Good tools are a must-have whether you are building an entire house or just repairing a fence. When I first started doing DIY projects, I went cheap on a few different tools. That was a big mistake. Because I was using low-quality tools, almost any project I attempted was a real pain. As I continued doing projects, I began adding higher-quality tools to my collection.
The only problem with good tools is that they can be expensive, especially if purchased new. Fortunately, there are several ways to get good tools cheap. Here are some ways that I have added quality tools to my collection without having to sell a kidney.
One of the best ways to get good tools for cheap is at garage sales. One of my best hauls was when I went to one hosted by a retired couple who was getting ready to downsize. They were selling everything in their home, including the husband’s tools. I got a great deal on a brace and bit set and some other items.
Many times, people hosting garage sales are motivated sellers who are willing to negotiate on price and combine multiple items. Don’t be afraid to haggle. If you get a really good deal on something, give a little and be willing to pay asking price for something else. By doing this, both you and the seller benefit.
Flea markets are excellent places to get good tools cheap. If you go this route, you need to be aware of the different types of vendors: the larger specialty vendors, and the small “junk” vendors. Larger vendors, especially those that specialize in tools, will most likely know what they have, how much it is worth, and charge higher prices. However, they will probably still have lower prices than tool retailers. Plus, you can rummage through what they have to find what you need, whether that is a specific brand or a new 10mm socket to replace the one you lost. Again…
The best deals to be had at flea markets are from smaller “junk” vendors. They will usually have several tables set up with various types of items on them. Many of them will have hand tools, some of which are very nice. It isn’t uncommon to find good quality, older, hand tools that only have light surface rust. Vendors like this will usually have lower prices than the larger, more specialized vendors. They will also be more likely to combine items and negotiate.
Larger flea markets will obviously have more vendors and chances for you to score than smaller ones. So make a day out of it and take your family or friends. Going to flea markets is a fun way to spend a day and get good deals.
Craigslist and Social Media Groups
Craigslist is basically the internet’s version of a flea market and is another good place to get good tools cheap. When looking for tools, I like to check a couple of different areas on the site. First, I like to visit the area that is specific to tool sales. Every once in a while, you will find really good deals on individual tools or entire collections.
The other area of the site I like to check is the area that lists local garage sales. The ads in this part of the site will sometimes have pictures to let you know if the sale is something worth checking out. If you see something in the picture, call the number in the listing and ask about it. Some sellers may be willing to hold it for a brief period of time. If you ask them to do this, please be sure not to leave them hanging. I have had this happen to me, and it is incredibly frustrating.
Many social media sites, including Facebook, will have a garage sale or product-specific selling groups. These are also good places to go to check out upcoming garage sales. In addition, you can use groups such as these for research purposes to determine street values for any items you are wanting to add to your tool collection. This will help you have reasonable expectations for what you will end up paying and prevent you from getting ripped off. It will also let you know if a deal you see is something you should scoop up immediately.
eBay is another online source that you can use to get good tools cheap. I have never used eBay to buy tools, but I have used it to buy other types of items. It is great if you are looking for something specific, such as a specific wrench to complete a collection.
If you want to get a good deal on eBay, you will probably want to focus most of your attention on auctions. Many times, “Buy It Now” items cost as much as if you were to buy it new. Auctions usually start at a lower price and work their way up. Auctions are also an excellent way to buy groups of items or “lots”, which greatly reduces the cost per individual item.
If you use eBay, be sure to check the seller’s reviews. Most bad sellers don’t last too long, but checking seller reviews can prevent you from doing business with a slow shipper or someone who sells counterfeit products.
Relatives and Friends
If you have older family members or friends, there is a very good chance they will have some tools they no longer need. Tools tend to accumulate, frequently resulting in people having several unorganized toolboxes that they haven’t used in years. I was blessed to have generous family members who gave me a bunch of tools. Some of these needed to be upgraded eventually, but they helped get me started.
While it is good to get stuff free, don’t be a crook. Offer to pay them for the tools. If they decline, that’s okay, but at least offer. Taking advantage of others is never a good thing. It is even worse to take advantage of a family member or friend. However, many times people are more than willing to help out family or friends and may want to free up space anyway.
Tips for Buying Used Tools:
- Older tools that are Made in the USA are usually pretty good.
- Surface rust isn’t a problem on hand tools. Just make sure the rust isn’t deep and there is no pitting.
- If a tool has moving parts, make sure that they move freely.
- Don’t buy bent tools. Once a bend occurs, the metal has lost a significant amount of strength.
- Avoid hammers that have cracked handles or chipped heads.
- If purchasing power tools, do not buy them unless you can test them first.
- If purchasing a reciprocating saw or drill, make sure it will hold blades/bits. Sometimes a motor will run, but the blade holder or drill chuck will be damaged.
- If buying cordless tools, make sure they are from a tool line that is currently being supported by the manufacturer. You don’t want to buy a power tool and not be able to buy new batteries. Generally, batteries will wear out long before the tool itself.
- If buying power tools, only buy professional tools. They will last longer and have more power.
- You will probably not be able to get warranty work done on a used power tool.
Good Brands of Hand Tools
- Mechanic’s tools (sockets, wrenches, breaker bars, etc): Mac, Matco, Proto, and Snap-On. Older, Made in USA Craftsman, tools are good as well.
- Electrician Tools: Klein and Knipex
- General-purpose pliers: Channel Lock
- Adjustable Wrenches: Crescent
- Hammers: Estwing and Vaughan
Obscure (But Good) Tool Brands:
Many tool manufacturers have gone out of business, changed names, or been absorbed into other companies. Several of these manufacturers produced high-quality tools that are still useful today. My favorite website for researching vintage tools is www.alloy-artifacts.org. They are a great resource if you find tool brands you don’t recognize.
Good Brands of Power Tools
- Professional Brands: Milwaukee, DeWalt, Makita, and Rigid
- Mid-Range Brands: Porter Cable, Husky, Kobalt, Ryobi, and Skil. (Exception: Skil circular saws, especially the Mag 77 are professional-quality tools. There is a reason why circular saws are commonly referred to as “Skil Saws”.)