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Borrowing Tools

comments (43) February 28th, 2010 in blogs

Gary Rogowski Gary Rogowski, Contributing Editor
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I used to participate in the Q&A section of this august website. It was a place where experienced professionals answered readers’ questions. There the pros regularly dispensed with fact, opinion, and outright bias based upon their years of doing things the wrong way but done in such a fashion that it felt right to them. It was a blast. But as with the dinosaur, my blood ran too cold or my brain was too small and some little birdy took my place. No hard feelings. Evolution, like rust, never sleeps.

I do remember however one notable question from the many I received. It went like this:

Gary, If a someone asks to borrow a prized chisel how would you politely decline the request? I replied thusly: There are several options.

The Shakespearean Answer
Be Shakespearean: “What, you egg! Shag haired villain of treachery! [And then, with a smile on your lips] Touch my chisel sirrah? Begone or I shall have to smite thee with my deadblow!”

It was a bit over the top I admit. But it did get the point across and clothed in Elizabethan attire it seemed less fearsome if still clear. Perhaps not to all. So another effort was called for.

The Accommodating Answer
Be helpful: “Please, please I invite you. Here are all of my tools, including this my most prized chisel, the one I dote upon, the chisel I reach for when cutting only my most important of cuts. The central chisel of my life. The chisel I could never replace. The chisel whose edge is as keen as my gaze when I see you reaching for it. Please look upon it and upon all my tools and marvel at them as do I. Look and gasp at their beauty, their potential, their power. But please please do not touch them. Please I beg of you do not touch them. Most of all my one prized chisel. I beg you.”

This was a bit needy I thought. A trifle too theatrical. It was given a bit to fancy and not quite, how shall I put it, manly enough for a warning. I needed something I thought more stern. Made of sterner stuff. That was it.

The Fortune Teller Answer
So, now I look into the future. This is how I respond to the grabbing hands of the tool borrower. For the uninitiated, the virginal, the veriest tyro who walks into my shop and with eyes aglitter goes to clutch one of my tools on the wall, to him now I say quietly but firmly:

“When I die someday far in the future, you may touch my tools. If you wish to die today, then you may touch them now.”

This I have found is a surprisingly effective defense against most tool borrowers. It keeps them at bay in a way that is remarkably clear and precise. I cannot recommend this approach for all of you of course. It does seem to work however at my bench rather well. Good luck to you in protecting your tools from the borrower.

-Gary Rogowski teaches at The Northwest Woodworking Studio in Portland, Oregon where he lends out none of his tools and is a Contributing Editor for Fine Woodworking Magazine. Read his blog at

posted in: blogs, Tools, chisels, Rogowski, band saws

Comments (43)

SarahEHuffman SarahEHuffman writes: I appreciate with your work
Posted: 2:07 am on March 28th

veldascott veldascott writes: Nice article.
Posted: 1:46 am on March 25th

MargieJRichey MargieJRichey writes: Nice post.Thanks for sharing it.
Posted: 7:48 am on March 8th

glacier glacier writes: On the other hand-I used to borrow tools and usually found that it was sort of like trying to diffuse bombs.If all goes well everyone is happy.If the tool you borrow is on the verge of self-destruction you might have it in your hands at the wrong time and then you are stuck with supplying a free replacement.Rental shops are in business for a reason.As for hand tools-there are times when a tool borrower is also looking to learn,and thats where we all start.A lesson with a well -kept quality tool sets the standard for a novice to aim for.It is the intent of the borrower that makes the decision easy.
Posted: 1:00 pm on March 20th

