Yukon’s first makerspace vies for first place in international competition

"If you want a life-sized dinosaur, you have to build it yourself. Because you just can't go into Walmart and get that."

“If you want a life-sized dinosaur, you have to build it yourself. Because you just can’t go into Walmart and get that.”

This is not the motto of Whitehorse’s YuKonstruct makerspace, a collaborative workshop where members gather to share ideas and make furniture, crafts, and clothing.

But it might as well be.

A few years back, Allison Button did want a life-sized dinosaur: a baby allosaurus, to be precise. One that she could take to Halloween parties and ride on while wearing stilts. Obviously.

So she made it on her own.

At other times, Button has built various other things that Walmart, sadly, does not supply. A keg made out of a watermelon, for instance, filled with watermelon punch. A set of wall-mounted bookshelves that doubles as a cat playground, complete with a cat-sized rope bridge. Invitations to a Back to the Future-themed birthday party with pop-up flying DeLoreans.

Button is a regular volunteer at YuKonstruct, which was conceived in January 2014 as a space for people to figure out how to make things for themselves, even if they don’t have tools or expertise. It was a logical fit for someone with a tendency to look at things in stores and wonder if she couldn’t do them better on her own.

And now, Button is helping YuKonstruct vie for first place in a global makerspace competition hosted by Instructables, a website where people share instructions about how to make all kinds of things, from quinoa salad to Arduino laser harps (whatever those are).

The competition is simple enough. Build something. Photograph every step of the process. Write up instructions, including photos. If the process involves computer code or a design file, include that. Make sure anyone who wants to replicate your project can do it based on your instructions. Post everything to Instructables. Innovative ideas with clear instructions are featured prominently on the website.

On Aug. 31, the makerspace with the most featured instructables will take home an impressive set of goodies, including a laser cutter, a 3-D printer, and a welder.

Until recently, YuKonstruct was leading the competition, in part because Button singlehandedly posted an instructable every day through the month of June. Now, they’ve dropped to second place – just 10 featured instructables behind a makerspace in Florida.

Still, it’s an impressive achievement for a new makerspace in a relatively small community.

“Everybody thought I was really crazy at first. They were like, ‘Allison, we’re in the Yukon. We are a tiny, tiny makerspace. How can we possibly compete with makerspaces that have hundreds of members and that are in big cities?’” Button said.

“But… I knew that it would really just take a few enthusiastic, dedicated people to really win this.”

One of those people is Sandy Peacock, who’s contributed about a dozen instructables to the competition since it began in June. Several of her creations use YuKonstruct’s laser cutter, a machine that takes designs from a computer program and carves them into wood with incredible precision.

One of Peacock’s recent creations is a wood carving designed to sit over a doorway. It’s a forest scene – bears, a wolf, and a moose with a backdrop of spruce trees. She found the outlines for the animals and the trees online, and simply fed them into the computer program. Then the laser cutter etched them out in wood.

“It’s so darn easy, because I just go into the Internet and find this design,” she said. “You don’t have to be an artist or design person to be able to do that. I can’t draw. But I can do this.”

What’s interesting about the competition, and about the makerspace itself, is how it blends old and new. Many of YuKonstruct’s members make fairly conventional things: Halloween costumes and jewellery boxes, plastic chess pieces and baby toys.

But they’re using ultra-modern technology to build them. Those chess pieces, for instance, were made with one of YuKonstruct’s two 3-D printers. And they’re sharing many of the things they make with a global audience.

At the end of the day, though, there’s nothing particularly modern about YuKonstruct’s philosophy. The makerspace is for people with creative ideas who need some help to make them come to life. It’s a space for people to be crafty and quirky and self-reliant. “It’s really about promoting DIY culture,” Button said. And Button thinks it’s no accident that the Yukon’s first makerspace is taking off.

“People in the Yukon are such makers,” she said. “We fit into that maker culture so well. There’s really this kind of pioneering spirit that exists up here. If you live up here… you’ve had to figure out ways of making things work in a smaller community when things don’t always necessarily work the way they’re supposed to or when you don’t have access to the same kind of tools and supplies. So I think the Yukon just kind of breeds a certain kind of ingenuity.”

Still, YuKonstruct’s members will have to keep their creative juices flowing if they’re going to win the Instructables competition at the end of the month. The makerspace is hosting an event on Aug. 27 to encourage people to post as many instructables as they can before the deadline.

Anyone interested in joining the makerspace is encouraged to visit the centre at 135 Industrial Road on their Tuesday Open House nights, from 7 to 9 p.m.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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