Humans of OTL

One of the greatest things about the Ottawa Tool Library is that it has created a vibrant, friendly community of members. Our members come here, not just to borrow a tool, but also to share stories, learn from each other and make new friendships.  No matter what level of experience you have, the Ottawa Tool Library has always been a place to learn, share and empower each other. Humans of the Tool Library is a collection of stories from our members and volunteers. Check back weekly as we add new stories!

Sylvie – Event Volunteer

“I grew up with people in my family who sewed – my grandmother and my mother. I used to sit very impatiently on my grandmother’s little sewing stool waiting for her to make something for me. I couldn’t wait to learn how to do it. By grade 9, I was making most of my own clothes! I can pretty well figure anything out – I can do zippers, buttons, hems, patches, darning…
My grandmother grew up in a very comfortable home, she was the youngest of many kids and because her father had a good income, she didn’t really have to do anything around the house. But when she married and had 5 kids, the depression hit. She had to learn very quickly how to make do with whatever she could. She learned how to make everything – from bras and underwear to snowsuits and blankets – whatever was needed. She made tool aprons for my grandfather who was a carpenter. She had to learn very quickly how to do all that because there was no money. People would give her clothing, for example, a coat, and she would turn it into a coat for one of her children.”

Sylvie has been helping as a mender at our Learn to Mend nights!

Rebecca – Event Volunteer

“I used to have every hobby in the book. But then I was moving and I didn’t want to bring all of the stuff that you need for each hobby! So I decided to choose one and I thought sewing was the most useful. I’ve learned a lot about repair and about clothing construction – which is very, very time consuming, so my interests lie more with using thrifted clothes and bringing them up to date or repairing them, or otherwise personalizing clothes that already exist. There’s also much more used clothing available today versus virgin fabrics and textiles. The disposable clothing industry says that there are 8 seasons a year now! Places like Forever 21 will just produce a whole bunch of everything and sell what sells and then burn the rest. We’re suffused with extra clothes! Clothes aren’t worn until they’re threadbare anymore – they’re basically worn until they’re not in style anymore. So, with sewing, you can make anything into your style.
All of my socks are usually darned. There are often fixed holes in my socks. I usually do it in a contrasting colour just to make visible mending and to popularize the concept that you don’t have to throw something out just because it’s broken.
Socks are probably the most important garment you can wear! A lot of them are made out of wool, which is one of the best textiles you can wear. It’s very comfortable, it controls temperature very well, it’s very durable. But they do tend to get holes in the bottom. Socks work very hard for us! We walk on them, they’re in our shoes all day. I’m here to help people put a bit of love back in after they get so much out of their socks.”

Our volunteer Rebecca leading the sock darning circle at a Learn to Mend night

Julie-Anne – Event Volunteer

“I’ve been volunteering with the tool library for a year now. Right before I left for Europe to go backpacking for 8 weeks, I took the bike workshop. I had never learned to properly change a tire, I would always just replace the tube instead of patching it up. During the workshop, they showed us how to patch it. Coincidentally, this summer, I was cycling in Italy, it was a super hot day and my back tire blew out! I’d only ever tried to change the tires in front so I was worried- I was in the middle of nowhere, it was really hot outside, I had this bike that was broken and I was alone. I decided to use the wonderful skills that the Ottawa Tool Library showed me so I was able to take everything apart and put it all back together and find my way back to the city!”

Julie-Anne has been volunteering with us for the past year

Ali Aldosary – Tool Librarian/Ninja

For our second Humans of OTL Series, we interviewed Ali! Ali Aldosary, a fixer and scrapper since childhood, tells us his view on consumerism. Click to watch!

Carly Pereira – Event Coordinator

Welcome to our first Humans of OTL Series interview! Carly Pereira, a volunteer at the OTL, puts into words the underlying differences between work and volunteer work. Watch it here!

