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A Guide To Buying Used Tools
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A Guide To Buying Used Tools

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“They’re secondhand weapons, but they’re still okay.”

Lord of War (2005)

Buying anything used can be a hassle. Unless you are one of those people who loves buying and flipping other peoples’ junk, you probably aren’t looking forward to the process. But, then you remember how much money you’ll probably save and the hunt begins. Before you jump into the wild world of secondhand tools, let’s take a crash course is buying used!

Planning, Planning, Planning

The first and most important step before buying a used tool is knowing its value. Research prices- brand new retail prices, used prices on eBay, knock-off brand prices on Amazon, prices of other similar products. Gather as much knowledge as you can to avoid being taken advantage of. You want to walk into any negotiation (this extends beyond just tool buying, by the way) knowing what you want and how much you are willing to pay for it.

Next, don’t wait until the day you NEED a tool to start looking for one. If you want to be price-conscious, you should plan to pass on a few deals before settling on one. You almost never want to impulsively buy the first cheap tool you find.

Another thing to consider is whether the tool you are looking for is seasonal. Buying a snowblower just as winter is coming will probably cost you a fair bit, or someone else may beat you to it. Buying a snowblower in the dead of summer, however, means you’ll probably pay a better price and not many other people will be looking for one.

Many people don’t plan ahead. We are impulsive creatures. So, if you can plan out your purchases before you need them, you’ll have a leg-up over much of the competition.

Where to Buy Used Tools

You can find used tools all over the place. Craigslist, eBay, and Overstock.com are all great places to start your online search. When dealing with online sales, you need to be extra cautious. If the seller is close by, you should meet with them to see/test the tool before exchanging money.

If shopping online isn’t your thing (at least for tools), then you can always check local flea markets, farmer’s markets, garage sales, and festivals centered around the contractor or maker lifestyles. You’ll have better luck not buying a lemon if you are interacting with the seller in the flesh.

If you live in an area with pawn shops, you can probably find some good used tools there as well. Make sure the shop you visit is part of the National Pawnbrokers Association, as these shops adhere to a strict code of ethics and will most likely have tested anything they are selling.

Finally, you can always check the big-box hardware stores like Lowes and Home Depot. They often have returned or last-generation tools on clearance. This will likely be the safest route to take since you will have a receipt and the ability to return something if it’s defective.

What Brands You Should Look At

Brand names are generally an important aspect of tool buying. You can buy store-brand Rainbow Flakes that taste just like Fruity Pebbles, but a knock-off circular saw could be a very dangerous thing. Brands matter when it comes to tools. Some trusted brands for consumer-level tools are Black + Decker, Skil, Craftsman, Ryobi, Porter Cable, and Kobalt. For contractor-level tools, you want to look for DeWalt, Makita, Milwaukee, Hilti, and Bosch. These are just some examples, you should always check customer reviews on sites like Amazon before you buy any tool, new or used.

A lot of tool brands offer lifetime warranties on their products. Always inquire about the original purchase receipt when buying a used tool. Chances are it’s been long lost, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to just ask. Some brands, like Craftsman, even offer warranties on some products with no proof of purchase required.

Something to keep in mind if you are looking for contractor brands is that these tools tend to last quite a long time compared to consumer brands. Contractor brands are designed to be used heavily day-in and day-out. If someone is selling one of these, it could be a great deal… or they could know that the tool is on its last leg and are trying to get rid of it while it still works. Be extra cautious and ask even more questions if you are planning to buy a higher-end tool.

Test EVERYTHING

This should really go without saying, but make sure you test anything before you buy it. Even something as innocuous-looking as an adjustable spanner could be so rusted or gummed up that the screw no longer turns. Testing is especially necessary for power tools, however. You don’t need to see the jigsaw cut through a 2×4, but if it’s turned on and you can hear odd grinding or smell burning metal, you’ll want to avoid that particular sale.

Another common problem area you want to look at before buying are vents. Most power tools have an air vent of some sort, and these tend to get grime and gunk in them quite often. A good craftsman will always keep their air vents clear of debris, but a lot of regular tool owners won’t. If a tool isn’t properly ventilated it can overheat, causing irreparable damage. Always check the vents.

The exception to the “if it doesn’t work, skip it” rule is if you have the proper time and skill to fix whatever is wrong with the tool yourself. A busted piece of junk for 10 bucks is a waste, but a repairable reciprocating saw with a couple loose connections for 10 bucks is a steal.

Check the Power Supply

This is perhaps the most important tip of all. If the tool is corded, check the cord thoroughly. Look for unusual kinks and bends, spots covered by electrical tape, and exposed wires both along the cord and where the cord meets the tool. Kinks and taped spots may not necessarily mean serious damage, so always talk to the owner if you are able to. It’s entirely possible that it’s a minor issue that they were able to fix competently. Never be afraid to ask questions!

If the tool you are looking at is battery-powered, ask ahead of time to have a battery fully charged and ready. Never take home any battery-powered tools without running them on battery first. If you are buying a battery-powered tool that is more than a few years old, chances are the battery won’t last much longer. Replacement batteries for power tools are often expensive, so if you are being offered a tool with a dead battery, you may actually be better off just buying a new one anyway.

That’s about all there is. As long as you can be patient and smart in your approach, buying used tools doesn’t need to be the hassle it usually is. With these things in mind, you’ll be more likely to bring home something you can actually get your money’s worth from. Happy (smart) hunting!