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Anyone have experience running cooperative shops? (wood, metal, mechanics, etc)  RSS feed

 
Joel Bercardin
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Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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More than 20 years ago, a friend and I instigated a neighbourhood cooperative shop. A couple other friends joined us and added tools that they had. We had the usual workbenches, vises, hand tools, table saw, drill press, lathe, jointer, router, etc, etc. We asked people who used the shop to put a specified minimum of dollars in the kitty each day they worked in the shop, and to report any supplies that ran out or broken blades or worn-out components. Started off great, but one guy burned out an expensive motor and didn’t have $ to cover it… several other guys neglected to put $ in the kitty or to report blades they’d dulled, bearings that were wearing out, etc.

one thing led to another, and our shop then became a more ‘closed’ situation. Three years or so after the start, my original cohort moved away and took half the machine tools with him. That was the end of that disappointing - but admittedly, poorly managed - situation. We were more or less kids.

I'm not so cynical that I can't envision great value to a shared shop encompassing woodworking equipment and also basic metalworking (incl welding and brazing) equipment… maybe even equipment relating to small-engine work. So I’m posting to find out about cooperative shops that have worked out well. What are your experiences? What ingredients have made for longer-term success? What advice might you have?

I’m particularly interested in rural-neighborhood or village types of situations. But maybe I could learn valuable things from people who have done this sort of thing in the city too.

Another related question: have any of you organized tool libraries? Or joined them? How have these worked out?
 
Burra Maluca
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I've added this to the woodworking forum, and bumped it up.

Hopefully you'll get some replies now.
 
Joel Bercardin
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Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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Burra Maluca wrote:I've added this to the woodworking forum, and bumped it up.

Hopefully you'll get some replies now.

Thank you, Burra.
 
Mike Hamilton
Posts: 82
Location: north end of the Keweenaw Mi.
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yes but we do it a little different for the tool co op
each person holds their own tools
each person covers the consumables for their own project [wood,fuel,electric,metal,blades and so on ]
the owner is responsible for keeping track of their stuff

some times things happens with equipment and it breaks down so we help each other out with the fix

so far it is working good
we have everything covered from heavy equipment [excavator,dozier,dump truck] to hand tools [wood,metal,dirt ]
and every one is getting along good so far
only 1 person has messed up and is banned [he has personal issues] but we still try to help him

Mike
 
Landon Sunrich
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Location: Western Washington
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I don't have any direct experience working or organizing one but I've totally hung out and used collective stuff.

Bikes and Bikers seem to have this model pretty figured out. There are a ton of bike co-ops. Here's a good one I am aware of if you want to get more information on their model

http://www.ptrecyclery.org/
 
Landon Sunrich
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This is one of their cooler programs IMO

http://www.ptrecyclery.org/earn-a-bike
 
Joel Bercardin
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Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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Thanks for the replies, Mike and Landon, for the replies.

Landon, I'm checking out the site. Looks very interesting & inspiring.
Mike Hamilton wrote:yes but we do it a little different for the tool co op
each person holds their own tools
each person covers the consumables for their own project [wood,fuel,electric,metal,blades and so on ]
the owner is responsible for keeping track of their stuff

some times things happens with equipment and it breaks down so we help each other out with the fix

so far it is working good
we have everything covered from heavy equipment [excavator,dozier,dump truck] to hand tools [wood,metal,dirt ]
and every one is getting along good so far
only 1 person has messed up and is banned [he has personal issues] but we still try to help him

How long has your co-op been functioning, at this point, Mike?

How do you divvy-up the cost of utilities (electric, gas... whatever)? And have you had to invest in insurance related to any of the functions?
 
Mike Hamilton
Posts: 82
Location: north end of the Keweenaw Mi.
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Joel Russ wrote:Thanks for the replies, Mike and Landon, for the replies.

Landon, I'm checking out the site. Looks very interesting & inspiring.
Mike Hamilton wrote:yes but we do it a little different for the tool co op
each person holds their own tools
each person covers the consumables for their own project [wood,fuel,electric,metal,blades and so on ]
the owner is responsible for keeping track of their stuff

some times things happens with equipment and it breaks down so we help each other out with the fix

so far it is working good
we have everything covered from heavy equipment [excavator,dozier,dump truck] to hand tools [wood,metal,dirt ]
and every one is getting along good so far
only 1 person has messed up and is banned [he has personal issues] but we still try to help him

How long has your co-op been functioning, at this point, Mike?

