."

The massive evolution in space and equipment is allowing The Curious Forge to get closer to its long-range vision, which is to build partnerships with other entities like city governments, schools and businesses to revitalize the community.

As an example, Ellerby cites a $100,000 computer-controlled wood router on site that belonged to a business owner who couldn't find anyone to run it due to the extensive training required.

"He really wants to get young people back into the trades and will help us with a curriculum," Ellerby said.

The large-scale router can also be used by artists and entrepreneurs to create objects and products that would be prohibitive without it, he added.

"What we'd like to do is become a creative and technical hub for Nevada County," Ellerby said. "We're hoping to kick-start an economic ecosystem."

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar email lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

Know & Go

What: The Curious Forge

Where: 13024 Bitney Springs Road, Building 9, Nevada City

For info: Call 530-277-3319, email spark@thecuriousforge.org or go online at http://www.thecuriousforge.org