Buying used tools… how to come away smiling

31 Mar

Since I was asked recently about buying tools second hand, here’s some info on how I get some great deals.

First things first

When I see the need for purchasing a tool, I do research. I look up the brands that are popular, the stores that are closest, and check the retail prices. Then I choose the quality range that I want to target, most times I don’t go absolute best quality, but mid-range, or bottom mid-range. From there I decide whether buying the tool new is the best option. In most cases if the tool is $150 and under I feel better getting it brand new with a warranty / guarantee than buying used. That is if I plan on using the tool often enough. If it’s a one off project then I might consider buying used for tools that go for $150 and under. Sometimes I also veto buying used because I want that particular machine to have a predictably long and accurate life. Buying used can be risky after all in terms of how much life is left in the tool (for power tools anyway).

Pricing it right…

Once I’ve decided that I want to buy used I figure out the MOST current and available price for the tool brand new (retail value). Once I have this number, I halve it. The tool should go for half of the retail value when buying used, unless it’s a tool that has a high resale value or is almost new. I confirm the “used” price by hitting the classified ad websites and looking up that specific tool and/or similar items. I average out my findings to get my final estimated value of the tool.

But which one do I choose…

Much like choosing a car, brands and year models play a large role in weeding out the good from the bad. Since I have a subscription to a woodworking website, I search for a review on the different brands of the tool and go from there. Another way to source this info is to ask “tool people” in your network which brands are reliable. My FAVOURITE way to choose between brands though, and I do this to validate info I may already have, is to search the web for customer reviews on retail websites. If there are enough customer reviews, and you can see patterns in them, then you know the reviews are reliable. For instance if several people are voicing complaints about a faulty part on the tool, then you know the product isn’t prime. But if the pattern is that most people couldn’t be happier, then bingo!

Buy local in order to run through your checklist…

I always try to find a guide of “things to look for when buying used” about each tool I purchase. The woodworking subscription I have has been very fruitful in this regard, but message boards can help, your friend network again can help, and general searches on the web. I jot down a small list that fits in the palm of my hand for when I go to see the tool. I ask the hard questions and see if the person selling the item is flippant or giving direct responses.  I also ALWAYS insist on testing the item. If the person doesn’t want me to touch it, or limits my time assessing it-that’s a red flag.

General check list for power tools or stationary machines 

Plug it in, see if it works well- test it with wood you brought

Are all the parts there and in good condition- or will you need to repair or replace some

Are the bearings in good shape, are there any grinding sounds when turned manually

Are there sparks coming out of the motor housing or burning smells

Are the belts in good condition

Is there  runout, slop, or do the settings on the machine not hold well

If there are flat tables on the tool, check to see that they really are flat


This is a tough one. My general way of going about this is to figure out if there is a bargaining point to be had or if the tool is actually in great shape and well within the seller’s asking price. I usually ask why the seller is selling the item, this question is great for haggling- it makes sellers squirm and sometimes the seller will reveal more than they should have, but this is also good for you as you don’t want to buy something with any hidden problems. If there is a key issue that I am truly worried about I ask for a lower price. Or if my budget is tight. Generally if I find the item is well worth the asking price I don’t talk them down because I can’t justify it, and the seller usually knows that they could find someone else in a heart beat to sell to. But you get a feel for how negotiable a price is, sometimes it’s obvious. When I do haggle, I bring up the undesired issue as a bargaining point, and then make an offer. But before hand I go through my checklist, and give myself time to reflect on all of the variables. Strangely this silence from me is intimidating to sellers as they don’t know what I’m thinking. It tends to work in my favour. They want to sell after all, and the sooner the better.  If the seller accepts my offer then I follow through, if they counter offer I usually ask if it’s really their best offer. Sometimes they go lower, sometimes not, usually I accept their counter offer. But I will say; Haggling works best if you truly could walk away from the deal if the price is wrong. 

2 Responses to “Buying used tools… how to come away smiling”

  1. zoltok April 1, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    This is a fantastic article. I could add one thing, though it’s unlikely it would ever come up if you properly do the research ahead of time – part compatibility! I bought a jigsaw from someone on Kijiji without doing any research on it, and discovered afterward that it takes non-standard blades that are impossible to find. Ugh.

    I will have to be buying another one at some point and I’ll definitely be using this as my buying guide!

    • Warped Boards April 1, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Good point, replacement parts are an important consideration!

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