On a sticky Tuesday evening toward the end of summer, the air inside the Station North Tool Library smells of sawdust and magic. Projects by artisans of all skill levels are in the works. A handful of 20-somethings wander into the workshop around 6:30 p.m. to learn how to build a coffee table. To a newcomer, the piles of wooden planks and massive planer saws can seem daunting, but these folks have been here before—to take the prerequisite safety class, if nothing else—and know that in this quiet woodshop, anything is possible.
When class begins, instructor Sarah Hrovoski slowly pulls samples of wood from shelves and describes each kind, most of which are reclaimed from Remington’s Brick + Board salvage store, in detail—fir and pine are soft and sand nicely, maple is sturdy, mahogany’s color is rich. With fears cast aside, within an hour or so, each student has a rough design of their table, and then, sporting plastic safety goggles, they’re sawing, cutting, and sanding all manner of wood to bring their visions to reality.
“Everybody’s work is always different,” says Hrovoski, “which is really cool, considering the limitations in size and materials.”
In recent years, spaces such as the Tool Library have sprouted up across the city for those looking for weekend hobbies, after-work stress relief, or an education to launch a new profession or small business. We’ve all found ourselves in those post-grad and mid-career slumps. Whether you have a specific project in mind or just want to scratch a creative itch, chances are there’s a space and supportive community in Baltimore to help you see it through.
While traditional colleges and universities offer a variety of continuing education options, they typically involve a larger commitment, stricter schedule, and higher tuition than maker spaces like the Tool Library, The Foundery, Open Works, and many others. Through single classes, full-day passes, and annual memberships, these community hubs allow students of all ages and aptitudes to try their hand at a new trade. They also serve a need for existing artisans who no longer have access to tools, equipment, or workspace to continue honing their craft. Plus, advances in technology mean new ways to make things, and many of these spaces have added resources such as 3D printers and computer-controlled machines to their inventories. Many of the spaces’ founders want to lower the barriers between novice and expert by making shops, education, and resources more accessible.
So whether you’re looking to mold pottery, forge your own metalwork, or build a coffee table, Baltimore has a variety of spaces to help you break your Netflix habit and embrace your inner artisan. Here are a few of our favorites to help you get started.
5707 Smith Ave., 410-578-1919
Since opening in 1980, Baltimore Clayworks has continued to grow and literally expand outwards, adding onto its original structure and opening a gallery and office space across the street, creating something of a miniature ceramics campus in the heart of Mt. Washington. Artful benches and a sculptural fountain adorn the walkways between the buildings and are perfect for hanging out and talking shop. But it’s the old brick building where the true magic happens.
Shelves of pottery-in-progress line the walls, chalkboards are filled with design concepts and instructions, and a wall of glaze samples shows some 144 combinations. Studios and classroom areas offer options for hand-building and wheel throwing. Several kilns fill the basement, while a beloved wood kiln is outside.
“People will come from two hours away, sleep on cots, take shifts through the night to use this kiln,” says Mary Cloonan, Clayworks’ exhibitions director. “You have to keep feeding it wood, so it becomes a community thing, keeping it going.”
Clayworks briefly closed last year, but with a new board installed, bankruptcy was averted, and the space reopened quickly, due in large part to its strong community of teachers and artists.
Clayworks offers open studio time so people can work at their own pace, and a range of courses offers a little something for everyone—from the serious student to the late-night bachelorette party, to three-hour “Try It” workshops where people can see how they like the art form. “Everyone starts somewhere,” Cloonan says. “Sometimes people just want to come make something and have fun.”
10 E. North Ave., Suite 130, 410-243-0479
Not every city is so lucky to have a space dedicated solely to jewelry making.
In 2014, a group of Maryland Institute College of Art faculty members and students from the school’s now-defunct jewelry program founded the Baltimore Jewelry Center inside the Meadow Mill building in Woodberry. It’s now located in Station North, where artists sit at worktables beneath bright white lights and tediously take pliers to their pieces, pound metal with hammers, and painstakingly clip together fasteners and hinges. Exotic necklaces, small sculptures, and other one-of-a-kind pieces dangle above work stations and are clipped to desks and exhibited in gallery spaces.
The center is open seven days a week and supplies a variety of rough-and-tumble tools one might not expect to be associated with this decorative art form—kilns, grinders, sanders, saws, torches, and even a hydraulic press. Here, jewelry is fashioned from metal as well as unlikely materials including fiber and found objects. Other small pieces, like kitchenware and belt buckles, are made here, too.
Classes change each quarter to keep things fresh, ranging from two-day workshops and soldering bootcamps to a certification program. Several local college students take classes, notes one founder, April Wood, who serves as a studio manager and instructor here. “We build on their skills, and we provide a different community.”
The gallery offers artisans a chance to show off their unique and thought-provoking pieces, and it also serves as a way for the center to extend itself into the broader community through free art talks, social gatherings, and exhibits, which have included works by revered artists such as local jewelry designer Betty Cooke and beadwork artist Joyce Scott.
