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Down the Maker Rabbit Hole with Rich Puskarich

Rich Puskarich is undoubtedly the only person who can say Thomas the Train Engine led him to join TechShop. With an 8-year-old son who was fascinated by the fictional locomotive, Puskarich became well acquainted with the toy train market after buying him some trains and tracks. But he was underwhelmed by the quality of the toys.

“I realized that we were spending so much money on these things, and I thought I could do better,” he said. So Puskarich joined TechShop and started designing and building toy trains and tracks. Soon after, people took notice of his designs and asked him to build more.

“It started taking off from there,” he said.

Since starting at TechShop with his toy train idea, Puskarich has pursued whatever project struck his imagination: wooden bowls, wine glasses, coasters, baseball bats, keep-safe boxes, and refrigerator magnets. Customers tend to like how Puskarich is able to customize products for them, using the laser at TechShop to etch names or sayings into products upon request.

Many TechShop members sell their products on Etsy, but Puskarich has had more success elsewhere.

“It’s really been more local, word-of-mouth, posting on Facebook, and even having family from other parts of the country wanting to buy something,” he said. “Facebook has been better than Etsy.”

Still, the business is just a means to an end. Puskarich describes himself as a hobbyist who’s interested in developing his business to the point where it can self-fund his projects.

“I’ve got a long list of ideas I want to work on,” he said, noting that his small workshop at home couldn’t accommodate most of these ideas. Puskarich thinks TechShop is a smart option for hobbyists like himself.

“If you have a hobby and you’re running up on the limits of your capabilities, or the limits of the tools you use, you could join for a month and come in and work on the projects that you needed to work on and be done within that month,” he said.

But perhaps what’s most exciting about TechShop for Puskarich is its potential to teach a new generation of makers. He recalled taking his 8-year-old daughter to a TechShop STEAM class, and grabbing some lunch afterwards at the next-door coffee shop.

“She took out a napkin and a pen, and she started sketching out this idea,” he said.

The idea was for a handheld fan made of small tear-shaped wooden pieces, similar in concept to Japanese-style paper fans.

“She sketched out how the wooden pieces would sit next to each other, and how you could shove a wooden dowel down the center to connect them all together, and you could take these little pieces of wood and fan them out,” he said. “So it was really over the course of a lunch we sketched it out, came back over and maybe an hour or two later we were cutting it out on the laser. That type of rapid-prototyping is hard to find anywhere else.”

Puskarich said that although older generations might marvel at the technology available at TechShop, he envisions a different future for young people.

“Hopefully one day it will just be another resource they have at their disposal.”

You can find Rich’s products on Etsy and Facebook.