New Brunswick

One workshop closes, another opens in uptown Saint John

Elwood's is closing — but saws, benches and tools will find a new home at the Saint John Tool Library and DIY Centre on Union Street.

Tools, work benches are moving to a new home at the Saint John Tool Library and DIY Centre

160 Union St., the future home of the Saint John Tool Library and DIY Centre. (Julia Wright / CBC)

There's an unexpected silver lining to the announcement that Elwood's Wood Lab — a beloved uptown Saint John woodworking shop — will close later this month.

Work benches, saws, racks, lighting and tools from Elwood's will find a new home in the Saint John Tool Library and DIY Centre — a brand-new business venture at 160 Union St., a storefront that most recently housed a cannabis dispensary.

Elwood's Wood Lab, a custom woodworking shop on Princess Street, announced plans to close earlier this month. Tools, work benches and other items will find a new home at the Saint John Tool Library. (Julia Wright / CBC)

The tool library concept has existed in cities all over North America since the 1970s. An inventory of large and small tools will be available to be checked out by members who pay an annual fees ranging from $90 to $180.

In addition to lending tools to members, the centre will hold classes on practical skills such as woodworking, drywalling, mudding and painting.

The top tier of membership will also give users access to work space.

Until recently, the storefront housed a cannabis dispensary. Brent Harris hopes to start renovations on the space in the coming weeks. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Learning job skills

Tool library founder and self-described "tool wizard" Brent Harris came up with the idea after seeing a demand for skilled trades in Saint John but not enough general labourers to fill it.

"We want a program that can give people skills for a job fairly quickly without having to go to the New Brunswick Community College for a two-year program," said Harris.

"The other piece is just hobby stuff: people who have a project in their kitchen and they want to learn how to do backsplashes, or they want to re-do a whole living room and want to take a wall out."

Harris, a general contractor, came up with the idea for the tool library after seeing an unfilled demand for general labourers in Saint John — and places for home handymen and women to hone their skills. (Submitted by Brent Harris)

The Saint John tool library is unique in that it's a social enterprise — "a business that lives to produce change in the area," said Harris. "It's about empowerment and giving people the right tools and skills for the job."

Elwood's owner Tim Cressman said he was happy to sell the last of his tools to such a "phenomenal" project.

"When we were in here, we had a constant march of people coming in and being, like, 'Can we use your space, do you have classes?'"Cressman said. "When Brent walked in here and told us what he was doing, we knew there was a great demand for it.

"It is really nice knowing [the tools] are going to one person. It will be a piece of us that will stay intact in Saint John."

Elwood Wood Lab's owner, Tim Cressman, his wife and business partner Christine, and their dog Charlie have become fixtures in uptown Saint John since they opened their shop in 2015. Their Princess Street business will close at the end of March. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Lots of work to be done

The first step for the tool library, Harris said, will be taking down the old Hemp NB sign and starting renovations.

"We are really going to have to do some manoeuvring of the layout in that area," he said.

"Once we remove all the walls that aren't load-bearing and open that up, we'll have 1,100 square feet of shop [space], and 700 to 800 square feet for organizing and storing tools."

On Saturday, Harris and a crew of volunteers will be moving the discounted tools from Elwood's — "high-quality shop grade stuff: rugged work tables, a radial arm saw, a mitre saw, good shop quality tools, real chisels and screwdrivers. A big long list" — to the storefront on Union Street. A dozen people have already volunteered to help, he said.

Grew quickly from idea

"We have three trucks and a trailer and it's going to happen quick," he said. "We're going to start demolitions this week."

While he's still seeking permits from the city for some of the work, Harris said. He hopes to open in May.

Before that, the tool library will be holding a tool drive in April to bring in additional equipment.

"The business has gone from a seed of an idea to almost opening in four months," he said.

"People have been so generous to connect us and things through the door very quickly — and soon we hope we'll be announcing timelines, workshops, and classes."

About the Author

Julia Wright

Information Morning Saint John host

Julia Wright is a lifelong Saint Johner and the host of Information Morning Saint John. She has been with the CBC since 2016.