Buying Used Tools on eBay

Buying hand tools on eBay can be a great way to fill out your hand tool collection. Older tools are generally cheaper than their modern day equivalents and are often just as good. As someone who as bought and sold tools on eBay, I'll provide a few pointers on how to shop wisely on eBay to get good tools at a great price.

Expectations

The first thing to keep in mind when buying tools on ebay is that you're unlikely to find something you can just take out of the box and start using right away. This isn't really the case with new tools either. You'll likely need to give the plane or chisel blade a light honing at the very least. However, if you are willing to put a little effort into cleaning up a tool and tuning it for use, buying used tools on eBay can be an inexpensive way to get great tools.

Search Tips

The mantra at a prior company was, "If they can't find it, they can't buy it." The same could be said for buying tools on eBay. Picking the right search terms can be something of an art as you search for tools to round out your hand tool collection. Sometimes, the search is relatively straight forward. For example, "stanley 4 plane" is obviously a search for a Stanley #4 smoothing plane. But even that will often litter the results with irrelevant results, such as a listing titled "Handle For Stanley No 4 Plane".

Here are some tips for finding things on eBay

  • Enter only the keywords that are important. eBay will try to match all of the words you enter against the listing. So if you enter the search "stanley no 4 smoothing plane rust free", you'll miss out on seeing listings that are titled something like "Stanley No 4 Plane".
  • Tell eBay to ignore certain matches. In the example I've been using (searching for a Stanley #4 smoothing plane), the results will often include accessories or replacement parts for the tool you're looking for. This usually isn't what you're looking for, so you can tell eBay to ignore these listings by entering the relevant keywords preceded with a minus sign. You can group together multiple terms with parenthesis. For example "stanley 4 plane -(tote, knob, iron)" will search for listings matching "stanley 4 plane" and ignore those that include the words "tote", "knob", and "iron" in the title.
  • Consider other brands. When searching for planes, for example, one often things of Stanley planes, as they were the largest and most prolific tool maker in the day. But there were other, smaller, companies making competing products at the same time such as Miller Falls, Capewell, and others. Often their tools are just as good, but they go for much less money since they're usually not as collectable.
  • Search for misspellings. If the seller has misspelled the manufacturer's name, for example, it won't come to the top of the results and won't get bid on as much. For example, you could search for "stanely 4 plane". This is a good way to find listings that won't get bid up as much
  • Be patient. New tools are being listed on eBay every day. If you don't find something that is exactly what you want, chance are good that it will show up eventually. Just keep checking each day.
  • Save your search. Once you've crafted a search that finds the results you're interested in, save your search so you don't have to keep entering it.

Bidding

Once you've found a few tools that match your criteria, save them to your watch list. This way you can keep an eye on them as the auction closing date approaches. If the bidding gets too high, you can ignore that listing and focus on the other candidates you've identified. Before bidding, make sure to do your due diligence to make sure you know what you're buying. If the listing doesn't have many photos or they're of such poor quality that you can't tell anything about the condition of the tool, ask the seller for more. If the seller can't provide better photos, move on to other listings. You don't to bid on a tool only to find that it's fatally broken in a way not obvious in the pictures. Ask questions. If you want to know whether the type 52 wood stretcher has the temporal adjustment knob, and you can't tell from the pictures, ask the seller.

In addition, use other resources on the internet and elsewhere to determine if the particular tool is collectible or just a solid user quality tool. Tools listed as "mint" or "new in box", are pretty and are nice to use, but you'll pay a premium for them. In addition, if you use them to actually work wood, you'll destroy their value to collectors. Sites such as Patrick Leach's site on Stanley tools are a great reasource for determining whether the tool you're looking at is desireable or not

Once you're satisfied that the tool is in the condition you're willing to accept, do not bid right away. eBay encourages early bidding because it helps feed the competition for an item and drives up the price. If you wait until the absolute last minute before entering your maximum bid (a practice known as "sniping"), you're more likely to get the tool for a lower price than if you bid in the middle of the auction. Synchronize your watch to eBay's official time and hit the bid confirmation button when there's less than a minute remaining on the auction. You may still get outbid, but you wont have tipped your hand as to how much you're willing to pay for the item.

For even more thoughts and ideas on how to buy things on eBay, see Ken Rockwell's article on the subject.

What tips do you have for buying tools on eBay?

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