Canadian Woodworking

Tool Libraries: A Unique Way to Save Space

Author: Jane Ozkowsku
Photos: Jane Ozkowsku
Published: June July 2019
Tool libraries
Tool libraries

Save money and space by visiting your local tool library when you next need a tool that won’t get used too often.


In 2011, Canada’s first tool library opened in Vancouver, BC. Shortly after, tool libraries lending everything from T-squares to table saws began popping up across the coun­try. Now there’s a tool library in almost every major Canadian city, and more opening each year. These libraries are making building easier and more accessible to those without a permanent place to hold their tools.

With access to a tool library, your kitchen, spare bedroom, or back shed can turn into your workshop for a couple of days and easily return to its original function once the building is done. This means if you live in an apartment, condo, or other small space, your furniture-making tools don’t need to turn into furni­ture themselves.

Fringe Tools As Well
From steel wool and masonry bits to coolers and socket sets, you will likely come across some helpful tools during your next visit. You’ll likely even find a really unique tool at a tool library – a how-to book on many different topics.

tool libraries

Lots of Basic Tools
Although every tool library is unique, most offer a healthy selection of the basics. Drills, sanders and saws of all types are popular items for DIYers and are in healthy supply at tool libraries.

tool libraries

How tool libraries work

Most tool libraries run on a membership basis, with memberships costing between $40 and $110 per year, depending on the library and the membership option. The number of tools you can rent at a time also varies from five at a time to as many as you need, depend­ing on the location.

These libraries run on donations from a variety of sources. According to Steph Clarke, the Sustainable Initiative Coordinator at the Guelph Tool Library, “We get a lot of things from estate sales and from people who are downsizing, especially in our wood­working and our power tools.”

Because a tool library’s catalogue is based on donations, the tools available tend to vary from location to location. The Charlottetown Tool Library, for example, has over 150 items to rent, the Calgary Tool Library has over 1,000 items, and the Toronto Tool Library has over 10,000 items.

“A tool library membership would give somebody, maybe not an exact replica of their own workshop, but it would give them the essential tools to do a lot of woodworking,” Clarke tells me.

Who uses tool libraries?

While many tool library members are young families and younger people, Clarke thinks this is more due to space restrictions than woodworking abilities.

“I think it’s because we live typically in smaller spaces,” Clarke says. “Or we’re renting, and we don’t have our own garage or some­thing to keep a lot of tools.”

It’s not only young people who benefit from tool libraries, though. These libraries are the perfect solution for older wood­workers looking to downsize yet not wanting to give up their passion for creating.

“We have a number of members that donate things to us with the hopes that they can then borrow them again,” Clarke says. “So we’re keeping things very circular.”

On top of those using tool libraries to make items for their own homes, according to Clarke, there are also a handful of members who have used the Guelph Tool Library to start their own wood­working businesses, making small items and selling them at craft shows.

More than just a space saver

While you might not be ready to give up the tools you use on an everyday basis, many tool libraries offer more than just the basics. Depending on what your local tool library has in stock, you could gain access to specialty tools and equipment that you might not use for every project.
Rather than having a wood burning kit or biscuit joiner collect­ing dust in the corner of your workshop, a tool library membership could give you a chance to use these tools as needed. It’s also an opportunity to try out specialty tools before cluttering up your workshop or taking a chunk out of your bank account.

With tool libraries helping both novice and veteran woodwork­ers save space while keeping the passion for building alive, it’s no wonder there are more of these libraries opening across Canada each year.

Jane developed a passion for woodworking after spending a summer turning a school bus into a motor home. When she’s not in the shop, she can be found swimming, picnick­ing or riding her bicycle.

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