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Last year, emboldened by the success of Techshop in the Bay Area, a new Techshop was opened in Portland, Oregon. Now it appears that it has closed and may be moving to a new area — one of the founding members posted the news over on the Home Shop Machinist forums, and looking at the forums for the Portland techshop it looks like it’s true.

Hopefully, they’ll be able to start up again although that first post doesn’t seem as optimistic as the Techshop page. It seems that you need a large enough population to support a venture like this, something the Bay Area has and Portland doesn’t. Also people in Oregon are already DIY types and have their own workshops, which is more cost prohibitive down in CA. In any case, it’s sad news and we applaud them for trying to bring the world of tools to people who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to create.

What do you guys think of the news? Any Techshop members out there? What do you think the solution is for collective shop space, or is it just a case of a concept that won’t work just anywhere?

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Portland Techshop


32 Responses to Techshop Portland Closed, Reopening?

  1. Deelow says:

    Uh…. why don’t we have one of these in Dallas?

  2. bajajoaquin says:

    This is conjecture, but based on the comment that it’s “cost prohibitive in CA,” I’d guess that it has to do with real estate prices. Lots tend to be smaller in the bay area, and more expensive relative to income. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room in the garage, or space to build a separate shop on your lot.

    If Dallas has different real estate economics, people may be more disposed to create their own shop than be forced to use another one.

    But I may be completely off base.

  3. Deelow says:

    Sorry bajajoaquin, my question was rhetorical. I was hoping a slew of Dallas based toolmongers would start on a warpath of comments. So to revise my previous comment: Uh…… we NEED one of these in Dallas!

  4. Kurt says:

    If the business model works, it is clear it needs to be in techy / urban areas. I would think it would work in Southern California (say Orange County), Boston, those sort of places. I live near Sacramento, but it wouldn’t work here, as you can find a place with a large lot relatively cheaply by California standards and build your own shop.

  5. Joe Birmingham says:

    I lived in Portland for a number of years. Most of what they offer is available through the community college system at a much lower cost or could be duplicated in a typical suburban garage.

  6. Shawn says:

    I live in Portland and was tempted by the TechShop. There were a few problems with the model, however:

    1) Location: It was in the suburb of Beaverton, which is a bit of a haul if you live in Portland proper (traffic is brutal at certain times of day)
    2) Cost: As Joe points out, the local community college scene does provide many overlapping services (though I would argue not as comprehensively)
    3) Economy: Portland’s economy is just terrible right now. We have some of the highest unemployment in the nation. When people are out of work, they don’t have extra money to spend on hobbies, plain and simple.

    Other readers point out the cost of land/home shop issue, which I believe to be somewhat true. We’re not as packed in as they are in San Francisco, so folks can often build their own facility (or use an existing garage) to work. I’m doing just that at the Live/Work project: http://www.portlandbuilt.com/category/design/live-work (it’s a combination shop+apartment)

  7. Old Coot says:

    I do risk inspections/analysis for insurance companies and would think that these operations, if not self-insured by a quasi-government agency (like a school district or library), would have a great deal of trouble securing liability insurance given the inherent hazards.

  8. Old Coot says:

    PS: Don’t get me wrong, I like the concept…wish there was one nearby.

  9. Mike says:

    It’s a cool idea, and I hope it catches on in more places (a shame about Portland). As a relatively broke toolmonger with a small house, a place like Techshop would be nice because I can’t afford/don’t have space for many larger useful tools like a lathe, mill, or planer.

    I wonder if they would work better as less of a business and more as a cooperative?

  10. Jerry says:

    I have spent most of life in the Portland area – and I speak in decades, not years.
    The Community Colleges all around the area offer these or similar opportunities, often free but, at worst, a very small fee.
    In addition, siting this venture in Beaverton was very likely their biggest error. Beaverton is a very high-tech city comprised mostly of electronic-technie types who can build a computer from scratch in 10 minutes but would have no idea what any of the “shop equipment” was for nor have any interest. Think electronic corporations like Tektronix, Benchmark, Epiq, Merix and many more.

  11. bajajoaquin says:

    The community college angle is one that I didn’t think of, either. It sounds like Portland is ahead of us on that, too. I’ve been looking for classes at the local college to get some formal welding and machine training, and they are few and far between, as well as rarely available at times compatible with working a day job.

    Can you tell I’d love to have one in San Diego?

