The genesis of Knox Makers was a 2011 Craigslist post pitching the idea of forming a hackerspace in Knoxville. The CCC Mainz space in Germany and i3 in Chicago were direct inspirations. Eight folks responded and a dinner at Cafe 4 was arranged to discuss the idea. A loose-knit group formed and began meeting at each others' homes.
Before we had a space of our own, we also met at another non-profit that was willing to host us for free. It was basically two nights a month, and we had one open house and one structured class. It was important to get together to know how many folks will actually stick it out. At that time we tried to collect dues, but it was hard because we didn't have much to offer. It was helpful, however, in telling us who was really serious about having a hackerspace. We started banking a little money that way, but it didn't amount to much. We ended up collecting about $1800 dollars that way over the course of 8 months. Finally, someone threw down the gauntlet and offered a 1000 dollar donation if we could move into our space in three months. We had a few other folks match with similar offers, and we ended up with about 7500 in total collections to help us get moving. A lease was signed for a 1,000 sq ft unit in the Tech 2020 incubator in Oak Ridge.
We outgrew the Tech 2020 space quickly; it simply wasn't enough room for the tools and projects we wanted to accommodate. Most of our potential community was actually in Knoxville, and most of them told us they were unwilling to make the drive to Oak Ridge on a regular basis. These factors limited our growth and spurred us to look for a larger facility within Knoxville. We looked at quite a few places, even got close to signing some leases, and then they would fall through. The search went on for several years before we finally found a home with Spark. Cost was often the limiting factor. It was serendipitous that we ended up with Spark, really. Like us, they're a small nonprofit driven with more passion than money, so we understand each other well. We had already worked on projects together, mainly their Toy Tech program.
When we originally moved into Spark, only one of the three downstairs bays was available -- about 3,400 sq ft. We leased it and spent months installing our equipment, bolstering the electrical service, installing air conditioning, etc. Just as we got it all set up and ready to go, they offered us a second bay. We couldn't say no to all that extra space. But there was a lot of work to be done there too. We had to redesign the whole workshop, expand our electrical capacity again, rework the lighting, and install dust collection and air filtration systems. It was absolutely worth it though. Our membership and public Tuesday night exploded after moving. The bigger space plus being in Knoxville was just what we needed to take Knox Makers to the next level. We lost a few members who live in Oak Ridge, which we regret, but we're able to serve the larger community far more effectively in our new location.
In 2019, we applied for and won a few grants that enabled us to add a Blacksmithing zone. There was much interest in this but no room in the current building so we decided to purchase and build an outbuilding on the other side of the parking lot. There was already a concrete pad on the property so we built a pole barn around it and added yet another zone.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we moved our Tuesday night meetings to a virtual meetup via Big Blue Button. The shop closed completely for several months, and we slowly opened back up, requiring face masks for members working in the shop, then allowing small classes, then finally coming back to Tuesday Show and Share after over a year. Our community remained strong the entire time through video and chat channels and we even gained a few members.
In 2021, we renegotiated our lease to take over the last bay of the basement, increasing our square footage to just over 10,000, and controlling the entire basement. We moved the cleanest zones to the front of the building and the dustiest and dirties zones to the furthest back.
As of 2022, we have grown to over 250 paying members.