Tips for Buying Used Tools
It can be tough to find the cash you need to purchase new tools. But who says your new tools have to be new? Consider saving big by buying used tools.
When projects began stacking up around my house (including some gifts I wanted to build for my friends and family) I decided I needed to upgrade my garage workshop. But feeling the pinch of inflation, I didn’t have the cash to drop on a new $300 table saw or $500 planer. So I did something I normally hate: I went on Facebook.
On Facebook Marketplace, I found most of the tools I needed for a fraction of the price I’d pay for new tools in a store. If you’re just starting out in woodworking and home improvement, buying used tools is a great decision. If you decide the hobby isn’t for you, you’re not suddenly out a ton of money. You can even resell the tools on the same platforms you bought them on and potentially make most of your money back!
Why Buy Used Tools?
Many DIYers are hesitant to buy used tools, but there are plenty of benefits.
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On the first day of browsing Facebook Marketplace for tools, I bought an almost brand-new Craftsman router and table for $70 and a Skilsaw job-site table saw for $50. About a week later, I brought home a benchtop sander for $20. For weeks I searched for an affordable used planer and eventually came to the conclusion that I’d likely have to pay $300 or more. But then I found an older Delta model for sale for just $70. On average, I estimate I spent less than a quarter of the amount on my used tool shopping spree than I would have spent on brand-new tools.
Get better quality for the money
Ask most woodworkers about the quality of today’s tools, and they’ll talk about how the quality was much better 10, 20, or even 40 years ago. A vintage Craftsman or Milwaukee tool might not just cost less than a comparable new tool from a discount tool seller— it could also work better and last longer.
Extend the life of a good tool
Most of the items I bought had sat in dark garages gathering dust for months or even years. Tools are meant to be used! If someone doesn’t buy these unused tools, there’s a decent chance they’ll end up in a landfill at some point.
Help out the seller
Making small talk with the sellers, I discovered many of them needed the cash for one reason or another. One older couple had medical bills, and another person planned to put the money toward funeral expenses for a loved one. If you can help someone out and get something you need at the same time, that’s a win-win.
Tips for Finding Used Tools
Finding quality used tools can be easy. Here’s the strategy that’s worked for me and other woodworkers I know.
- Comb the Internet. I’ve bought nearly all of my used tools from Facebook Marketplace, but I’ve also searched my local Craigslist and eBay listings. If you live in or near a decent-sized city, odds are you’ll find the tool you need at a good price.
- Attend estate and garage sales. When my dad died a couple of years ago, we sold many of his tools at a garage sale. I kept as many as I could, but I sold the rest for much less than their true worth for two reasons. First, I didn’t have room to keep them all. And second, not being a woodworker at the time, I didn’t really know their value. A lot of people got scorching deals that day!
- Ask a friend. If you have a friend who rarely uses their tools, just ask them, “Do you want to sell anything?” Let them know they can borrow the tool whenever they want.
What To Look for When Buying Used Tools
So you agreed to buy a used tool from a seller. Great! But before you shake hands and hand over a bundle of $20 bills, take a close look and ask yourself these questions.
Is it in good shape?
First, do a visual inspection to see if the tool is well-maintained and of good quality. If it’s a power tool, plug it in to make sure it works. Are the cords frayed or split? Does the motor run smoothly or does it sound like it’s on its last legs? If you’re buying a cordless tool, the age of the tool and its batteries is also something to consider. Batteries have a finite life and can be expensive to replace.
That said, sometimes it’s best to accept a small flaw or two if you’re otherwise saving a bundle. I’m still kicking myself for not buying a $200 Rockler dovetail jig for $35 because it had a small nick on one of the end edges. I asked the seller if they would take $20 off because of the flaw, which they declined. By the time I decided to pay the asking price a few hours later, it had been sold to someone else.
Do the accessories come with it? What parts might need to be replaced?
The table saw I bought needed a new blade, which was pretty simple and cheap to replace. I needed to replace the planer knives too, which required me to purchase a specialty tool. Luckily, the cost for these was still a lot less than what I would have paid for new tools. Keep in mind that these small costs can add up quickly.
Does it have a warranty?
A warranty will let you breathe a little easier if you have an issue with a tool in the future. Craftsman Tools’ lifetime warranty remains in effect, in some cases even if you’re not the original owner. Stanley also offers a lifetime warranty on its tools. A quick Google search of your tool and its warranty should give you the details you need.
Listen to your gut. If something seems off about either the tool or the seller, walk away. Here are some other potential downsides to buying a used tool.
Saving cash, but losing time
Are you wasting more time searching for a good price on a tool than if you bought it new? Don’t forget to add in the amount of time you’ll spend driving to and from the seller’s home.
Missing safety equipment
Some older tools don’t have modern safety features. The table saw I bought didn’t have a blade guard or kickback pawl. After doing some research, I still don’t know if it’s possible to retrofit it with either. If I had to do it over again, I’d probably keep looking for a safer saw. But because I already bought it, I’ll just continue being extremely careful.