Tool Sharing: From Community Exchange to the Tool Library

Whether from a tool library or using a service that connects individuals, tool sharing makes sense economically and environmentally.

garden tools leaning against a wheelbarrow

Why tool sharing makes sense

If you’re thinking about developing a garden plot, canning your own goods, or attempting any DIY for that matter, the equipment necessary for such an undertaking is not only hard to find, but often expensive. Electric drills, saws, hammers, spades, and rototillers are items that you might use once or twice but for the most part will sit gathering dust. (You might have heard the fact that a drill is only used for 13 minutes in its whole lifetime!)

Many of us have started a project with gusto only to realize halfway through that we don’t have the right tools for the job. Worse, actually obtaining them will double the budget of the project at hand. Beyond the expense, buying tools and products for one-off use is also environmentally detrimental. [Read more about collaborative consumption here.]

If gardening and organic living is to make a difference, can it really rely on seldom-used tools born from emission-heavy manufacturing processes? It is the unavoidable paradox at the heart of our mission. We can try live lightly on the land but it’s hard to escape our semi-dependence on a consumer world that is wrecking our planet


DIY for less

Renting, rather than buying, has to be the way forward if we want to ethically consumer and live sustainable. The trouble is, this is easier said than done.

There are hundreds of small directories that will rent power tools or garden equipment however they are both expensive and limited. Moreover, it doesn’t solve the problem of sustainability. These companies operate as a supplier and have centralized ownership over all the equipment. This basically means they need to charge more to make a profit. 

Why a tool sharing platform makes sense

Yvon Chouinard, owner of Patagonia and life-long environmentalist, has always argued that being sustainable is about reuse and repair. This is why we need a marketplace which provides cheap, local access to seldom-used items, from rototillers to garden mowers.

garden tools in a wheelbarrow

Person to person tool sharing

Peer-to-peer platforms have been established in other industries (think Airbnb, for the travel industry) but it’s not until recently that the model has spread to the the world of physical products. The idea is simple: Borrow the tools you need and lend the ones you don’t. One such rental marketplace is Fat Lama, a company that started in London and moved across the pond in January 2018.

The website has everything from simple garden tools to lawnmowers, all available to borrow from private owners. Operating on a local basis, renting an item involves messaging an owner and arranging a face-to-face pick up. So it’s a community builder as well as cost effective, since participants interested in tool sharing meet new people in their neighborhood.

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A tool library

Another alternative for collaborative consumption are the tool libraries that are popping up in cities across the globe. Libraries — the book kind — may do double duty as a repository for tools and equipment that patrons can take out on loan, though not all tool libraries are affiliated with an official library system.

A website called Local Tools allows users to search a map for a tool library nearby.

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About the author: Claudie Evert is passionate about living lightly on the earth. She digs in the garden, cooks food from scratch, and will — someday — master the art of picking out a ripe watermelon.

2 comments… add one
  • Olivia Pearson Oct 31, 2018 @ 6:04

    I like how you said that many garden tools are used by homeowners only a few times, and can be hard to find. I think that’s why renting garden equipment is beneficial, because then you can use it when you need it, but you don’t have to worry about storing it, or using it enough for it to pay for itself. My husband and I are wanting to remodel our garden, but we don’t have the right equipment, like a large lawnmower, or a mini excavator. We’ll look for a garden rentals business in our area so that we can find exactly what we need for our project, and be able to return the equipment when we’re done.

  • Crystal Feb 25, 2018 @ 8:19

    I had never heard of Fat Lama or Local Tools. Both look like great resources. Thanks for the article!

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