If you don’t have the tools or the room for a shop, there are some other options. Almost every High School and College, not to mention Vocational/Technical school has an adult-ed program that has some form of metal fabrication class. A lot of these are project-oriented. It would probably be good to contact the instructor or school to run the project by them first, but the idea of bringing in this sort of a fabrication job as a general introduction to metal work would, in most cases, be welcomed. Don’t forget the local press angle, either. “Local Voc-Tech class builds Electric Motorcycle” is a headline any school PR guy would kill for.
The other approach would be to try to find a co-op shop. This is a tough one, there are a lot of things that can torpedo an idea like this, but you often see these shops spring up around artist collaboratives. In Providence, RI, they have the Steelyard in Oakland there’s the Crucible and the San Francisco TechShop. Right down the street in Somerville MA, they’ve opened the Artisan’s Asylum…
It seems like these programs come and go- not surprising, considering the expense, liability and expertise that come into play to make it safe and viable. I’ve read stories about the Car-Talk guys starting one, only to give it up within a year or so due to the hassles involved.
Now, if you’re still in school, don’t forget the club angle. Purdue just formed, via Tony Coiro, an EV club that allows these guys to pool resources, get some support from the school in the form of a place to work and some complimentary supplies, as well as some attention, as Tony discovered in short order.
Any of these programs require some classes to get access to the equipment, but that’s a good thing. If you’re starting out, you really need to learn the ins and outs of working with these materials and tools. If you’ve been hacking away at this stuff like I have, a refresher is a really good thing. There are probably dozens of things you’re not doing quite right. Even if you’ve got a lot of experience there’s always something new to learn.
Once you gain the confidence of the shop supervisors or teachers and prove yourself reliable and responsible, don’t be at all surprised if you get some additional access to the facilities. Every place is different, of course, but these guys are doing programs like this for the love of it, and they like to share the love. If you go the extra mile, and try to make a contribution to the effort, you might be surprised at the doors that open for you.
Just a little caution. If you have a friend who has a machine shop, bike shop or garage, be really really polite. Although a lot of guys love to have projects going in their shop, have buddies hanging around, or do little favors for their friends, never lose sight of the fact that this facility costs them a ton of dough. They’re running a business. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend that lets you use their shop, use your best manners no matter how good a friend they are, it will be much appreciated. Don’t leave your stuff around, take up as little space as you possibly can, and do your best to make some sort of contribution to the shop- even chipping in to do piecework if they need it. It will be much appreciated.
Oh, and beer. Always bring beer.