If you’re just starting to build DIY furniture, many times you don’t have the tools needed to build a project. Assembling a tool collection can be an expensive proposition. Buying used tools is a great way to build your tool collection without busting your budget. Today, I’m sharing the dos and don’ts of buying used tools.
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Buy the Best Tool
Just like a house or 401k plan, tools are an investment. Invest in the best ones your budget will allow. This post is about saving money by buying used tools, so I’m not suggesting to max out your credit card.
What I am suggesting is, sometimes it’s best to save until you have the money to get the best tool. Do your research, read reviews, ask fellow DIYers for their recommendations and then weigh your options.
Think about it this way. Tool “A” is cheap, but the reviewers say it isn’t durable and won’t last very long. Tool “B” is a little more expensive but will last forever. For me, tool “A” is a waste of money, so I’m going to save and go with tool “B”.
Anytime I have focused on the budget over quality, I was always disappointed. When my research told me I needed a more expensive tool, but I end up skimping saying to myself “this will do”, hands down I always regretted not going with the quality tool. The bottom line is buy the best tool your budget will allow.
How to Buy Used Tools
When it comes to buying used tools, we need to do our homework. First, we need to ask the seller a TON of questions. Second, we need to know how the tool works and if we’ve never used the tool, we need to research how it should work. Third, we need to see the tool in action. Lastly, we’ll need to negotiate the best price for the tool. C’mon, I’ll guide you through each step.
I ask a TON of questions whether I’m buying a used tool or a used car. Like everyone reading this, I work hard for my money and I want my money to work hard for me. So be prepared used tool sellers (and used car sellers), I’m going to conduct a thorough, fact driven interrogation before I open my wallet!
What to Ask
Why are you selling it? Did you buy it new? What project(s) did you use it for? When did you buy it? How long have you owned it? How often did you use it? Have you ever had it serviced? Is there anything wrong with it? What do you like best about the tool? What do you like least about the tool? Did you replace it with a new tool? And, of course, “Can I see it in action?”
These are just some of the questions I will ask. Depending on the responses, and if I feel the answer might not be totally true, I might ask the question again in a different way. If I get a different answer, I’m leaving without the tool.
Questions in Email vs. Phone and In Person
My email questions are more exploratory in nature, while my phone and in person questions are more direct. Who am I kidding, I’m an introvert, I hate talking on the phone! But sometimes you have to do, what you have to do. Some sellers will only communicate via the phone.
Email questions should be short and sweet. I find if you ask three direct questions, you might get an answer to one. For email contact, we’re just trying to determine if the tool is still available and how forthcoming the seller is with info about the tool. In an email I might say:
“I just saw your ad for the “XYZ miter saw” on craigslist. Is it still available? What’s the condition of the blade – still making clean cuts?” Don’t be surprised if you only receive “yes” as an answer! If you get more than a yes, we’ll send a follow up with a more direct question.
Know How it Should Work
We need to know how the tool we want to buy is supposed to function. This can be tricky because sometimes we’re buying tools we have never used or owned. Usually, the manual for the tool is available online. Google “XYZ miter saw manual” and review the manual. Know what accessories should come with the tool and how the tool should function. YouTube is also a great resource to see a tool in action and how it should work. Knowing how the tool should properly function will help us when we see the tool in action. If it doesn’t work like the manual or the YouTube video, don’t buy it.
See it in Action
Now that we know how the tool should function, we need to see it in action. If the seller says they can’t power up the tool or it’s not charged… HEAD. FOR. THE. HILLS. We don’t want a tool we can’t see in action!
When we are looking at a used tool, we need to be amateur super sleuths. We want to look at the condition of the tool. If the seller said “I’ve only used it a few times” and the tool is caked with sawdust, something’s not right and we need to interrogate, I mean ask more questions.
