Several days ago I caught a recent post over at Cool Tools about TechShop, a local (but expanding) "shop club." Members have unlimited access to an amazing array of large, expensive tools, plus they offer reasonably-priced classes to anyone, member or not, in how to use the tools and make interesting things. Right now they're open 9:00 AM until midnight every day, but soon they'll be open 24 hours a day.
Some of the tools that especially interest me include the lathe and milling tools, including a CNC milling machine, the plastic roto molder, the 3D printer, the laser cutter, all the sheet metal tools (brakes, English wheels, punches and shears), the anodizing station, and all the welding goodies (plasma cutters, MIG, TIG, OxyAcetylene, and spot welders), plus carbon fiber layup tools and oven.
While it's not cheap, the membership prices are really quite a bargain considering the considerable expense of the equipment and the the space it takes to hold them all. There's no way I could ever hope to have the space for even a small number of the larger tools, so $900/year (going up to $1,200/year on Jun01) is still a reasonable price. (Six-month and one-month memberships are also available, too.)
I think I'm going to start off taking some of the classes first. They're the least-expensive way to get hands-on with the tools, and in some cases they're required before you can use some of the tools that are more complicated or powerful. I've always wanted to learn how to weld, but the junior college/night school route just didn't mesh with my schedule. Now I can take a quick 1.5-hour class to learn the basics, then practice as much as I'd like. Of course, the CNC plasma cutter class would be useful as well. And the molten aluminum sand casting class. And the carbon fiber layup class. And... and... and...