Tooling up with estate sales #3-How to equip your hand-tool shop for pennies on the dollar

Tip #7: Inspect each item.
I know that sounds silly. “Of course I’ll inspect it,” you’re thinking. Yeah well, in the heat of the moment, when you think you’ve found a gem, and your heart is pumping, the birds are singing and you are SO in LOVE with that tool, well, it’s easy to overlook that one detail that renders a tool useless. And the last thing you need is to spend money on a tool that is unserviceable. Not only is that money that could have gone to another good user, now you’ve got a heavy paper weight taking up space in your workshop.

So select the first tool out of your bag and carefully inspect it. Are all the parts there? Is anything broken? Is the rust manageable? Take a pair of dividers for example. I’ve found that many of them have lost their original locking nut over the years and owners have screwed in a bolt that doesn’t quite fit because their threads are not compatible with modern standards. For a plane, is the sole flat (you did bring your ruler didn’t you?) Are there any cracks? Is the tote in working order?

Remember that if an item has a missing or broken part, don’t just blow that off, saying to yourself “I can pick one of those up on eBay.” You sure can…in exchange for a whole lot of money. Alas, I’m speaking from personal experience on this issue.

Take this handsaw for instance.


She’s a beaut now and she cuts well too. But when I brought her home, I found that when I unwrapped her (I violated my own rule by not inspecting it!) that she was missing a saw nut.

The saw cost me $2.00—a fantastic bargain for a vintage, top-of-the-line Disston No. 12 user. But get this: the vintage saw nut I tracked down cost me $15.00. Now I know that what I should have done was buy another, it’s-wheezing-its-last-breath beater of a saw and salvaged the brass from that. But I wasn’t savvy about stuff like that at the time.

Still, the lesson holds. Vintage replacement parts are so expensive as to make the purchase of a jiggered tool hardly worthwhile in the overwhelming majority of cases. And if you can’t make a replacement plane tote or knob, be ready to spend $40.00 or more to buy a vintage or modern equivalent.

Tip #8: Stretch your budget by buying quality duplicates.
Whenever I see a good tool in great condition, I buy it even if I already have one. Then I clean it up and put it up on eBay. When you buy something for a few bucks it’s easy to triple your money or more. And that cash can be recycled into your tool-acquisition fund.

To keep from getting burned with this tactic, I would strongly suggest that you stick to tools/vintages/types that you know very well. At the very least, look it up on eBay before you buy something you’re not sure about. And remember, condition makes a huge difference on eBay. So don’t explain away scratches, dents and other imperfections when you’re weighing your should-I-buy-it-and-resell-it decision, because I swear by all that’s holy that your prospective buyers sure won’t.

Tip #9: Make friends with estate sale people.
When you tour the estate sale circuit you’ll bump into the same people over and over. I suggest you treat them fairly and don’t beat them up during your price negotiations. Better to make friends with them so that when you do have a really great tool, you can negotiate a great price to go with it. Now that you’re “friends” with the estate sale proprietors, they’re more likely to cut you some slack.

Secondly, by giving them your card and asking them to call you if they come across some good woodworking tools, you’d be amazed at what you could pick up before the sale even starts.

In the next installment, I’ll discuss tip #10, Don’t leave before fishing out the other good deals

©2015, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

##End Part 3


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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