Thursday, April 14, 2011

Smart Tool Buying Tips for DIYers

A Special Guest Post From: Ethan, our friend over at One Project Closer. Thanks Ethan for your tool buying tips and insight!—Peter

The cost to fully equip your workshop can quickly add up even if you only buy the bare essentials. Many do-it-yourselfers that I know own thousands of dollars in tools. That's a hefty price to pay, and so I'm always eager to find ways to save money. Over the years, I've come across a handful of tool buying tips. This post will share some strategies so that you get the right tool and a great deal.

Professional Tools or Not

You may not realize it, but many tool manufacturers are under the same corporate umbrella. For instance, if you read about Irwin Tools, their brand encompasses many other names you'll recognize like Marathon, Hanson, Speedbor and more. Stanley Black & Decker owns Bostitch, DeWalt, Porter Cable and others. Companies are divided like this because each brand is targeted to a specific audience. Fein brand tools are marketed to professionals while Ryobi tools are marketed to homeowners. It's important to consider if you need a professional grade tool and then buy accordingly.

I own a pro-grade framing nailer and love it! This tool performs consistently and should last many years to come. Alternatively, I also own a Kobalt sliding miter saw that costs $170 at Lowes. This is a cheap saw and many users have reported problems with the fence and laser alignment. Both tools live up to my expectations. The point is I knew what I was buying and didn't overspend.

Refurbished Tools

Refurbished tools are purchases that have been returned to the manufacturer because of mis-handling or a product defect. The manufacturer fixes the tool, often incorporating new parts, restoring the tool to factory specifications. These tools pass quality control tests before they are resold through various online venues. Refurbished tools often cost 30-60% less than retail and almost always include a factory warranty.

I'm a big fan of refurbished tools and would recommend it to every do-it-yourselfer, however they may not meet the needs of a professional. There are risks associated with purchasing refurbished tools, but you can take steps to protect yourself. Before purchasing, call the retailer and ask about their return policy. What is the return period? Is there a restocking fee? Who pays shipping? Next, contact the manufacturer and learn about the warranty policy. How do you report problems? What proof of purchase do you need? By answering these questions, you'll be well prepared should problems arise.

Time Your Purchase

A little over a year ago, Consumer Reports published a calendar predicting when specific categories of product go on sale. They analyzed industry surveys, publications, and consulted in-house experts. Unfortunately, tools are not listed on their magic calendar but it does validate the theory that you should time your purchase for the best price. The idea is that you should buy when demand is low. For instance, the calendar suggests buying bikes in September.

If you have the time, watch prices to see how they fluctuate especially around major holidays. The sales may seem gimmicky but often translate into real savings. Take special note around Presidents Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. You can also expect prices to drop a little while after the tool has been introduced. For instance, the new Paslode roofing nailer was introduced about 6 months ago with a suggested price of $529.00. Already, the price has dropped about $40.

From the Dealer or Big Box?

There is a huge debate over purchasing tools and equipment from a home improvement center versus an authorized local dealer. The argument goes that a big box stores carries substandard versions of the same models found elsewhere. Many users question why a manufacturer would sacrifice their good name by creating a lesser product, but supplying a Big Box store is sure to turn a significant profit. I've seen and read arguments for both sides, and here's what I know.
  • Big Box stores are always competing on price, and here's an example of how that plays out. All John Deere tractors are the same but big box stores only carry the very cheapest model.
  • I've read reliable information about a user opening up a defective Milwaukee Sawzall to find plastic parts that are otherwise metal.
  • In September 2010, Porter Cable started manufacturing a C2004-WK pancake compressor but you'll never find it on their official website. This model was exclusively sold at Lowes.
Manufacturers create specific models for big box stores but that doesn't necessarily mean they are substandard. When you shop around, make sure you compare apples to apples. When in doubt, remember that you typically get what you pay for.

Discounts and Coupons

Retailers are constantly offering discount and coupon incentives to earn your sale, and most of them are revolving deals. That means that a promo code or coupon will probably reappear after a little while, often with very small variations. Here's a great example. On March 24, 2011, The Home Depot released the promo code "SPRINGSAVE" good for $10 off a $100 purchase. This deal only lasted a week, but the same exact discount appeared just the other day with the promo code "HDSPRING" (valid 4/11/2011 - 4/17/2011).

One Project Closer is a website that focuses on providing premium home improvement, how-to and tool review content. In addition, OPC maintains a list of home improvement coupons where you can find promo codes like the ones listed above. It's an easy way to save money so take a look before your next purchase.
Do you have tool buying tips?! Share your knowledge, by commenting below, so we can all take advantage.

My Standard Disclaimer: This is what I did. This does not mean this is the best way, the right way, to building code, or even safe for your needs. So you are on your own with your project. I make no promises about the information presented here. I'm just a do-it-yourselfer, not a professional at all, sharing my story. So if something goes wrong with your project, you are on your own. Good luck, and have fun!

All content and photos, copyright 2011, Dover Projects.

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