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7 June 2018

Weird Makerspace

Want to donate your broken down household junk - a computer hard drive or sewing machine which doesn’t work anymore - to a good cause? Consider Tangleball. A community of down to earth creatives, they regularly gather to have fun, collaborating on projects and ideas for sometimes quirky and often extraordinarily innovative results.


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The weirdly named Tangleball is a makerspace, a hackerspace: a cross between a mad scientist’s shed, a computer lab, a builder’s workshop and an art studio.

Thanks to a generous landlord, when the club was first mooted seven years ago, members gained spacious central Auckland premises at 27 Edinburgh in Newton to spread out, socialise, fix and create.

From hardware and software hackers to retired engineers, gardeners, bee keepers and aspiring artists, Tangleball draws together an eclectic, creative and colourful bunch with many talents and skills. Tidying up is not one of them. To be fair, they were not expecting guests.

As graphic designer Jason puts it: “The high male membership speaks volumes about the housekeeping.” For sure, it’s messy. If you’re a clean freak, get over it and make your way through the clutter. Incredible fun and ingenuity lurk within.

On the wall above the old sofas where the crew gather to discuss projects is a large wooden clock which Wayne, an electrician by day, fashioned from an old cable drum. Another wall features Gary’s wild purple swirls of sophisticated computer-generated art.

In one corner, a crazy miniature city of thin steel rods spews a playful explosion of colourful wires. Gary created this 3D printer which members have used to produce a mind-blowing array of experiments, some of which are jumbled on the bench including gear wheels and a whistle complete with pea inside.

On the slightly wonky card table, whipped up by Jort who works in IT, a toy catapult with a teaspoon lever launch pad fired by tension twisted string. And Jort’s latest creation - a rimu jigsaw box holder for his mum. Sweet!

Jort can’t wait to tell you about his bee-keeping and mead-making newfound expertise and the community space works well as a sounding board for his newfound obssessions, which are taking many unexpected twists and turns. He comes here often. “I just like making things,” he says.

Like many members, he doesn’t own a shed of his own. Anyway, he enjoys the camaraderie of the club and being able to collaborate. It’s the experimental aspect that is key here, he says.

These guys aren’t driven by perfection. “It’s about giving it a go and exploring your creative side,”, explains Jort, something most of us living busy lives and working hard don’t have the opportunity to do. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t invest too much time trying to get it just right.”

Recycling is a big part of Tangleball’s ethos. Broken down machines arrive, and they pull them apart to re-use engines and components. “When we look at things,” says Wayne, “we don’t think about what they were originally for but what their potential is.” They get excited when an old sewing machine arrives, and they turn it into a sander. Or a computer hard drive with powerful magnets that come in handy as door latches. Wayne uses one to keep his smart phone in position in his shirt pocket.

Often, people just need to fix things, and this is somewhere they can do it. It doesn’t have to be at set times. Members let themselves in anytime by swiping their AT Hop card on the lock to open the door. Wayne wrote the software for that.

They utilise an extraordinary array of tools and machines that have mostly been donated, from various drills to assorted mechanical saws and stamping machines to sanders, knives, spirit levels and rulers and safety gear. It’s a fantastic resource for the DIY handyperson to make all kinds of things, both practical and fanciful.

Jort recently set up a satellite receiver for his parents and assembled some bee frames laser-etched with an image of Emmet’s apartment from the Lego movie. Peter made some stainless-steel brackets to hold down his planters in the big winds and a trophy from some golf clubs. Ed made a disco hat and fixed a shower door that was making a wall wet. Finn made a wooden sword. Jason fashioned bucket seats for his car. Mark hacked a lithium battery together and paralleled it with the battery in his hybrid car to improve its performance.

They don’t have to be major projects.

And if you don’t know how to do it, somebody can probably help. “You learn something, and you pass it on. That’s very much the philosophy of this place. Generally, we prefer to teach people rather than do things for them.” Which is why, says Jason, it has been an awesome place for tourists. “Some tourists from Spain brought their combi van in and converted it to something they could sleep in.”

If your bike has a problem, you can bring that in too, on Sundays or every second Wednesday evening and the clever mechanics at Tumeke Cycle Space, a community run, DIY bicycle workshop can show you how to fit it. “They do it for free, but the idea is, if we’re useful and you value the service and want to see it continue, you’ll fork out the $15 membership fee sooner or later,” says Jort.

Visitors are invited to bring along their projects, to ask questions, learn new skills and make new friends on Monday nights. Tuesday evenings are dedicated to weekly admin meetings and discussing ways to make Tangleball work better. But the facility is open 24/7 for members.

It’s a relaxed busy kind of space – somewhere city dwellers and visitors who want to do stuff always feel right at home. As long as you’re comfortable with mess. They’re always up for new members. So check them out on Facebook, Meetup, Twitter. And come along to join in the madness.

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