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Buying Guide For Secondhand Tools (page 3 of 4)

Secondhand tools can save you money without sacrificing quality. Learn how to find bargains on used, but useful tools.

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With both corded and cordless power tools, be sure all the parts and guards are there. It's a bonus if the case and operating manual are included (although you may be able to find a copy of the manual on a tool manufacturer's website). You can easily find replacement accessories, such as saw blades, for many tools because the standards for accessory sizes are pretty consistent.

While you can't exactly take a small screwdriver and dismantle a power tool to look at its inner workings, you can search for a few telltale signs that all may not be well. Be prepared to use all five senses.

Take at look at the motor vent area of the tool (which looks like little slits in the housing). Ideally, you want this to be free of any sort of dirt, grime or buildup – a tall order for a used tool, but a good indication of how well it has been maintained. While inspecting this area, look for any burn marks or smoke trails (take a peek at the switch area as well). These would be clear indications that there's been an electrical problem. But just in case the evidence of a fire has been cleaned up, give the vent area the old sniff test for odor of smoke.

Keep the focus on this area and turn on the tool. You don't want to see smoke or sparks emitting from the housing. Notice how the tool feels in your hand while it's running. Look for intermittent operation or jerkiness. Yes, a power tool will vibrate in your hand, but you should be able to control it. If it feels like the tool could jump right out of your hand, there could be issues. Listen to the tool. Is it making erratic sounds or grating noises? Think back to other tools of the same type you're inspecting. Does the used tool sound significantly different?

You can look for specific things such as the movement of the blade in a circular saw or table saw. With the tool off and unplugged, move the blade around to see if there is a significant wobble to its motion. An old blade may be the culprit, but the arbor (the metal rod on which the blade is attached to the saw) may be bent. It would be difficult to replace and not worth purchasing the tool.

With every power tool, inspect the housing for missing assembly screws. This could simply be a missing screw or an indication that the tool has been disassembled, which means it's either been inspected for problems or had parts replaced.

You may want to think of some power tools as off-limits when it comes to secondhand purchases, or at least have the expectation that you may not get a lot of life from them. These would be tools that do heavy-duty or specialty work, such as tile saws, hammer drills or stump grinders. These are often difficult to find on the used market, as they are typically kept for longer periods of time and until they are no longer useful. It's often better to rent these specialty tools.

Hand tools are a lot easier to judge in person than power tools, as it is pretty much a “what you see is what you get” situation. As long as they are in good condition, don't have cracks or massive buildups of corrosion or rust, and don't have moving parts that are frozen, you'll most likely have a good tool. However, you will do better if you stick with recognizable brands, such as Stanley or Craftsman, rather than a tool with no brand identification at all.