Denver Tool Library: Lending Helping Hammers

In a year's time, the Denver Tool Library has attracted more than 300 members. As it pushes for nonprofit status, the organization is making a big impact.
Sarah Steiner is in back re-stocking tools when Eric Casterline enters the building from the back alley of 555 Santa Fe Dr. It's the site of Steiner's enterprise, the Denver Tool Library.

"Got some returns," Casterline says. He pulls out the items he checked out a few days earlier -- a power drill, drill bits, a crow bar and a screwdriver -- and sets them on the counter.

"Everything work out okay?" Steiner asks.

"Yeah, everything's great," Casterline says. "Seriously, you guys are saving me so much money."

Casterline, 23, is renovating a three-story house in the nearby Westwood neighborhood from top to bottom.

"I just became a homeowner in 2015, so this helps a lot with costs," says Casterline, who coincidentally, works at a library himself -- a Denver Public Library branch just up the street at Seventh Avenue and Santa Fe. "My boss told me about this tool library, and I just came over here and thought it was the coolest concept."

Denver Tool Library turns one year old on April 1 and currently boasts more than 2,000 tools. That doesn't include non-inventoried items like the vast assortment of crescent wrenches hanging on one wall of the 1,000-square-foot warehouse that DTL rents. Available tools are listed on the organization's website.

"We get donations from people who are moving and don't want to take the stuff with them," Steiner says. "And from people who have bought new tools and are letting their old stuff go;  from estates -- people who want to pass their tools on but don't have kids to pass them on to. Even some companies donated us a bunch of new stuff they couldn't sell because the packaging was broken or something like that."

An annual Denver Tool Library membership is $80. Tools can generally be checked out for four days. Late fees are 50 cents a day for hand tools, $1 a day for power tools. Steiner estimates DTL currently has 300 to 400 members.

"It costs about the same for a year as it would [renting from a shop] for a day," Steiner says. "They just come and sign up. It's an $80 annual fee, and then you're a member. Easy as that."

DTL is pursuing nonprofit status; its application is under review now. Steiner says a nonprofit designation would enable her to apply for grants and for DTL to be staff-run instead of entirely reliant on volunteers as it is now.

"We have so many volunteers who have helped us get this far," she says. "I would like to be able to pay some of them a salary."

Steiner herself works as an editor for a women's business leadership group. For now DTL is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Construction catalystSarah Steiner co-founded the Denver Tool Library with Cody Noha in 2015.

The impetus for DTL occurred about two years ago as Steiner was helping her boyfriend, Cody Noha, build a recording studio for his work as a sound engineer.

"I can't tell you how many times it was almost the end of the day, and if we'd had the right tool, it would have been the end of the day," Steiner says. "But instead it took six hours to do a one-hour job because we didn't have the right tools. Then we heard of the idea for a tool library. We knew how helpful it would be to us, so we started a survey to see if other people in Denver felt the same way. They did. Over 400 people took the survey in just a matter of days."

Steiner and Noha studied tool libraries around the U.S. and Canada online for about a year and tried to incorporate the best of what they learned in launching their own. A one-year anniversary party for DTL is planned for April 1 at Su Teatro Cultural and Peforming Arts Center with live music and silent auctions.

DTL is also working with the Denver Public Library to offer workshops at branches throughout the city starting in March. One topic, "You're handier than you think you are," will familiarize attendees with tools. Other sessions will be more project-specific.

vast assortment of tools hangs on the wall of DTL's 1,000-square-foot warehouse.Happy returns

Steiner says the Denver Tool Library has been a fulfilling undertaking because she and Noha are both happiest when they are helping other people.

"He's the one who has a real background in building and working with tools," Steiner says. "That's lucky. He's the one who kind of like orchestrated the build-out of this space. I think he really likes sharing that knowledge. His biggest thing is sharing access to tools for people who wouldn't be able to afford access otherwise."
Along with tools for home fix-up projects, DTL has a large assortment of lawn and garden equipment, which has attracted the interest of urban farmers.

For 2016, Steiner has some ideas for reaching further into the community. "We want to start putting these tools to use with groups of volunteers to help out other local nonprofits," she says. For example, "If we're going to do a drywall workshop, why not do it at a community center that needs their drywall redone so people learn and we help the community at the same time? I think that would be really cool."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Mike Taylor.

Mike Taylor is a freelance writer in Denver. He is editor of ColoradoBiz magazine and previously wrote for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Anchorage Times.
Signup for Email Alerts