My formula for pricing used power tools

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Forum topic by _Whitey posted 11-01-2017 07:31 PM 4705 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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17 posts in 2556 days

11-01-2017 07:31 PM

There are lots and lots of good deals to be had buying used tools, especially on craigslist or at flea markets and garage sales. For a long time, I often purchased tools based on emotion or general “feel” for how much I wanted the item, and not necessarily what the item was worth. So I put together a formula based on percentages for pricing used tools based on their original price and condition.

1. Realistic Original Price: Always knock 10% off the MSRP. Nobody buys anything for MSRP and neither did the guy who is selling it to you. Even Rockler and Woodcraft shoppers wait for a decent sale when they are buying anything over a hundred bucks. So 10% off the top.

2. Depreciation: The Item you are buying lost an additional 20% of its value the minute the cashier hit the print button on the receipt. And unless you are the original purchaser, with the original receipt, within the allotted time frame, you aren’t getting the warranty, manufacturer or retailer satisfaction guarantee. This is all worth at least 20%

3. Wear and Tear and Abuse: It’s sometimes hard to determine whether a machine has seen hard use or not. I can usually tell by a couple of factors: Play in the mechanics (such as trunnions or table lift etc.), or obvious wear on any cast iron. Small dents or dings are expected, but I watch the corners. If something has been tipped over or fallen, a lot of the time you can see it on the corners of the sheet metal or the cast iron. Look for slop in the pulleys and check the belts. If a seller has replaced a part of the cast iron table with some other material, it’s a pretty sure bet that there is a reason, and no, he didn’t lose the original part. It got recycled, because it was broken, because something bad happened. If I am going to specifically look at something with cast Iron, I bring a 3 foot straight edge and check the surface. If the seller is a proud owner, he’ll just grin! So indulge yourself. (by the way, this is not a bad idea when you are buying new machines either, when practical). Give the machine a shake and make sure it’s stable. If it’s not and you can’t find any loose bolts, there may be bigger problems. Check for bent arbors and shafts, which is a biggie. (Know the price of NOS or aftermarket parts if something is bent or broken before you make an offer). Run the machine and put a board through it if you can. Listen to the machine while you are doing this. Even if the machine has had general maintenance, the theory that “they don’t make them like they used to” can very quickly give way to “rode hard and put away wet” if it has been abused.This is a huge factor that is worth anywhere from 20-50% or more, sometimes to the point of walking away from the machine.

4. Accessories: Accessories that are required to make the machine perform as it was designed to are not accessories, they are parts. They should work properly, fit well without excessive slop and be complete. How many contractor table saws have you seen with the plastic end on the fence broken off because it got dropped and now it just doesn’t seem to lock down quite as tight as it used to? Proper Blade wrenches should always be there along with blade guards and knife setting jigs etc. Even though you may intend to replace the miter gauge with a sled does not mean it shouldn’t be included and in good working order. This requires a little homework. If you find the tool on craigslist, ask the seller to throw you a photo of the model number, and look up the original manual, as that will tell you what was originally included. (By the way, if the seller has made the effort to save and make available the manual that came with the machine, it’s a safe bet that he has taken care of the machine as a whole. I always use this as a pre-judgment on a machine and always ask if I don’t see it in the picture.) 10-20% off for missing accessories.

5. RUST: If the seller is not willing to grab a Dollar General sponge block and some PB breaker and scrub the rust off the cast iron, he doesn’t deserve to ask you to do it at your expense. 10% minimum for rust, and that is on the cast iron. Rusty trunnion and structural sheet metal fall under the abuse category, so see number 3 for that.

6. General Cleanliness: (Sawdust that I didn’t make annoys me. I am going to ask you to knock the price down because it’s not clean, period.) Hopefully you are going to climb all over the machine anyway, so be looking in the trunnions, dust chute, cabinet or stand for dust, dirt, oil, and grease. If you don’t account properly for this, you will be cleaning sawdust out of the back of your car for an hour and a half, and not spending your time woodworking with your newly found gem. What is your time worth? Seriously, owners should clean up their machine and have some pride in the ownership and relationship they’ve had with it. I ALWAYS clean the cast iron, wipe down the paint, shop vac the little corners on everything I sell. CURB VALUE COUNTS on everything you sell or buy. 10% off for a dirty, dusty, greasy or oily machine.

7. General Maintenance: This includes belts, blades, knives, consumables. A blade on a table saw is a lot like a drill bit in a drill. If it’s not there, who cares? Most people are going to use their preferred brand anyway. However, it can cross the line into the curb value if it’s dull and nasty and burnt. If the seller is going to leave the blade on the machine, and it’s dull and coated with sap and burn marks, it can look as if regular maintenance has been lacking. Also, check the belts for dry cracking and wires for fraying or cuts and slices. Belts and wires are cheap and should be replaced before the sale if the seller is serious about the machine. A new wire and plug shows that the owner took the time to care for the machine and didn’t just wrap it in electrical tape. Curb Value! 10-20% off for lack of general maintenance.