Vita – Library Operations and Events Coordinator

“My name is Vita and I’ll be working in the Tool Library during the open hours this summer and also helping with event planning and some promotion. For the past year, I’ve been following the Tool Library on social media and always wanted to get involved because I thought it was such a cool idea. So I thought this would be a really fun, exciting opportunity to work here for the summer. I study industrial design in school which is like product design – it could be designing a whole bunch of different things – toy design, furniture design, medical equipment, exhibit design, lighting design, cars, footwear… The more familiar you can become with tools, it can only benefit you. Having a better understanding of how tools work and how to make things is always going to help you out. Especially, moving into second year, our program has studio classes and a mass production class, so we get to work in the shops and actually make physical prototypes and products.”


Meet our summer student!

Annie – Fixer at Repair Cafés

“I’ve been sewing basically forever. My dad taught me how to hand-stitch and I’ve picked up things from sharing tips with other sewers and watching YouTube videos. I like being able to rely on my own two hands. In highschool I used to make a lot of costumes, whereas last weekend I spent a couple of hours putting pockets into my pajamas. Sewing opens your eyes to how the world works – I mean, why are there no pockets? Where are you supposed to put things? You notice quality more, and you can appreciate it. Last year I resolved not to buy new clothes, and when I needed something I went shopping at second hand stores. For my office Christmas party I bought a dress for 7 dollars, that was probably actually worth 250. I made a few alterations and it was perfect to wear for that event. This is my third time volunteering as a fixer at a Repair Café. I like coming here because everyone is so passionate about what they are doing. There are so many things that can be fixed, instead of being thrown out. Mostly people ask me to repair zippers – they want to keep an item but the zipper is broken. And when you can fix something up for someone, they are super happy. It’s a good feeling!” 

Annie mending at one of our Repair Cafés

Rose – Participant at Repair Café on April 29, 2018

“I believe the Repair Café is an awesome initiative which enables participants to appreciate the value of their home goods and electrical products a lot more while avoiding unnecessary waste. Through the Repair Café, participants have an opportunity to give the home items they love and bring to the sessions a second and perhaps even a third life. At the last Repair Café in April, I brought in my kettle to be fixed. I was so honored to be matched with Bruce, one of the Repair Café Fixers. He was so committed and determined to make sure I go home with a nearly new kettle (at least in my opinion).  I enjoyed learning from Bruce as he jovially provided explanations on the principles of electricity while our well-coordinated “all-hands-on-deck” effort ensured that the kettle got the nice facelift it deserved. Interestingly, I could relate to the knowledge passed on to me by Bruce thanks to some of the articles I’ve been reading on Tesla and on electric vs gas cars.

After about an hour of work on the kettle, it became alive again thanks to Bruce’s persistence, expertise and our great team work. More importantly, I learned something new while being reminded that anything is possible when we put our minds to it and that life is a series of trial and errors.

The Repair Café is one of the many fun events hosted by the Ottawa Tool Library. My favourite thus far was the 3D-printing event. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about SketchUp, a 3D modeling computer program used in various design fields such as architecture, interior design, etc. It was nice to discover the endless possibilities of this kind of technology. While curiosity led me to the learning event, knowledge made me stay! It’s great to have a community nook such as what the Ottawa Tool Library provides where we have access to plenty of interesting learning opportunities.

Thank you OTL for a great time, great food and great company I find at the Repair Cafés and all the events you put together.”

Rose –  a great supporter of the Tool Library and Repair Cafés!


Jake – Repair Café Fixer

“I’ve been helping the Tool Library for about two years. I’m a general contractor and I started my own business just over a year ago. My free time is spent building! A friend had sent me a link to the Tool Library, thinking I might be interested in volunteering for an event. I actually knew of the Tool Library before because I had been visiting the CNC Ottawa shop [also located at Makerspace North] and saw the place and thought it was so cool. So when I got the email, I thought, “I absolutely want to get involved in that”. One memorable project was that someone had taken apart their couch. It was a sectional, three pieces. They had brought in the whole thing and the hinge on one side had come loose. So we just had to put some new brackets on it and fix it back up. It was pretty impressive though because it only took two minutes!”


Jake, Repair Café Fixer

Jason – Tool Ninja and Librarian

“I’ve been volunteering here since June 2017. I was looking for somewhere to volunteer in the city and I found the Tool Library. I really liked the idea of a tool library – people who have apartments and condos don’t need to buy table saw or a planer, so yeah, I wanted to help out! There have been some really interesting projects that I’ve seen. Someone made a “smart mirror” and another interesting one that I saw was someone made a ring box. They both came back to show them off once they were completed. As for my own projects, I’d like to make a bar in my apartment.”