  12. stack climber says:

    Tech shop is a neat concept. There is one here in Durham, NC that is currently going through a transition. The original build out was in a space like 30,000 sf with several different work zones. lack of funding has forced the site to move and should be reopening shortly. I visited a couple of times and took a few of their SBUs (safety basics and usage) classes. The cost was the deal killer to me. The SBUs were ~$50 give or take per class and a membership is $100 per month with little other options. My availability was weekend only and with family the $100 was steep. On the techie clinet base that is very true, from what I saw many members were either working on home brew equipment or robots during my couple of visits. The other popular use were artists being creative.

  13. Scott Saxon says:

    Just thought I’d clear up some information. It’s funny what comes when people guess what’s happeninginstead of finding out exactly what is happening.

    As stated, we are in a transitionary period here in Durham, but not for the reasons stated. We have just under 25,000 sf here and secured our lease, as did Portland, during financially good times. The economy tanked right after we both started. Lack of funding is not the reason for anything. The reason we are moving is the landlord is unwilling to adjust to the current times. The rent here is simply too much.

    We are moving to a much cheaper facility and with our present membership, about the same as Portland, we will succeed in 2010. I believe Portland will do the same. This is not political speak. This is just the way it is as told by the numbers.

    Rather than try to argue each and every point from those who tell us why this won’t work, I simply offer this.

    The number of people in any location, whether it be CA, OR or NC or anywhere else, that can afford to have even ten percent of the tools and equipment we have, is tiny. I don’t care who you are, you aren’t going to have a $20,000 laser and a $20,000 ShopBot along with another quarter of a million dollars worth of tools. No one has the money or space or need for it all.

    But what none of you has even mentioned is the most important thing we have. We have a community of people, not just online, but real time, in person. I’m sure since you belong to this group you can understand the power of that. It is priceless.

    Compare the $99 membership to a nominal Starbuck’s habit. Or how much do you spend on your cable bill? For me it’s all about choices. I’d rather spend my $99 on a place to make stuff rather than on something that makes me sit on my duff for five hours a day. I won’t even go into what I think coffee should cost. Actually I will. Because you can always get free coffee at TechShop. Then you don’t need that Starbuck’s habit and that will pay for your membership. Just kidding around, but you do get the picture. And that’s just me. Not everyone is like me. (good thing)

    It’s all about perceived value. Most of our members think $100 is cheap. That’s why they’re members and not in front of the TV.

    Thanks for listening,

    Scott Saxon
    Founder TechShop Durham

  14. Scott Saxon says:

    I probably should respond to just a few more points.

    Consider yourself lucky to have a pretty awesome community college system. Here, you can only use the stuff when taking classes, I’m told. Once you’re done with the class, that’s it. No more access. But if you have that type of access, then by all means use it! Count yourself as one of the lucky ones.

    Insurance was easy.

    Our economy is horrible now too. We have people using TechShop for work. A machinist, a furniture maker and several artists top the list of people running cottage businesses for $100 a month overhead. Try to duplicate that anywhere. I don’t think you can do it for less than $100 a month, but am willing to listen to anyone who can.

    And finally, we only need 300 to 500 members to support a venture like this. About the same as is required to support a typical health club. I think you will find as TechShop grows into many different locations nationwide, that the population base required is far less than you think.

    All it takes is people with dreams. Build your dreams here.

    Thanks again,


  15. KMR says:

    This is a great concept, I would have loved to have access to this during college! Even now with a lathe, drillpress, mill, welders in my shop… I would still join and find this useful. We don’t have the space for some of that sheetmetal equipment, but I do have the need from time to time, $125/mo is a BARGAIN to have access to all of that stuff when you need it from 10AM-10PM.

    Great concept, hope they catch on in more places.

    I have a friend in Durham who would go nuts for this – Scott, I’ll make sure to point him to your TechShop.

  16. Jay S says:

    I for one wish we had something like this in Las Vegas!

    As an aspiring crafter – I would love to have access to the shop equipment – but better yet – the education. There are a few shop type classes at the Community college – but not so easily accessed if you work a 8-6 job.

    I go to portland regularly and would love to stop in – wonder if they offer temporary/trial memberships?

  17. Shalin says:

    This is too bad.

    I’d LOOOOVE to have one in the DALLAS area. Especially since I just got a house in the ‘burbs. Although, I’m not sure I’d use it enough just justify the cost. I’d go for up to $50/mo, but not much beyond that… Another reason to sign up for a shop class a nearby college… I’m kinda surprised the big box stores haven’t formed partnerships with things like Techshop yet…

    I’ve spoken with Jim Newton some time ago and toured the original Techshop. I think he’s got something going, but I agree with N. Carter that it does seem like it takes either a culture shift toward communal workshops or a cost-/space-prohibitive environment (i.e. expensive and/or cramped town/city) for it to have sustainable cashflow…

    I’ve been considering just having a weekend DIY coffee club in the Dallas area through Meetup.com and see where that goes… If anyone here is in the DALLAS area and wants to start something, lemme know through my website link.


