Secondhand tools can save you money without sacrificing quality. Learn how to find bargains on used, but useful tools.
By Chris HillMore in Home Improvement
Now that you have an idea of what you'll expect to pay, it's time to consider how you'll evaluate and decide what to buy.
First, consider brand. As with anything else, many folks have their own preferred brand, which they think is superior to everything else. To each his own. But, when considering secondhand tools, a recognizable brand is vital.
As a brand-new purchase, the entry-level bench-top models, which may range in price from $80 to $130, aren't necessarily a bad choice. But unless they're still sealed in the original box, these tools probably aren't the best to purchase secondhand. The same goes for some cordless combo kits, which usually contain two to four tools and sell for about $100. And certainly steer clear of used store-brand tools from discount operations, such as Harbor Freight's Chicago Electric Power Tools. Again, for a novice or as a backup tool, these may be sufficient, but they will probably have outlived their capacity by the time they're sold as used.
Brands of power tools you can trust and that hold not only their value but also capacity include DeWalt, Bosch, Ridgid, Makita, Milwaukee (all considered “job site” tools and used by the pros), Hitachi, Porter-Cable, Skil and Delta. Skil or “Skilsaw” is often used interchangeable for a circular saw, which tells you how recognizable and respected it is for that function. Delta, in its own way, is regarded as the woodworking brand. For outdoor power equipment, brands such as Husqvarna, Poulan and Stihl are all good choices when looking for used tools.
On corded power tools, examine the electrical and basic mechanics of the tool. Aside from plugging it in and turning it on, thoroughly inspect the cord. Look for any visible defects, such as a crimp (what looks like a big dent), or if the cord is bent at a severe angle. A thick wad of electrical tape will be a big tip-off that something might not be right. Also take a look at where the cord meets the tool to see if it's heavily worn or loose. Closely examine the prongs of the plug. A slight bend on one of the prongs isn't a big deal, but if the metal looks heavily worn at the bend, it may be close to failure. And don't forget to check out the switch to see if it is loose or cracked.
Cordless tools present their own challenge. If you've ever looked at the price of replacement batteries, you know they can be quite pricey. Some are very expensive in relation to the cost of a new tool and can be as much as half or more of the cost of a new tool. Plus, it's hard to tell if the battery will hold its charge for any length of time. Sure, it may work fine in the short time you test it, but it's difficult to determine if it will hold a charge for longer than a few minutes. Only opt for cordless tools that you know are at most a couple of years old. Refurbished units are your best bet here.