How do you divvy-up the cost of utilities (electric, gas... whatever)? And have you had to invest in insurance related to any of the functions?


how it works is [example] my drive way
I paid for the cost of the gravel and fuel for the equipment,no charge for using the equipment or labor involved [this is paying for consumables]
in return I fixed a D4 cat bulldozer[locked up transmission] and re built a engine on an oliver 1650 tractor [engine was seized up]
the owner bought the parts and we did the repairs together at his place due to my health issues [lack of strength in my right arm]

tools are borrowed/loaned out between all the members and returned clean and in better shape than wen picked up
between every one we have everything covered for tools

we are going into our third year of the co op and just had the one problem
as soon as this person gets his life back together and on tract he will be allowed back in the co op
the sad part was I had to say NO on helping him fix his back hoe
as much as I wanted to I could not do it until he gets it together
as far as insurance none is needed

Mike
 
Rufus Laggren
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Location: Chicago/San Francisco
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Mike

It sounds like you maybe have a smaller, tighter, group than Joel had. Maybe a little older, too, with a little more substance behind them. And I bet it's some sort of "invitation only" and maybe the invite gets passed by several members first.


Rufus
 
Joel Bercardin
Posts: 251
Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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Rufus Laggren wrote:Mike

It sounds like you maybe have a smaller, tighter, group than Joel had. Maybe a little older, too, with a little more substance behind them. And I bet it's some sort of "invitation only" and maybe the invite gets passed by several members first.

Well, right. Mike's group sounds like more mature guys. But our group, as described in the OP, wasn't all that big... six guys at most, I seem to remember.
 
Mike Hamilton
Posts: 82
Location: north end of the Keweenaw Mi.
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Joel Russ wrote:
Rufus Laggren wrote:Mike

It sounds like you maybe have a smaller, tighter, group than Joel had. Maybe a little older, too, with a little more substance behind them. And I bet it's some sort of "invitation only" and maybe the invite gets passed by several members first.

Well, right. Mike's group sounds like more mature guys. But our group, as described in the OP, wasn't all that big... six guys at most, I seem to remember.


we have 4 main members [45+ years][+ the one on probation ] 3 apprentices [young men that we mentor]
the apprentices are exempt from the tool part [owning tools] but they provide a very important skill [Strong backs]
we do keep tight control over them so they don't get hurt

its a win win for every one

we are turning 1 out in may that I worked with for 7 years,he will have his engineering degree from Michigan Tech. and a job waiting for him in the steel industry

Mike
 
Joel Bercardin
Posts: 251
Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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Mike, I like your project and thanks for your explanation of it.

I'm a little fuzzy, though, on what your ongoing expenses for the co-op may be. Sounds like these expenses are probably minimal, but I can't see how they'd be zero. Are you each storing, at home, your own equipment that is sometimes lent out to another member of the group? If a bearing or blade or battery or something needs replacing, who bears that expense?

And I'm also in the dark about how you go about covering whatever these expenses are. Do you guys kick in every month, or every few months, or work it out as needed, or...?

In the example I described in my OP, I had an outbuilding on my land whose use I donated to the group. We housed the workbenches, stationary tools, and a lot of hand tools in there. We were using wood heat, and so members were responsible for providing fuel wood. And, like I said, in theory members were supposed to contribute $ - for day use of the shop. That was to cover electricity, needed replacement parts, etc.
 
Mike Hamilton
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Location: north end of the Keweenaw Mi.
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Joel Russ wrote:Mike, I like your project and thanks for your explanation of it.

I'm a little fuzzy, though, on what your ongoing expenses for the co-op may be. Sounds like these expenses are probably minimal, but I can't see how they'd be zero. Are you each storing, at home, your own equipment that is sometimes lent out to another member of the group? If a bearing or blade or battery or something needs replacing, who bears that expense?

And I'm also in the dark about how you go about covering whatever these expenses are. Do you guys kick in every month, or every few months, or work it out as needed, or...?

