Last Updated on December 14, 2020 by Dave Farquhar
Have you ever looked into a DIY project and the person talks about how they built something for $10, but you count up $5,000 worth of tools they used to build it? It’s hard to save much money when a project requires expensive tools. So here’s how to save money on power tools. 13 ways, in fact.
Most projects assume you have about six common tools to get them done. In a pinch, you can get most of them done with four or five essential tools. The essentials should cost you less than $200, and with careful shopping, you can assemble a reasonable collection of tools over time and spend less than $500.
1. Pick a platform and stay with it
When you buy cordless tools, it pays to pick a platform and stick with it. This saves you from having to buy multiple chargers and batteries. The batteries do wear out over time, but that’s less of a problem if your batteries are interchangeable. You don’t need a battery for every tool all the time, so a fleet of 3-4 batteries and 1-2 chargers can keep half a dozen tools working.
This also allows you to take advantage of two further chances to save money.
2. Buy bundle packages
You can almost always find bundle deals on cordless power tools, and sometimes the savings on a bundle can be significant versus buying tools separately. Frequently the savings on the bundle amounts to getting one of the tools free. As long as you actually need all of the tools in the bundle, this can save you a lot of money.
3. Buy tool-only packages
Usually when you buy a battery-operated tool, it includes the battery and the charger. But with the more common tools, frequently you can get just the tool, without the battery and charger. Buying just the tool can save you more than $50 each time. If you can’t find a bundle package that only bundles tools you need, buying tool-only deals can save you similar amounts of money.
4. Buy third-party batteries
Regardless of your tool, you can usually pick up aftermarket batteries that fit. This is good if your brand ever orphans your tool line, but it can also save you money now. I can get aftermarket batteries for my Ryobi tools for half the price of the real thing. Are they as good? The online reviews for certain aftermarket brands say they’re better.
Not all battery cells are created equal. If your aftermarket supplier uses good cells, they’ll make good batteries. If they use the cheapest cells they can find, you’ll get low run times. Look on Amazon or Ebay for batteries compatible with the line of tools you own, and make sure you’re buying something that gets four and a half star reviews or better.
Since batteries are consumables that wear out eventually, you’ll be buying them for a long time. This is an opportunity to save a lot of money over the years, and customize your experience, as many aftermarket suppliers will offer batteries in capacities the OEM doesn’t. This can give you more options for trading carrying weight for run time.
5. Save money on power tools by buying corded tools
Cordless tools certainly are convenient, but corded models deliver a lot more power for the price. If you can live without the additional convenience, a corded jigsaw or circular saw costs nearly half the price you’ll pay for a cordless one, and you’ll never have to buy batteries for it.
For large saws like table saws and miter saws, the savings is even more significant, and the corded versions give you a lot more power.
This trick works best if you have plenty of power outlets available. If you don’t have a workshop area and have to do your work in the driveway, the expense of adding outlets and buying extension cords can eat up your savings. But this can be helpful.
6. Buy tools on sale
Tools do go on sale occasionally, especially for Father’s Day and Black Friday. And unlike televisions, I’ve seen Black Friday specials last several weeks into the Christmas shopping season. The caveat with these tools is that sometimes it’s not exactly the same tool they sell the rest of the year. To sell a $75 drill for $50, the manufacturer has to take some shortcuts. It will almost certainly come with a lower-capacity battery, and it won’t have the same motor inside. And it may be brushed rather than brushless.
The cheapened version is probably still a capable tool. It just probably won’t be the same tool you’d buy on a random weekend in April.
7. Save money on power tools with refurbished tools
If you’re lucky enough to live near an outlet store that sells tools, you can save money on refurbished tools if you’re careful. If you don’t live near a physical store that sells refurbished tools, you can still save significant money by buying from an online outlet like CPO Outlets. CPO sells all of the major brands at a significant discount, typically 20% or more, over buying new.
8. Save money on power tools by shopping the clearance section
All stores, including the big box stores, have a clearance section. Usually it’s an endcap somewhere near the middle of the store. What you’ll find there will be hit and miss, but the savings can be significant. If you need a bargain right now, shopping an outlet is your better bet, but if you’re going to the store anyway, there’s no harm in looking in the clearance section to see if serendipity is smiling on you today.