Posted: 11:46 am on March 20th

Guitar1 Guitar1 writes: I have a brother in-law who is a contractor and he occasionally borrows tools and they always come back in the same or better condition. On the other hand another really good friend borrowed some tools and 4 month's went by and my tools were not returned. When I called him out on it he said he didn't know where they were he'd have to find them. Apparently he lent them to some one else who lent them to someone else and they have never been seen again. So the moral of the story is Lend them to someone you know you can trust and everyone else buys their own!
Posted: 8:33 am on March 19th

akmarty akmarty writes: I posted earlier but while I was having lunch recalled of all things a law enforcement training class I sat through in which the instructor got side tracked on a story about his dad and how he was brought up. He stated that his dad had always been diligent about returning borrowed tools and equipment but held to the rule that "if you have to borrow it twice, it's time to buy it." I have tried to make that my rule at least on smaller tools. There are some expensive tools I have that my contractor buddy doesn't and vise versa; tools we both need from time to time. I am not going to buy a framing nailer any time soon and he is not likely to buy a micro nailer either. But we both have them at our disposal.
Posted: 4:28 pm on March 17th

saprinter saprinter writes: Many years ago my dad loaned a Troy-Built tiller and a Case tractor to a neighbor. Both were returned with ruined engines. My policy since then has been: bring it over and let me help you do it. that way I am in control of my tools and the friend gets his job done.

BTW, I keep a set of Wal-mart chisels around for doing stuff i would not dream of doing with the good ones. Keeps things mellow if the wife wants to scrape cement.
Posted: 2:48 pm on March 17th

iainmoff iainmoff writes: Have to say I slightly dismayed by the majority of the posts. Its only a chisel. (or whatever) Do you not find the overwhelming majority of people are good fair minded folk, and these are usually the people you would choose to call "friend" and therefore would have no problem lending them something they might need. It's usually the kind of thing you as a woodworker would use a lot and them once, so would you demand a friend buys something because you've so little faith in them?
Maybe thats just the Scottish way of doing things on this side of the pond.

Posted: 1:50 pm on March 17th

Dunwright Dunwright writes: How to Borrow Tools and Keep Friendships

If a man can trust you with his tools, there isn't a
hell of a lot more he has to know about you.
Usually, the potential borrower will spend a little time with small talk. While you continue working on your task at hand, their eyes will scan the room for future loaned items; thats when they see the sign below


When you borrow the tool, have him check you out on it, even if you know it cold.
That'll encourage him and insure you.

Agree on a time it will be returned by. Return it by then.

Return it either to his hand or to the exact place you picked it up from.

Use it carefully. If you break it, replace it immediately; preferably with a better one.

When you're finished, service it. Clean it, sharpen it, fuel it, fix it, oil it. If the tool comes back improved, he'll let you have anything he's got.

If you make him loan you something out of guilt, you'll be sorry.
Having said that, I have been burnt too many times by well meaning tool borrowers to ever do it again, not sorry.
Posted: 1:49 pm on March 17th

akmarty akmarty writes: While I value my tools greatly and hate to see them get damaged, I still value people more. I have a contractor buddy whom I share tools back and forth with quite a bit. I can bet that my block plane will come back with a nick or two in it. No big deal. He is my best friend and he helps me with all the big job stuff I don't have the expertise for and I build furniture for him when he needs it or has a customer that needs it. My neighbors and a couple co-worker and I borrow tools back and forth and so far no mishaps. I guess if the relationship has grown to level that we feel comfortable asking to borrow/loan tools then I am comfortable in doing so.
Posted: 12:54 pm on March 17th

HWG HWG writes: Mr response to a request to borrow many of my tools is like "highgatewoodworkers". I will loan you the tool, but I come with it. I then tell them of the chainsaw that I loaned a neighbor. When it was returned it was covered in dirt and sand and the chain hanging far enough from the bar to run your hand through it. He has used it to dig out a stump in his yard! My son is the only one I trust to use my tools unsupervised, and he had to earn that right.
Posted: 12:30 pm on March 17th

CrystalLeather CrystalLeather writes: My simple reply is to ask for a deposit equal to 2 to 4 times the replacement cost. When the potential borrower points out that they could buy one for a half or quarter of that amount, I smile and say "Your Right".
Posted: 12:25 pm on March 17th

