The Finicky vs the Flaky Friend: How to Lend Out Tools with Confidence

November 16, 2020 Stephen Matson

A Milwaukee Sawzall with carbide teeth blade sits on top of workshop table

If you’re like me, you likely have a large collection of tools in the garage, assembled over the years, cherished, and used for anything from small around-the-house quick-fixes to large DIY projects.

Such an impressive collection can quickly become the envy of the neighborhood, especially when you work for a tool company like Milwaukee! And quickly following are the admiring friends and neighbors, who may periodically ask you if they can borrow a tool or two to help them complete a project of their own.  

Such was the case with this amusing, if all too familiar, video from Charlie Berens. 

But there’s a fine line between being neighborly and taking advantage. Even more significant, if you’re in the trades, these tools are more than cool toys to make your friends and neighbors jealous—they’re your lifeforce, what puts food on the table!  

It goes without saying that you can’t have mooching friends hanging onto your power tools longer than is reasonable.  

In this article, we’ll take a look at the “5 stages of lending out tools” presented in this video, give our thoughts, and we’ll give you a few tips of our own when broached with this situation. 

The 5 Stages of Lending Out Tools 

As the title suggests, this video is broken into 5 “stages” that might transpire when you lend out your tools: 

  1. Stage I: The initial “Ask.” In this stage, the tool owner, Taylor is approached by a neighbor, Charlie, who asks if he can borrow an M18 FUEL™ HACKZALL™.   

  1. Stage II: The “Hunt.” This stage, chronicled in the video to occur a couple of months later, is when Taylor ends up needing the tool only to realize he doesn’t know where it is. Spending considerable time “hunting” it down, Taylor eventually traces it back to Charlie. 

  1. Stage III: The “Confrontation.” Taylor confronts Charlie at last, asking for his HACKZALL™ back, only to find it’s missing its battery.

  1. Stage IV: The “Pledge.” Taylor dramatically pledges not to lend out tools to friends ever again. 

  1. Stave V: The “Beer Bribe.” Charlie, seemingly apologetic for his misdeeds, returns, presenting Taylor with a pack of Coors and an invitation to a cookout, which ends up being a thinly veiled attempt to borrow a leaf blower.   

Potential problems:  

  1. Stage I: The terms of the lending agreement are ill-defined, with Charlie appealing that Taylor “Make sure you bring it back, okay?” without specifying a certain period Charlie could borrow the tool, nor a date he could expect it returned. 

  1. Stage II: The nonexistent lending agreement is worsened by the fact that Taylor doesn’t take a note of which friend he’s lent his tool to. This results in a lot of back and forth (asking his partner if she’s seen it, two separate friends if they have it) before tracing it back to Charlie.  

  1. Stage II: Amusingly, though certainly troublesome, Taylor gets his tool back with its battery missing, only to realize Charlie has also been hanging onto other tools that belong to Taylor: a lathe, a socket set (with a missing socket). This is particularly problematic because it reveals that Taylor is financially burdened, having purchased a new lathe, thinking the original one was stolen. 

  1. Stage IV: While pledging to never lend out tools is certainly within the rights of the owner, there are more diplomatic options available should you encounter a neighbor who wants to borrow something from you: Establishing an agreement, stipulating when you need the item back.  

  1. Stage V: Taylor lets bygones be bygones, agreeing to lend out his leaf blower while setting a tenuous precedent of “what are neighbors for?” while letting the cycle repeat. Obviously, you don’t want to let the behavior continue and should begin setting ground rules when items are lent out. Plus, Coors? Come on! 

Tips for Lending Out Tools with Confidence 

Being a good neighbor often means taking the high road, and while making a dramatic pledge to never lend anything out under any circumstances is within your rights, it might send a negative signal and put you into pejorative terms with friends and neighbors you’ve known for years and grown fond of. 

But there is a silver lining! There are some perfectly reasonable ways you might avoid some of what happened in the video.  
 
Here are our tips for lending out tools the smart way, earning respect, and preventing yourself from getting taken advantage of. 

