classic top-handle jigsaw
Photo: Mark Weiss
In Berkeley, California, your library card can get you a how-to book on shoring up a house and the jacks to do it. In Columbus, Ohio, a "toolmobile" makes a 13-stop circuit through the city. And in Portland, Oregon, Jason Henshaw stands behind the counter of the North Portland Tool Library doling out, for instance, a jigsaw and advice on how to use it to cut a doggie door out of a human-sized door.

Henshaw, a health-care administrator with a penchant for power tools, cofounded the tool library last October in the basement of an old firehouse. By providing home-improvement tips and everything from plumb bobs to table saws at no cost, the volunteers hope to fight urban blight and foster community pride. An added bonus: Locals never have to buy a tool they'll use only once a decade.

The North Portland Tool Library may be the newest of its kind, but it's based on a late '70s model that has spawned scores of lender programs around the country. Most are located in neighborhoods where many residents can't afford contractors or home workshops. Some libraries live on grants or membership fees, others are run by city government, and almost all charge late-return fees, which go toward maintaining tools or purchasing new ones. "The for-profit rental yards actually appreciate us," says Berkeley tool librarian Adam Broner. "They don't want our patrons because they ask so many questions." —Mark Feirer
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