A Look Back

The “Cave” at the beginning

Next week FCW will have the December 2012 Open House. Since our first Open House was one year ago, I thought a look back over the past year would be useful, especially for new members.

In the beginning:

Dan first contacted me (Michelle) about trying to form a local hackerspace in April of 2011. We talked a little but nothing really came of it. In late July, Dan found Rich through hackerspaces.org. Rich lived in Granite Falls and was also looking for a hackerspace in the area. They organized a meeting in August and six persons came. Rich wanted to do things “backwards” — get a location first, then push for members. Four of us: Rich, Dan, Colin, and Michelle put up some initial money to get started. Rich beat the bushes and found a location in an old cotton mill that we could use.

The “office” at the beginning

It was somewhat sad looking, divided into two parts. The “cave” was an open space with no lights or power, and the “office” was a storage area. But, we liked it and in September, it became home for FCW. Over the next several months, all time and resources were spent installing wiring and lights, and cleaning up. We picked up two more members during that time (Warren and Gene) and decided to have an open house in December 2011. It pushed us as we barely got the lights in and some of the machinery moved before the open house.

One Year Ago, December 2011:
FCW started with four members, Dan, Rich, Colin and Michelle. Warren and Gene joined us just before the open house so we had 6 to greet everyone.

Since then were the following – though several stayed for a while then left for various reasons.

Dec. – Joe and Buck joined at or just after the open house.
Jan – Ross, Shawn, Seth and Craig
Feb – Clarence
Mar. Vic
June – Mike, Andy, Jared and Nick
Aug. – Rick
Sept. – JD, Ben, Chris
Oct. – Marlyn, Brandon
Nov. – Ed, Dave, Kaleb

With this open house, we are going in with 17 members. We had a surge after the December and August open houses, so hopefully there will be one this January as well.

The first FCW open house Dec. 2011

Work areas:
At the open house one year ago, we had just got the machine shop equipment moved, but not ready. There was a radial arm saw (inoperable), planer (inoperable) and a circular saw in the wood working area. There was one 120V line on the West wall (office side) of the cave but no power on the machinery side. Outlets had just been installed in the office area. None of the rooms were built so there were signs saying where the classroom and railroad/modelshop would be. The electronics area was operational, but barely as most of the equipment was brought in by Rich and Michelle just for the open house. We had just bought the large tables from a WPCC auction so we had most of the tables, but some of the chairs were bad.

Rich and Warren with Mill
Warren and Rich with the CNC mill

The first area to actually become fully useful was the machine shop. In January, we got some power on the cave East Wall so that the mill and lathe could be used. It took several more weeks before they were leveled and set up to go. The major equipment in it are a lathe, CNC mill, bandsaw, and drill press. Between Rich and Warren, there are numerous small tools as well. Vic donated a good amount of material (steel, aluminum, and brass) to the shop.

Work on the rooms seemed to drag on forever, but finally, with Joe and Gene leading, the walls started up. Rich did most of the wiring for the room walls and some serious head scratching as an outlet box was completely covered up by drywall. Seth arranged for us to get some flooring from Habitat (many thanks to them) so that we could have decent wood floors in the rooms. We did expect any day to find that a forklift had crashed through our ceiling into one of the rooms, but that was finally reinforced and the rooms started to take shape. They were ready early in the Summer.

Warren checks out the model shop wall

The railroad was brought in by Gene. It was at his house and had to be dis-assembled, moved and re-assembled. Gene and a crew were able to do so early in the Summer, then Gene recruited Warren to help put it back together. There is a lot of detailed work on the railroad and the tracks needed to be aligned so it took quite a while. it is operational and impressive now, but Gene, in the true Hacker spirit, will be constantly adding on and tweaking it.

The electronics area is also operational. There is a reasonable set of equipment that stays at the space, including a Pace surface mount re-work station. We have several trainers and can work with numerous microprocessors and digital devices. Some RF equipment and fabrication equipment is still being scrounged.

Somewhere along the line, Dan (I think) brought in some books to start a library. Then Dan, Michelle, Rich, and later JD populated the library so that it now contains books, on computers, operating systems, programming languages, micro-controller, analog and digital electronics, physic/chemistry/math, networking, and machining. The library has outgrown its location so it will be moved to the classroom after the first of the year.

Michelle and Colin are Amateur Radio operators. After Buck joined and Dan got his Ham license, we started a Ham station. Michelle and Colin furnished most of the equipment so that we have HF and VHF capability. We hope to add some digital modes this coming year. We got a station call of K4FCW and we now have additional Hams with JD, Ben, and Ross.

The woodworking area was possibly the last to become useful. We had only a few items at the December open house. Joe brought in a few more, but it was only after Ross and Rick became active that it really became useful. Besides the circular saw, radial arm saw and planer (now all operational), we have a sander, bandsaw, scroll saw, and jointer. A dust system is being installed and with the recent addition of a CNC wood router, the only major item missing is a wood lathe. The shop was used to make much of the Fright night props.

Since last year, we had another open house in August, operated the Ham Radio Field Day in June, and the ARRL November Sweepstakes. However, our biggest project for the year was Fright Night, a three night event for Halloween. Ross coordinated the event with he and Rick building many of the props. The building owner allowed us to use a large area behind our space to make a series of fright venues which included a Mad Scientist lab, a Haunted

Fright Night 2012- electric Chair
The electric chair — a shocking experience for Fright Night

Graveyard, the Dark Forest (complete with werewolf), an Electric Chair, a Guillotine, and an Asylum. Considering that we were pressed for time and had little PR, it went surprisingly well and everyone is looking forward to next year.

We started some classes this year. Rich and Warren taught a safety class on machining early in the Summer. Rich later followed that up with a multi-week machining class in which a small air/steam engine was fabricated. After a donation from the local Radio Shack (again many thanks), Rich also taught a simple Introduction to electricity/electronics class. Michelle did an overview of C/C++ and later, an Introduction to Digital Electronics – Gates. Recently, Rich did another safety class with a small project included.


A 501(c)(3) application was filed so that donations to FCW can be tax-deductable. It is still being processed by the IRS. At the latest WPCC auction, we obtained several good chairs.

For the Open House:
We have a Santa’s Sleigh that was designed by Eric Hurley at WPCC (many thanks) and built by Ross and Rick. With Santa-Warren, we plan to take free pictures of kids sitting in the sleigh. The MAME machine is built. It will play thousands of the classic arcade games. At the moment, it is only one player, but the joystick and buttons for a second player are on order. After the open house, it will be painted and fancied up a bit.

This coming year:
Several FCW members are planning personal and group projects. At the space, we are already planning an event for Easter, another Fright Night next Halloween, Field Day and several other Ham related events. Planned classes include, various microcontrollers, Python, Networking, Ham Radio, Machining, Basic Woodworking, CAD, Digital Electronics, models, mask making, and another Intro to Electronics. We are hoping to have an FCW presence at several hamfests, the Southeast Linuxfest and possibly the NC Makerfaire. At the space, we will be installing more circuits to handle the additional machine load and working to obtain a heat pump. We can always use more members and PR. The fun continues, who knows what ideas someone will come up with.