FROM 3D printing to stained-glass production, for the past year an Upper Beach enterprise has been providing a venue for makers of all stripes to perfect their crafts.
“We’ve got everything from forging and knifemaking, or metal work, which is very analogue and just hands on, to CNC computer run routers and laser cutters and 3D printers, so you can work with just about any material—wood, plastic, metal—here, to a certain extent,” said Andrew Horsburgh, the founder of Protolab.
The membership-based communal workshop on Kelvin Ave. is located just south of the Danforth, in a warehouse at the foot of a mostly residential dead end. Its door faces the railroad tracks. Unsurprisingly, it survives off word of mouth and online promo.
“[I] try to show off what can be done here,” said Horsburgh seated inside his rented space in a warehouse while Matthew Eapen of Anex Works, the company that builds the Winter Stations, uses the CNC (that’s computer numerical control) tool in another room.
“The diversity is what appeals to me,” he said. Artists, businesses, architecture students and others pay a monthly fee for access to the equipment, plus extra for any materials used.
Horsburgh lends a hand whenever he’s around, but members help one another out as well and enjoy the company.
“What happens is, you get people who know how to do one thing and don’t know how to do another thing, and they mix now,” he explained.
Horsburgh keeps an active Instagram account @protolabto to showcase the work of Protolab’s resident makers. Scroll the feed and you’ll see 3D-printed selfies, a skateboard deck from locals Rocket Lumber Skateboards, and even a high-tech racing drone made by Horsburgh himself.
Protolab is part social enterprise, part business. In the beginning, Horsburgh considered launching Protolab as a not-for-profit but was deterred by what he says was “red tape.”
In the end he set it up as a for-profit venture in December 2014 in Scarborough after getting involved with a local tool library which fostered his interest in shared makerspaces.
Horsburgh wants to see his members and clients succeed, even if one gets too big for the facility, as happened with cannabis company AHLOT.
“I made a couple hundred [stash] boxes for them over the course of a few months and they’ve moved on to a more streamlined manufacturing process,” he said.
“While that’s not the most ideal financial situation for my business, it is kind of the goal of it,” said Horsburgh. “It’s that initial bootstrapping thing that you need to get some capabilities you can’t necessarily afford when you’re just starting,” he said.
Protolab’s membership, which fluctuates from 8-12 members per month, keeps the lights on for the business, but Horsburgh also takes on contract work separately for the time being. While he’d like to expand Protolab, it was partly created just to provide a space for Horsburgh and others to take on interesting projects.
“This would never be attainable for any one of us, but for a group of us pooling resources together, we could do it,” he said.