MrPhil MrPhil writes: The best bit of advice I ever got was the one I adopted with good result: Any tool I lend out worth more than $20, I ask the borrower to leave me a check for the amount of the replacement cost of the tool. They always look at me funny at first but I explain that surely they planned to take good care of the tool and, just as surley, if they broke the thing they would want to replace it, yes? As a friend and neighbor? This is usually enough to deter most borrowers (when money is at stake they realize they don't know that much about how to use and care for such a tool) but a few have agreed and actually felt good about the whole arrangement. It encourages them to get it back within the 30 days I give them before I cash the check. The few tools borrowed this way have always been brought back promptly and in good condition.
Posted: 11:22 am on March 17th

Anseldog Anseldog writes: Great topic. I just lent out my planner and it came back with a nick in the knives.

The context of my answer:

I'm torn between wanting to find a way of protecting myself and a way of helping to create a world with trust and cooperation. I want to live in a world where both are possible. The problem is doing both at the same time.

My answer:

I need this tool for my living. It costs $$$ to repair or $$$ to replace. Are you sure you want to take on this responsibility?

I like this approach because it creates a cooperative dialogue rather than a "my way or the highway" demand.

Posted: 11:12 am on March 17th

demouser demouser writes: A neighbor wanted to borrow a relative's wheelbarrow. "No problem." Neighbor brings it back the next day lined with concrete. "Bring it back clean!" Next day he gets back a clean wheelbarrow with a thousand hammer dents in it.

I will lend certain tools to competent borrowers but for a fee. For example, I'll lend my neighbor my Felker tile saw for his remodelling side jobs, but the fee is always a 12 pack of premium beer per weekend of use.
Posted: 10:09 am on March 17th

highgatewoodworkers highgatewoodworkers writes: You hate to say no to a friend. So when one asks to borrow a tool, I ask what he is doing and volunteer to help him with his project. That way, I use and protect the tool, my friend gets a better job done, and and my friends don't hesitate to help me when I need a second pair of hands. If his job is big or will take a long time, it is easy to help him shop for the appropriate tools. Always enjoy helping out real friends. For others, a simple "Sorry, I don't lend out my tools" or "Sorry, I will need it soon for my new project" usually works.
Posted: 7:42 am on March 17th

RWR17 RWR17 writes: The sign that has hung in my shop for the past 30+ years;

"The only tool I lend out belongs to my cat and he always brings it back"
Posted: 2:40 am on March 17th

AlexSutula AlexSutula writes: A couple anecdotes.

1. I let a client borrow a 1/8 round-over bit so he could finish the job himself. After a couple emails, a phone call, and 4 months I got it back. And the SOB didn't even use it.

2. Let a couple contracting friends of mine borrow several rasps and files, a book on crown molding, a protractor, and a files brush I just bought. That was 3 months ago, and they still haven't been returned.

You wouldn't think borrowing tools would be that big of a problem. But jesus christ, it always is.
Posted: 11:44 pm on March 16th

RedSawman RedSawman writes: I never seem to have this problem, probably because I don't have any "friends" that I can't say no to.

Come to think about it, I don't think I have any "friends" that would ask, imagine that.
Posted: 1:26 pm on March 16th

spymac spymac writes: Wow! Talk about overprotective! Okay, I have favorite tools, some beautiful LN chisels among them. If someone asks to borrow them and I'm not using them, fine, no problem. Enjoy them and bring them back sharp, please. The friends who would ask no enough to take care of them, and have enough respect to both return them and return them sharp. When I borrow tools, I return them in equal or better condition than I got them in. Borrow a chain saw? Return it with a freshly sharpened blade and/or a new chain. Borrow a chisel, return it sharp. Break something? Replace it with equal or better. They're simple rules to live by, and work for me. Break a rule, and I learn a lesson and you are cut off. But that's just me. And my circle of woodworking friends is admittedly small.
Posted: 11:41 am on March 16th

cowtown cowtown writes: there are a bunch of toolbox warning stickers on ebay..

