North Richland Hills Library becomes haven for makers young and old

Kipi Fleming of Hurst makes a quilt at The Maker Spot inside the North Richland Hills Public Library.
Kipi Fleming of Hurst makes a quilt at The Maker Spot inside the North Richland Hills Public Library. Star-Telegram

Drawn by shared interests in creating products, robotics, quilt-making, sewing, woodworking, and visual and music production, a community has emerged on the second floor of the North Richland Hills Public Library.

Throughout the week, retirees, toddlers and people whose ages fall in between go through the double doors into the 4,800-square-foot Disneyland for the hobbyist.

Mark Clark, a retiree from Hurst, said he joined almost immediately after he heard about The Maker Spot. He has since created a coin sorter that separates copper pennies from zinc pennies using the fact that copper pennies weigh more. His other project is a smartphone holder that allows the free flow of air to keep the phone cool in his car.

The equipment he needed to make his inventions would have cost him $10,000 to $15,000, he said. “I thought this was a godsend when this popped up, and it was so inexpensive,” Clark said. “It worked out pretty well.”

The Maker Spot was inspired by a demonstration for 3-D printers in fall 2013, Library Director Cecilia Barham said. She had doubts that residents would attend.

But after 347 people showed up and another large crowd attended the fall 2014 demonstration, Barham said officials saw the need for that type of programming.

The city bought furniture, fixtures, equipment and supplies with a $74,785 grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The library’s staff and volunteers provide the labor.

To participate, people need a North Richland Hills library card or a North Texas Library Consortium card. Nonresidents can obtain a card by calling the library. The only cost is for supplies (20 cents a gram for the 3-D printer materials).

When The Maker Spot opened Aug. 3, it joined a regional trend. The Benbrook Public Library’s 2-year-old MakerSpace offers 3-D printers, a laser engraver, and circuit and music equipment. The University of Texas at Arlington’s FabLab opened in October 2014 and plans to triple its space to 8,000 square feet with a planned January grand opening. The center offers 3-D printers and scanners, a laser cutter, a virtual reality headset and tools such as microcontrollers and oscilloscopes.

“While we primarily serve the UTA community, the public is welcome to use the UTA FabLab at no cost, though we do charge for consumables like 3-D printer filament,” Evelyn Barker, UT-Arlington Libraries’ director of marketing and communications, wrote in an email.

At the North Richland Hills Maker Spot, the most popular pieces of equipment are the 3-D PolyPrinters, machines that can create products using computer software and a plastic material. The printers have posted 673 hours of use for the first two months. Clark may spin his smartphone case into a marketable product.

“But mostly it’s just something that I wanted to do for myself,” he said.

Then there are the sewing machines and the long arm quilting machine. Quilters appreciate the chance to stitch a quilt on a quilt-size machine. The long-arm quilting machine is the second most popular piece of equipment at The Maker Spot, Barham said.

Linda Hill, a retired teacher from North Richland Hills, said she signed up for the quilt-making class as soon as it opened up. It would be full within an hour. She said she previously sewed quilts by hand and then pointed to a quilt on the machine.

“It used to take me months,” Hill said. “I did this in about 35 minutes.”

Makers can also produce videos, photo displays and music productions, along with woodworking, robotic and electronic projects.

Krista Graff of Colleyville brought her four children, whom she home-schools. They were working on circuit equipment in which sounds buzz, lights flash and various other sequences occur. They also were programming “Sparky” the resident robot.

“Any hands-on stuff is great learning,” Graff said.

Some age restrictions exist. Users must be 17 or older to operate the woodworking and the long-arm quilting machine. Most other equipment requires that participants be 9 and older, though there are activities, such as Sparky, for preschoolers.

Clark said he is looking for another project. He will not have to look far for support.

“If you can create it in your mind, we can help you … make it real,” Barham said.