Chicago Tool Library opens new location, in West Side warehouse

The library’s collection includes a range of items, from home improvement tools to projectors, all available for Chicago residents to borrow. It’s open three days a week.

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Vivek Doshi (left), president of the board of the Chicago Tool Library, helps Wilson Wallace look over the gear he was checking out on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

Vivek Doshi (left), president of the board of the Chicago Tool Library, helps Wilson Wallace look over the gear he was checking out Wednesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Wilson Wallace’s wish list of tools and household items cost far more than the 24-year-old could afford, but that didn’t stop him from getting everything he wanted.

At a warehouse on the West Side on Wednesday, Wallace picked out a saw, clamps, a straight edge and two sawhorses, as well as a cake tin and stand mixer — which alone would cost several hundred dollars — and made off with all of it, free and legal.

That’s how it works at the Chicago Tool Library, where all those items and more, from croquet sets to projectors to tortilla presses, are available for city residents to borrow.

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Library membership is open to all Chicago residents on a pay-what-you-can basis. There are no late fees.

Wallace hasn’t done much woodworking before, since “I don’t have the stuff, and I’m not a rich man.”

But now that he can borrow the tools he needs, and more, why not?

The South Carolina native moved with his girlfriend to Humboldt Park two months ago, nearly coinciding with the recent opening of the tool library, which he had heard about online.

Collecting the new tools necessary to begin DIY furnishing of the couple’s new apartment might have taken years, but now his voice brims with excitement at the possibilities.

“Usually, you have a mental barrier when thinking about a hobby — like, it’s going to cost that much? But now you can just borrow something and try it out. It makes you more open to trying other things,” Wallace said, eyeing the free seeds available at checkout. “Oh, I’m going to have to get some of those next time.”

The library, in a warehouse near the Pulaski stop on the CTA’s Green Line, opened Jan. 28. Formerly located on the South Side in Bridgeport, the atypical library moved to the West Garfield Park location, 4015 W. Carroll Ave., to be closer to public transportation. There’s also off-street parking.

At 7,200 square feet — six times larger than the old space, which closed in November — the warehouse can accommodate the library’s expanding inventory.

Out of about 3,500 members, roughly 1,500 are active borrowers, but co-founder Tessa Vierk hopes the new location will help expand its reach.

The library’s alleyway entrance belies the scale of the place. Visitors pass through an unadorned vestibule to reach a cavernous space that bears the hallmarks of its industrial past in a1-ton gantry crane whose iron track spans the whole room.

An assortment of table saws and wheelbarrows available at the Chicago Tool Library, 4015 W. Carroll Ave.

An assortment of table saws and wheelbarrows are available at the Chicago Tool Library, 4015 W. Carroll Ave.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

In neat shelves, arranged by topic — gardening, woodworking and photography, etc. — sit thousands and thousands of tools. On one side of the room are thousands available to individual library members. The other side holds over 5,000 tools for local community groups to borrow.

“Even the people who find our website have no idea how broad the inventory is. We have something for everyone,” said Vierk.

At the back of the building is another room used for repairing tools and an outdoor space. Vierk said both could be used for classes, eventually.

“We want to be building familiarity and comfort around tools and making sure we’re reaching as many people as possible,” she said.

The library is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

On Wednesday, the second day that the library was in its new location, 16 people made appointments through the library’s website to pick up items. Several others came to explore.

Meko Wilson, a South Side homeowner, came with her 21-year-old daughter Sarah to take a look around.

“I really could have used this place many years ago, because I have a lot of tools I only used once,” Wilson said. “You name it — gardening, painting, whatever else. When you have a house, it’s so many things. The list is long.”

Meko Wilson (left) and daughter Sarah Wilson look at a metal detector, one of the many items available to borrow or rent at the Chicago Tool Library, 4015 W. Carroll Ave.

Meko Wilson (left) and daughter Sarah Wilson look at a metal detector, one of the many items available to borrow or rent at the Chicago Tool Library, 4015 W. Carroll Ave., in West Garfield Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Sarah Wilson, 21, is now in college and no longer lives at her mom’s Englewood bungalow. But she appreciates the library’s mission all the same.

“With climate change going on and all this waste,” she said, “places like this, where you can just borrow, are needed.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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