Transition: The NE Seattle Tool Library opens for business…

Susan Gregory (NE Seattle Tool Library), Pastor Lorraine Watson (North Seattle Friends Church), Signe Gilson (Cleanscapes), Dai Gorman (Lease Crutcher Lewis), Richard Conlin (Seattle City Council), and Tim Croll (Seattle Public Utilities)

Transition Culture

Here is a wonderful story from Seattle.  I am indebted to Susan Gregory and Leo Brodie for their time in telling me about it.  In North Ravenna, NE Seattle, a rather exciting project has emerged from Sustainable NE Seattle, the local Transition initiative.  Inspired by a similar project in West Seattle, the NE Seattle Tool Library opened to the public last month, and already has over 1,100 tools available for local people to hire. Members pay an annual membership and can then borrow tools for a week at a time.  The Tool Library is housed in a building belonging to a local church which was renovated using a grant from a local recycling company.  I asked Susan to tell me about the Library, how it came about and how it works:

The library was featured in the local paper, the Seattle Times, accompanied by some gorgeous drawings by Gabriel Campanario (‘The Seattle Sketcher’) which are really worth checking out.

The Library's first tool being lent out.

The Library’s first tools being lent out.

I asked Susan how the project had been since it had started.  She told me:

“To me it’s almost like magic.  It’s like things just started happening and people just showed up and it seemed really easy.  Mostly I’ve just felt as though it’s happening of its own accord almost.  It’s been, like I say, magic almost, like I can’t believe this is really here, we’re here, it’s happening…”

Here’s her longer response to that question:

The Tool Library describes itself thus:

“The NE Seattle Tool Library is a community-led project to provide pay-what-you-can community access to a wide range of tools, training, and advice. The Tool Library aims to inspire its community to participate in community projects such as park restorations, and pursue sustainability through fun projects like backyard gardens, home energy improvements, and water harvesting”.

I then asked Susan and Leo what their sense is of where it can all go, what can be enabled by having a Tool Library that is up and running:

One of the stories from the Seattle Times piece that was most touching was the story of how John Redfield’s tools ended up in the Library:

“Tool library member Morgan Redfield has donated some of the most expensive equipment, including this drill press and a table saw that patrons will be able to use on site. The equipment belonged to his dad, John Redfield, who passed away a year ago. Morgan, a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering at the University of Washington, has many fond memories of using the equipment with his mechanical-engineer father and still keeps a treasure chest they built together. When a friend told him about the library, he knew it would be the perfect place for the tools. Morgan, 25, said his dad “would  be really happy if he knew his tools are being used by other people.”

Susan Gregory at the opening of the NE Seattle Tool Library/

Susan Gregory at the opening of the NE Seattle Tool Library/

I asked Susan if she had any other similar stories since the Library got up and running.  Here’s the very moving story she told me:

Finally I wondered what advice they would have for anyone else who is thinking of setting up something like this.  What would their tips be?  Leo mentioned two online resources that they had found hugely useful, the first being ShareStarter, and the second a very good online webinar called ‘How to start a tool library in your community’.  Here are their other thoughts for would-be tool librarians:

You can read more about the Tool Library here.  My thanks to Susan and Leo for their time, and to Leo Brodie and Kevin Kelly for the photos.


I belonged to the tool library in Missoula for a few years. It was great. Lawn mowers, a pickup truck, Rototillers (for these there was a five dollar charge per use for these big things that went toward keeping the fleet of machines working) and just about every other tool imaginable (no charge beyond the $40 yearly membership fee). It expanded my ability to design and complete projects. Almost no more buying a tool for a single use. No more screwing up a job while trying to make do with the wrong tool (usually). Just imagine an entire hardware store of tools where you just take what you need and simply return it when you are done.

Having gotten used to this arrangement I was inspired by the selection of tools to imagine projects that I would not have even thought of before. There seems to be a sort of macho belief (I am sure there are women who carelessly collect tools too but I haven’t encountered one) that whoever dies with the most and the best tools wins. Like all other materialist acquisitiveness this attitude is wasteful of resources and time. Also you don’t have to pursue those endless searches for tools that have gotten misplaced at home, during which time the project lies moribund and at risk of being abandoned. There are guys (again I am sure there must be female sufferers out there) who build a new barn to hold the tools they rarely use and let their houses rot. Less fortunate sufferers get by with leaky sheds where they find their tools rusted in the spring. The tool collecting fetish is a form of insanity, and one that tool manufacturers for the home depend on.

Turns out that sharing tools is the best approach, both from the need to get the job done, and from a mental health perspective as well. It helps separate us from our conditioned malignant hyper individualism that is doing so much damage to our society.

To promote balance is to make enemies of all ideologues and true believers, but a balanced approach is always the right approach, even in tool ownership. Tool sharership is much more powerful than too ownership.

We are not what we own.


Santa Rosa has a very successful tool library right downtown for 2 years now getting grants from the city and county.

They also have a local only Share Exchange, also downtown were local artisans can work and create and sell there Sonoma County only made products.