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It’s always a sad day when a manufacturer goes out of business. Maybe the owners didn’t handle things right, or maybe their widgets just didn’t measure up against the competition’s. But either way, it means some folks who made their living with their hands are out looking for a job. The really sad part: We get a couple of emails a week from auction houses looking to unload tools and equipment from failed businesses.

That said, though, we see some interesting deals from time to time. Today I came across one that includes a large horizontal band saw, a “nice selection of woodworking equipment,” a 16′ tandem-axle aluminum car hauler, and even a couple of vehicles. This particular auction is internet-bid only and includes some ugliness, like a 10% “buyer’s fee” and some interesting payment terms.

I’ve also seen a number of readers mention auction finds in comments. So do you buy from auctions? If so, what’s your experience like? Any advice to others who see auctions from time to time and might like to jump in?

(Thanks, RichardBH, for the great CC-licensed photo.)


17 Responses to Do You Buy From Tool Auctions?

  1. Steve says:

    I buy from auction a lot. I mostly shop estate auctions to get piles of rusty tools to clean up. Its a hobby. When I get a bigger place to put gear, I might go to these larger shop auctions and see what I can grab at a steal. But right now I love grabbing an old tool mongers stuff that has typically pasted on and giving it new life. Sometime I can’t control myself when something cool is up. I almost bought a metal lathe and craftsman rolling chest full of tools for it for 400. Only problem with that is I live in a third floor condo (full chest went for 90 and lathe went for 300ish).

  2. Spike says:

    Auctions are awesome!!! I’ve had tons of deals at auctions, but why am I telling you? It takes two people to drive up a bid and if you don’t go because you don’t know of the deals you can get….. just forget I said anything.

  3. DoItRite says:

    I have purchased quite a bit from auctions over the years. Not so much anymore since the ugliness , as you appropriately put it, such as the “buyers premium” and small print at the bottom of the add for the estate auction that states “plus other commissioned items which make the bulk of the sale”.

    I used to love the old farm auctions, always due to the death of the farmer (and always from old age) where you could find a bunch of items that you couldn’t resist. I never knew what I was going to buy but usually came back with a prize.

    Looking around, I have a welding stand, some jacks, pry bars, a welder, rakes, shovels, a snowblower for my tractor, and of course the “box of miscellaneous items” which always holds a jewel. I also picked up a few clunkers: items that didn’t work or were broken.

    Now days, these farm auctions are due to bankruptcy or suicide , the estate auctions are due to divorce or foreclosure and I really don’t want to be part of someone’s tragedy.

    If you find an auction worth going to, here are my basic rules:

    -Arrive early. You need time to look over the merchandise carefully, and it’s never in any logical order.
    -Look at the other people to see how interested they are in the same things that you are. If they are really interested, they will strike up a conversation giving you their opinion on how worthless this item is.
    -Set your maximum price and stick to it. It’s way too easy to just go an extra couple of dollars that soon turns into twice what you were going to pay.
    -Auctioneers are not to be trusted. They will tell you about how wonderful this thing is, but fail to tell you that it doesn’t work. All sales are final!
    -Auctioneers will seed the crowd with their own people to hike the prices up.
    -Don’t get disappointed if someone else outbids you.
    -Be prepared to spend the day and bring your own lunch or snacks.
    -You won the bid and you own it, so keep your eye on it or someone else will walk off with it and you are still stuck paying.

    Good luck

  4. brian says:

    Always buy tools at auction. Two weeks ago I got a CWMI table saw with Delta motor for $10.
    I do find the auctioneers to be a shady bunch. But I find that a lot of the time they are ill informed about what it is they are selling and you can pull one over on them fairly fast.

    On another note…..Who here can tell me about C.W.M.I tools? I can’t find anything about them. THe saw was built in 1983, that’s all I can figure out.

  5. Mac says:

    Get stuff at auctions occasionally. If I had more time, I’d probably do more. I often get outbid.. I usually am only interested if I can get something VERY cheap (e.g. 10% of cost). Yeah, it’s buyer beware for sure.