Tool Ninja and Librarian Jason

Emily – OTL Member and Programming Coordinator 

Emily joined the folds of the tool library volunteer team early on while using her painting skills during the building of our tool library in the summer of 2015. Over the last two years she has become a highly valued member of our core team and has been responsible for many OTL events such as workshops as well as outreach events in the community. Lastly, her and her team organized our recent State of the Toolbox AGM.

Emily is from Prince Edward Island and life is taking her back out East. Her husband Jamie has recently accepted a new position in Halifax and so Emily will be leaving us at the end of March. As Kevin, another one of our Eastern volunteers, has said: “It’s often said about Maritimers that we spend the first half of our lives trying to leave the Maritimes and the second half trying to get back!  Good on her for doing it sooner.”

Emily is a very talented, clever, and funny human with a wonderful joie de vivre. We will miss her steadfast commitment and thoughtful contributions to the Ottawa Tool Library immensely. But as we have told her: we might just have to get a grant where we get to visit all the tool libraries in Canada and then: Halifax look out.” – Bettina

“It’s been a great pleasure working with Emily on the Core Team. I will miss her always positive attitude, and ‘hi gang’ emails that always make me want a Scooby Snack” – Jim

“Emily was on the team that interviewed and hired me for the position of Project Coordinator at OTL. Her sense of humor and warmth were evident from that first meeting, and she’s since become someone who I’m lucky to have had a chance to learn so much from. She’s that super competent pal who you take your troubles to, not just because she’ll have ideas on how to fix them, but because you know you’re going to have fun while working though it all. I feel incredibly lucky to have been on this team with Emily, she’s made me feel so welcome and was a huge factor in my settling in at OTL. I’ll miss her big laugh, enthusiasm, and considerable wisdom, but as a fellow misplaced maritimer, I’m also very happy for her to be heading (close to) home. “ – Shelley

“It’s been such a pleasure to work with Emily over the past few years. Her joyous laugh and her passion and dedication towards the tool library will be missed by us all. We’ve been so fortunate to have had her on our team and will miss her presence tremendously. ❤️” – Annika

“Emily has given so much and is at the heart of the library. She will be missed and never forgotten. THANK YOU, Emily!” – Jessie

“Emily has such great enthusiasm, energy, and optimism–she’s a motivating and uniting force at the OTL. She is truly the salt of the earth, and embodies the spirit of the Maritimes. Emily sees such potential in everyone around her and is always prepared to lend a hand towards realizing that vision. She’s an all-star, often our MVP, and will be dearly missed. ⭐️💕” – Derek

Emily always ready with a smile!

Carole – Tool Librarian

“Brad [my husband] became a member of the Ottawa Tool Library and I didn’t really know anything about it. We came to the Annual General Meeting about a year ago and they had a lot of different areas that you could volunteer for. I love the concept of reusing and stopping the “throw away” mentality. It’s nice to give new life to old tools. Giving back is an important part of our life. I’m a Tool Librarian – checking in, checking out tools, creating memberships, doing retail. I’m more of a kitchen tool kinda person, I really don’t know tools at all so it’s actually been pretty educational! I give big kudos to myself when someone says “hey I’m looking for an impact drill” and I’m like “I think I know what that is!” There was one memorable project at a Maker Night – a lady was making Harry Potter wands for her grandkids. She was reusing old furniture or something. And also, the Community nights are really great. We had a minimalist wood worker come in and he was awesome.”

Brad [left] and Carole [right]

Matthew – Fixer at our Repair Cafés

“This is my second time volunteering for a Repair Café. I like the challenge of fixing a whole bunch of things in one day. I remember after the last Repair Café, I went home and the things that I didn’t fix kind of haunted me afterwards! But most of the fixes are a success, which is nice. My area of expertise is appliances and musical instruments. I like fixing audio equipment, keyboards, and synthesizers, that kind of thing. I do a lot of old electrical pianos, from the 70s and 60s. Everyone is pretty happy to have their things fixed. It’s pretty rewarding. They always seem very surprised at how easy it is to fix things too. Usually, most repairs are very simple things like a broken wire that needs to be re-sliced or we solder something back on. People always seem very surprised at the end when we’re able to fix something!”

