Meet Jim Newton, Founder of TechShop: “TechShop was created because I wanted my own dream shop”

March 05, 2013 4 min read

Jim Newton, an uber-DIYer and lifelong maker, created TechShop because he needed a place to build his own inventions. His ideas are now more relevant than ever, so I asked him to share his story and philosophy with us.

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Novedge: Tell us about yourself and TechShop. 

Jim Newton: TechShop is a membership-based workshop and fabrication studio where we teach hands-on classes to equip anyone to operate industry-standard machines and technologies for use on their personal projects. Each of our facilities includes a full wood shop, metal working shop, machine shop, plastics and electronics labs, welding stations, and laser and water jet cutters. No experience is necessary to take a class or become a member at TechShop.
Members are given unlimited access to the space, which is open daily from 9AM to midnight. They can use any of the tools after taking a one-time Safety and Basic Use (SBU) class. These classes typically run between one and three hours and prepare members to safely explore a machine's capabilities on their own. They also have open access to high-end design software including the entire Autodesk Design Suite.

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TechShop also offers personal consulting and prototyping for an hourly fee. All locations are staffed with experts who can be paired with members who require special help or guidance.
We teach hundreds of classes every month at each TechShop location. Classes cover topics in everything from laser cutting to sewing to electrics design to stained glass and injection molding. We also offer a variety of CNC classes including the ShopBot wood router, Tormach CNC mill, and the FlowJet CNC waterjet cutter. We will be opening our seventh location in March.

TechShop was created because I wanted my own dream shop, so I tried to think of a way I could put it together, that would not require me to perform prototype work and fabrication services for customers. I thought about the health club membership model, and applied it to a do-it-yourself workshop. The rest is history.

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Novedge: What inspires you?

Jim Newton:Ben Franklin inspires me, and people who become brand new makers.

Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?

Jim Newton: Here are three recent projects.

Electric Cargo Trike

This was a project that I built as transportation for myself for the 2011 Burning Man event. I took a new electric bike that I bought at a local auto parts chain store, and hacked off the motor, controller and drive train and fabricated a frame and box that looked a lot like an ice cream vendor trike. It had a large cargo box in the front with two wheels, and had one wheel in the back. It worked great, but I only had 4 days to pack for the trip and build the trike.

Extreme Pinewood Derby Cars

My sons were both in Cub Scouts so they built Pinewood Derby cars each year. In our pack, we also had what we called an "Outlaw Derby" and the reason was so the dads would build their own car to compete with the other dads, and they'd let their son build his own car. It worked great. I have build a number of "Outlaw" cars over the years, but in the last few years I made a self-steering car that would sense the center guide rail and steer away from it to reduce drag and friction, and my car from last year was designed in Autodesk Inventor and printed on a 3D printer. That car also had jewel bearings on all four wheels, which reduced the wheel and axle friction to practically zero. I am now working on my car for 2013 that has both active automated self steering and jewel bearings, as well as a ducted air induction system that directs incoming air onto vanes on the wheels to add a small rotational force.

Amphibious Armored Personnel Carrier

Before I started TechShop, I build an amphibious armored personnel carrier for one of my clients. It was a scaled version of a Marines troop carrier. It had tank-style steering, eight wheels, propellers in the back, a machine gun turret, and could carry 6 adults with full combat gear. Since I didn't have a TechShop yet, I built it in the driveway of my house. I'm pretty sure the neighbors loved it.

Novedge: What software do you use?

Jim Newton: I use Autodesk Inventor for 3D design, and Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for 2D designs. I like Inventor because it really is a virtual workshop, and feeds particularly well into 3 printers and into CNC equipment. Illustrator and Photoshop I use because I produce a lot of 2D graphics work, and I have been using each of those programs since before they were released so I know them really well.

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Novedge: What innovations do you see in your field?

Jim Newton: I think there are a lot of future tools that have not even been dreamed up yet. Laser cutters and 3D printers are very new in the history of tools, and it was not very long ago when nobody had thought of those yet. We are going to see some amazing tools come out in the near future that are going to add capability that humans have never had before.

Also, I think that we will see 3D printing technology advance to the point that it is competitive with traditional injection molding. A lot has to improve with 3D printers for that to happen…specifically print speed, print quality including the ability to print smooth glossy surfaces without any "pixel" resolution, and the ability to print objects that match the color and luster of objects with which they will need to mate in the final product assembly. I think we are a long way from any of these things happening, but it will happen at some point.

Are you a member of  TechShop? Leave a comment for Jim.

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