Building a Hackerspace

Unit F, Liner’s Industrial Estate, Pitt Road, Southampton

Our Hackerspace, So Make It (Southampton Makerspace) was located in Unit K6 on the same industrial estate as our current location. After a year in our first paid-for dedicated space, we decided it was getting a bit cramped. The physical space could not contain our ideas, and people were getting uncomfortable jamming in there.  After a brief budget meeting, we decided on a budget for rent for a new unit, and looked around. Our landlord, Andrew gave us the keys to a recently vacated unit, less than 100 yards away! So a few of the trustees went around to nose about.

Empty Unit all unloved

(One of) Our early viewings of the empty unit
The long view, showing all 1200 Square Feet of potential
Much to do. Lots of staring at the walls required

The new unit was on one level (BIG plus) compared to our old one, and was easily 2.5 times the size. We signed on the dotted line, and the landlord (Andrew) offered us access a month early for free, so we could get in and sort the place out! What a star!


There was dirt. Lots of it. The walls, the floor, every window, every wall fixture. The whole thing was absolutely filthy. Various things were hanging off, broken or just missing! The previous tenants ran an MOT inspection garage here, so there was car-related dirt all over. Diesel vehicles kick out a lot of particulates, which meant that every surface, vertical or horizontal was thick with sticky black carbon. It took a lot of cleaning, but we got to the end of it. We’re all practical people, so we just got on with it.

We had help from a pool of members, some 20 strong, day and night for at least three weeks straight, without a break. As a team, we scrounged stuff out of skips, re-cycling companies, the internet, peoples loft storage. Anything we could lay our hands on to reduce costs and build an awesome space.

I don’t think the previous tenants bothered answering the phone. A job for BT to fix.
Big and totally not needed welding supply transformer. We ripped that off to make more usable wall space 🙂

Anything we didn’t need was removed to make more space and maximize access to the wall space. All the holes in the ceiling and walls were patched up after the root cause was identified and fixed. Everything was cleaned out and repainted. After heavy rain (we started this project in December, which is a wet month in the UK and cold) over several days, the unit flooded. Water was pouring in under the roller shutter. Clearing the external drains solved this!

One of our members is a plumber. So he cleaned out the drains that were already backing up. A very important job in a unit with a large floor-to-ceiling roller shutter!
The roof leaked. In various places including near this ceiling extractor fan. We fixed that.

Not fixing. Not touching.

3-phase power supply, and lots of scary mains stuff in here. Nobody wants to touch this! Unidentifiable grime remove whilst wearing thick gloves!

Cleaning. Lots of cleaning

The Author, de-greasing the roller shutter slats with a paintbrush and a gallon of ‘Gunk’ engine de-greaser. What a way to spend an evening.

More Cleaning and Painting walls, Ceilings, and things

Sugar soaped and washed all the walls. Filled all the holes, and repainted the walls and ceiling. This one job took over two weeks. So much grime. So many buckets of water.

Once the cleaning and painting were done, we started the construction phase. The plan was to build a partition wall, roughly midway between the first two visible (but painted over!) windows. The idea was to zone the space into dirty (workshop) and clean (open hacking) areas to keep the dust and dirt contained at the source. The wall would be rock-wool insulated for thermal and noise reasons. Each zone has a separate fire escape, so there were no legal issues with doing this. The kitchen would be located at the camera viewpoint, to the left of the roller shutter. Conveniently near the water supply and waste connections to the external drain.

Building the kitchen

Paul the plumber is ace at fitting kitchens too. Very handy. Brand new Ikea worktop got for free locally via Freecycle!
Half a kitchen, and one of the many minor floods before we fixed the leak!

Our members are very resourceful, and we managed to acquire a complete kitchen for virtually no outlay. I think we only spend £100 on some missing parts and purchasing cupboard carcasses and doors from a local who was having a new kitchen fitted. Secondhand is good enough for us.

All the white goods were donated, so the outlay was zero. We even have a slimline dishwasher!

Help from the Landlord

Our awesome landlord, Andrew lent us all kinds of useful things to help us along – like this cool wheeled gantry. Here we’re starting the first parts of a partition wall

Building the Partition Wall

One of our trustees, Bracken, learned how to build a stud wall the hacker way – by watching YouTube! To be honest, it’s not really all that hard if you have the right materials and tools. The gantry was loaned by the landlord and all the power tools we had already. Timber for the structure, beams, uprights, noggins, and door frame were all bought and delivered from a local company, Totton Timber, that offered us a very good discount.

Insulation came from spare loft insulation members had spare. The wall boarding was donated by a local shipping company after a member applied some gentle pressure on the warehouse manager! The super-solid double doors came from a skip at one member’s workplace. All costs of timber, nails for the air gun, screws, and fixtures were paid for by a member who runs a local software company. I think it cost about £500 in all.

Screwing the main structural beams to the floor and walls prior to framing.
Most partition framing is done, just the doorway to build.

One of the trustee’s father is a retired carpenter, so on a visit (from Scotland, where he lives!) to his son, he got to pass down some knowledge and get the massive double doors into the workshop hung and swinging true. And a solid job it is too.

Moving in

Moved in! Most of our stuff is hidden behind the partition wall, in the workshop which is piled to the ceiling with our toys as we plan the space.

Donations, donations, and more donations

(Wood) Thickness-er, air tools, many spanners.
One of the many boxes of donated tools and parts we were given during our build

Additional Resources

Build Time-lapse

Hackerspace Build Finished!

(Okay, Hackerspaces are never finished)

So, as of writing, we’re just shy of two years in, and getting cramped again! We’ve acquired or bought new tools, such as 3D printers, a metalworking lathe, and a large A0-sized industrial laser cutter 🙂 We’re getting itchy feet again, so perhaps another space upgrade is in the near future?  Right now, we’re working on better space utilisation and storage solutions.

So Make It Hackerspace 10 March 2015
A recent-ish webcam snapshot

First Year Time-lapse

360-Degree Tour Video

The Future

We’re always on the lookout for new members, so if you live in Hampshire, UK around the south coast, near Southampton, New Forest or Portsmouth regions then drop in and say “Hi.” Our opening times and location are on our visiting page. We’re always interested in receiving donations, hosting tools you don’t use so often (you can lend us things and we’ll look after them!) hosting groups, or just making useful contacts!  Fancy chatting with us? We’re on slack.

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