In Henry Ford’s memoir My Life and Work, the automotive pioneer shares his feelings on the importance of tinkering: “There is an immense amount to be learned simply by tinkering with things. It is not possible to learn from books how everything is made — and a real mechanic ought to know how nearly everything is made. Machines are to a mechanic what books are to a writer. He gets ideas from them, and if he has any brains he will apply those ideas.”

Tinkering is at the heart of Make Lehigh Valley, a nonprofit community of hands-on makers, hackers, and creatives. Located inside AEDC’s Bridgeworks Enterprise Center in South Allentown, its workspace includes tools like a 60W laser cutter, and 2D and 3D printers that let members experiment with ideas. They can make hardware, make software, or even make art.

Members have a wide range of interests from woodworking to electronics. “It doesn’t matter what their area of interest is. What’s important is that they love to tinker and that they support each other by assisting other members with their projects,” explained Make LV Board President Scott Piccotti. “There’s a lot of collaboration that goes on in our space. Sharing resources and knowledge are key components of what we do here. There are other maker spaces in the Lehigh Valley, but most are structured differently than ours is. Make LV was one of the first in the region.”

This year marks Make LV’s 10-year anniversary. The 501c3 nonprofit initially rented space at Bridgeworks in 2010. It currently has 32 active members. New members can join after attending two monthly meetings and then submitting an application. The new member initially receives a provisional membership. After 30 days has passed and the application has received board approval, they become a full member.

“Sometimes new members are recruited by existing members who bring them along to an Open Hack Night which is held every Thursday night,” Piccotti said. “Many come from the same companies. And sometimes people just walk in off the street having seen our events posted to Meetup or social media, or find out about us through word of mouth. Open Hacks are free and open to the general public after all. These nights are a favorite for the members since they are social nights and more casual. Sometimes we put on a movie in the background while we work, and other times we bring in food to share.”

COVID causes a pivot

Due to the pandemic, the Open Hack Nights are temporarily on hold, although the space is still usable for members with staggered times to minimize overlap. Visitors can request tours by appointment. Due to ongoing renovations in their current shared space at Bridgeworks, the members have been reorganizing their materials to make it more efficient for working.

Piccotti said the group has been staying engaged online through a newly started Slack channel where they can chat. And since no one knows yet know when it will be safe to assemble in groups again, they are exploring the possibilities of offering online classes for members in things like ham radios or 3D modeling.

“We enjoy doing community events like Allentown Arts Fest, so we missed out on that this year,” he said. “Normally we’d take an annual road trip to an event like Maker Faire in New York City, but that couldn’t happen this year. And we couldn’t hold any hack-a-thon events either.”

Still, Piccotti is looking forward to the new year ahead and growing the organization. “The pandemic hasn’t slowed things down for us as much as it’s caused us to approach things differently like it’s done for many of us. The tinkering will always continue!”