When woodworking newbies get started they post questions in forums like: “I have $500 to spend on a new contractor saw, which one should I buy?” A veteran woodworker always replies that they should take that $500 and invest it in a used cabinet saw. I’ve taken this as newbie tool buying gospel for a year now… until this post from UncleJoe at Woodnet fleshed out the opposing view: “Used tools for newbies – the opposing view.”

The conversation that follows – one of the most congenial I’ve seen in WoodNet in a long time – fleshes out the pros and cons of buying used tools for all levels of woodworkers. The original poster’s (OP) numbered cons are in bold, and the relevant comments are below that.

The best bit of advice I found for newbies looking to make that first big power tool investment is to take a woodworking class or join a woodworking club. “There is no substitute for using a well tuned machine in knowing how it’s supposed to feel, sound, and perform, etc.. As stated new does not mean ready to use. I think anyone starting out in this hobby would do well to seek out a little education beforehand. Whether some evening classes at the local trade school, or Woodcraft type store. Or even just a little once over with a fellow (more experienced) woodworker, would do a lot to avoid not only using improperly set up machines, but also to avoid doing harm to oneself.”

Used Tool Con 1: You don’t know how a tool is supposed to work. You can read all you want, but if you haven’t used a tool working as designed, you don’t really know how the tool is supposed to feel, sound, act, etc.

Retorts to Con 1:
a) You need to assemble and “tune” almost all large stationary power tools, new or used…. You need to know your tools, or learn them once obtained.

b) My personal take on it from having bought a fair amount of both is that no matter what I buy it’s going to need work. I think this is often a very misunderstood point for newbies. Just b/c it’s brand new and fresh out of the crate does not mean you can just turn it on and start using it. Machines need to be gone over, cleaned, and adjusted before use.

c) If the person is a totally newbie, how are they even supposed to know how that brand new machine works? Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it is set up right, or doesn’t require reading before using it. There are tons of new machines users are receiving that are missing parts or require considerable setup and tweaking prior to use.

d) If you are buying from a true wood worker, I don’t think they are going to sell you a bag of rocks. They will likely show you everything there is to get started, how to adjust the tool, etc. You won’t get that buying new.

e) Who of us here has never had to pull wrenches on a brand new floor model machine.

Used Power Tool Con 2: When shopping, you don’t know what damage to look for, and when you find damage you don’t know how significant it is. Again, research can help this, but how many newbies are going to know to look for cracks in a Unisaw’s trunnions? Or HOW?

Retorts to Con 2:
a) How does the newbie know the new machine wasn’t damaged in shipping?

b) Assuming you don’t have to make a decision in 20 seconds, a simple post on the forum will give you ten responses of what to look for, what is a show stopper, and what isn’t a big deal to replace.

Note from G – there weren’t that many decent retorts here. If you’re buying a very common older tool that’s highly regarded (the powermatic 66 for example) you are likely “buying into” a community of folks online who are very helpful and knowledgeable. I know there are other woodworking tools besides a table saw, but here are some of the things to look out for in a used table saw.

Used Power Tool Con 3: You have no tech support, and can’t return it. Those can be important for a newbie.

Retorts to Con 3:
a) While some companies do have good tech support, others can be quite irritating. Also, as ezperienced by fair number of users on internet forums it’s not always so easy to return a big machine.

b) Retail stores with machines in the newbie’s price range often have awful customer service.

c) New tools may come with a warranty but that is about all. For the most part, woodworking machines are pretty reliable and there are very few moving parts. (Note from G: a warranty is only as good as the manager who does or doesn’t honor it according to your expectations…)

Used Power Tool Con 4: You spend more time repairing and maintaining an old machine, and less time cutting wood. Some people are into that, but not all.

Retort to Con 4:
a) the newest machine in my shop, except for my Bandsaw is 1955 and I sure don’t spend more time working on, adjustint or maintaining them than cutting wood. I find they stay set better than the news ones I have tried. I rarely spend any time working on them.

b) But it seems to me there is a general assumption that noobs don’t know anything about machinery. In some cases this might be true but not always. While a person might be a noob woodworker, whats to say they haven’t been a machinist for 20 years? Many people out there definately have the ability to bring a used piece of equipment up to par even though they have no or minimal woodworking experience.

c) Not everyone has a comfort level with self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Being spoon fed things these days is quite common for a lot of consumers of consumer goods grade products. Buy a cheap one, throw it away and buy another. That attitude makes ours the strongest economy in the world and gives us the highest standard of living overall. Its the man buying new stuff at the borg that should be celebrated for his contributions to our economy. (G – not really a “con” but an interesting point at least…)

What are your thoughts on buying used power tools? What advice would you give to newbie woodworkers considering used power tools?

Used Tool Buying Resources
Your friendly neighborhood Craigslist.
5 Questions You Should Ask Before Buying Reconditioned Power Tools
Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Powermatic 66 Table Saw