Sunlight and fresh air pour through two industrial-sized doors, but it does little to stanch the heat inside Jake Ryan’s cavernous shop on Thompson’s Point.

On a recent, sweltering summer day, Ryan navigates between heaps of precariously stacked tools, recycled materials and donated equipment, pointing to the various corners of the more than 7,000-square-foot space and describing his plans for each spot.

In one area, a fully equipped wood shop; in another, an electronics station; and in a third corner, a host of metal-working tools. All around him, recycled insulation and lumber sit in piles, waiting to be put back to use.

After a successful crowd-funding campaign in May that raised more than $28,000, Ryan is working feverishly to open his startup, the Open Bench Project, Portland’s first large-scale “maker space.” It will be housed in a vacant industrial building on Thompson’s Point.

“I’m an architect, so the space is critical,” said Ryan, of Portland, whose energy matches that of an excited child in a toy store, albeit one with a master’s degree. “If you want to have a play, you need a stage. My immediate goal is to get people habituated to using the space.”

Once the business is fully operational, a nominal fee buys access to his growing inventory of used and donated equipment. Eventually, Ryan plans to offer classes to teach people how to build their dream project, without having to buy tools or rent shop space themselves.


For now, however, Ryan and a small group of volunteers are toiling away inside the dusty former auto detailing garage, and they eagerly welcome others to help shape the project. Rather than wait until the shop is pristine, he plans to fling open doors early. “We’re going to open up before we’re ready,” he said. “The people who show up will be the people who love it. I know that I alone cannot make it float.”

Chris Thompson, the developer of the former industrial site where the Open Bench is based, said taking on Ryan as a tenant was a risk, but he saw in his energy and business plan a chance to create something new for Portland that fit with his vision for the development.

“It’s a place where entrepreneurship and art and craft and entertainment and commerce can converge in a way that’s uniquely about Maine,” Thompson said. “What if we were really a neighborhood and everyone did transact with one another to help all of the boats rise with the same tide?”

The community workshop is among a growing number of such efforts springing up around the nation and in Maine, founded on the notion that when communities pool their resources and know-how, everyone can learn and benefit. Like the studio collectives of New York City that offer struggling artists a place to paint, the Open Bench Project could help to drastically lower the barrier of entry for the surging number of do-it-yourselfers who otherwise might never have access to equipment and working space on such a massive scale.

This fall, three maker fairs will come to Maine in Portland, Lewiston and Rockland, where like-minded inventors, artists and tinkerers can meet and learn from each other.

While Ryan’s is a for-profit project being built with heavy community support, another effort is under way on Anderson Street in East Bayside that will likely gather support from a similar DIY audience.


The Maine Tool Library is a nonprofit effort now crowd-funding to raise $13,000 in startup costs.

Rather than gather people together in one building filled with tools and equipment, the tool library would send people home with the equipment. They’d work in their own basements and garages with borrowed tools.

If the tool library is successful, a reasonable annual fee will buy a membership, allowing members to borrow tools and contraptions ranging from expensive, industrial-quality kitchen wares to simple power tools, to gardening and landscaping implements.

The project began about 18 months when about a half-dozen volunteers seriously researched how they could replicate the success of tool libraries in Seattle; Portland, Oregon; and West Philadelphia, said Anna Sommo, one of the founders of the Maine project.

Sommo, who grew up in Appleton, said she was first exposed to tool libraries after college when she spent several years in Berkeley, Calif., and in Portland, Oregon, both cities with vibrant and longstanding tool libraries. At Berkeley, the tool library is operated out of a traditional book-lending library, while the Oregon library is a free-standing nonprofit model.

When Sommo returned to Maine, she recognized an opportunity to bring a similar project to the Northeast, where the do-it-yourself culture has thrived for generations, especially among independent-minded Mainers.


Although there are at least 50 such tool libraries around the nation, the Maine Tool Library would be the first in this state, according to statistics compiled by Gene Homicki, who helped found a tool library in Seattle.

Homicki, a software developer by trade, wrote a computer program to help manage the Seattle library’s collection. Soon, he found that many tool libraries needed help managing their inventory. His San Francisco company, MyTurn, now sells a Web-based inventory management platform used by dozens of tool libraries across the country.

In his experience, once a tool library is up and lending, the mental cogs begins to turn in the community.

“We see things that often grow around them are maker spaces, or fixer-collectives or repair cafes, basically groups of people who get together and fix items,” Homicki said. “It’s the whole idea of reuse and getting the best, most effective use out of items.”

That’s what Sommo imagines for the Maine Tool Library – younger or less-experienced borrowers connecting with older or more technically adept members who can teach them how to repair things.

The goal of the library aligned with the mission of the Resilience Hub, a Portland nonprofit that has agreed to host the tool library in a roughly 15-by-20-foot storage area at its Anderson Street office.


Lisa Fernandes, Resilience Hub executive director, said the tool library will help foster a form of economic resilience that complements the group’s efforts of the last nine years, which have focused on food and agricultural self-sufficiency.

“There’s a question about what things are appropriate for us to do together, rather than alone,” Fernandes said. “Does it make sense for all of us to own every single tool?”

If the Maine Tool Library hits its $13,000 goal by Aug. 15, the volunteer recruitment will begin, Sommo said.

“We’re looking for people to come out of the woodwork, so to speak, to help,” she said.

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