At the beginning of the year we launched Pilot, the most affordable way to join NextFab. For only $19/month, Pilot members can take any of our classes, get access to expert staff resources, and connect with a growing, creative community of hundreds of makers – including artists, woodworkers, engineers, and designers.

Pilot membership is a great way for any maker to get started. Unlike our other membership levels, Pilot does not include regular days of access to our shops and studio spaces. Instead, classes are the key to unlocking the Pilot level. Many Pilot members gain knowledge quickly by taking a wide range of classes and workshops. Like first-time skiers during their first ski lessons, Pilot members get to practice the fundamentals and ramp up faster than newbies who start without specific training or plans in mind. Many intend to practice their new skills by switching to a different level of membership that grants them regular access to the facilities.

Already know what you want to make and how to make it? Don’t worry, we’ve still got you covered with our other levels of membership.

Achieve the seemingly unachievable

Since Pilot launched, we’ve heard some wonderful feedback from several of our members. “It’s nice that I can ease my way into it with the Pilot membership,” explained Zac M., a current NextFab member with an impressive background in Mechanical Engineering but little hands-on machining experience. “I want to get a job in the aerospace industry, and not just one designing, I want to have experience actually making parts,” said Zac. “I’ve always wanted to build a jet engine. I wanted to do it myself, to get the experience. I knew that’s exactly what I needed.”

“It’s nice that I can ease my way into it with the Pilot membership.” — Zac M.

Prior to discovering NextFab, Zac had encountered multiple roadblocks with his project. He had originally dreamed of fabricating his jet engine on his own. He researched classes at several colleges, but the costs associated with machining classes were too high, and the coursework remained largely theoretical, not practical. So he had assumed that he’d have to farm out the work to realize his concept. “I was searching online for facilities that have machine shops because I was going to contract out the parts I want to make.” And that’s how he found NextFab. “I could tell by the description that it was basically what I was looking for.”

Since joining at the Pilot level, Zac has signed up for over 5 classes and has begun his path to proficiency in the metal shop. Once he’s been trained and certified on the necessary tools, Zac plans to increase his membership level so that he can spend time in the shops completing his jet engine.

“I love it. There’s a lot to offer at NextFab… It’s a place where you can go to make almost anything that you want to make and learn the skills to make the thing that you want to make.” — Zac M.

Uncover a new love

For others, Pilot membership isn’t a solution to a specific project. It’s simply an affordable way to try something new. NextFab member, Melissa S. has experience doing home improvement projects and working in a wood shop with her father. “I’d spent a lot of time in a wood shop before. My father taught me how to use most of the machines.” But living in a city limits the amount of space to store tools, and it’s nearly impossible to have even a small workshop in a South Philly row home. Fortunately for Melissa, she lives close to NextFab.

Being in the neighborhood, she had heard of NextFab before but was still on the fence a few years after taking a tour of the facility. “I wasn’t sure about what I would do with it or how much I’d use it, but then I saw the $19 a month post on Facebook and that was much more feasible for me,” she explained. “I signed up right after that.”

Wood shop class
NextFab members learning how to make their own cutting boards in the wood shop.

The first classes that new members take at NextFab are usually Wood and Metal Shop Safety, where they learn how to work in the shop spaces safely while completing functional projects like a wooden cheese board and a metal bottle opener. For Melissa, “the metal safety course was absolutely fascinating, it was a brand new experience.” Although she had spent time in a wood shop before, she had never set foot in a metal shop and the moment she did, she was hooked. “The puncher tool was particularly fascinating. It was really good to actually use the tool, to get a feel for it,” she said, referring to the hydraulic ironworker in the metal shop at NextFab in South Philly. It’s one of the first tools new members get to use and it’s pretty bad-ass.

NextFab's metal shop
The metal shop at NextFab in South Philly featuring the welding area, bandsaw, hydraulic ironworker, and drill press.

After taking her safety classes, Melissa signed up for a few more. “I’m fascinated by welding, I have no idea how it works or what I’d make but I want to try it.” With over 10 hours of dedicated class time, the path to welding is not a short one but that doesn’t matter to Melissa. As a Pilot member, she can learn how to use the equipment before committing to paying for days in the space. After she’s been trained, she expects to increase her access to start working on new and exciting personal projects. “It was a good thing to draw me in, I’m definitely going to increase my level to get day passes.” 

It’s not hard to fall in love with the metal shop (especially with all the shiny things and glowing torches) but it’s also not the only place where members are finding their passions at NextFab. We offer over 40 classes in 9 unique departments to help members increase their skills and expand their capabilities. Whatever you want to create, whether for your project, your business, or your personal life, you can learn how to make it here. Even if you’re an expert in one area, there’s always another to explore.

Find a new hobby

Recent member Paul B. came to NextFab to explore his second hobby. “I work in IT, I’m an IT architect, so a bunch of boring stuff,” he joked. “But really the reason I like [NextFab] is because I do a lot of electronics stuff at home. I do home automation, I do Arduino, Raspberry Pi, programming development. And work has sort of ruined my hobby since my hobby was computers. I’ve always sort of done some woodworking but it’s always been remodeling and that kind of stuff so this is the next step. ”

As a Pilot member, Paul signed up to learn how to use the ShopBot, a CNC (computer numeric controlled) machine that can cut and carve out of materials like wood and foam using a file generated on the computer. This six part course taught over a period of three weeks is one of the most intensive courses that NextFab has to offer. But Paul is an ambitious learner. “I want to learn all the things,” he explained, “so this is just one of the all.”

The ShopBot in action, cutting foam in the wood shop at NextFab.

For everyone from the self-taught tinkerers to the experienced professionals, the classes at NextFab can provide a comprehensive learning experience. “I was trying to learn the software stuff on my own but I didn’t realize the class was going to be as software focused as it is, which is great. It’s good that it’s thought through that much,” Paul said, “I really thought we were going to be in the wood shop and they were going to be like ‘okay, bring a file in and here’s how you use the ShopBot,’ whereas this is more of a hands-on ‘here’s how you manufacture from beginning to end,’ which is really great.”

Learn something awesome

At NextFab, we strive to give our members a complete view of what it means to make something. Not only do we have the tools for you to make whatever you want, we show you how to use them too. After all, without the know-how the tools are useless, and what good is a makerspace if you can’t use the tools?

“I can’t use the tablesaw until I take that class so for me to spend the month just taking classes so that I get all that stuff out of the way, and then switch over, then I can just use the tools, is much better than me being frustrated that I can’t come in because I can’t use the tools,” Paul explained. He’s absolutely right and that’s exactly what Pilot membership is for.

We created Pilot to be the most affordable way to take classes at NextFab without committing to any days per month.

“The possibilities are basically endless.” — Melissa S.

Obviously, we think Pilot is great. But don’t take our word for it (or their’s). Try it for yourself.