In the example I described in my OP, I had an outbuilding on my land whose use I donated to the group. We housed the workbenches, stationary tools, and a lot of hand tools in there. We were using wood heat, and so members were responsible for providing fuel wood. And, like I said, in theory members were supposed to contribute $ - for day use of the shop. That was to cover electricity, needed replacement parts, etc.


ok blades are consumables [users cost]
all tools and equipment is stored at the owners place and moved to the job sites as needed
all the equipment is in top shape so bearings are not an issue [greased and oiled regularly]maintained by owner
personally I would be embarrassed to send something out that wasn't top shape [pride in our tools and work]
we have our own sharpening equipment for everything
if there is a failure of some sorts we all jump in to repair it [stuff happens]
the 4 main members each has a barn/shop or some work area
so there is no over head to speak of [except refreshments]

Mlke
 
Mike Hamilton
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Location: north end of the Keweenaw Mi.
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also if I were to break some one's tool I would fix,sharpen or replace it before returning it and let them know what happened if there is missed damaged

Mike
 
Burra Maluca
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For some reason I'm reminded of this...

 
Joel Bercardin
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Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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Funny, Burra...

Hmm... Yes, there is a relevance. That's how good cooperation breaks down.

But having lived the scenario, I'd like to know more about how one makes these things work out well - hence, the thread I started!
 
Mike Hamilton
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Location: north end of the Keweenaw Mi.
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Burra Maluca wrote:For some reason I'm reminded of this...



this is the people here in the Keweenaw [at least the ones I work with]

Mike

also some times forgiveness is required over stuff
example; one of our members blasted our mail box with the plow truck and took it down the road 50'
if I was mad about the mail box I wouldn't have realized he had a mini stroke wile plowing
his wife came and got me saying something is wrong with Bob
checked him out and got him to the hospital in the middle of a blizzard [other medical help was hours away]
he is fine and any ways the mail box got blasted again by the county plow this year
 
Danielle Diver
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Joel Russ wrote:one thing led to another, and our shop then became a more ‘closed’ situation. Three years or so after the start, my original cohort moved away and took half the machine tools with him. That was the end of that disappointing - but admittedly, poorly managed - situation. We were more or less kids.


hey joel
funny i just posted about my experiences running a bicycle coop in arkansas years ago in the bike forum, so its fresh on my mind.
We had a volunteer bicycle repair shop and occasionally loaned tools. we were also kids, with not much (any) experience but i think in the end we did a pretty good job. First of all, we were incorporated under an umbrella nonprofit organization (meaning we didnt apply for our own 501c3 but rather used their administration and worked as a branch of their organization). This was beneficial in a few ways, but the most relative to your situation is that when we eventually closed there was no question as to what we were going to do with the 'stuff.' when you are incorporated with non profit status and you move towards closing the doors, you are therefore obligated to donate any money and/or goods to any organization that meets your mission statement, or something similar (or at least those were Arkansas rules back in the day). So we took out our personal items and the rest were donated to another bicycle based operation. i guess if we werent honest we could have just taken the stuff home, but when you are doing community service , in the end you hope to continue the good will and pass it forward.

For the loan part we were a member based organization with very relaxed rules. anyone that became a member of the shop had to fill out an information form (name number address etc) and a liability form. included in the liability form was blah blah dont hurt yourself in our shop blah dont sue us blah dont steal or we reserve the right to take legal actions if deemed necessary, blah, it was mostly b-s and actually we were informed by a real lawyer that it wouldnt hold up with legal standing, and we were honest with our members, but had them sign teh form anyway as a way to just make a point: be honest and lets do this thing right.
but, also honestly, we didnt last long, just a couple years, so maybe i cant offer the most valuable advice!

obvious advice would be to find similar projects and ask their advice. visit shops, find websites, email. ask other groups for copies of their forms, policy statements and advice. anyone that works (eerr volunteers) in community run projects usually loves kicking around advice, since its so hard to figure it out on our own and we know how valuable other peoples ideas are.

and i agree with Landon that you may also find valuable info in the bicycle world. Tuscon has one of the oldest bike coops in the country and their operation is a well oiled machine. and super nice. they may have some good suggestions http://bicas.org/

good luck!!!
 
Joel Bercardin
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Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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Danielle Diver wrote:
Joel Russ wrote:one thing led to another, and our shop then became a more ‘closed’ situation. Three years or so after the start, my original cohort moved away and took half the machine tools with him. That was the end of that disappointing - but admittedly, poorly managed - situation. We were more or less kids.