101 W. Dickman St., 855-936-2537
With the exception of the lobby and a break area with hot dogs and and Zeke’s coffee, The Foundery is one gigantic room that somewhat resembles a Home Depot—but this place is anything but a big box.
At nearly 20,000 square feet, the Port Covington maker space (once located on the corner of Pratt Street and Central Avenue) features a wide-open, industrial environment for craftspeople to share materials and sneak peeks at one another’s projects, which helps spark ideas. “Walls can be intimidating,” says CEO Jason Hardebeck, who was a nuclear engineer in the Navy before his Foundery days began. “When people start working with new materials, they tend to push the boundaries.”
“Anyone who has an idea can start their project here.”
One section of this sprawling space is reserved for old-timey blacksmithing, while massive computer-controlled machines run nearby, making metal signage, embroidered pillows, and custom-designed skateboards (Bustin Boards is a regular). They serve a niche for those who have started a business but haven’t reached the point of being able to justify buying a $10,000 machine. “We’re democratizing access,” says Hardebeck. “Anyone who has an idea can start their project here.” The space’s name reflects that idea; it’s purpose is to support founders.
The cacophony of machinery runs seven days a week, with artists dropping by to use the space and tools or to attend one of the 100 classes offered each month, like laser engraving, embroidery, bowl turning, Women Only Welding, or even making knives from scratch—and then going to a steak restaurant as a class to try them out. Unlike many other spaces, The Foundery will hold a class even if only one person signs up.
1400 Greenmount Ave., 410-862-0424
Want to make a drone or learn how to 3D print your own sculpture? At this massive and modern Greenmount West maker space, you’ve come to the right place. Technologies that weren’t widely available some five to 10 years ago—or simply didn’t exist at all—can be found within this 34,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 2016.
Open Works acts as a starting point to try these new gadgets and gizmos, and many classes—even safety and beginner classes—involve some element of making, says executive director Will Holman, adding, “We’re here to lower barriers.” Membership gives you access to tools, workspace, and other resources, including computer software such as Adobe Creative Suite.
Meanwhile, graphic designers, copy editors, architects, and other artists fill 115 cubicles, creating a community that fosters a cross-pollination of ideas and expertise. Even sitting in the space is inspiring, as much of Open Works’ interior design elements were custom made right here. Plus, there’s a coffee shop on the ground floor that helps fuel even the greenest of makers into work mode.
417 E. Oliver St., 410-347-0850
The Station North Tool Library prides itself on being an inclusive community shop that caters to the absolute beginner but also supports the high-level artisan. Here you can find more than 30 classes on everything from plumbing to handcrafting a coffee table from scratch.
What began as a lending library of tools (which still fill the front room) quickly expanded into classroom and workspace in 2014 as demand grew. A smaller classroom area was added this year.
“There was a skills gap between the tools we had in the library and the projects people wanted to take on,” says Arman Mizani, director of library services.
Traditionally, someone interested in woodworking would do an apprenticeship or attend a trade school, but “we’re trying to change the culture so that it’s not just an older man with the knowledge—it’s not this elitist thing,” says Chris Lavoie, who handles programming. “We want everyone to have access.”
The library offers sliding-scale membership rates for access to open studio time in addition to that extensive inventory of tools. Because it’s a relatively small space, some of the popular machines come with a 20-minute time limit, sometimes you have to share a table, and you always have to clean up after yourself. At the end of the day, the Tool Library team wants to maximize resources, but first and foremost build a supportive community. As Lavoie puts it, “People before projects.”
A few more spaces worth checking out.
Get geeky with the latest innovative technology in this East Baltimore maker space that brings computers, science, and digital art to the forefront.
6410 Landay Ave., 410-261-9691.
Who says print is dead? This Station North print studio allows you access for letterpress and screenprinting projects, with introductory workshops each month to help you learn the machines.
18 W. North Ave.
This fabric shop and craft studio run by Christina Brunyate offers material (from kitschy to couture), classes (sewing, quilting, even macrame), and social nights.
4321 Harford Rd., 443-885-0369.
Also known as WOO, this woodworking space in Woodberry is for women and gender non-conforming craftspeople and offers a variety of classes as well as open studio time.
1780 Union Ave., 443-449-5886.
Want to build an instrument from scratch? Creative director Tyler St. Claire will show you the ropes. He also hosts concerts in the Lauraville space.
4305 Harford Rd., 410-637-3728.
This new walk-in space offers craft kits that rotate every three months, allowing you to try your hand at making items such as leather totes or stained-glass windows.
721 Frederick Rd., Catonsville. 410-402-9125.
While not technically a maker space, Impact Hub serves an important role for the maker community by providing free talks geared toward artists and small business owners.
10 E. North Ave., 443-821-7482.