Stuff like "don't mess with my tools and I won't mess with yer wife"

Or "there are tools in this toolbox that you don't understand"

When the bylaw officer came around and told me I couldn't work out of the garage any longer, I had more complaints from my neihbours afterwards....the tools they wanted to borrow just weren't here anymore..

Eric in Calgary
Posted: 11:44 pm on March 13th

cahudson42 cahudson42 writes: Loan out tools? Depends on the tool. Of course

Loan out my TS-55? No way. My 25-year old Skilsaw? No problem.

My Lee Vally Veritas BU Smoother? Again no way. But I do have a truly horible #4 chinese Footprint should I be asked.

My Router and Router bits? No - not at all. I forget who said loaning out your router bits is like loaning out your toothbrush..

Come to think of it, the 'toothbrush' answer should be a good one for all our tools... "My XXX is just like my toothbrush. I wouldn't loan it out - and you shouldn't want to use it..."

Posted: 3:30 pm on March 11th

2dtenor 2dtenor writes: Tell the would-be borrower: "In the past, I loaned tools to friends and the tools were either not returned or they were returned in poor condition, so I ended up losing a friend and a good tool. Nowadays, I've learned how to minimize my losses . . .."

. . . but the most effective way to deal with the problem is to prevent it from happening. Post a sign (or several signs):

"I don't loan tools to my own daddy. Don't ask."


"I have a severely pathological attachment to my tools. If you ask to borrow one, you will learn how severe the attachment is."

Posted: 9:43 pm on March 10th

fussy fussy writes: Gary,

May I borrow a 1/2" chisel and maybe a shoulder plane?

Posted: 8:19 pm on March 7th

woodvice woodvice writes: Well for the specific example, I'd loan him something sharp but cheaper of the needed size if I had it, or I would loan him the golden chisel if not. This is assuming the requester is a friend.

I would never embarrass a friend by rejecting a request like that, nor would I let his uninformed abuse of it turn into a an embarrassing situation for him. I can buy new tools but friends are priceless. I tend to loan as well as borrow with my friends when a specialized tool is sought, and they would all do the same for me.

Posted: 6:39 pm on March 6th

Bruce20 Bruce20 writes: My neighbour wanted to borrow a power drill so I sold him my very first Craftsman drill with no reverse for $5. He did not give me the money. It still worked great. He was always asking for help or tools. He took it and then a few months later brought it back and said he got a new drill for Christmas and he did not need it now and wanted to return it.I told him he really needed two drills one for the drill bit and one for driving the screw and I would like the $5. I woul have liked the drill back but I did not want to let him off easily on borrowing tools or always asking me for something.
Posted: 12:22 pm on March 6th

joetatoo joetatoo writes: I stopped lending my tools out long ago. Due to a few misadventres with them. Now I just offer to do the job for them if it`s a close friend or relative. Otherwise I just simply tell them no my tools are like my wife, Only I may touch them.
Posted: 5:00 am on March 6th

begame begame writes: I hate lending my precious tools. They never come back in the same condition and that makes me never want to do it again.
Posted: 4:20 am on March 6th

kennethw kennethw writes: Since my wife cut off a chunk of her finger with a knife that I sharpened for her (, I don't think anyone will have the cojones to attempt to borrow my tools. Another reason to keep them sharp folks.
Posted: 3:21 pm on March 5th

Epistaxis Epistaxis writes: I once lended a nicely sharpened chisel to my sister in law. She used it as a screw-driver... -deadly silence was her share upon its return- It still amazes me how people can do stupid sh*t like that...... *shakes head in disgust*
Posted: 9:47 am on March 5th

besamemucho5 besamemucho5 writes: i am facinated by the lack of asertiveness by this whole group, all the way from rogowski to the last one. very few things seem to truly belong to me, like my expensive ww tools, or my guitar, or my prince road bicycle and a few other things that i don't want to list here. everything else,including my truck. my money,etc,etc, seems to belong to my kids or my wife and so on...and i don't mind that i am happy for them, but when it comes to borrowing the few things that i listed up above it is a known fact around here that it is best that they don't even let the thought of borrowing cross their minds...
Posted: 4:50 am on March 5th

MartinNL MartinNL writes: (And now the polite answer)

Sure, here it is/they are.

