San Antonio de Bexar is the nexus of Texas history. The original Texian Flag flew over the Alamo – not much more than “COME AND TAKE IT” scrawled on some linen. The intersection of Roosevelt and McKinley sounds straight out of another era entirely, but you turn a different century walking into this white building with glass doors and white-painted pattern brick. A modern phrase might be “Come and Make It” – 10BitWorks’ motto. This old Harley-Davidson chopper shop, from the bare concrete floor to the tar-paper roof, is bustling with the grits of the 21st Century, a digital factory replete with robotics and aquaculture expertise.
Walk in the door facing McKinley, and you’re already in the woodshop. Though all the limited parking is on the far side of McKinley, it’s a bit of a short circuit to start out; the main entrance is still on Roosevelt, which opens directly to the 3D Printing and Laser area – where everyone hangs out. The tour commences from this door, running past the gallery, the storage space, roaming from the clean machines to the dusty woodshop, then into the classroom, which doubles as the arcade and kitchen.
Already, there’s great history here at 10BitWorks. Aside from offering the first 3D-Printed Fiesta Medal to San Antonians, or assisting local groups that laser-print portraits on tortillas for February’s Luminaria, they once got an OLPC XO-1 from Josef Průša himself, following an education conference in town. Starting as a club of just 8 members, 10Bit (always numeralled, never spelled) has grown to around 30, and there’s plenty of room still. The new President of 10BW is interested in cultivating a larger, more active membership, even pondering a mini-tour of Texas Makerspaces to figure on best practices.
Laser Cutting is always a big draw. Right now 10BW is still trying to nail down just how they want to do the accounting. Technically, the Laser Cutter is still more of a partnership between a few members. $1.75 a minute is up there, but most spaces aren’t offering an 80W laser, either. Eventually that gas tube is going to break, so the rate needs to be self-sustaining. Finding that happy medium, that keeps it busy and paid for, is a challenge.
Growth is also part of the plan with the brand-new 150-gallon aquaculture system. It’s stocked with culture medium, earthworms, and tilapia fingerlings, and is just about ready for a first crop of heritage vegetables. Amazing what you can do with a little elbow grease, a pump, an aquarium heater, and 5000K LED lightbulbs!
There’s a few set days of tradition for the space, apart from the student robotics groups constantly darting in and out of the space’s classroom with half-built 3D printers or killbots:
Tuesday is the day for expert advice on 3D Printers. Quite a few folks are working on a build or tweaks, most of them are cartesians based on “GRAMPS”, the first fully-functional model the space bootstrapped. Someone’s next printer, plus or minus some refinements in Unigraphics, is coming out on a bed already, while one of those fancy “digital sundial” models is coming out on another unit. The extruders must be pretty good here, I see a lot of ABS running with just a heated bed and no walls. My rig struggles to keep up. I’m also still using Painter’s tape on my bed; here the conventional way is a little hairspray on a PLA printbed, or a spritz of ABS “goop” made with strings of your filament and a little nail polish, to get a good level stick to the print bed.
Wednesday is the art day. The big project is laser-cut jigsaw puzzles, which run into a few snags along the way. On Saturday, an early batch caught fire on the 80W Rabbit. Thankfully the worst of it tonight is that they smell a little, between the burnt fiberboard and cinder-edged photopaper. The end result is a smart-looking 6 piece puzzle, enough to show off, maybe get someone interested in the technique, or at least admire the artwork. The photos for the next batch pop out fast from 10BW’s HP OfficeJet Pro 8610, and don’t look half bad at all! Another notable art piece is from last year’s President, an engineer and part-time artist, who has for the last few years mailed a Constructable Ornament as a Christmas Card, adorned with six self-made original paintings, printed into a flat that can be folded into a cube, taped down, and hung on the tree! This year’s version has a handy folding 3D-printed plastic backing cube to make it nice and study.
Thursday is mechatronics night, where bit by bit, the space’s InMoov Android is being printed and put together. It looks like a harlequin quilt of 1990s aspiration, rising out of the gallery table slowly, each piece a random colour. Eventually the whole thing will stand and be motorized; as a demo, there’s a red finger printed out to greet guests at the entryway to the space, but it’s a bit wonky, albeit in a fun way, and hardly ever plugged in these days. A few of the operational InMoov units are done up specifically in one colour, but why not do something that pops out?
Saturdays are the official Open House Day, and the members tend to get an early start, though nominally it begins at 1pm. With all day to dedicate to the cause, you’ll find everything from DIY aluminum casting with lost PLA, bentonite-sand, and a wooden form box, to delicious frosted sugar cookies made with a 3D printed cookie cutter, with yet more cookie shapes coming down the pipeline for next week, along with general 3D printing and the occasional visitor stopping by to try out the laser.
Now, Sunday afternoons are never guaranteed, but around about 2pm, a few folks usually come to 10BitWorks to play tabletop games, mainly the latest in card and board games, though if need be, every kind of Settlers of Catan is ready to go on the corner shelf. In exchange for a few pretzels, I’m introduced to the shifty paranoia of Noir, the ridiculous contraptions of Steam Works, and the desperate frustration that is Shadow of the Elder Gods The same crowd has been known to while away their Thursday nights at Alien Worlds up on San Pedro, kinda by the River City Donut shop.[Phonetically, 10Bit can sound a little like ‘Timbit’, which got really me pastry-hungry.]
San Antonio is, to put it lightly, not a bad place to eat. A maelstrom of menu choices surround the space; the top of the list is Whataburger, located barely a block away (just watch out for cars speeding around the blind corner). Another popular choice is Bill Miller BBQ, a bit farther down the way. And there’s taco trucks everywhere! Of course, I’m a sucker for nostalgia, so I make a special trip across town to the neon fifties of the In-N-Out Burger, the last one I’ll see on this trip after passing it up in Dallas and Austin. I have friends in Vegas who still are shocked that they’d ever open a second distribution centre. Ah, but this is getting a bit off the beat, now! Basically, if you like robots, if you like laser cutting, if you like burgers, you’ll love 10BitWorks.