  6. Joel says:

    I have a shortage of money, so auctions would be awesome, but my shortage of time is even greater, so I can’t spend all damn day waiting for my item to come up.

  7. Cameron Watt says:

    I see no SUPER deals at auctions; too many people are looking for one. It seems to me that in Canada we don’t see those fire sale prices I hear about from Americans.

    As for the buyer’s fee, what happened? A few years ago I blinked and suddenly the burden of paying the auctioneer’s commission shifted from the seller to the buyer!

    I recall hearing a 2nd hand story about a fellow who wanted a specific forklift at an auction and he swapped the spark plug leads on two cylinders during the viewing period….it coughed, spluttered, and barely made its way to the auction block; nobody bid against him. He was apparently one proud thief.

    Any funny auction stories?

  8. PutnamEco says:

    I wish the auctions around my place were worth going to, auction fever hits bad down here. People bid things up to near retail prices and most of the time the things they are bidding on are not worth half that.

    Re:Any funny auction stories

    One auction of a closed motorcycle shop had a few old rusty benches going on the block, Some one had pushed them all together so you couldn’t really see what was in the drawers, My buddies were razzing me pretty bad about paying $50 bucks for them, until they found out what was in those drawers, One drawer was full of brand new carbide drills, end mills and other assorted lathe tooling. Its sister drawer had a couple of lathe chucks, tool holders and live centers. Next bench had a set of Snap-on compression gauges and a leak down tester. the final bench was full of used brazing rods including about 3-4 pounds of silver solder. Not a bad haul at all for $50, and I got the last laugh on my friends to boot.

  9. fred says:

    I’ve bought some used machinery over the years from brokers and dealers who stand behind what they sell and offer some sort of warranty. Acquired an Oliver Staright Line Rip Saw and 10HP Shop Fox Sliding Table saw this way. On the latter tool – it was only mildly used – so the discount versus new was not very great – but still saved a buck or two. Acquiring a whole set is another story entirely – e.g. in buying a business out – where you get more than just the shop and its contents. Hopefully the goodwill, customer lists, inventory, accounts receivable etc. are all worth more than what you pay plus any residual liabilities you assume

  10. Pezdad says:

    If you include ebay, I’ve gotten quite a number of tools. Since the number of bidders is always higher than an in-person auction, there are no “ten cent on the dollar steals”, BUT if the item is a “user” item rather than a collector’s item you can easily find it and get it at a good price.

  11. Gough says:

    I haven’t seen one in a while, but there used to be mobile tool auctions that roamed around the country. I wonder if some of the internet auctions have taken their place. The mobile ones were really a scam, but everyone knew it. For a stretch, I went to a lot of auctions of all kinds, and these were unique. Typically, no one was actually bidding. The auctioneer would keep dropping the price until he finally changed his approach and added in items to sweeten the deal. What started out as a plain set of 3/8 sockets, for instance, would end up including 1/2 drive, as well as deep sockets, 3/4 drive sockets, etc. At the end, the auctioneer would finally announce the price for the whole deal and everybody who wanted a set would hold up their number. It was really more theater than an auction, and the quality of the tools was not great, but it made for an interesting evening.

  12. IronHerder says:

    My city has two wonderful recurrent auctions, one for state university surplus items and one for state government surplus items. It also has the usual number of estate auctions.

    The surplus auctions are only occasional sources of tools, but both are wonderful shop resources. I buy wooden furniture just to salvage the wood & the hardware. I buy wooden laundry tubs & get wood & the casters. I bought an 8 ft. X 3 ft. library table that will be the center island in my remodeled workshop. For $1, I got an 8 ft. X 4 ft. X 2 in. oak butcher block table top. Suggestions for that are welcome, but I’m keeping it regardless. For another dollar, I got about 75 sq. ft. of pegboard and 2 boxes of hooks. I bought a stack of 100+ Edsal particle board shelves for $3. I buy file cabinets to use as very accessible & very deep shelves. Also to store the box of “workshop reading material” that I got (for the articles, really, not the pictures) at an estate sale for $1. I’m going to resell them on eBay, but first I have to carefully, page by page, evaluate the condition of each issue, so that I can be an honest seller.