Matthew, a fixer at our Repair Cafés

David D. – Tool Ninja

“I joined last fall, so I’ve been volunteering for roughly more than a year. I came to the Tool Library one time for an open house and my wife was quite impressed with it. I was looking for a place where I could donate my wood working tools into a common space and we could do projects and I could go there instead of doing them in my basement. It plays to my strengths here, I know a little about a lot of things. I’ve done house wiring, house plumbing, duct work, dry walling, framing, roofing so… I’m not an expert in anything but I know enough! The thing I’m strongest at is house wiring.

In my old house, the plumbing was cast iron pipes, which has one great advantage – it’s very quiet. But it weighs a TON. So in order to re-plumb the house, I had to cut all the cast iron out. So, how to get rid of all of this cast iron piping? Well, I rented a chain cutter to cut the piping. It turns out that I couldn’t carry a section of more than about 3 feet long because it was so heavy! So starting at the roof, I cut the pipe every 3 feet, all the way to the basement. I got new ABS piping and over a few days, I dry fit everything (which means I cut it, fit it, but I don’t glue anything), because I’m worried I’m going to make a mistake. So I had dry fitted the whole house right to the roof and hadn’t glued a single thing. I was quite nervous about gluing it because it’s a bit tricky. I kept procrastinating and during all this time, we didn’t have any plumbing in the house… well one night, I was in the market drinking with friends and I came home at about 10 at night and just glued the whole house up! I lost my fear! Just needed a little liquid courage. Everything went in the right place and it worked perfectly!”

Tool Ninja David at OTL

Kathryn – Fixer at our Repair Café on Dec. 9, 2017

“I work down the street for an organization called Sustainable Eastern Ontario. It supports environmental non-profits. We actually wrote a letter for OTL when they were applying to the Trillium Foundation for the funding to do the Repair Cafes. At that time I thought oh that’s really cool, I’d love to organize some events together, so here we are! I do a lot of website communication stuff, writing, editing, and organizing events.

Today, I taught somebody how to hem pants so that was awesome! He was very happy.

I have an Etsy shop where I sell mostly knitted and crocheted things. Usually slightly quirky things like this most recent order was scarves that look like octopus tentacles. Someone ordered multiple scarves for a club that she’s part of that has a squid theme!”

Community member learning how to mend his pants! #teamwork

Bob – Tool Ninja 

“My buddy Kevin, who is the chief of the tool ninjas has been doing volunteer work here for several years. He convinced me to come out here and he thought it was going to be right up my alley. And sure enough, it is. I’m retired but I still know what I need to do to push my correct buttons in life.

Helping people one-on-one is a real big plus for me and the needs that I have on a personal level. My interests are PC, bicycling, woodworking and I don’t mind helping people in any one of those disciplines, to help further their education, their safety, tool usage, and knowledge.”

Tool Ninja Bob with our BOB Award! 😉

 Al Web – Fixer at our Repair Café on Dec. 9, 2017 

“I needed a tool and didn’t want to buy it – it was too expensive, so I came to OTL to borrow one. On my first visit they told me more about the tool library and “recruited” me as a volunteer! I’m now also helping out as a tool ninja and tool librarian during opening hours.

This is my first Repair Café so I’m finding it out as I go along. It’s going well so far! We haven’t been able to fix everything this morning but we were at least able to figure out what spare piece was missing so they could get that piece. We explain what they need to do with the piece once they get it, too. It has been a rewarding experience.”

(During the interview, Al was fixing an antique silver-plated coffee percolator. We were able to search online for the exact piece and it dates back to at least the 1940s!)

