Losing His 9-to-5 Job Inspired Dave Dalton to Build a Community for CreativesDavid Cawthon
Dave Dalton had to reinvent himself a few times. He was a blacksmith, but a junior apprentice burned the forge to the ground. He built and modified robots for a custom shutters business, but the company was forced to liquidate.
All that might’ve phased most people. But Dave isn’t like most people. He’s a maker.
“That’s someone who just has an idea,” Dave says. “They’re the ceramics artists, woodworkers, blacksmiths, costumers, prop-makers and electronics whizzes who never thought they had anything in common with each other. And that’s where they’re wrong. When you get them into an environment that forces them to rub elbows with other types of creatives, they suddenly realize they have far more in common than they realized.”
And after Dave, who was a mechatronics technician in 2008 (basically the person who maintains and builds robots in factories) lost his day job during the financial crash, he knew he was was finished working for other people; it was time to forge his own path.
“That was the second time in my career that I was left with a lot of skills and none of the tools to apply them,” he says.
So in that maker spirit, he rolled up his sleeves and decided to build his own opportunity: a space for makers like himself.
“It’s like a gym for creative people,” he says.
Dave’s makerspace, called Hammerspace, was forged from his past experiences, apprenticeships and odd jobs. He first put down roots in a 5,500-square-foot building in the KC’s Brookside ‘hood, but after a few too many headaches over the years, he recently upgraded to a space on the east side of town, off Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard—triple the space for the same rent. Now, makers can fly their drones or launch their rockets or catapults in an industrial area without those calls from the neighbors.
“Instead of sitting at home and watching HGTV or ‘Forged in Fire,’ you can instead join an organization that has all those tools and play your way through all these ideas you have,” he says.
Dave says spaces like these lower the cost of failure. But that “F” word isn’t a bad one for makers. Dave says setbacks are when valuable lessons are learned, ideas are improved and new things are created.
Looking around Hammerspace HQ, you can see some of Dave’s handiwork, along with the numerous other items from the community. Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, a prop gun from “Galaxy Quest,” Lego versions of video game protagonists, a drivable bombshell, a water fountain that dispenses Brawndo (you know, the soft drink from “Idiocracy,”) and a talking fortune-telling robot that prints out your fate after you feed it a dollar bill—just a few of the oddities Dave and his legion of makers have speckled around the building.
It’s what happens when you have a large space teeming with creative folks.
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“We all have those moments, generally with friends, and on the second beer you say, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we took the Big Mouth Billy Bass talking fish and hooked it up to Amazon’s Alexa, so when you order stuff from Amazon, it says, ‘Your batteries have been ordered.’”
And it’s that maker hive-mind that’s helped Dave and Co. procure some pricey tools that would’ve otherwise cost a fortune to buy new. When Dave started, he only had his and his business partner’s modest personal tool sets. But Dave will tell you community is a powerful thing. Members saw the enterprising duo needed equipment and started donating items to the space. Plasma cutters. Jewelry equipment. CNC (computer numeric control) machines. A lathe from the 1930s. Dave took it all, and today he’s amassed quite the collection, offering different stations throughout the massive space that focus on various disciplines.
Plus, it helps that his business partner Craig Berscheidt is a former electrical engineer in the tech sector. The duo, their employees and members do almost everything for Hammerspace in-house: graphic design, physical construction, maintenance, upgrades, landscaping. Leveraging employees and the community to make improvements has its perks. It keeps costs down.
But it’s not about what the community can do for the shop; it’s about what the shop can do for the community.
Dave says many folks discover that their hobby can be a money-making opportunity. He says a former insurance pro left his job and used Hammerspace to craft crates for comic book shops and record stores. Another would-be maker worked for a movie theater but used the maker space to develop robotics skills, which helped him later land a job at a manufacturing facility. And the list of success stories goes on and on.
Dave recalls the entrepreneurial spirit of early makers Orville and Wilbur Wright—two brothers who ran a bike shop and who were certainly not aeronautical engineers but rather two curious souls who had the right space, tools, materials and desire. And it’s because those two brothers weren’t satisfied with just dreaming, that they gave humankind flight.
Looking toward the future, Dave says he wants to keep running the maker space decades from now, no matter how technology reshapes our lives. And he says the maker community got his entrepreneurial dreams where they are today—and those same people will likely be the ones who keep that flame of inspiration burning here in Kansas City.