Saint John Tool Library branches out into renovations

After six months of business, the Saint John Tool Library and DIY Centre plans to tackle its next big expansion — lending a hand for bigger renovations.

“We’re gonna become another piece of the puzzle as far as construction companies go,” said Brent Harris, the founder of the library, which lends an unlimited number of tools to members. Membership costs start at $90 annually for borrowing tools for three days at a time. 

Harris said big projects often require a second set of hands, or a third or fourth.

“We’re going to look at that. Who do we need to hire, what’s the long-term plan for this attached to the tool library?” 

Harris said so far about 10 larger-scale renovations have been done with tools from the library.

“When the project gets too big, give us a call. That’s an easy tagline to throw in there.”

Brent Harris is the founder of the Saint John Tool Library. The organization hopes to train more women in construction skills, start a plastic recycling company and take on larger construction projects. 9:36

Furniture by commission

The DIY Centre also plans to expand into doing commissioned work.

Alex Dickens, who manages day-to-day-operations and teaches classes at the shop, has been taking on commission jobs making furniture and other pieces.

Money from commissioned work goes back into the tool library’s budget.

Alex Dickens manages day-to-day-operations and teaches classes at the shop. (Submitted by Alex Dickens)

“It allows me to further myself as a maker, as a woodworker,” Dickens said.

Dickens has been woodworking for several years, but making commissioned pieces allows him to expand the classes the workshop offers as he learns new skills.

He’s made everything from cutting boards to kitchen tables, but his favourite piece so far is a record stand.

For somebody to buy these tools for themselves, we’re talking in the tens of thousands of dollars. – Brent Harris,  Saint John Tool Library and DIY Centre

“It’s a pretty unique piece, one of my first chances to design something that was, like, way different than anything else.”

He said the challenge in making the record stand was the precision and functionality.

“The measurements are very specific.”

Dickens said he’s always designing new pieces in his head, and bringing them to life from scratch is one of the things he loves the most about woodworking.

A coffee table that Alex Dickens has been working on at the shop. (Submitted by Alex Dickens)

“I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to make stuff for people that I know, which makes it a lot more special. I get to think about where it’s going and who it’s being made for,” he said.

“It makes the whole process a lot more meaningful, and being able to deliver it and seeing people’s faces when it’s finally in their home, that’s huge for me.”

Growing membership

So far, the shop has over 115 members. Harris said the goal is to hit 270 members by June 2020.

“Our shop is buzzing,” Harris said.

“People have built everything from shelves to full hardwood beds. One person even talked about creating his own futon, so our members are really creative and they produce some really interesting things.”

Brent Harris, left, with the francophone and Syrian newcomer group, whose members learned basic carpentry skills at the DIY Centre. (Submitted by Brent Harris)

While the DIY centre offers classes and has volunteers to help those new to woodworking, Harris said most members look for tutorials online, as they would if buying a tool at a hardware store. 

“When you go to Home Depot, no one comes home with you to make sure you know how to use that power saw you just bought.”

The $90-a-year entry level fee lets members borrow tools for three days at a time. Memberships that provide access to the workshop start at $280 a year.

Harris estimated it would take $400 to $500 in tools to renovate one room.

“For somebody to buy these tools for themselves, we’re talking in the tens of thousands of dollars.”

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