Neighborhood Tool Libraries Keep Seattle-area Do-It-Yourselfers Well-Equipped
In 2018 Joshua Epstein bought a house in Shoreline and began renovating the garage into a living space. However, there was a lack of storage space and funds to purchase the equipment such a project would require.
With a membership in the NE Seattle Tool Library, or NESTL, Epstein discovered he could borrow 30-foot scaffolding, rotary hammers, concrete saws and other items he needed to get the job done. .
Tool library volunteers and YouTube videos helped Epstein as he first upgraded the Shoreline house, then overhauled a rental property. Last year, he created an Airbnb rental in Sequim; Then, he plans to repair a 1979 aluminum Aircraft trailer.
Today, Epstein is one of two Tool Library coordinators, when he’s not working in property management and repairs or looking after his 2-year-old son, Cedar.
Public tool libraries are a growing phenomenon, with hundreds of installations popping up around the world. There are a dozen tool libraries operating in and around Seattle, some more specialized (urban agriculture, business energy use) and others, like NESTL, focused on tools for the home and business. garden. Memberships typically cost around $ 50 per year.
In Seattle, tool libraries were established in Phinney Ridge, west of Seattle, Capitol Hill, and southeast of Seattle. Outside of town, members can visit libraries at places like Vashon Island, Tacoma, and Federal Way.
These tool libraries provide many benefits for the DIY enthusiast, according to Epstein.
“You don’t have to buy tools that you’ll use a few times a year, or work to maintain tools, or find space to store tools,” he says. Plus, tool libraries help keep broken materials out of landfills. Volunteers maintain and repair equipment throughout the loan-to-pay cycle.
Located in a modest-sized building just off Lake City Way, NESTL maintains an inventory of over 8,000 items. In addition to its wide range of common tools for household projects, there are more specialized parts like an apple cider press, food dehydrator, microscope and s’mores machine, as well as catering supplies that can be used. accommodate up to 100 people.
They carry “basically anything that helps with a task,” Epstein says.
Tool libraries vary in size and scope. The Southeast Seattle Tool Library (SESTL) is small, with tools stored in a three-car garage at the base of an apartment building on Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
“It’s a challenge to organize the space, so people aren’t disappointed when they want a tool we don’t have,” says Susan Keiff, SESTL’s Volunteer Manager. “With our large inventory of tools, most people find what they’re looking for. “
A tool for every job
Volunteers tailor SESTL’s collection of 3,000 tools to the needs of its users. The library’s 13 electric lawn mowers are very popular in summer, for example. In winter, volunteers store equipment in what Keiff calls “mower towers” and bring out much-needed tools for the cold months.
The Southeast Seattle site opened in May 2015, Keiff said, in large part thanks to the efforts of retired nonprofit executive Sally Bailey, who acknowledged that the city’s southern end was a “tool desert” and decided to change that.
“Many residents have the skills and determination to carry out their own projects, but cannot afford to hire or purchase the tools necessary to carry them out,” Keiff explains.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, new members flocked to SESTL, as members worked on long postponed house projects or started gardens. Keiff says the library only closed for two weeks last year.
Typically, members live within the geographic area of each tool library or in neighboring neighborhoods. Membership typically requires being 18 years of age or older, completing an application and liability waiver, and presenting a government issued ID card. While most groups charge a membership fee of around $ 50 per year, others offer voluntary or sliding scale memberships. Some instead charge a lower weekly fee ($ 1 to $ 10) per item borrowed.
Members can begin their tool search by checking their library’s online inventory to see if the item they need is in stock. A wide range of DIY equipment is kept in most places, including tools used for carpentry, concrete and masonry, electrical repair, plumbing, drywall, and yard and garden.
Articles are often donated to libraries by businesses or individuals, “especially when they are downsizing, moving out of town, or realizing that a tool they don’t use very often could be shared with the community,” Keiff explains.
Libraries also depend on volunteers to maintain equipment, evaluate donations, and manage loan and return times. The model, says Epstein, operates on community dependency.
“We trust people quite a bit, and every once in a while something gets stolen. But then we will have [a few] tools donated, ”he says.
Learn new skills
In tool libraries, volunteers and borrowers frequently exchange advice and expertise on particularly difficult projects. Some tools require additional training: NESTL requires borrowers to be instructed before borrowing chainsaws, which can be dangerous, and pressure washers, which can be misused and broken.
At SESTL, a professional cabinetmaker volunteers every other Saturday and offers private lessons on the proper use of carpentry equipment. Another volunteer teaches borrowers how to sharpen tools and knives.
Virtual courses in yard maintenance, food preservation and sewing were offered by the South King Tool Library at Federal Way, which serves South King and North Pierce counties.
Do-it-yourselfers can also learn new skills at a repair cafe, another fast-growing resource offered by libraries and others. On October 9, the South King Tool Library will host a Repair Cafe, where the public can bring broken and non-working electronics, appliances, furniture and other household items to ‘repairers’ volunteers, who will repair the item on site or help with problems. and suggest DIY repairs.
“Our repair events encourage the idea of empowering people to make the repairs they want to see done to personal items, empowering them to be able to do things and make the changes they want to see. Explains Amanda Miller, executive director of the library.
The Snohomish County extension of Washington State University offers several repair cafes throughout the year. Visitors can learn about repairs by observing repairers, who often assist with restorations.
The cafes are funded by a grant from Snohomish County Solid Waste and are open to anyone, said Heather Teegarden, program coordinator. She says people have arrived to repair their lamps, antique clocks, fans, lawn mowers, coffee makers, toasters and more.
Cafe “fab repairers” don’t shy away from a challenge either, Teegarden says. Unusual repairs included an egg incubator and radio dating from 1946 which required extensive research and work, including replacement of the vacuum tube.
Due to concerns about the COVID-19 delta variant, the public is temporarily urged to drop off their broken items for WSU repair cafes at local parks on designated dates. Volunteers will pick up the items and then contact the owners to discuss any repairs needed. The group also has a virtual repair cafe that posts DIY workshops on their YouTube channel.
Epstein says that by capitalizing on community ingenuity, repair cafes and tool libraries are making a difference.
“Tool libraries benefit the community, the environment and the economy,” he says. “Tool libraries are a secret that shouldn’t be a secret, and in my dream world they are as common as a book library.”