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How to Buy Pre-Owned Tools

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Inspecting a Used Band Saw

Inspecting a Used Band Saw

(c) 2012 Chris Baylor licensed to About.com, Inc.
At a time when many woodworkers are operating under a budget, buying new woodworking tools can be expensive. Could buying used woodworking tools be a better option when money is tight? In this Used Woodworking Tool Buying Guide, learn how to buy pre-owned tools with some tips to look for when researching and buying used tools. Sure, the used tools you see advertised in newspapers and online might be far cheaper than buying new, but they could turn out to be a complete waste of money if you're not careful when you make your selections.

Where to Look for Used Tools:

Not sure where to start looking for used tools? A lot depends on what you need. If you're getting started in woodworking and need a lot of tools, and aren't picky about which ones you buy first, garage sales and estate sales are a great place to start. A lot of people have decided that they wanted to learn woodworking and invested in tools that did little more than collect dust or take up space in the garage. In that case, you're just as likely to find a nearly-new band saw or radial-arm saw as you are smaller tools such as a belt sander or jigsaw. Just keep an open mind when you visit these sales, as you may have to dig through a lot of junk to find an occasional bargain.

If you're looking for a specific tool rather than tool bargains in general, try classified ads in the local newspapers and online. Here, you can search by keyword for that specific table saw or drill press with the mortising attachment that you really want.

Stick to Names You Know:

There are a lot of "cheapo" tools manufactured under various name plates on the market, many built specifically for the budget-conscious buyer. While they may seem like a sweet deal from the outset, these tools are often difficult to align properly to make precision cuts. Miter saws are a great example. I have seen all kinds of miter saws that sell for under $150 that look really shiny and seem like a great bargain, but a miter saw that will not hold a precise miter or bevel angle for cutting crown molding or other trim boards is a complete waste of money.

Whenever possible, stick to brand names that you know have good reputations in the woodworking industry. If you ever need to service that tool or replace a power switch, you'll be far more likely to get the parts or service that you need on a name-brand tool than on a cheap knock-off.

Ask Why They're Selling the Tool:

When you find a tool that seems like it would be a good fit for your needs, don't be afraid to ask the seller why they're selling the tool. You may find that they simply never used the tool like they thought they would when they bought it, or that it was the pride and joy of the deceased woodworker and his widow is selling the tool because she can't bear the sight of seeing it in the garage. They may also tip you off to a potential problem with the tool, with words like, "I never could get it to cut a straight line" or "I like my other tool better." Ask probing questions to seek out clues as to the real reason they're selling the tool, and you're likely to identify any potential problems before you plunk down your hard-earned cash.

Test the Tool First:

Never buy a woodworking tool sight-unseen. This is particularly difficult when the tool is a substantial distance from your shop, or if the seller is selling it on a first-come, first-served basis, but resist the urge to make a deal over the phone or by email before seeing the tool.

When you do see the tool, inspect it thoroughly for any possible signs of damage. Make sure that all of the parts and accessories are in good working order, and that all of the safety features operate properly. Additionally, ask for any owner's manuals or documentation that came with the tool, as these can be helpful when learning how to use your tool.

And don't be afraid to ask if you can use the tool. It might be a good idea to bring along a couple of pieces of stock so you can test the tool under similar conditions as to how you would use the tool in your shop. You might even want to bring along your own saw blade or router bit, as using a known blade or bit will eliminate a variable and allow you to better evaluate the tool.

Negotiate the Price:

Once you have tested the tool and are convinced that it would be worthy of your investment, negotiate a price that is fair to both you and the seller. Bring up any deficiencies or physical dings or dents as a way to bring down the seller's price if you feel that it is too high. Scratches or outward appearance may not affect the tool's operation, but could be an indicator of abuse. Use these as a means to reach an amicable price that you'll be happy to pay and that the seller will feel satisfied in letting the tool go to a new home.
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