A Great Free Resource for Gardeners

Volunteers help manage the Tool Library that is open March through November each year. Deborah Broderson is one of the Tool Librarians and assists in training new volunteers.

Did you know you could borrow a weed wacker or a rototiller for free? Yes, it’s true, for free.  In 2021, a partnership between Green Neighbors DC and the DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DC DPR) created a lending library for garden tools, power tools, and even some camping equipment.  All you need is to show a DC driver’s license or proof of DC residence, fill out a form and you are ready to go.

The tool library is one of about 50 around the country. Berkeley, California opened one in 1979 that leant wrenches and caulking guns.  It is managed by the city public library system. Other cities with tool libraries include Baltimore, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, and Denver.  

Twin Oaks Location

At the corner of 14th Street and Taylor Streets, NW, sits the Twin Oaks community garden, greenhouse, power tool shed and garden shed.  There are picnic tables and grills for the community to use. It is clear the garden is a hub for people in this part of DC, but it also is bustling with younger residents from other parts of the city there to borrow some equipment for their home renovation projects.  There is a synergy of gardeners and DIYers working to build and make DC better by sharing knowledge and tools.

Deborah Broderson is a volunteer at the Tool Library and on the Sunday I visited she had just completed training two new volunteers.  Deborah’s title is “tool librarian.”  Currently there are over 200 active users borrowing tools. In the past few months, new borrowers have been signing up at a rapid rate. To keep all this going, Annette Olson, of Green Neighbors DC, one of the original members, says they have about 11 on-call librarians and the lead staffer, Josh Singer from DC Parks and Recreation. “But as we grow and word spreads,” says Annette, “we will have to grow with it.”  Putting a tool library in another part of town is one long-range goal of the group.  

Rototillers, wheelbarrows, and other big equipment garden tools can be borrowed for a week to help you clear your garden plot or yard.

From Capitol Hill, the tool library is about a 25-minute drive and it’s on major bus routes.  The garden share program is open from March through November. Hours are posted on the website and are evolving. Generally, folks check out their tools for one week, but “that time can be extended if there is no one else looking to use the equipment,” says Deborah.  Failure to return the tool on time results in a one dollar a day late fee. You are charged for each day late until it reaches its approximate value. Currently reservations must be made in advance to use the equipment, but that is easily done online.  

What is Available?

Deborah says her favorite items to check out so far has been the solar oven that she and her family used to cook pizza. Her kids have also enjoyed the snow cone machine.

The s’mores maker is also very popular. The collection includes one gadget I had never hears of—a nut gatherer that looks like a lacrosse stick with an enclosed net. Deborah says someone recently took it out and thought it was the best thing for gathering walnuts.  

A full list of equipment is available at the Department of Parks and Recreation website. If you have a weekend project to reconfigure your backyard, you could borrow wheelbarrows, tillers, hole diggers, rototillers, and more. The usual hand tools for gardening like shovels, hoes, and rakes are also available. With the current spring storms, tree care may be required. That’s when lending library tools like 14-foot pruners, hand saws, and telescoping bypass loopers come in handy.

The added benefit of checking out these tools is that you are given instructions on how to use the equipment. In fact, it is a requirement that you take a short tool safety lesson before checking out.

For home DIYers, the power tools include a portable tool saw, small and large miter saws, plus drill and screw sets.  There are plenty of hand tools like staple guns, hacksaws, screwdrivers, clamps and scissors. Everything you need to build a cabinet or dining table.

The DC Tool Library is free to any DC resident and can provide you with all kinds of tools and power tools for DIY woodworking projects.

On the fun side, there are folding tables, tents, solar ovens, mushroom kits, the snow cone machine, and an apple press. The tool library also includes books including self-guides on preserving food, beekeeping, the art of fermentation, composting, and organic gardening. You don’t have to be a seasoned gardener or handyperson to benefit from the offerings.

Donations to the Tool Library

Annette says the tool project is always looking for tool donations, especially a router, another orbital sander, an air compressor, and small electric rototillers.  If you have a whole garage or basement of tools you are looking to donate, take a picture and a rough inventory and the Toolshed will determine whether they can use your tools, and may even be willing to come by and and pick them up. The toolshed is also looking for camping equipment, so if your hiking camping days are behind you, this would be a great place to make a donation.  

As with any public enterprise, monetary donations are always very welcome. The funds raised go towards fixing broken tools. Green Neighbors DC would be the non-profit collecting the funds.  

The Tool Library is really a cool green program and it lets anyone have a chance to get started gardening. It also will connect you to like-minded DC residents interested in building a green community. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Rindy O’Brien is thrilled with the commitment of DC Parks and Recreation to fill Green needs in the city. Contact Rindy: rindyobrien@gmail.com.