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

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Blog entry by Brad posted 04-10-2015 06:51 PM 4731 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Tooling up with estate sales-How to equip your hand-tool shop for pennies on the dollar series Part 2: Tips #1-#6 »

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.

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:

a) late model planes I have no interest in
b) off-name brands I have no interest in
c) beaten and battered specimens that I have no interest in, or
d) 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.

  1. End Part 1

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

8 comments so far

View ToddJB's profile


8838 posts in 3472 days

#1 posted 04-10-2015 07:18 PM

Brad, don’t give away all your secrets, I’m in direct competition with you ;)

Actually, I’ve had zero luck at estates sales for smaller items like you showed a sampling of. I’ve had pretty good success though with hand saws and power tools. Interesting stuff.

-- I came - I sawed - I over-built

View JAY Made's profile

JAY Made

202 posts in 3386 days

#2 posted 04-10-2015 07:52 PM

How do you find estate sales?

-- We all should push ourselves to learn new skills.

View canadianchips's profile


2632 posts in 4338 days

#3 posted 04-10-2015 07:53 PM

I bought a lot at yard sales and weekend flea market. We like going to those places anyway, therefore I didn’t count time to travel. I have done well at Farm Auction sales. Around here most farmers had a barn full of wood and tools, when they retired they let it all go. Never went with attitude I am going to buy an item I saw on poster, just hung around all day and if was my price I took them home.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View Brad's profile


1148 posts in 4081 days

#4 posted 04-10-2015 08:23 PM

Todd, my Colorado man! I’ve found that the key to finding the smalls is to take a moment and scan. They’re usually on a table or in a box of some sort. Like you, I’ve had good luck with hand saws. Not so much with power tools. As for competition, I’d rather fellow woodworkers take home users than the multitudes of antique-stall renters who drive up the prices. Though to be fair, I’ve gotten some good deals at Fleateque malls. That’s flea market combined with antique…

Jay: and craig’s list are my go to sources.

Canadian, around here, I look for listings that say “barn sale”. Though I’ll bet that the farm auctions are much richer hunting grounds. Making a day of it talking up the neighbors and catching a great bargain here and there would be nice.

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

View Don Broussard's profile

Don Broussard

4095 posts in 3593 days

#5 posted 04-10-2015 08:58 PM

Good tips, Brad. I’ve been to a few estate sales in south Louisiana and have signed up to be notified of upcoming sales by a couple of local agents. I haven’t mopped up mass quantities of vintage tools, but I have picked up a miter box, and some hand planes and hand saws at reasonable prices at a couple of estate sales. If you can wait it out until Sunday, the prices are normally down to 25% of marked prices but availability gets pretty slim on the last day.

-- People say I hammer like lightning. It's not that I'm fast -- it's that I never hit the same place twice!

View cebfish's profile


188 posts in 4029 days

#6 posted 04-10-2015 11:12 PM

A good online source for auctions is I am going to one in the morning

View Pimzedd's profile


645 posts in 5484 days

#7 posted 04-12-2015 12:06 AM

Brad, I have been going to estate sales for a couple of years. I buy to resell on ebay, mostly model airplanes and model trains.

I buy woodworking tools for me. Bought a small Craftsman table top jointer ($20), a Walton bench vise ($25), a Starrett pen vise ($2), and a Starrett small parallel machinist clamp ($3) just yesterday. Will resell the machinist clamp and keep the rest. Might sell the Walton vise as I already have one mounted on my bench. If one is good, two is better.

Have picked up several hand planes. A No. & Stanley for $20 is the best buy.

Good hunting.

-- Bill - Mesquite, TX --- "Everything with a power cord eventually winds up in the trash.” John Sarge , timber framer and blacksmith instructor at Tillers International school

View NormG's profile


6575 posts in 4345 days

#8 posted 04-12-2015 03:56 AM

Congrats on the finds and thank you for sharing

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

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