Co-Op Tool Library

In the original discussion of this plan I started off talking about a tool library.  The idea is sound: we've got a bunch of tools, people can borrow them.  Borrowing tools does not exactly make any money, but there are ways to do that which I'll explain later.  This project falls under one of our primary objectives: We want to save money.  Jack wants to paint his house and needs a 16 foot extension ladder to reach the eaves.  It's 200 bucks but since he's not going to use it more than once every few years, he's got to pay for a chain and has a ladder on his back fence lessening the view of his well manicured yard.

Homeowners need tools.  It's part and parcel with owning a home.  The shame of it is the cost of the tools can be high and use can be low.  In addition, some tools need maintenance, oil changes, air filters, you'll need a gas can, and don't forget the oil mix.  They need space to store them when not in use.  That garage was designed to fit a car.  Add a mower, weed eater, table saw, rototiller, pressure washer, a couple of ladders, tool boxes, a paint sprayer, some garden hose, and some sort of storage cabinet for all the hand tools, that garage fills up fast.  There's no room to use the tools.  There's a small fortune in that garage, clogging up the works, and not being used.

If you could borrow a ladder, you just saved a couple hundred bucks.  Having a concrete mixer available makes it affordable to extend the patio.  A big limb fell in the driveway during that last storm.  If you had a reciprocting saw you could make quick work of it.  Would you rather cough up $150 or borrow a saw?  You could fix that bad step if only you had a skill saw.  The lumber is 5 bucks, the saw is 75 bucks.  Being able to borrow tools puts jobs in reach.  If we have one chop saw that costs the group $200, we'll get plenty of use out of it working on projects for the farm.   If 5 people borrow it rather than each buying their own, those 5 people just saved a total of $1000.   A wider selection, more borrowing, we all can save a big pile of money.  

Youtube Video:  Tool libraries -- we are richer when we share, Lawrence Alvarez, TEDxMuskegon

The tool library is a project of accumulation.  We won't be running out for a $20,0000 spending spree.  We can get some tools through scavenging.    Some will be in great shape, ready to use, some may need a little repair.  We'll come across hand tools, power tools, lawn and garden, car tools, a hodge podge of stuff.  There will be projects for which the co-op will need specific tools.  If someone donated a table saw that was sitting in their shed for years, it just saved the co-op a bug chunk of change and we've got something people can use on site in a workshop or borrow for a few days.  For those tools we don't have, that's when we shoot the lock off the wallet.  When we get a rainy day at the farm, someone can spend a little time in the workshop giving those tools a little extra care to make them last.  We'll get our money's worth out of them.

It's not only nail guns and cordless drills that we can borrow.  We'll come across a wide array of items.  Slow cookers, blenders, small appliances, kitchen wares, baking dishes.  Being able to borrow a big stock pot for a family reunion puts your grandmother's meatballs on the picnic table for everyone.  A spare picnic table to borrow would see some use, as would a few tables and chairs.  A canopy would be cool, as would a gas grill or smoker.   I expect we'll have a large selection of kitchen wares available.  For around the house, a carpet and upholstery cleaner would see much travel.  A spare window air conditioner saves the day while waiting for the cental unit to be repaired.  If the refrigerator craps out, you can lose a lot of groceries.  It's only going to crap out when you are not ready for it.  A spare fridge becomes a godsend.  When it's time to pick up that new fridge, we've got a trailer you can borrow to haul it, and if need be, a truck to pull the trailer.

Extend the idea a little more, all things are possible.  Books are an easy one, all we need are some shelves.  Movies would be greatly appreciated.  A new movie will cost $20, borrowing a movie costs $0.  Flush the cable TV bill.  Video games are out there.

This is a big one.  There's no doubt we'll need a farm to haul stuff.  Lumber, bales of hay, piles of mulch, loads of compostable materials.  We'll need to pick up equipment, purchases for the buyers group, heavy stuff, bulky stuff.  We'll need the use of a truck right from the start.  Having our own truck is high on the list of things we desperately need.