For the loan part we were a member based organization with very relaxed rules. anyone that became a member of the shop had to fill out an information form (name number address etc) and a liability form. included in the liability form was blah blah dont hurt yourself in our shop blah dont sue us blah dont steal or we reserve the right to take legal actions if deemed necessary, blah, it was mostly b-s and actually we were informed by a real lawyer that it wouldnt hold up with legal standing, and we were honest with our members, but had them sign teh form anyway as a way to just make a point: be honest and lets do this thing right.
but, also honestly, we didnt last long, just a couple years, so maybe i cant offer the most valuable advice!

Thanks for posting. Yes, I believe the real value of a written 'agreement' - be that just a statement of principles or an actual contract sort of thing - would be that everyone then knows s/he is affirming the same things as everyone else. It's stated, written... black & white. And in my old workshop adventure, we didn't do that. It was more a conversation & a smile and handshake.
 
Tom Kozak
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there is a group of people doing something like this in my home town, Guelph Ontario, its called DIYode (http://www.diyode.com/) its really cool!
 
Joel Bercardin
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Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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Tom Kozak wrote:there is a group of people doing something like this in my home town, Guelph Ontario, its called DIYode (http://www.diyode.com/) its really cool!

Went to the page. Very impressive-sounding shop set-up. If they're still going, that in itself is encouraging... it'd be over two years (at least), at this point.
 
Candes King-Meisenheimer
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I manage a work/resources cooperative in my area. We are very small, only 7 properties right now. We only bring in one new property per year. This allows us to concentrate on bringing that one property up to speed and getting to know the people that belong to that patch of land. Our group does a lot of things for it's members, including tool sharing. Each property has to bring something to the table, as it were. Specifically, at least one maincrop that no one else in the co-op is growing much of (A req), AND another benefit of some type (B req), AND all crop surpluses go to the charity of the group's choosing (C req). One lady provides eggs year-round, another provides zucchini and pumpkins, I offer 13 different maincrops, etc. On type B requirements: one guy is a mechanic and services all of our equipment (scheduled sessions), another guy has a lot of equipment to lend (small tractors, etc), and I have several specialized workshops (carpentry, mechanical, metal work, preservation greenhouse, etc). I also have an 8,000cf warehouse that members use to store things, like empty canning jars and equipment. One lady has a clay wheel in there, and in return she holds 2 classes on pottery each spring; one for members only for no charge, and one that's open to the public that I can charge for. I give her 15% of the money made (so that her day isn't a waste), and keep the rest to go towards maintenance on the warehouse.

We have a shed filled with "common tools", that any member can borrow as needed. This is a "need not ask, just sign it out on the sheet" situation. These are things like rakes, ground tools, fruit pickers, etc. Most of these are refurbished and came to us free. We all keep our eyes out for tools of all kinds that people are throwing away because they don't know how to do things like replace handles or set new edges to blades. We get these in, refurbish them, and keep the shack filled. Since our group is small the tools pretty much always come back. We even find ourselves thinning the inventory occasionally and giving tools away to low-income gardeners who can afford to replace or buy their own tools. Members can also schedule time in the workshops or the loan of other members' equipment. We also pool our workforce and do blitzes as needed on each other's properties (build animals structures, plant gardens, fix a roof.. ). As manager, I oversee everything and make sure everyone has what they need, including information. We, as a group, conduct seminars and workshops in our various areas of speciality throughout the year. Some of these we do for free as a community service, some are sponsored by charities or local businesses, and some are straight up pay-to-play.

We have a few things that "belong to the co-op" and not to one specific person. Along them are things like a water-saw, a refrigerated box trailer, and this year we're adding a few custom-made porta-potty setups. These are all things that none of us could afford on our own, can't rent at a decent price, and usually aren't going to need every single day of the year.

Anyway, I don't know if that helps you at all, but, that's us. I do let people rent time in my workshops on occasion, and will even take payment in trade for needed items, but that's a bit different. Only co-op member humans are allowed to be in my workshops unsupervised. Beware of guard cats. lol

~Candes
 
Joel Bercardin
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Just heard a 15-minute special-focus ("The Housing Hack") on CBC Radio, about the rapid upsurge of cooperatives among Millennials - car shares, old hotels being acquired, renovated and lived in by creative and skilled/knowledgeable people. It's a national and international trend. Seems to me that the sort of thing I described above in the OP could become more common. And I hope and expect the kinks will be worked out and viable patterns established. Seems to me that rural instances are likely to be part of the trend too.
 
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