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Tool Library Sets Up Shop

[June 17, 2024]


The SW Portland Tool Library sits under the Bertha Blvd. bridge next to The Watershed.

After years of planning, SW Portland has its very own tool lending library, and it has landed in Hillsdale. Located in a shipping container on SW Bertha Blvd under the Capitol Hwy bridge, the SW Portland Tool Library is open to the public every Saturday from 9am-2pm. Volunteers are on hand to check out tools and give advice on which tool to choose and how to use it. Get more details, including membership application and a list of available tools, at www.swptl.org.


The Tool Library officially opened for business on May 25th. During a brief visit on a recent Saturday, the site was active with folks returning borrowed tools or just stopping by to learn more and browse the available tools.



Library founder Jason Bergstrom was there (above center) , along with two other volunteers, Dennis Brown (on the left) and Chuck Quarterman (on the right).


Peter King lives nearby and made a stop after noticing the container and the signage over the past couple of weeks. “Thank God! I’ve heard of these libraries, but it’s such a good idea I could hardly believe it was real!” he said. King is excited about a resource with the potential to save him hundreds of dollars. “I’ve always got DIY projects going and have had to buy tools in the past. If I could have borrowed that would have been a huge savings.”


A tool library functions similarly to a book lending library: Fill out an application form, and then you can check out up to seven tools each week. Tools are due back after seven days and may be renewed once. Late fees apply to tools kept longer than the seven-day loan period to encourage prompt returns and ensure that tools are circulating for all who need them.


As part of the application process, borrowers must supply ID and proof of residence in the SW Portland Tool Library service boundary–the west side of incorporated Portland. A suggested one-time donation of $20 helps cover expenses, which Bergstrom emphasizes are mostly the cost of additional tools requested by users: “Tools are what we'd like to put as much money toward as possible, because we want to keep the overhead portion low.”


The range of tools stocked is wide. You can check out automotive related items such as a tire pressure gauge or battery charger. The list of carpentry and woodworking tools is extensive, including various power saws and more basic tools like a hammer or a wood clamp. Here’s the complete list of categories:


A peek inside the Library.

Automotive

Carpentry and Woodworking

Concrete and Masonry

Electrical and Lighting

Floor/Wall/Drywall

Garden and Outdoors

Ladders

Measuring Tools

Metalworking

Painting and Caulking

Plumbing and HVAC

Safety and Cleaning

Other


Don’t see what you want on the list? Put in a request to add it to the wishlist. Currently there is no power washer available to borrow, but it’s on the wish list.


The new tool library is part of a network of similar groups across Portland (glance at the back of the freshly delivered Portland Curbsider from the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability for a complete list). Bergstrom previously lived in North Portland and often borrowed tools from the library there. When he moved to the west side, he thought the service should be available here as well and got started planning a location in Gabriel Park, a plan that was ultimately upended by the pandemic.


Much of the funding has come out of Bergstrom’s own pocket, bolstered by a few grants to support tool purchases and half of the expense of the space for the first year. Weighing expenses against expected donations, Bergstrom figures “we even out at 300 new members a year.”


Besides borrowing tools, you can volunteer at the Library, inquire about donating tools, or support the project with a donation. Bergstrom says that more volunteers would allow for expanded lending hours, and hopes to eventually find a brick-and-mortar space. Through a partnership with SW Trails PDX, the Library qualifies as 501c3 nonprofit organization, making donations tax-deductible, which could be appealing to a potential landlord willing to forgo or discount rent.


As for the future, Bergstrom says, “Ideally we end up in a donated location,” which is how he says some of the other tool libraries operate. Commercial rents, he adds, are out of reach of the revenue he expects the library to generate.


—Valeurie Friedman

 

Bergstrom and his crew of volunteers are willing to trade maintenance work for rent (when they're not busy loaning out tools). Any ideas for a permanent location in Hillsdale? Let us know.

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