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question-tm.jpgWhen I was a kid, my Dad took me to the flea market pretty regularly, and we used to paw through hundreds of boxes of tools searching for stuff that’d work well at home.  In fact, my first Craftsman toolkit came entirely from the flea market.  Sure, you can take ’em back for replacement, but for some reason I’ve never needed to. 

On a recent trip to the “dirt mall” here in the Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX area, I discovered that most of the vendors now want premium money (read: new price) for any “lifetime warranty” tools, and subsequently their selection seems to be pretty stifled.  I do, however, have a Porter Cable PortaBand that came from the flea market.

I know some of you are shrewd bargain seekers.  What do you look for at the flea market now, tool-wise?


10 Responses to Reader Question: What tools do you buy from the flea market?

  1. Nick Carter says:

    I look for tools that the seller doesn’t know/care about.
    Since I mainly look for machining/measuring stuff, this happens fairly frequently when I get to the flea market.

    The flip side is that sometimes a seller prices things even higher because they don’t know what the tool is. I’ve bought micrometers for a couple of bucks, but I’ve also been offered rusty micrometers for over new price.

  2. Harry says:

    I have filled a 5ftx6ftx2ft Cornwell Toolbox with automotive tools almost entirely from flea markets, pawn shops and Ebay for less than half of what it would have cost me on the tool truck. Having said that, I also feel that the tool availability and selection at most flea markets and garage sales has dried up as the popularity of Ebay has grown. I just don’t seem to find the bargains that I used to. Today’s bargain hunter has to be better informed as to a tool’s cost and value too. All too often, I see people selling tools for more than they would cost new at the store or off of the truck. I look mostly now for specialty tools from car dealers that have gone out of business.

  3. kythri says:

    I keep an eye out for anything lifetime warranty and U.S. made (or mostly U.S. made) – Craftsman, SK, etc.

    I’ll try to haggle people down on the price, but if they’re not budging, I politely explain that I’m not going to pay them a couple dollars short of retail.

    Sure, I could “save” that couple dollars, but I’d rather give the money to Sears than some shyster.

    I’ve found that my local hawk-shops seem to be more of a bargain when it comes to hand tools than just about anywhere else. They make their money on it, to be sure, but they’re not bending anyone over.

    I’m now keeping my eye out for air tools, a bench grinder, and a nice vise or two at the local auctions, hawk-shops and anywhere else that might have something like that cheap.

  4. Old Donn says:

    These flea market dealers charging the high dollar for “lifetime warranty” tools must not mind lugging their stuff to and from home. 1) As stated above, if I’m paying full price, I’m paying it at Sears. And, 2) even Harbor Freight tools made in China are lifetime warrantied. That might be another reason flea market tool deals are few and far between lately. If you need something, why wait till the weekend?

  5. Bowen says:

    The flea market is a great place for cheap haemostats, probes, fine scissors and other knock off surgical tools I use for 20mm WWII miniatures modelling, as well as my light duty Dremel rip-off, a $9 corded jigsaw that works fine (but smells warm during use) and all sorts of odds and ends.

    I usually pick up a couple of handfuls of the pocket knives with corporate (usually defunct) gift branding on, as they are so cheap as to be disposable, so it’s fine to do all the things with them I wouldn’t do with my daily carry Benchmade, Buck or Gerber (yes, even prying).

    And I have to agree with Harry, it’s mostly new, cheap Pakistani or Chinese manufactures or surplus gear at the markets now, all the good second hand stuff is on eBay, with high shipping (gougers!) and prices not much better than new.

  6. Jon says:

    Last tool I bought at a flea market was an 8-foot iron spike ~1.25″ in diameter that makes a heck of a prybar or concrete demo tool

  7. James B says:

    I always thought those cheap hemostats were use-once medical devices or something. I just picked up a nice set of different sizes in straight and curved tip at the local surplus store.

    When I am visiting western NC I like Jamestown flea market for old woodworking tools. There is (was) a lot of furniture industry in that area, and I always come across well maintained older tools. The prices aren’t bad for what they sell. I have quite a few chisels I need to sharpen and make handles for. But some of the measuring tools I just wiped off and started using. Same for the spokeshave – I just touched up the blade and started making shavings.

  8. Good luck ever actually using that Harbor Freight warranty. Do you have a file folder specifically for HF receipts? Anyway, there’s an odd not-quite-flea-market near here called Gibraltar Trade Center. It’s a big indoor space with a bunch of semipermanent vending booths setup. A lot of them do tattoos or leatherwork, custom airbrushing and jewelry design, etc. Much of the rest is cheap Chinese counterfeits of American brands, like the “Sharpie” markers — they got the logo right, but misspelled other things on the label — or the giant packs of batteries with 500mAh of capacity and a propensity to leak like a Capitol Hill news source.

    However, in among the sweatshop rugs and the choke-o-matic toys, there’s a tool place that blows my mind. They have the most comprehensive selection of Dremel-style accessories, with every conceivable shape of diamond stone, sandstone, saw blade, abrasive disc, sanding drum, cutter point, drill bit, side cutter… Palm ratchets, wobbly extensions, impact U-joints… Stuff you might see in other stores but not in this selection. I bought a file from them once without even realizing it was a knife file, which is to say that the blade tapered to a thin edge. It’s since become my favorite tool for repairing mangled threads, general file work, and opening boxes. (Since it’s not sharp, I can’t cut myself, but it goes through packing tape like butter.)

    I’m not sure it counts as a flea market since all the tools are new, but the prices are low and the selection is impressive. My ultra-fine-nose pliers came from there too, along with some hemostats and paste flux that I’m quite fond of.

    As for garage sales, now those… screwdrivers! It peeves me no end that screwdriver sets always come with more straightblade than Phillips. You can regrind your own straightblade tips if they get worn, and you only really need a few sizes. Phillips really requires the exact tip size, you can’t repair them when they get worn, and you still want different lengths just like straightblade. Why, toolmakers, why? Anyway, I stocked up on Phillips drivers last time I saw the four-for-a-dollar bin at a garage sale, and have been much happier since.

  9. Randy says:

    Yep, garage sales are the way to go. Recent scores have been a Wonder Bar, and a small vice for $5 total. Electric Chainsaw for $10 (this is way better than the wimpy Remington electrics too). I pass by corded drills, electric staple guns, handsaws, and other stuff all the time, just because I already have them. If I see Craftsman hand tools, I usually grab them.

  10. ck1dog says:

    I have to agree with Bowen’s comment above. Stuff that’s so cheap as to be disposable. Last thing I got was a security bit set for 1/4 of the price our vendor wanted for *one* bit. As often as we … misuse… them, it’s good enough they break after a few uses.

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