Al – Fixer extraordinaire

Kevin Atkinson – Tool Ninja Coordinator, AKA the muffin man

“I’ve been volunteering with the tool library for almost two years. I became a volunteer as a consequence of a friend of mine passing away. His wife asked for me to do something with all of his tools. So I brought all of his tools home and I catalogued them and I contacted his children and they didn’t want anything. So I was left with a full shop of my own tools plus a full shop of his tools and nothing to do with them. I had heard Betina (co-founder of OTL) interviewed on the radio and came down here to donate all of my friend’s tools and I thought “well, this is kinda neat”. I immediately was interested in volunteering. I started volunteering as a tool ninja and then a couple of months after that I took the role of ninja coordinator. So essentially, I recruit and train all of the tool ninjas. I’m a life-long maker, renovator, was brought up in a household where my father always fixed all of his own stuff so I was kinda brought up with that ethic. I know a little about a lot of things!

Last winter, a young girl came in here with her father. And she had had an idea that she and a friend of hers could have their own business making holders for tea lights. She thought they we could figure out a way to do that and that we would have the tools and that her dad could borrow the tools and basically she could direct him on what she wanted and her and her friend could sell it. She was so full of fire and so empowered with the opportunity. So they borrowed a chop saw and a drill press and they went away and I never really thought about it since… well last weekend, we had a craft fair in here and one of the other volunteers in here had bought some lip balm. He said I had to go check this booth out. He said they had all these products made out of wax and its two kids in this sea of adults out there and they’re selling stuff. So I went out and it was the same little girl and her friend. All of the stands that they had made were made with tools that her father had borrowed from the tool library, they had the tea light holders that she had designed, they mold their own candles, they make organic beeswax lip balm and they were out there just rocking it. Just so excited. Just grinning and so engaged. So here’s two kids that are probably 12 years old. They came in here and were empowered to do it on their own, with tools that they didn’t have to go out and buy. It just lit me up. I was on cloud nine afterwards. To me, it’s the entirety of why we do this. What more do you want then to empower a couple of kids to go off and do stuff?”

Our Tool Ninja Kevin who brings in the most delicious muffins for his shifts at OTL. 🥧🍪

Judy – Member

“I’m not that familiar with machines and it’s kind of nice to come here where people know what they’re doing. So when you turn on a machine you’re reasonably confident that you’ll end up with all your fingers by the end of it!”

Judy used our Maker Day and Maker Night in December to make beautiful Christmas presents for her grand children. She is an inspiration to many tool librarians who witnessed her using her new-learned skills. Check out what her lucky grand children found under the tree this year. Hint: abracadabra!

Learning how to use a band saw.


Harry Potter wands made at Ottawa Tool Library



Debbie – participant at our Repair Café

“I’ve been following the tool library on Facebook for months because I think it’s a great idea – I don’t like to throw anything out, if I can have it repaired. I’m not handy myself so I don’t have all the tools and I have limited space so I thought this would be a great place to bring something to get fixed and to get some more ideas. Today, I’m fixing an earring. It belonged to my grandmother and it’s gold-plated and sentimental. It’s been a challenge but these guys have so many ideas! The other thing I brought in was my wooden wind chime. It was weathered-out with the string, so we are re-roping it and drilling a bigger hole for that. I wouldn’t have thought of that and I wouldn’t have been able to think of how to put it back together again either. So these volunteers are wonderful. I’m on a mailing list and I’m definitely interested in all the events that they’ll be showcasing in the near future that I could participate in. You never know, maybe as a volunteer! I could be the greeter because I’m not handy haha!”

Alex and Ryan – members

Alex: “We became members of the tool library a couple years ago … and little did he know I was thinking of making an engagement ring for him since I knew that an engagement ring for me was coming sometime soon. Ryan’s family had recently replaced a couple of planks on their 1960’s mahogany boat so I talked to his dad and got a piece of plank from the boat. I was able to borrow a block plane from the tool library and using the block plane, I was able to take strips, almost like pencil shaving curls off of the mahogany wood and then wrapped that around a wooden dowel.”

Ryan: ”It was a bit of a surprise, I mean I knew she was working on something but I didn’t know what! I was surprised at how it turned out, how strong it was and how good it looked. I took it off to play hockey but for the most part, I wore it all the time. It was good practice for getting used to wearing a ring in general!”

Alex: “It was when I was looking for the tools I needed to do this project that I found the tool library. Part of my Christmas present to Ryan that year was a tool membership for both of us, and the following summer we were able to build a deck in our backyard using some of the tools from the tool library. We continue to do more and more wood working projects”


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This