  18. Shalin says:

    Thanks for all the input and clarification Scott – all the best to you!

    I didn’t think about the artist angle…hmmm… there’s a surprising amount of that happening in Dallas…

    Scott, if you don’t mind explaining – how do you know if an area really has enough people that would make a full blown TechShop a good solution for the local (or even regional) market? Are there any top 5 indicators too look for?

    Otherwise…I was *considering* just getting some buddies together and footing the bill for a small amount of large tools like a ShopBot and getting a large storage shed at a big-box storage center…I’m told they can fix you up for power, etc.


  19. Chris says:

    Shalin: Instead of a large storage shed, you might consider picking up a couple used shipping containers and trucking them up from Houston (the nearest large port). There have been numerous articles about the glut of used shipping containers in this country in the last few years and they sound like they’d make a great workshop space.


  20. KMR says:

    @Chris: You’ll need to ventilate the containers REALLY well otherwise the condensation that forms inside will quickly be an issue on expensive equipment.

    We have some 40ft containers behind the shop used for used parts storage, and condensation was an issue until we put vents front and back and a solar powered fan in the center of the roof. Paid $1400/each for the containers.

  21. Shalin says:

    @Chris – that’s a heck of an idea! 🙂

    @KMR – A very good point. Surely, there’d have to be some amount of weatherizing that’d have to be done…


  22. Trevor says:

    I had a 1-year membership at the Menlo Park Techshop. When my term was up, I didn’t renew. It’s probably worth mentioning that nobody ever contacted me to find out why, which didn’t surprise me.

    Despite the fact that the MP location is very conveniently situated on the way home from work for me, I found that as a guy with a family and a demanding job it was difficult to fit it into my work/life balance. Leaving work early is never really an option, so if I wanted to go to Techshop I’d have to skip a family dinner and evening time with the family. Having to drive ~20 minutes each way (and pay bridge toll) to come in on the weekends was also a surprisingly effective barrier to making use of my membership.

    There were other things, more directly related to the TS experience, which also left me unimpressed. Little things, like the announced switchover to an RFID badge system for members that just kind of never happened, didn’t do much to inspire confidence in how organized and focused the operation really was.

    Of course, there were more substantive issues that were more directly the cause of my non-renewal.

    I didn’t mind the extensive use of older-but-still-serviceable equipment, such as the Bridgeport and Bridgeport-clone mills. It did bother me, quite a lot, that only one of the mills had a working DRO — and bugged me even more that another mill had a low-budget DRO sort-of installed but not working for the entire year I was a member. I take good care of my equipment, and I strongly prefer the use of DROs on manual mills and lathes, so yes, to me it IS a big deal that this was never fixed.

    The basic SBU class on the mill was great, and the instructor was nice — and for a long time, that was the ONLY milling class. Oh, there was lots of instruction available for the shiny-fancy CNC equipment, but a class on workholding and machining techniques? Ha! No class for you.

    On more than one occasion I found myself wishing that they had some kind of basic controls-and-operation guide posted at each of the machines. For example, Bridgeport mills and clones aren’t super complex, but the way to use them safely and effectively is NOT always simple and obvious. Old lathes are easily 4X worse for an inexperienced operator, with the control labels long-since worn away or rendered illegible — and the controls can be different from machine to machine.

    If you’re thinking about a TechShop membership for mill or lathe work, I encourage you to talk with your local staff first about tooling. My TS location had an odd approach to tooling — they supplied a grab-bag of stuff, from end mills to slitting saws, but in the end I bought several personal sets of end mills and other tools and a rolling toolbox to keep them in just to keep my sanity.

    I now have a nice mid-size mill of my own (Grizzly G0484) to which I’ve fitted a very nice ShumaTech DRO, and will be getting a lathe sometime this year. There are a lot of good things about TechShop and what they’re trying to bring, but IMHO until they realize that people are pretty savvy at recognizing whether or not TS is a focused, well-run org that takes good care of its members and equipment, they’ll continue to struggle to retain members.

    I didn’t expect it to be perfect — but I did expect it to get better over time. At the end of a year, with no improvements in the areas I cared about, I decided to spend my money building up my home shop instead.

  23. Fzzt says:

    I had a couple of projects in mind that I really couldn’t do at home because of lack of tooling, space & know how. I was very interested in the idea of TS however in the end the price was just too high for me.

