Chicago’s New Tool Library Is Awesome, Exactly What It Sounds Like

That DIY project you’ve been putting off for months just got a whole lot easier

Chicago Tool Library
Tools for the occasional handyman
Cesar Carlevarino Aragon/Unsplash
By Eric Brown / September 12, 2019 8:10 am

Need audio equipment to record a podcast? Want to make your own tagliatelle pasta? Lacking the right wire strippers to build your own quadcopter drone?

The new Chicago Tool Library has your back, so you can explore your inner Leonardo DaVinci without having to buy and store gear you use once in a blue moon.

Just launched this summer in Bridgeport, The Chicago Tool Library is a community-driven nonprofit organization that rents out donated tools. The inventory is stacked, ranging from power drills to masonry to woodworking to food-preparation hardware. 

To earn the right to check out gadgets, you just need to pay an annual fee set on a sliding scale: it’s $1 for every $1,000 you make in annual income. No surprise, you must also be a Chicago resident. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and the library is located at 1048 W. 37th Street. 

The nonprofit program was founded by Tessa Vierk, who has a culinary arts and social justice background, and Jim Benton, a computer programmer by trade. Benton’s experience serving as a former president and board member of the Southeast Portland Tool Library in Portland, Oregon, inspired him to inaugurate a Chicago collective.

The first established tool library, however, was in Columbus, Ohio, in 1976. The Phinney Tool Library caught on in 1978, followed by The Berkeley Tool Library in 1979. A renaissance in sustainability and sharing economies has prompted a modern wave of tool-share initiatives. Cooperatives have recently sprouted up in Toronto, Edinburgh and Seattle among other cities — and finally, us.  

Financial contributions and corporate sponsorships help keep The Chicago Tool Library on two legs. If you have a heart and feel like flexing your freemason skills, there’s also a lineup of volunteer opportunities.  

And if you need a power saw to build your custom poker table but you’ve never hung a shelf, be sure to check out some of the other educational resources available around the city. The Chicago School of Woodworking’s curriculum includes an Introduction to Woodworking course; although carpentry-focused, the class shows you how to handle most common woodshop tools.

You can also check out Chicago Industrial Arts & Design Center in Jefferson Park. CIADC provides instruction in casting and molding, metalworking and forging, technology and design, and woodworking, with a range of basic to advanced classes available.

Finally, you can learn the basics — such as power tool safety or how to identify and choose the right tool for your job — at WoodSmyth’s.  

Whether you’re aspiring to build that DIY drone or the next Noah’s Ark, The Chicago Tool Library is a great place to get started.