If we had our own truck, and people could borrow it. We've added a whole new dimension to the tool library.  In our litigious society, borrowing the truck will come with some understandings and agreements.  Insect it before use,  Inspect it when returned.  Check the fuel, top it off before it comes back.  Where is the truck allowed to go?  Who in particular is allowed to drive the truck?  What is the load limit?  What is being hauled?   We expose ourselves to considerable liability by putting a vehicle on the road with an unknown cargo and the potential for the drivet change as soon as it is around the corner.  Prudence suggests a class be held from time to time to familiarize people with stopping distances, securing and covering cargo, and safe driving habits.  You need to pick something up, travel a ways, drop it off.  A toddler in the truck is not appropriate.  Stopping for a burger along the way, cranking the music, and talking on the phone are not appropriate activities while operating this truck.  Use it, bring it back.  We depend on this truck.  Setting up strict standards and adhering to them is the only way this is going to work.

I've got a 5x8 flatbed cargo trailer.  It's got a 2 inch towball and canbe towed by any vehicle with a standard trailer hitch.  I paid $500 for it brand new.  It's got full size tires, 18 inch sides, and a hinged tailgate.  The load capacity is 1500 pounds.  If the truck is not an option, a cargo trailer gives us the same hauling ability.  I've hauled appliances, lumber, building materials, compost, mulch, sheets of glass, a woodstove, construction debris, cabinets, furniture, bales of hay, and a pool table.  Friends have borrowed it when they were moving.  I've hauled this thing 1600 miles each way.

For the price, a cargo trailer is easily affordable and really needs to be an early purchase for the co-op.  Anyone with a towball can borrow it.  As with the truck, a class in securing cargo, backing up, and stopping distance would be appropriate.  I can see this one item be in great demand.  The farm will use it quite a bit.  200 families will put it to use often.  If someone needs to borrow a large tool that won't fit in the trunk of the Kia, the Kia can pull the trailer. 

The Toronto Tool Library is one of many tool libraries.  They'd got their act together, are experiencing outstanding success, and offer a fine example of what this project can become.  They've got thousands of tools.  Theirs is a stand alone operation.  In order to pay the bills, buy new tools, and hire staff, they offer membership to their library for $50/year.  Other libraries use the term 'Subscription'.  I happened along the term first so I'm using it here.

Co-Op shareholders and sharecroppers would have a subscription automatically.  Borrow what you need, bring it back.  At the start our little tool library will be kinda small.  Over time, we can build an impressive selection.  If we had a Subscription Program we could gather more tools sooner and put the project on a paying basis.  Offering subscriptions to the general public for $50/year is the direction to take.  Some tools may require a deposit when borrowed.  I don't see the truck being available to the public, but we could deliver and pick up for a small fee to cover time and fuel.  Put together enough tools and enough subscriptions, this project will take on a life of its own. 


I am unable to find a disavantage to this project.  It's good for the group, it's good for the community, it's good for the environment.  We are going to gather the tools, equipment, books and movies just by doing what we do.  It will grow like a snowball rolling down a hill.  We can start this project for a song, build it as we go and when it's ready we can go public with it.  Everyone in town can save money. 

This is a side project that brings people out to the farm.  Even if we don't make a profit on this project, it brings exposure to what we are doing and can draw in more customers.   From the tool library can spring more activity.  Workshops, classes, cottage industry, craft show involvement, and things we have not thought of yet.   Think of it as a promotional project.  We help them save money, perhaps they'll support our store, our farm, patronize our special events.  Some may get a better look at what we are doing and wish to get involved.  It becomes a recruiting tool which can keep the co-op going for many years to come.


Cooperative Enterprise, Plan Outline

Webinar: How to start a Tool Library

16 Tips to Crowdfund a Tool Library In Your Town