    But auctions are crap shoots, given the unpredictability of the merchandise & the unpredictability of the bidders. As DoltRite said, arrive early, leave late & bring lunch. For myself, I enjoy auctions for their own sake. I watch the bidders & the auctioneers, & swap lies with my auction buddies. Life is good.


  13. DocN says:

    I’ve only been to three auctions (at least, as a participant) and have had varying success.

    One was an estate auction; the couple passed and left a large fabrication/welding shop. Would have loved to have a pocketful of cash, but funds were limited. Saw some good deals (Pexto finger brake, Beverly B3, a solid steel table and three buckets of Vise-Grips, air tools and clamps for about $600) and saw some bad deals (abused import mill-drill with minimal tooling for over $2K.) I picked up a Baldor 500 carbide tool grinder for $300, wound up with a set of Victor torch regs and a 150lb Morgan vise along with it.

    A second was at the local college. If the owner of a local industrial machine shop hadn’t been there, I could have gotten a low miles fully automatic KO Lee 6×18 surface grinder, with vacuum, coolant and electromagnetic chuck for a starting bid of $500. The other guy had a bigger checkbook than I did though…

    The last one was a borough auction. Lots of stuff I wanted to bid on, little that I could afford. Bid on another surface grinder, auctioneer ignored my last bid and awarded it to his buddy who was buying up all the machines for resale.

    I found the guy afterwards and inquired. Turns out he’d overbought and his truck and trailer were seriously overloaded, so he offered it to me for $50 over what he paid.

    In all cases except the college auction, the auctioneers were at least somewhat dishonest, and I hear that’s pretty much the norm down in the states. But as noted above, set yourself a price, don’t go over it, and don’t get “attached” to the thing so you won’t be upset when you don’t win.


  14. IronHerder says:

    Living in a large population center has its benefits, but if the comments are an accurate sample, having honest auctioneers isn’t one of them.

    One of the few useful things that I learned in college was that the expectation of continued business dealings enforces an acceptable degree of honesty. While I might complain about the limited opportunities here in a sparsely populated region, one of the benefits is that our auctioneers have to be mostly honest or they would not stay in business. The crowd of bidders is full of regulars, and there are only a few auctioneers. Bad faith would be immediately punished.

    I’m not making a claim for moral superiority. People here are the same as people everywhere else (duh). It’s just that because everybody’s reputation is a known quantity, honesty is the most pragmatic policy.


  15. pmbard says:

    I’ve set up a search on eBay that shows the tools within 25 miles of me. Saves on shipping and I’ve met folks who resell auction/estate tools and one gentleman in the next town over who repairs warranty returned cordless Craftsman tools.

  16. A.Crush says:

    Auctions sound nice, but as mentioned, it’s more often than not just a circus of deal seekers who go crazy and bid things so high you could buy them on sale at retail for less. If that’s not the case, then the auction usually has the starting bid so close to what a new one would cost it’s silly.

    Garage/estate sales are usually a better place to pick stuff up since you can pick it up and buy it cheap on the spot without wasting your time competing against other people who suddenly want it too. Estate auctions might be a good place to pick up tools too, since they are usually packed with people who want the furniture rather than anything to do with tools and hardware.

    Personally I find store clearance sales and the internet deals are the best use of my time when it comes to tool bargains, but if you find out about an auction and have some free time, sure, it could be fun to at least look, and you never know if you might find some treasure for cheap.

  17. TL says:

    The auction experience often depends greatly on the crowd. Sometimes you get the group that really wants to pay retail, other times there are amazing deals to be had. In my mind that’s part of the fun. I’ve always liked the government siezed and surplus property auctions. My bolt cutters came in a lot with a hammer, screwdrivers and a police evidence tag (called it a home business starter kit). Unfortunately they aren’t always the best place to find tools, but can be a great place to find raw materials for turning into more useful things.

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