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Buying Vintage Tools on eBay

Some of my favorite antique tools have been purchased on eBay. For those that are not familiar with buying on eBay let me give a brief overview of what it is all about.

  • You are not buying from eBay but through eBay. Think of them as the auction house.
  • Buying doesn't require anything special except access to a computer and a method of payment.
  • Methods of payment can be check, cashier's check or PayPal.
  • Sellers are given ratings. The ratings give you some assurance that the seller is legitimate.
  • On eBay there are thousands of tools for sale at any given second.

The prices of tools on eBay can be a very good deal or a major rip off Ultimately, you pay what you want so you are the only one to blame if you pay too much.

If you are the type of person that likes to brag about how you swindled some old widow out of a thousand dollar tool for just a few dollars, I would suggest you lower your expectations. You aren't likely to find that kind of deal since you are not the only person looking at the sale. (By the way, if you are that type of person, shame on you.)

On the other hand, I would expect to pay less than most antique stores. I've never had good luck getting my tools for a good price through antique dealers. However, please note that I've not gone to any dealers specializing in tools. So if you have a favorite dealer that always gives you a good deal, don't Email me telling me how wrong I am. Just do what any other intelligent tool buyer would do, keep your tool source a secret.

This is the main reason I go to eBay to shop for old tools. For example there are 6,667 woodworking tools on eBay right now. That includes 2,318 planes. I don't know of another place that can match that kind of selection. For example, right now I'm looking to get my hands on a Stanley #113 plane. I don't see a lot of them, but on eBay I usually see a few for sale at any given time. Since it is no cheap plane I'm just waiting around for the right one. If I don't get one, there is always another day.

On a trip to a local tourist town, I stopped in a few antique malls to see if I could spend foolish amounts of money on tools. After suffering through 6 antique malls, my money was still firmly planted in my wallet. If you have a taste for a particular item I find local shopping almost worthless. If you just want some old plane to put up for decoration, a local antique store may work just fine. However, say you want a specific Stanley Bedrock plane in good shape, you will be searching for many months locally.

Other Useful Features
eBay allows you to save searches. This is critical when finding that hard-to-find tool. Say you like Norris smoothers. Those are not exactly common on this side (left side) of the Atlantic, so you can be notified if one of them comes up for sale. It sure beats searching every day for the plane. On the other hand, looking at pages and pages of tools isn't so bad either.

Buying Without Trying
Buying a vintage tool without ever laying your hands on it may be a little scary. That is the price paid for great selection. I try to buy from established sellers so if something goes wrong I won't get burned. I've only got one item that didn't meet my expectations and I've had dozens that have met or exceeded my expectations. I just factor that into my purchase price.

You generally must send payment before the seller will send you the merchandise. The most common form of payment is PayPal. A PayPal account allows buyers and sellers to exchange money without the seller knowing the buyer's credit card or checking account number. I highly recommend PayPal, it makes the transaction very quick and painless. Some sellers do not accept PayPal and they will generally wait to ship the item until after the check clears. Since this take a while I generally go with sellers offing PayPal

Hey, if you don't think buying tools at online auction sounds like fun, then maybe it isn't for you. I enjoy it. If you like traditional auctions and the thrill of chasing down deals, this may be just the ticket for you.

Visit eBay!


Here are a few photos of tools I've purchased on eBay.

Stanley 53 Spokeshave
Stanley 53 Spokeshave

Stanley No. 80 Scraper
Stanley No. Scraper

Stanley No. 4 Smoother
Stanley Bailey No. 4 Bench Plane
Stanley Bedrock 605
Stanley Bedrock 605 Bench Plane



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