Meet the Makers Creating Cool Stuff at Milwaukee Makerspace

Wondrous creations in wood, fabric, iron and pixels take shape inside the Milwaukee Makerspace.

Its makers are blacksmiths and hackers, woodworkers and robot engineers. For over a decade, the Milwaukee Makerspace has brought together these hobbyists as a kind of social club focused around making cool or useful things.

Since Tom Gralewicz founded the Makerspace in his garage in 2009, the volunteer-run collective has grown into a 16,000-square-foot building at 2555 S. Lenox St. Plans call for more expansion next year, with a second location – three times the size of the current Makerspace – in a former factory in St. Francis.

Inside the current Makerspace in Bay View, it seems you could find every gadget under the sun, with ancient traditions alongside modern methods of making. There’s a screen-printing area, an electronics area with plenty of dusty computer monitors, a wood shop and a metalworking area with anvils and tongs.

It’s one part garage and warehouse, one part cozy communal area. “It’s all about a place to hang out and build stuff with other people,” Gralewicz says. We asked a few of the ’Space’s makers to share their stories and creations.

Creation in the Cards

DAVID DRAEGER LOVES CRIBBAGE, and he had long wanted to make his own boards when he heard about the Makerspace from a friend. Impressed by the Makerspace’s numerous resources, he joined.

Over the past three years, he has created nearly 60 wooden cribbage boards that put those boring rectangular ones to shame. Using a computer- controlled router built by Makerspace members, Draeger cuts his boards in various shapes, including ship anchors and the state of Wisconsin. He uses a lathe to make the pegs that mark the score.

Makerspace members train and instruct others on how to use the equipment, and Draeger, a design engineer for Empire Level in Mukwonago and a Milwaukee School of Engineering graduate, is a point person for the lathe and other tools in the building’s wood shop. He hopes to someday teach a class on making the cribbage boards. Draeger says the process of using tools to create projects calms the nerves. “The Makerspace has been a great place to make new things and meet new people,” he says.

Gown of Thrones

FLORIDA TRANSPLANT FAITH FINFROCK, who has been sewing clothes since middle school, joined the Makerspace last September. Her boyfriend, Jake Bisson, has been a Makerspace member for six years. “He introduced me to it, and I immediately fell in love,” Finfrock says.

At the Makerspace, she found a variety of tools at her disposal, including a serger and other sewing machines, and dress mannequins, all of which allowed her to create several costumes. With the help of Makerspace member Colleen Leahy, Finfrock created a replica of a gown worn by “Game of Thrones” character Margaery Tyrell.

Being part of the Makerspace community has given Finfrock the confidence to tackle bigger projects. This summer, she was working on an elf costume made entirely out of chiffon that she planned to debut at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

Although many of the Makerspace members are men, an increasing number of women are joining, drawn to the collective’s relaxed, congenial vibe. “It’s warm and welcoming,” Finfrock says. “Everyone is so helpful.”

Forging Ahead

SINCE HE WAS A CHILD, Dan Jonke has enjoyed working with his hands. “I’m someone who loves to build things. When I was a kid, my dad would yell at me for fixing things that weren’t broken,” he says.

A software engineer with Milwaukee company ISC Fax by day, Jonke works a more tangible craft in his spare time. He’s been metalworking for nine years and now teaches weekly blacksmithing classes at the Makerspace.

He has used the Makerspace’s firebrick-lined forge, which is fired by natural gas and reaches up to 2,000 degrees, on numerous projects: a firewood rack (a Christmas gift for his parents, it’s adorned with deer, flower and vine shapes), a fire screen, candleholders, a spice rack and countless bottle openers. He’s currently making iron chandeliers for his living room.

Beyond the tools for his projects, Jonke says, the group has offered him camaraderie. “We’re all a little bit weird here in this building,” he says, adding that the group is “really a ton of fun.”

“Meet the Makers” appears in the September 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning September 2, or buy a copy online.

Be the first to get every new issue. Subscribe.