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Tools for the trade

Kensington Tool Library seeks to provide tool resource to community through collaboration, education and conservation

Kensington Tool Library founding memnbers Scott Bickmore, Kae Anderson, Stephanie Marsh and Steph Davis show off their temporary “potatool” tattoos.

By Melissa Komar

In the market for a table saw for your next home improvement project?

That could cost you a couple hundred dollars plus tax depending on which hardware store you visit to purchase it.

If you’re a member of the Kensington Tool Library, you can borrow the table saw and any other tool in stock as many times as you want for a flat yearly fee.

Just remember to return it on time to avoid a late fee.

Similar to a traditional library, members will be able to borrow items for a certain period of time. And just like borrowing a book, tools must be returned in a timely fashion. Membership costs and late fees will be used to sustain the library.

Although it doesn’t yet exist as a tangible tools, Kensington Tool Library is on its way to becoming a co-op for River Wards residents and beyond.

On Sunday, the co-op hosted a potluck barbecue to spread the word about the group.

In the middle of the lot at Frankford and Susquehanna avenues, residents made art with “potatool prints,” potatoes carved in the shape of hammers, wrenches, axes, screwdrivers and saws.

Founding members Kae Anderson, Scott Bickmore, Stephanie Marsh and Steph Davis sported temporary “potatool” tattoos on their arms.

Potatool cool kid: Arthur Frank, 3, makes a wrench “potatool” print.

The Kensington Tool Library was born about six months ago when the foursome became one of Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance’s 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses, according to Anderson, who serves as commercial corridor coordinator for New Kensington CDC.

“We started as a book club and we started to study cooperative business and working together as a group in September,” she said. “We discussed everything from business models, to obtaining funding, to solving conflicts and met twice a month.”

The founding members formed the book club from personal experiences, from purchasing and fixing up a new home, to losing a space to create art.

Currently a South Philly resident, Davis lived in Fishtown for seven years and was a member at the now defunct Sculpture Gym.

“We really want the makers economy of Frankford Avenue to flourish,” she said. “I came from Sculpture Gym and that was a similar concept. There was a collection of artists who shared tools, and once that left, we felt that void. And, we also want people to feel empowered to fix their houses.”

Meeting basic needs of the community through tool sharing, education and collaboration is the driving mission of the Kensington Tool Library.

Tools of the trade: Scott Bickmore makes “potatool” prints at the Kensington Tool Library barbecue.

“It’s to be practical,” said Bickmore, founder of the Sewing Circle of Philadelphia. “And Kae’s basic need encompassed a lot of other people’s needs.”

Anderson bought a house in Kensington a year ago and found herself overwhelmed by project ideas.

“I had all these great project ideas I wanted to get done, but didn’t really know where to start,” she said. “Going to Home Depot for me was always really intimidating because it was a very impersonal experience. I wanted someone to go further than show me the aisle where drill bits were sold and actually talk to me about whether I really needed to be using a hole saw instead of a spade bit. And if I did need a hole saw, I certainly wasn’t comfortable buying a brand new tool (that I didn’t know how to use) only to be used for this one project and sit in my basement covered in dust for years. I wanted to create a better solution.”

Creating a practical solution means the tool library will not be concentrated on just sharing tools.

The members hope to reach a wide audience, from people looking to fix up their houses to contractors looking for a place to store tools.

In terms of the actual library, the group is working with NKCDC to possibly adopt its mobile tool library truck concept, but the library itself is nebulous, too.

“It could be a lot of things,” Anderson said. “It could be a storefront location, a storage container in a vacant lot and a co-op space for people to create together.”

The co-op is applying for grants and trying to partner with other community organizations and civic groups to obtain tools.

“A lot of the cost of a tool library is tool maintenance, so we’re looking to collaborate with other groups such as the Philly Fixers Guild,” Anderson said.

Davis mentioned partnering with community groups to borrow gardening tools such as rakes and shovels during the off-season.

And, the group will always accept donated tools of any type.

Davis and the other founding members envision a stock of tools that aren’t necessarily practical to purchase.

“We’re thinking tools people can’t store in their house or only use once,” she said. “That could be anything from a 30-foot ladder, to a post hole digger, to a table saw.”

As the group works through formalizing the co-op in the next few months, the goal of creating a resource for the community is the priority.

“Our main goals are to collaborate with each other, provide education and practice conservation,” Anderson said. “There’s no need for everyone to go out and buy a table saw when we can all use one as a community.”

While serving the community is key, reflecting its voice is just as important to the co-op.

“We want everyone in the community to take advantage of what we’ll offer,” Davis said. “We want the community’s input so what we’re doing is sustainable.”

Follow Kensington Tool Library on Facebook for updates.

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