Retrofit & Tool Renovation: Meet ETL volunteer Richard Wright!

Meet Richard Wright – cherished volunteer at Edinburgh Tool Library’s Portobello branch, who is a tool sharpening guru and founder of the Retrofixers

Retrofit & Tool Renovation: Meet ETL volunteer Richard Wright! 1

Hello Richard! Tell us how you first got involved with Edinburgh Tool Library?

In summer 2018 Porty Tool Library had an opening event and I went along out of curiosity. The place was full of timber and other interesting stuff, and I met Chris Hellawell for the first time. He converted me in just a minute! Not only do I live only a 7-minute walk away, but I also discovered that ETL was perfect for someone with a lot of tools, limited space and no workshop as I could donate stuff and still use it! I never imagined volunteering when I joined, but I loved the workshops and the community spirit so much that it wasn’t long before I became a ‘Tooligan’. To start with I helped at open workshops as well as the library, but felt more suited to library shifts as there’s always something useful to do when not talking to visiting members.

Last year, you and some other ETL volunteers started the Retrofixers – can you tell us what that’s all about?

We are building a community of volunteers who want to learn, and help others make homes more energy efficient through DIY elements of Retrofit. We go to each other’s houses in groups of up to 5 or 6 to do draught proofing and simple insulation such as loft insulation, thermal blinds or secondary glazing, and the important thing is to have fun while we’re doing this. The host of the day provides a meal and refreshments, as well as any materials, and agrees to participate in other retrofixer ‘parties’! Most of us have some DIY skills, but that’s not essential as it’s also a learning opportunity. Some are good at caulking gaps and others can sew or fit heavy curtains, and anyone can squidge DraughtEx between floor boards as long as you can kneel! Ultimately, we want to have fun and build community while reducing our carbon footprint and saving money all at the same time! 

What’s next for the Retrofixers?

With regard to the Retrofixers, we are eager for more people to join our community – we currently have 26 members and there’s plenty of room for more! Join up and embrace the opportunity to build your skills, meet new people and save the planet. See our Linktree for more info. 

We have also recently got together with HeatHack – an organisation focused on helping community buildings save energy. One way they do this is by logging temperature and humidity over a period of time in all the different occupied spaces throughout a community building to see how it matches occupancy patterns. The sensors required for such an exercise are unaffordable off the shelf, but can be made up from electronic components for less than £10 each. We hope to help them in this task by making some sensors at the Tool Library, and who knows what we might learn from this!

We also hear you’re ETL’s sharpening guru! How did you get into that?

My ETL workshop induction was with Alan Cowie when I think we first talked about sharpening, and it wasn’t long before Alan encouraged me to get more involved in this. At the time I had already been sharpening tools at local community events on behalf of Portobello Timebank and we started a combined arrangement. I also took on the maintenance of ETL planes and chisels for the libraries and workshops, and in September 2020 we launched the ETL tool renovation & sharpening service,  advertised to members and the general public. As a team of three (with other ETL volunteers Pam and Sandy) we have now given tender loving care to 500+ tools and raised nearly £2k for ETL! We do this during library shifts when it’s quiet and it takes about a week before the tools are ready for collection. We mostly deal with garden tools but also woodworking tools. I have a particular soft spot for quality Japanese secateurs! 

I’d love to see more of us looking after our tools and learning how to keep them sharp. We have built our own dedicated repair bench in the Portobello tool library and have accumulated some pretty useful tools for repairing, renovating and sharpening, and there’s scope for more people doing this! There is a recent willingness in Colinton to learn these skills which is really positive and we’ll see where that leads to.