Establish Ground Rules 

It’s important to establish some ground rules when lending out your possessions so your friends don’t test the limits of your patience and you don’t get taken advantage of. 

When clear ground rules are established, you expect to see your tools back in a reasonable time and it sets a precedent for a healthy friendship. When one is respectful to another, one can expect the respect to be returned. This will come in handy not only when friends ask to borrow items in the future, but also should you need to borrow something from them. 

Ground rules might include:  

  • Set a time period within which the tool will be borrowed. Is the tool to be borrowed for a quick job (within a few hours), a weekend project, or some extended period (ask how long!) such as a remodel. Not only will this give you a clearer sense of when you’ll see your tool back, but also, based on the ask, you can discern whether you even feel comfortable lending the tool out based on needs. If you don’t feel comfortable with the ask, respectfully decline. 

  • Set expected return date. This way, you’ll know when it’s coming back and not be left wondering. 

  • Set reasonable expectations for use. Just like when you rent a car and are expected to fill the tank back to where it was when you left with it, you want to ensure that your tool is used reasonably. Will your friend be expected to replace SAWZALL™ blades, refill tank after whacking the weeds (if it’s a gas-powered string trimmer), etc. You break it, you buy it. 

Track Your Tools 

Whatever you do, don’t be like Taylor and forget what friend you lent your tool out to! You don’t want to end up replacing items that don’t need to be replaced.  
 
To prevent this, you can track your tools in a few ways: 

  • Who’s borrowed what? Take notes. Take note of who borrowed what and when. This will come in handy and prevent you from running around aimlessly like Taylor trying to determine whom it was you lent your tools to. If you’ve established your borrowing ground rules and set a reasonable date you expect to see your tool returned, your friend should know to return it on time and, if they slip, you can wander over with your precedent clearly established. 

  • Use a tool tracking system: You can keep track of tools and equipment with a tool tracking system.  

An asset manager uses One-Key's inventory management portal

*With One-Key, you can even add your friend to the system from your mobile device and “assign” your tool to them and add notes. This way, even if you can’t remember whom you’ve lent your tool to, you can check your mobile app and find relevant information on all of your tools, where they are, to whom they’re assigned, when they’re due for service, etc. 

*If your tools are One-Key compatible smart tools and you really want to screw with your ungrateful friends, you can lock out your tools, rendering them inoperable. If, on the other hand, you’ve lent out a One-Key compatible light, certain models—such as our M18™ ROCKET™ (2120-20)M18™ RADIUS™ (2146-20), or M18™ RADIUS™ Site Light/Charger (2150-20)—feature One-Key customization features. Aside from being able to track your assets, you can also set schedules for when the light will turn on or change the brightness so that, unbeknownst to your forgetful neighbor, the light turns on suddenly, as if to suggest their house is haunted. 

*You can also add TICKs to get similar Bluetooth® tracking capabilities to non-One-Key compatible tools and equipment, or scan and tag your assets to keep track of them as you get them and assign (lend) them out. 

A tool room manager conducts inspection

Tying it All Together: How to Lend Out Tools with Confidence

Remember, you can be neighborly without letting your neighbor’s tool asks getting out of control!  

You can lend your tools out while creating a better friendship by establishing ground rules: 

  • Set a time period the tool is to be borrowed  

  • Set an expected return date for your tool  

  • Set reasonable expectations for use of your tool 

You can ensure your tools don’t go missing by: 

  • Taking note of which friends you’ve lent your tools to, and when  

  • Keeping track of your tools and equipment with a tool tracking system 

Keeping these thoughts in mind, you can set good precedent for future tool asks; maintain a good, respectful, neighborly friendship; and, above all, make sure your tools don’t go missing! 

About the Author

Stephen Matson

As program director for Milwaukee Tool, Steve Matson is an integral player in the overall strategy, development, and delivery of new-to-world disruptive innovation for the skilled trades. Currently overseeing the development of ONE-KEY™, Matson works with the most talented engineers, software developers, and marketing leaders in the industry to provide a new level of control and access to information that will fundamentally change the way users improve their workflows across their operations.

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