Finding Your People and Playing with Power Tools: The Story of a Decatur Maker

Finding Your People and Playing with Power Tools: The Story of a Decatur Maker

By Andrea Kjaer 

A carpenter, locksmith and a stained-glass maker walked into a bar, but the bouncer only charged them for one admission. There wasn’t a coupon or discount offered, and no one snuck in. How is that possible?

Only one person entered, and her name is Cindy Williams.

Her interest in technical pursuits started young. “As soon as my dad started fixing something, I was right there asking what he was doing, and he was always eager to show me how to help,” Williams said. “By the time I was in my early twenties, I had more tools than he ever owned in his entire life,” she added, smiling.

“I learned some basics, not necessarily the right things, but a lot of things you have to figure out by yourself.”

Because of her naturally introverted inclinations and her family’s frequent moves, Williams has often been one to work by herself over the course of her life. However, two years ago, that changed when she drew up plans for a battery-powered birdfeeder. She didn’t have the necessary wiring experience, so she started looking for electronics classes in Atlanta.

That’s when she came across Decatur Makers on meetup.com.

“In that moment I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’ve found my people,’” she said.

Williams (right) works with Suzanne Elbon (left)

Williams (right) works with Suzanne Elbon (left)

Williams describes the Decatur Makers as a diverse group of all ages, interests and backgrounds. “We have an electronics lab and a woodworking shop, and we’re eventually going to have metalworking, though we have some capacity for that now.”

As one of the shop captains at Decatur Makers, Williams can often be found teaching free workshops about stained glass, woodworking and even online sales.

Decatur Makers has built a name in the community as an arts and science think tank and is often approached by outside groups to collaborate on bigger projects. Cindy is often one of the first to volunteer to help.

Kids and adults hard at work making LED paper lanterns at the High Museum

Kids and adults hard at work making LED paper lanterns at the High Museum

In January, the High Museum asked Decatur Makers to devise a family craft for their monthly youth activity. Williams had recently worked on stained-glass LED lanterns, and she had the idea to use a silhouette cutter to create a low-cost lampshade out of plastic. One of her colleagues suggested that they use cardstock, which diffused the light better and was easier for children to decorate and assemble.

“We come up with better ideas together,” she said.

Williams shows a new maker how to use the biscuit joiner

Williams shows a new maker how to use the biscuit joiner

Recently, a local Girl Scout troop partnered with Decatur Makers to build bookshelves for disadvantaged youth in the Atlanta area.

“They weren’t even trying to earn a badge,” Williams explained. “They just had this idea and wanted to support other kids who were learning to read.”

Williams and her friend Suzanne Elbon taught the girls about safety and planning before they went to work. Soon the troop was using a biscuit joiner, drilling holes and installing concealed screws.

The Society of Women Engineers has a youth auxiliary, and the group came into Decatur Makers with a design for DIY candy dispensers. Williams trained them so they could do most of the work on their own.

“The girls did the miter saw cuts themselves, the drill press, the marking, the measuring, the gluing—a beginner can do a lot on their first day in the shop,” she said.

Materials from a candy dispenser project.

Materials from a candy dispenser project

Last year, the City of Decatur used the Decatur Makers as a resource for a unique team-building activity to reveal a new logo. The group created and placed 36 cubes around the city to be found and assembled inside a framework. The project was designed to be a puzzle for those collecting the cubes, but it also presented some significant challenges for Williams when things got sticky—literally.

“The Mod Podge on the cubes started sticking to the back of the frame, and I had to scrape it off and start over,” she explained.

“Every time I work on a project I learn how to do something new—or how not to do something,” Williams said with a laugh.

“That’s something I like about the Decatur Makers. We have this environment where we are going through these processes together. It’s not easy, but it’s fun, and there’s always someone ready to help you if you need it.”

All images by Irm Diorio, Associate Director, Decatur Makers

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