(Then you grab your special $ 10,- made-in-china-set-of-chisels and hand them over to him.)

Oh, by the way, keep them!

Posted: 3:31 pm on March 4th

MartinNL MartinNL writes: You want to borrow my xxxxx? Sure, no problem!

Oh, by the way, could I borrow your wife for a few days? I heard there a new bar, restaurant, hotel, nightclub* in town.

(* Fill in the your choice.)

Posted: 3:20 pm on March 4th

whampoo whampoo writes: unfortunately non of you have mentioned nothing about the wife that grabs the nicely sharpened chisels and proceeds to use them to scrape caulking off the concrete sidewalk .....then decides its a nice tool to clean the construction glue off the blocks from a block wall so they can be reused .... needless to say I got a new set of chisels for Christmas :)
Posted: 12:44 am on March 4th

rhh rhh writes: I have been asked a few times to loan my tools. I will just offer to have them bring over the project and I will make the cut for them. So far my friends have not taken advantage of me or my tools. I am sure one day this will get me up to my eyeballs in something I never anticipated...
Posted: 3:24 pm on March 3rd

doug21951 doug21951 writes: lovely to look at
lovely to hold
you break it
it's sold!

Of course this also implies paying for the time to put a decent edge on a new one!
Posted: 3:16 pm on March 3rd

kerfwerks kerfwerks writes: I'm of two minds about the subject. I loaned a friend my hammer drill and in return was treated to one of the best dinners I've ever had. On the other hand I once loaned a co-worker my best sash brush and was handed back something unrecognizable. After my vision cleared, I walked this fellow around the jobsite and asked the rest of the crew what they thought would be a just reward for such behavior. Luckily, this poor miscreant had just enough smarts to get the picture.
So, yes, neither a borrower nor lender be, but they are just tools. I'll never forget that bbq or the the kid who learned the lesson.
Posted: 10:50 am on March 3rd

bricofleur bricofleur writes: A humorist once said to his son: "Son, don’t you ever dare touching my tools. Even I don’t touch them."

Since then, this is my answer to borrowers.



Posted: 9:58 am on March 3rd

TonyBarr TonyBarr writes: I have two standard responses for people who want to borrow my tools, whether it be a chisel, powerwasher etc.

1.) Offer of Joint Ownership
So you are interested in buying a share of my tool? (No, they just want free rental). They quickly realize that 50% of the tool price is much higher than the rental (or a cheap tool), they go away.

2.) Overwhelming generosity
I'm sorry, but I don't loan my tools, but I will be happy to buy one for you if you are truly needy. Works best for really expensive stuff. Fortunately no one has ever accepted.

The bottom line is I buy tools to have them on hand when I need them. And for better or for worse, they will be in the same condition as when I last put them down. Inevitably, when I loan a tool out, it seems that is the very time I go to reach for it! Or, when I need it, it is in the same shape as when the borrower returned it.
Posted: 9:54 am on March 3rd

RalphBarker RalphBarker writes: I, too, like to wax Shakespearean. I keep a real-looking skull in the shop. When asked to borrow a tool, I take the skull in hand and lament, "Alas, poor tool borrower, I knew him well." ;-)

One can also post a sign: "Tool borrowers shot on sight".
Posted: 12:25 pm on March 1st

rennerratt rennerratt writes: it's easy to keep unwanted hands off your tools. just tell the offending hand touch that and tou,ll draw back a stump!!
Posted: 3:08 am on March 1st

tgraham1961 tgraham1961 writes: You want to borrow my XXXXXXX?
Of course you're welcome to borrow my XXXXX, oh wait, the last guy who borrowed it dinged it up, and well...
I went a little bit nuts, and so the police are holding it as evidence, until they finish their investigation.
But once they give it back, you're welcome to borrow it.
Posted: 9:33 pm on February 28th

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