Tool Libraries Let You Rent Equipment for Your DIY Projects
Picture this common conundrum: You're working on a new home improvement project, and you've hit a wall because you need a single, specific tool in order to move forward and you don't own one. Worse, the tool is expensive, and it might only be used once during this project and never again. But while most big-box stores don't generally offer tool rental services, there is another (ingenious) option: tool libraries.
Tool libraries are what the library business calls a "library of things." Libraries don't just have to circulate books—a library is a collection of any item available for a user to borrow and return. And tool libraries are currently growing in popularity—and they can be a lifesaver when it comes to reining in a home improvement budget gone out of control. The Tool Library of Buffalo, New York, for example, reports having saved its members nearly $150,000 in 2020 alone as pandemic projects surged. The North Portland Tool Library reports saving its 5,000 members nearly $450,000 total in 2013.
Your public library might also offer a collection of rotating tools for checkout. But if they don't, here are some tips to find and use tool libraries near you—and save some serious dough.
Finding a tool library near you is easy thanks to sites such as Local Tools, a database of tool libraries around the world. You can easily zoom in to your area to see your nearest library. However, not all available tool libraries near you may be listed on this site. If you don't see a tool library near you, try asking around—neighborhood maker spaces, recycling and reuse non-profits, community Facebook or Nextdoor pages, and, of course, your public library. Even if your local library doesn't offer its own tool lending program, there's a good chance they can point you in the right direction.
Start Your Own Tool Library
If there is no available tool library near you, consider starting your own. Rather than visiting your neighbor to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar, offer to lend them a hand with their projects by lending your tools and vice versa. If you notice several DIY home improvement projects in your neighborhood, gather your neighbors to see if there's interest in creating a neighborhood tool-sharing co-op. There might even be local government grants available to jumpstart your community initiative, which is how the Berkeley Tool Library got up and running in 1979.
But if your need is a bit larger (say, farm equipment), you can try partnering with a local hardware or mechanic shop. The West Seattle Tool Library launched thanks to the help of a local garden center that offered special discount coupons to those who donated their own tools to the effort. The Toronto Tool Library got its start thanks to in-kind donations from corporations, such as The Home Depot and Canadian Tire.
Lending Fees vs. Cost of Tools
According to the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), most tool-lending libraries arise out of local government programs, existing sustainability non-profits, or a non-profit dedicated solely to tool lending. In order to stay in service, these libraries generally require a membership fee or a lending fee per tool. For example, the Tool Library of Buffalo charges a $20 monthly membership fee which gets you up to five tools a week—a pretty good deal considering a power drill alone can cost anywhere from $50 to $70 dollars, and far more if you're looking for a drill set. Tool libraries that are housed under the umbrella of a public library or other governmental institution, such as the Oakland Tool Library, might have no fees to join but require the prompt return of tools in order to borrow more.
At most tool libraries, late fees will be charged if you return an item late (most charge anywhere from $1 to $10 per day) and there are fees if a tool is returned damaged or not returned at all.
Etiquette of Borrowing
Just as with book borrowing, it's important to be courteous to your community when borrowing and returning tools. Return everything on time, with the tools as clean and undamaged as they were when you borrowed them. Resist the urge to quibble about membership or late fees—most of these libraries are administered by part-time or volunteer workers who do their work for the love of the community. If you're really looking for good karma, consider donating some of your gently-used tools to the cause and keep the tool library in business for your fellow builders.