8. Rarity: How many of “Wonder Machine X2” are on the market? A 70’s era Craftsman jointer with no motor but “Newer” blades can be had by simply standing still for a minute, but a ridgid 3650 contractor saw seems to be a lot harder to find, mostly because Home Depot’s best saw was discontinued and still coveted. Be prepared to pay a premium for a tool, regardless of condition, if the seller thinks he has three other buyers lined up. Sometimes you can determine this on craigslist by looking at how long ago the machine was listed. In my experience, if it has been more than 5 or 7 days, there are definitely some negotiating points that you can capitalize on. You can ADD anywhere from 20-50% to your bottom offer if you are struggling to find the item, or if they seem to get snapped up faster than you can text “Still Available?” to the seller.

Very rarely do I come across a machine that is lacking in all 7 categories unless it is a vintage machine that I would like to restore, which is a whole different ball game. Don’t be afraid to point out the points while you are looking over the machine. If the machine is exceptionally clean or well cared for, or has new belts, etc., a complement to the owner about his efforts can go along way to get him to meet you in the middle on your negotiations as well. Lot’s of times a seller who sees that you respect his pride, wants his machine to go to someone who will share that pride. I have used this to my advantage more times than once. It works. Talk to the seller while you are going over it. Don’t just devalue the bad, but also put a value on the good. Don’t just look and look for a half hour then hit him with a price. That’s rude and will probably just forgo any negotiations and piss him/her off. I never low-ball unless I have a list of reasons why I came up with the price, and I usually walk away from a machine before I ever offer a lowball price. This is because the machine is in that bad of shape that it’s not worth offending the seller, and also not worth buying anyway.

My formula does not often produce a “steal” but it does give me grounds for negotiating, and it often produces a fair price. Simply having a formula is impressive to most sellers, especially if you know what the original price, or a compatible price of a compatible new machine was and are careful to account from there. Remember, before you start negotiating that a lot of the time, a seller has already valued or devalued his tool for you. So your negotiation may be easier than you thought, or you might find by looking at the machine that he is dead on or close to the fair price. Don’t be afraid to ask the seller how he came up with his price (This usually throws them off). I usually get “because that’s what it’s worth” but other times it leads smoothly into the negotiation. Finally, If a seller is asking a fair price or within 10%, don’t be afraid to buy it for the asking price. Anything else is just old-fashioned Haggling. Haggling can be fun if you are talented at it, but annoying to the seller if you are not.

I hope this helps or at least provokes some thoughts on the subject. Please throw your comments in and let’s have a discussion about it. As always, thanks for tolerating my musings!

17 replies so far

View bigblockyeti's profile


7073 posts in 2726 days

#1 posted 11-01-2017 07:54 PM

I think the biggest wide card you have there would have to be rarity as many things that might have been pretty expensive a long time ago are for one reason or another just worth more.

My own recent experience was with a four footer Unisaw, it wasn’t priced to move very quickly as a 78 year old table saw, but as a specific vintage Unisaw it was. Despite being a bit dirty and with multiple coats of paint flaking off, I wanted it. It was complete with the cast iron “goose egg” motor cover and it ran. Miscommunication with the seller (who was selling for someone else) ultimately killed the deal when he couldn’t get back to me then the owner’s son sold it.

-- "Lack of effort will result in failure with amazing predictability" - Me

View MrUnix's profile


8405 posts in 3204 days

#2 posted 11-01-2017 08:10 PM

I ignore most of the stuff mentioned above… just doesn’t enter into the equation when you are going to tear a machine down and restore it. I start at what it’s worth as scrap metal and go from there. The most critical point, and one not mentioned, is being a complete machine (and broken bits should be considered missing as well). Getting it to look pretty is easy… sourcing and paying for missing bits will quickly add up and really bite you in the wallet.


-- Brad in FL - In Dog I trust... everything else is questionable

View _Whitey's profile


17 posts in 2556 days

#3 posted 11-01-2017 08:15 PM

bigblockyeti_I agree with you that the rarity of the item can be its most subjective property. Lots of things can affect how rare something is including age, location, proximity to industrial areas where tools are used or commercial areas where tool stores are common, or even where the manufacturer was located if it is old enough. Other tools are more susceptible to abuse thus sending them to the scrap yard more commonly than others. I have found that I usually don’t have to compensate for inflation unless something is really old, and buying vintage stuff is really a different market than a general used tool market. It has its own set of valuation for tools much like an antique market.