What is the overall appearance of the tool? Is the tool in good condition or is it dented and scratched? Is the tool clean and shiny or is it rusty? Did the seller say they hardly used the tool, but their truck says “ABC Construction” on the door?! Then chances are good it may have been used more than they are saying.
I once found a tool on craigslist and went to check it out. When I got there, the seller told me he was the shop teacher at the local high school and the condition of his tools proved it. All of his tools were in impeccable condition. They were clean, waxed and free of sawdust. He showed me the tool, pointed out all of the features and proved that it worked. I decided to buy it and he even gave me a can of wax, so I could take care of the tool just like he did!
If the tool operates like it should, is not dented/rusty and we’re interested in the tool, move on to the next step.
We’ve done our research, found a tool, seen it in action and we’re interested in buying it. Now we need to do a little more research. We need to know the value, set our budget limit and negotiate for the tool. By the way, I like to do my value research before I go to look at a tool, so I can negotiate on the fly.
Know the Value
We know the price of a new tool, but determining the value of a used tool isn’t always easy. I like to do my research on craigslist. Let’s say we found an “XYZ miter saw” for $100. On craigslist we can search for “XYZ miter saw” and see if they are any other “XYZ miter saws” available. It’s also good to search surrounding communities. If we find one saw for $75 and another for $120, then we know the price of the $100 saw we’re looking at is on target. Be sure to look at the descriptions of the other saws to make sure they are in a similar condition to the saw we are looking at.
Set a Limit
Now that we’ve done our homework and know the price range for an “XYZ miter saw” is $75-$120, what are we willing to spend? Most sellers price their items knowing they will be asked to come down. Another thing we should consider is the “risk”. We saw the tool in action, but how much are you willing to spend if it ends up not working properly when we really put it to the test? For the “XYZ miter saw” let’s set our budget at $80.
I’m going to preface this by saying my negotiating skills are nowhere near the advanced level of Mike and Frank of American Pickers, but this is how I do it. As I mentioned, most sellers price their items knowing they will be asked to come down. The seller of the “XYZ miter saw” we’re looking at is asking $100 and in our mind’s we’ve set our budget at $80. Let’s go in low, so we can work up to our budget amount. I would say something like “The miter saw is in good shape, but I think it will need a new blade, would you take $70 for it?” The seller will likely counter at $90 and then we can counter at our budget amount of $80 and say “I have the cash with me.” Chances are good we’ll get it for $80.
Where to Buy Used Tools
Craigslist, garage sales, estate sales, flea markets, used tool stores, eBay, and auctions are great places to search for used tools. I want to give some cautionary notes here. First, beware of scams. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The thought of saving a little money is not worth losing more money or getting injured.
I use craigslist for researching used tools, but please proceed with caution when actually meeting with a seller. I’m sure you have all heard the stories of people meeting to check out an item and being robbed or worse.
I recently sent a message for an item I found on craigslist. The responses I got were vague and the seller just kept saying “come here and check it out.” It gave me an uneasy feeling and I stopped contacting the seller. The bottom line is if you’re uncomfortable, don’t go. It’s not worth it and there will be another tool posted soon.
When going to check out a tool from craigslist, I recommend safety first. Let someone know where you’re going and bring a buddy with you. It’s good to have an extra set of eyes when checking out a tool anyway!
Oh, one last thought on places to look for used tools. Be sure to check out the tool rental areas of Home Depot and Lowe’s. The rental tools go up for sale when they are retired from duty.
So what do we do if we to check out a tool and it isn’t what we want? We need a polite exit strategy. First, thank the seller for their time. Then say something like “I have a few tools I want to check out. I’ll be in touch when I make my decision.”
Buying used tools is a great way to build your tool arsenal without busting your budget. We need to ask a TON of questions, know how the tool works, see the tool in action and negotiate for the best deal.
Have you ever purchased used tools? What was your experience? Do you have any used tool buying tips? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.
Oh, and if you found this information helpful, would you please pin it to Pinterest? I would really appreciate it!