Regardless of the type - hand tools, power tools, woodworking tools, yard & garden tools - quality tools can be quite expensive. Yet, having the right tools is essential for anyone trying to be self-reliant, as any homesteader or DIYer can attest. The question is: How can we find good quality tools at an affordable price?
The answer may be in finding and buying good quality secondhand (used) tools. Sure, there are some potential pitfalls in buying anything used, but there are some incredible deals out there if you are willing to look for them.
What is a good quality tool?
What makes a good quality tool are the materials, design, and workmanship that goes into manufacturing it. You'll eventually learn to tell the quality of a tool by eyeballing it, but if you want some idea of name brands, here's a quick but incomplete guide to brands with a stellar reputation for quality (ultimately it is a matter of opinion, and opinions vary).
Quality Hand Tool Brands:
- Snap-on (including Williams)
Quality Power Tool Brands:
How do I know if a used tool is still in good shape?
Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware! We can hope sellers are honest about their merchandise, but you should take personal responsibility in making sure the used tools you buy are in good shape. Closely inspect and even test used tools before you buy them.
For hand tools, watch out for rust, dents, bends, and other signs of neglect, misuse, or damage. Make sure any moving parts, such as on an adjustable wrench, move freely. Make sure handles are firmly attached, and look for cracks and other damage where pieces connect.
For cutting tools, such as saws, axes, and knives, be sure to check the cutting edge to see if it is dented, chipped, warped, or dull. Same goes for the edges of tools like shovels and hoes. Also, look for cracks or other damage wherever two parts fit together (for example, the handle and blade of a shovel). Make sure any moving parts still move without difficulty.
For power tools, be sure to always plug in and test the tool to make sure it works. Walk away from any seller who doesn't want you to test it before buying it, no matter what their excuse. Be sure to examine the entire length of the power cord for fraying or crimping (big dent), and check for bent or broken plug prongs. Check for rust, cracks, and other signs of neglect or damage. Make sure all safety features are still intact and working.
For all tools, look for signs of previous repairs, including welding spots, tape, or glue. Repairs or damage may be disguised by unscrupulous sellers. For example, a fresh coat of spray paint may be applied to tools to hide rust, scratches, and other damage, or even to make repairs less obvious.
Remember, you may be able to sharpen or fix damaged tools. However, be realistic about your skill in doing so, and always pay the lowest end (or less) of your price range for damaged tools needing repairs.
Very Important: Don't buy tools with safety features removed or altered, no matter how cheap.
Where do I look for good-quality secondhand tools?
- Yard sales, garage sales, and estate sales
- Flea markets
- Thrift stores, consignment shops, and salvage stores
- Pawn shops(expect good, but not great, deals as they are typically very aware of current market prices)
- Online sites such as eBay, CraigsList, etc. (but be aware that you probably won't be able to inspect the tools first, so check the return policy)
- Classified ads in your local newspaper (especially good for the more expensive power tools)
- Many small businesses (barber shops, mini-marts, etc.) often have a bulletin board where folks can post items for sale
How much should I pay for a good-quality secondhand tool?
Typically, you should expect to pay 30% to 50% of the new price for a quality secondhand tool that is still in good condition. The better the tool, the higher the price, of course.
Remember, you can often find new tools on sale as much as 25% off, or even more, especially around Christmas time. Given that fact, it makes little sense in my opinion to ever pay more than 50% of the new retail price for used tools, no matter how "barely used" the seller claims them to be.
If you don't know what the price of new tool would be, then take a notebook around to places like Home Depot, Lowe's, and Ace Hardware. Jot down the type of tool, brand name, size, and price. Then take your notebook with you to use as a reference when you shop for secondhand tools.
For what I call "Lending Tools" (generic no-name tools that you wouldn't mind lending out to others), I would pay no more than $1 each, less if you can. And it is worth putting together a lending tool set, in my opinion. That way when friends and neighbors "forget" to return them, or return them damaged, its not a big deal.
Tools for Survival: What You Need to Survive When You’re on Your Own, by James Wesley Rawles, details the tools needed to survive anything from a short-term disruption to a long-term, grid-down scenario. Chapters include:
- Gardening, Farm, and Ranch Tools
- Food Preservation and Cooking Tools
- Sewing and Leatherworking Tools
- Electrical and Electronics Tools
- Medical and Sanitation Tools
- Knives and Traditional Handtools
- Rifles, Shotguns, and Handguns
- Timber, Firewood and Lumber Tools
- Fire Prevention and Firefighting Tools
- And chapters on many other tools...
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