A used tool isn't a bargain if it ends up costing you more money to replace down the road. Here are some tips on buying used tools that are worth the dough.
Buying used tools can be a great way to get your workshop setup. You can save hundreds of dollars on tools that have years of life left in them. On the other hand, you can unknowingly buy someone else's problem and regret your decision as soon as you use it.
Before buying any used tools you must evaluate your needs, set a budget, know the market, and test the tools. If you follow these steps you'll mitigate the risk of buying junk.
WHAT'S YOUR PLAN?
Do you plan on woodworking, welding, 3D printing or something else? Only buy what you need at the time. It's tempting to peruse the classifieds and come across great deals for tools you don't really need. Focus on what you are planning on building and the best tools to do the job.
KNOW YOUR BUDGET AND THE MARKET
Before you start shopping for used tools find out how much the tool is new. Some used tools in great condition only lose 20 to 30 percent in value, while others can be had for a fraction of what they cost new. Search across Craigslist and eBay to get a market value of the tool you are looking for. This value can vary based on the tools age and condition but it's the best indicator of what type of deal you are getting.
If the tool you are seeking is out of your budget, then weigh the costs of going with a lesser brand or a substitute tool. For example, if you need a track saw but already have a circular saw, then just use a straightedge or speed square to help make your cuts. With a steady hand a jigsaw can often be used in place of a band saw. Make sure you know the capabilities of your current tool lineup before dropping cash on tools you don't really need.
KNOW THE CAPABILITIES OF YOUR CURRENT TOOL
LINEUP BEFORE DROPPING CASH ON TOOLS YOU DON'T
GET HANDS ON
Hand tools and other non-power tools can often be purchased without actually touching or testing them. Some hand tools like Craftsman come with a transferable lifetime warranty, so if there is an issue you can replace them for new ones. Steel hand tools are also easy to clean and restore. Rust removers can work wonders on an old set of wrenches.
Power tools are a different story, especially cordless tools. You need to visually inspect all power tools to make sure they are functioning properly and have been maintained to a safe standard. Cords and plugs shouldn't be frayed and blade guards and other safety equipment should all be on the tool and intact. It helps to run the tool and listen to the motor. If it sounds bad then skip it.
When buying cordless tools you should know the date or purchase from the seller, how much use the tool has had, and why they are selling. A visual inspection of the tool and battery is also important, so beware of any corrosion or rust on the contacts. Thoroughly test the tool and also make sure the charger works. These questions will help you determine how much life the batteries have which is the main concern. Replacing batteries can be more costly than the tool in some instances. It's also best to buy a cordless tool on a battery platform you already own. You'll be more familiar with the batteries and have already have spares.
STUDY UP ON BRANDS
It will help to get familiar with the various brands of tools and which ones are generally considered of DIY/household use and those that are contractor grade for professional builders. You can find both types of tools at Lowe's and Home Depot and the price discrepancy is what will initially set them apart. Contractor grade tools are built to be more durable and feature heavier hardware than DIYer tools. In general the DIY power tool brands include RYOBI, Craftsman, Kobalt, Black + Decker, Skil, and Porter Cable. Exceptions to this include various bench top power tools from Craftsman and the Skilsaws from Skil. Contractor brands include Milwaukee, DeWalt, Makita, Bosch, and Hilti. Buying a used contractor grade tool doesn't mean it will last longer than another less robust brand. Many times contractor tools will have been put through the ringer and the reason they are being sold is because the pro knows they are near their end.
BEST TIME TO BUY
As with any purchase, it's best to buy when you are not desperate for the tool. Don't wait until you are in the middle of the project and realize you need that one tool you can't live without. It also behooves you buy off-season for weather related tools like snow throwers and outdoor power equipment to get the best deals. Take note of when it's a buyers market and shop then. If you know your way around a small gas engine then it usually doesn't take much effort to buy one that's not working and get it running.
BUY OFF-SEASON FOR WEATHER RELATED TOOLS LIKE
SNOW THROWERS AND OUTDOOR POWER EQUIPMENT TO
GET THE BEST DEALS.
WHERE TO BUY
Craigslist is the king of online classifieds and despite the low ballers and scammers, it's the best place to search for used items of any kind, including tools. Do a search and include all of the parameters you want (show image, distance, etc.), and bookmark the page for future reference. You can also grab the RSS feed from Craigslist and drop it into your reader. Put multiple search feeds into your reader for a quick scan.
Be cautious of deals that are too good to be true. Stolen tools are often fenced on Craigslist and the sellers usually don't know the market value but they want to sell them quick for easy cash. If it feels fishy walk away.
eBay is another popular place to source used tools. Unless the seller is local, it's unlikely you will be able to see the tool in person. Check the sellers feedback and ask as many questions as you can before hitting the buy button. If you have a friend in the area that can check out the tool for you that can be helpful.
No matter where you source your tools, be it online or from a local garage sale, enjoy the journey and try not to feel rushed. Often times the previous owner will enjoy sharing a tale about how much their tool meant to them and how happy they are that it is going to find a good home with someone who uses it.