    By the time I figured raw materials, classes, TS membership & commute costs; it ended up being cheaper for me to purchase ready made items. Sure I lost out on the fun of learning some new skills & pride of building my own project but as much as I love DIY sometimes you just have to live by the bottom line.

  24. Fabian says:

    @ Scott Saxon:

    Techshop made a great video some years ago together with Revision3.com.

    I think Techshop would get more interest if they had a standing weekly video program on the Revison3 network, especially now that the original Revison3 DIY “Systm” show has been retired.



  25. Ppphx says:

    I was going to join, before I lost my job.

  26. Michael R. says:

    Actually, I’m actively working towards a business like this in Dallas, originally to be called NeighborhoodWorkshop (http://www.neighborhoodworkshop.com/) but soon to be rebranded. We’ve been evolving the model some over time, and are opening first as a design/build shop to establish a solid revenue flow. I encourage anyone interested in joining or assisting, to fill out the contact form on the site. We are starting to see some momentum build, but obviously want to avoid the fate of Techshop Portland.

  27. Lee says:

    Ya know, talk all you want about possible reasons for the shutdown, but I just want my money back.

  28. SMCinPDX says:

    Just chiming in that, yeah, the cost was the problem for me. I was excited to hear about the opening, and crushed when I discovered that they were going to be in the middle of nowhere, and way outside my affordability range. If I had that kind of money, I’d buy my own lathe and rent a storage unit for a workshop. An even marginally more accessible location and a cheaper drop-in fee would have had me there once a week or more, guaranteed.

  29. Squidwelder says:

    I would love to see something like that in the Hampton Roads area. The region is crowded and having a shop like that would do wonders here.

  30. Fred Smith says:

    I just visited Techshop in Raleigh, NC the other day, and what I saw was pretty pathetic. They advertise auto repair facilities on their website but there are NO such facilities on site, because the space which was supposedly devoted to auto repair is being used to store
    various other non-auto machinery. I do not think much of these people making false claims on their website. It is like some sort of used car salesman’s “bait & switch” tactic, and it really left a bad taste in my mouth.

    A community college is a much better deal. My forecast for Techshop is that they will be history in a short time, because they simply charge too much money for what they offer.

  31. mark wella says:

    Actually, the biggest reason RDU Techshop failed was Scott Saxon. MANY OF US WERE VERY EXCITED WHEN WE HEARD IT WAS COMING TO NC! But, it was clear Scott’s agenda was not to evangelize… although he wanted people to see him as one… it was clear Scott wanted to get rich on it. He expected all sorts of volunteering and donation. When I met him, he had the audacity to ask me for my personal mill, CNC, and laser! As though I would part with more than $35K of my personal property just meeting him! In the same breath, he was still trying to sell me certification on the same machines I owned, even if I donated them! I have to congratulate Scott on his balls. Imagine, he tried to sell me a membership to use my own equipment, refusing to maintain it, or offer me anything in exchange! An incredibly offensive ass!

    Another of my dealings with techshop involved Scott meeting me, which he was 2 hours late to attending. After he finally showed, he proposed that I front materials for a class I would teach, and for which he would be paid.

    I came back to Techshop because I believe in the Maker movement. But Scott is rude, antisocial, and downright mercantile. It was clear to me, and others who have spoken with me about my experiences, that Scott is the reason this failed.

    If I will be involved with something like this again, it will be a true non profit where I know the people running it aren’t sizing me up to pay for their business to run. RTP has plenty of Makers. Without Scott, likely they will do something in a place like Splatspace or FabLabs… Scott wasn’t an evangelist. He should be a televangelist!

  32. Norman Kelty says:

    What I have noticed, at least in Durham, has been that many people calling themselves “makers” aren’t makers. They are really printers. People who download other people’s designs and sort of pass them off as their own. It’s really not that remarkable. How many of the same geometric constructs have you seen? The same parts over and over. It is no different than copying a CD and claiming you’re a rock star. Lame! Even with the tools in hand most people can’t seem to break new ground. The Durham group is starved for people with talent to create something new and interesting. Imagine having a machine like the Epilog or Stratasys and all people can seem to “invent” are napkin holders. Congratulations, you made something for 100 times the price of a superior cheap Walmart good!

    Maker culture in Durham needs work. If the people at Techshop were more like the Shopbot people, then Techshop Durham would have been noticed. No talent hacks hacks don’t inspire people to create. They have proven that maker technology is available enough that people other than professionals can use it!

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