Tooling up with estate sales #1-How to equip your hand-tool shop for pennies on the dollar

When I first started in woodworking my biggest challenge was putting together a tool kit comprehensive enough to build something. And while the “minimum” tools necessary for a kit would depend to some extent on the types of things you’re building, there is a basic assemblage for most projects.

And while I’ve turned to eBay, Craig’s List, antique shops, garage sales and flea markets to buy good tools, I’ve had great financial success with estate sales.

Estate Sale Benefits
The biggest benefit to picking up tools at an estate sale is that you usually, not always, pay pennies on the dollar for items compared to other sources. Moreover, you can negotiate down prices if you buy multiple items. Frequently, I find good items with occasional gems, including wood.

Here’s a sampling of some nice finds on my estate sale hunts.

PS& W Compass Divider-$1.00 on a garage shop table.


Stanley #80 Cabinet Scraper-$3.00 buried under rusty braces in a vintage wood tool box.

P2-Stanley-No-80-cabinet scraper-estate-sale-find

Stanley Sweetheart 6” combination square-$2.00 sitting on a table in garage.


SB #18 HA block plane-$10.00 on a garage shelf.


Hand Brace-12″-Millers Falls No. 321-$10.00 on a garage table. 12” size gives great torque.



Another advantage to estate sales is that you can pick up a heavy item, like say a miter box and accompanying saw, locally for a good price. Oh sure. You can get them sometimes for a good price online too, but the shipping adds considerably to the total cost.

Still another benefit is that you can see what you’re buying before plopping down money for it. That goes a long way toward assessing a tool’s condition. It also puts the odds of avoiding broken, missing and jiggered parts greatly in your favor.

But my favorite part of estate sale rust shopping is the thrill of the hunt. There’s a serendipity element to it. Like the time when I picked up a Type 11 Stanley #5 corrugated jack plane for $8.00.


I didn’t see it in the pictures online. Nor did I see it in my first sweep of the tools. I was there to look over the handsaws—in poor condition and overpriced. That’s when the plane caught my eye. Hello my pretty…

That said, there are drawbacks to estate sales. You have to take what’s there and often, there will be nothing that interests you at all. In my area (Denver,) hand planes are scarce. And the ones I do come across are either:

late model planes I have no interest in

  1. off-name brands I have no interest in
  2. beaten and battered specimens that I have no interest in, or
  3. horribly overpriced whatevers that I have no interest in.

Consequently, all but one plane in my collection have come from eBay or the modern manufacturers.

Another thing you have to take into account is that your hunting will cost you both time and fuel.

So to help you make the most of your precious time and reduce the number of times you have to reach into the cookie jar for gas money, I’ve put together 10 Tips for Successful Estate Sale Tool Hunting. In the next installment, I’ll share Tips 1 through 6.

© 2015, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

### End Part 1


About The Write Biz

By day, I'm a mild-mannered copywriter who harnesses frontal-lobe creativity (right brain) to help B2B marketers generate leads and sales. By night I pick up hand tools to create wooden masterpieces...and give my black lab Bella the "red dot" laser to chase after.
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2 Responses to Tooling up with estate sales #1-How to equip your hand-tool shop for pennies on the dollar

  1. snwoodwork says:

    Those are some great finds. On a recent vacation I scoured through north Georgia antique malls and found grossly overpriced hand tools. While I’ve not tried estate sales, I’ve given up on local antique stores and garage sales. Reason being that people come to Florida to die so they get rid of all their interesting items before they leave whatever their original state. You want war movies (VHS), vacuums, and old yard tools? Come on down to Florida garage sales.

    • I too have found most antique malls to be overpriced. Heck, even flea markets are sporting goods that a sporting full retail prices on some items like Margarita glasses of all things.

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