View _Whitey's profile


17 posts in 2556 days

#4 posted 11-01-2017 08:20 PM

MrUnix_Couldnt agree with you more. What you call “bits” I guess I I tried to cover under accessories, missing and or broke. These can definitely add up and drive your end cost up if you don’t have an idea what NOS costs before you negotiate. Very good point.

View Woodknack's profile


13549 posts in 3385 days

#5 posted 11-01-2017 08:58 PM

If you are buying relatively recent, big machinery, it’s not bad criteria although ultimately all that really matters is what the guy is asking and what you are willing to pay (or what it is worth to you). Higher end products tend to have above average resale value and all the calculating in the world will not get it cheaper. Regional differences can also set prices, around here a good used drill press sells faster than a $2 hooker, why I don’t know. But if you waste time trying to calculate and negotiate, you’ll forever be a shopper and not a buyer. It’s actually not uncommon for people to offer more than the asking price. Of course if you are willing to drive an hour or two in any direction, you can save 20-30%. Of course on old machinery, retail price means nothing. And if you are buying it to flip, you need it dirt cheap to make a decent profit. If I want to own it personally, forever (or for the foreseeable future), I worry less about what I pay because in 10-15 years I’m not going to be crying because I paid 5% too much.

-- Rick M,

View jonah's profile


2136 posts in 4304 days

#6 posted 11-01-2017 09:43 PM

So if I see a used (-10%), depreciated (-20%), worn (-50%), missing accessories (-20%), rusty (-10%), dirty (-10%), poorly maintained (-10%) machine, they’ll actually pay me 30% of its price to take it away?

View PPK's profile


1844 posts in 1814 days

#7 posted 11-01-2017 09:56 PM

So if I see a used (-10%), depreciated (-20%), worn (-50%), missing accessories (-20%), rusty (-10%), dirty (-10%), poorly maintained (-10%) machine, they ll actually pay me 30% of its price to take it away?

- jonah

I thought the exact same thing ;-)

-- Pete

View Carloz's profile


1147 posts in 1596 days

#8 posted 11-02-2017 04:13 AM

You can certainly price the items YOU SELL however you wish.

View AlaskaGuy's profile


6395 posts in 3314 days

#9 posted 11-02-2017 05:27 AM

The price of a used tool is what a willing buyer and a willing seller agree on.

-- Alaskan's for Global warming!

View _Whitey's profile


17 posts in 2556 days

#10 posted 11-02-2017 02:02 PM

Jonah I agree with your assessment. If you are offered a piece of equipment in the condition that you described, have the means and are willing to move it to the scrap yard for the owner to get it out of his way, you can make some cash. your return and percentage for the original value will depend on the original cost, the weight of the machine and current scrap prices. Given that a Delta Unisaw from 1940ish weighs in at around 500 lbs, cost only a couple hundred bucks originally, and scrap prices seem to be hovering between .07 and .10, I think the math would work out, +/-. However, your talking about being a scrapper, not a legitimate tool buyer, two very different things.

View _Whitey's profile


17 posts in 2556 days

#11 posted 11-02-2017 02:09 PM

AlaskaGuy Thank you! This is the guide that I use to make sure that the price that I agree on with the seller is fair, or close. I also use it to price things that I am selling so that my offering is fair and I don’t sit on a piece of unwanted equipment for a long time wondering why I am not getting any bites. I never have a problem selling a piece of equipment using my formula to price it, never.

View Woodknack's profile


13549 posts in 3385 days

#12 posted 11-02-2017 05:57 PM

So if I see a used (-10%), depreciated (-20%), worn (-50%), missing accessories (-20%), rusty (-10%), dirty (-10%), poorly maintained (-10%) machine, they ll actually pay me 30% of its price to take it away?

- jonah


-- Rick M,

View William Shelley's profile

William Shelley

609 posts in 2474 days

#13 posted 11-02-2017 06:55 PM

So if I see a used (-10%), depreciated (-20%), worn (-50%), missing accessories (-20%), rusty (-10%), dirty (-10%), poorly maintained (-10%) machine, they ll actually pay me 30% of its price to take it away?

- jonah

I think we’re talking about the same “bandsaw” on craigslist

In case the link stops working:

-- Woodworking from an engineer's perspective

View _Whitey's profile


17 posts in 2556 days

#14 posted 11-02-2017 09:11 PM

Awesome. Bet it hasn’t sold yet!

View cabmaker's profile


1745 posts in 3814 days

#15 posted 11-02-2017 11:43 PM

A little paint touchup and that baby will be gone !

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