the true cost of using a makerspace (how to make decisions like an engineer)

makerspace Aug 7, 2021

What is a makerspace?
"Makerspaces are like gyms for makers. Instead of paying a membership fee for access to expensive fitness equipment, we provide access to manufacturing equipment. With our equipment, makers are able to design and build stuff that wouldn’t be possible with resources available to individuals working alone."

I'm trying to find the ideal makerspace in Minneapolis. I showed all the options I found in my previous post:

best 6 makerspaces in minneapolis - based on website design alone
This post could equally be called, “How to find anything online” or “How to find a makerspace in a city you’ve never seen.” Here, I’ll take you through the process I used to find the optimal space for me, then I’ll give you an update in a later post to tell you whether I was right.

Now that I have several great options to choose from, I want to make a decision based on more than how pretty their website is. I'll use a trick I learned in engineering school to pick the best one: it's called a "ranked scoring matrix" because it uses a spreadsheet table (a matrix) to help give each choice a score based on how they compare to the other choices.

The ranked scoring matrix is a good strategy to use when you have several priorities, but they are approximately equally important. It also works best when you have just a few options to choose from and you don't want to do a lot of math.

Here are the steps:

1. list all the priorities in one column

I selected my priorities before I even started searching for a makerspace. They're listed here for reference:

table of priorities
low cost
close to home
lots of tools

I put them all in one column of a spreadsheet, like so:

2. list all the options in one row

These are the options I found during my searching, in no particular order:

makerspaces in minneapolis
mpls make
twin cities maker
white bear makerspace
minnesota makerspace
nordeast makers
minnesota tool library

I listed these options in the same spreadsheet as before:

And now, just to make it look a bit prettier, I did some unnecessary formatting:

3. rank each choice for each priority

This process is like golf: the low score wins. The score for each option is simply the sum of all its ranks.

low cost

Because of differences in price models, here I will assume that I live alone in a household and want access to the makerspace for one year as a new member at the minimum price to get access to the space for at least 5 hours per week.

Here's the ranking in order of increasing cost:

  1. Minnesota Tool Library
  2. Twin Cities Maker
  3. Minnesota Makerspace
  4. White Bear Makerspace
  5. Nordeast Makers
  6. MPLS Make

Here's the updated scoring matrix:

And here's a summary of what I found:

minnesota tool library

Cost for one year: $120

This information was one link down, but the link was in a block of text so it was difficult to find.

twin cities maker

Monthly cost: $55
One-time costs: $20
Cost for one year: $570

The cost for one year includes a discount for annual membership and the one time processing fee.
I had to move through two links in different places to find this information.

minnesota makerspace

Monthly cost: $50
Cost for one year: $600

This information is on their home page in the excellent FAQ section.

white bear makerspace

Monthly cost: $99
Cost for one year: $1188

This info only required one click to find.

nordeast makers

Monthly cost: $200
Cost for one year: $2400

I was surprised by how difficult it was to find this information on their beautiful website. It was hidden, one link down, in the "About Us" section. The other sites generally have a "Membership" link in the navigation bar if the cost isn't on their homepage.

mpls make

Monthly cost: $220
Cost for one year: $2640

This was difficult to read because of the broken formatting on their website. I had to follow one link to find this information.

close to home

I hope to walk or bike for most of my time in Minneapolis, so I used Google Maps to estimate the walking time from the university to each makerspace.

Here're the rankings in order of increasing walk duration:

  1. Nordeast Makers
  2. Minnesota Tool Library
  3. Twin Cities Maker
  4. MPLS make
  5. White Bear Makerspace
  6. Minnesota Makerspace

Here's the updated matrix:

And here's what I found:

nordeast makers

Walk duration: 16 min

minnesota tool library

Walk duration: 38 min

twin cities maker

Walk duration: 59 min

mpls make

Walk duration: 97 min (~1.5 hours)

white bear makerspace

Walk duration: 364 min (~6 hours)

minnesota makerspace

Walk duration: 2460 min (41 hours)

I didn't realize from their homepage that they are in a totally different area of the state!

lots of tools

This one is more difficult to rank because not all tools are of equal value to me (for example, I already own screwdrivers, wrenches, and hammers but there's no way for me to fit a table saw in my apartment even if I wanted to). For this category, I will loosely rank each makerspace based on the number of large, expensive tools or power tools that I don't own that are available at the membership level I used to calculate the cost of membership.

Here's the ranking for having lots of tools:

  1. Twin Cities Maker
  2. (TIE) Minnesota Tool Library
  3. (TIE) MPLS Make
  4. (TIE) White Bear Makerspace
  5. Nordeast Makers
  6. Minnesota Makerspace

And here's what I found:

twin cities maker

Number of tools: ~66

The list is on their wiki here:
I am also impressed by the variety (everything from vinyl cutting to blacksmithing)!

minnesota tool library

Number of tools: ~40

The tool library lists every single individual tool (~6112). However, they don't list the large tools available in their workshops. This makes them particularly difficult to rank.
To solve this, I searched their inventory for the tools listed at the other makerspaces and only counted one of each type of tool.
This is very imprecise, but it revealed that the tool library has essentially all the power tools I could ever use, but none of the CNC machines. Because of this, I estimate it to be comparable to MPLS Make and White Bear Makerspace.

mpls make

Number of tools: ~40

I used to approximate.

white bear makerspace

Number of tools: ~40

Found in their shop tour:

nordeast makers

Number of tools: ~30

Found on their tool page here:

minnesota makerspace

Number of tools: ~20

Estimated from You have to click on
"What Equipment is available?" near the top of the page.

4. calculate final scores

Here's the final matrix:

Using this scoring method, I found the makerspaces most likely to have the best balance of low cost, distance to home, and number of tools. Because the Minnesota Tool Library and Twin Cities Maker have such close scores, I will likely tour them both before deciding on one solution.

I will send an update with what I find very soon!

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