9. Buy lower-grade tools
Just like anything else, power tools come in grades. If you don’t use your tools every day, you don’t need the equivalent of a Cadillac. Expensive tool brands like DeWalt and Milwaukee are intended for people who use the tools a lot. If you’re starting out with nothing, there’s no shame in buying Black and Decker or Ryobi tools. Sure, the $200 DeWalt drill is better than the $50 Ryobi. But you can buy a $200 Ryobi combo kit and have more tools. When you need a saw, a Ryobi saw you can afford is better than a DeWalt that you can’t.
You don’t have to have thousands of dollars tied up in tools to build stuff. Consumer grade is only an insult if you’re trying to do more than consumer-grade work. Any honest professional will tell you that if you’re starting out and not sure how much stuff you’re going to build, you’ll be able to do more with an assortment of consumer-grade tools than with one high-end drill. When I’ve had professionals work at my houses, they’ve been happy to use my cheap Harbor Freight miter saw if it meant they didn’t have to drag their DeWalt out of the truck and set it up.
In the case of cheap saws, you can upgrade them a bit by putting a better blade on them. A better blade doesn’t completely make up for a cheap motor, but I have seen tool reviews where a midrange saw outperformed a big-brand saw because it came with a better blade. So if you think you might be outgrowing a lower-end saw, try upgrading the blade on it before you replace it entirely. It may let you put off the purchase. And if not, the premium blade will work in your newer saw. The biggest tell-tale sign of a cheap blade in a circular saw or miter saw is if it rings after you finish your cut.
If you take care of your tools and keep them reasonably clean and in good condition, you won’t have much trouble selling them if you outgrow them. Sell your tools on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, then put the money toward better tools.
If you don’t know what to get, I’d recommend buying Ryobi tools at first because you’ll have little trouble selling them. Just point out they use the same batteries as Ryobi yard tools and they’ve committed to keeping the same form factor, so you’ll always be able to get batteries at the nearest Home Depot. Nothing against Black and Decker–it was what my dad used his whole adult life, because that’s what he could buy at the local Coast to Coast Hardware. But if there’s a Home Depot near you, I think the Ryobi batteries and the extensiveness of its tool line makes Ryobi easier to resell today, should the need ever arise.
10. Rent tools you’ll use infrequently
Frequently you can rent tools inexpensively, and this limits your commitment. If your tool rental store is closed on Sundays, rent on Saturday so you can get two days for the price of one.
11. Borrow tools
Your friends, neighbors, or family members may be willing to loan you tools. If you offer to buy pizza and drinks, they may even be willing to come over and help you, which gives you a chance to learn in addition to saving money. Don’t assume they’ll say yes, but don’t be afraid to ask either. If they say no, explore your other alternatives. But most friends will say yes most of the time, obviously.
12. Save money on power tools by buying used tools
You can save a lot of money buying used tools. I’ve scored a number of good, used tools over the years, from various sources. You’ll have competition, but if you’re willing to be patient, you can stretch your money a lot further. This may be your best bet to score a table saw at an affordable price.
Garage sales are very hit and miss for power tools, but I’ve seen good power tools at garage sales. You can get a small table saw for less than $100 at a garage sale, and it will be better than the $125 Harbor Freight saw, and probably better than the $175 saws at the other big-box stores. Here are my garage sale tips.
Estate sales are a good place to find power tools, but keep in mind you usually won’t get very recent tools. For larger tools and for corded tools, estate sales offer great potential for savings. This is another good way to score a small table saw for less than $100. Just make sure you have some idea what a tool sells for new, or bring your phone so you can look it up, to avoid overpaying. The drill press in the photo to the right may be a little high at $75. I’ve seen similar presses of that size sell for $50. The scroll saw to the right is a better deal at $25. If you see a army-green Black and Decker corded drill for $25, leave it there.
Here are my estate sale tips to save time and money. By going out for a few Saturdays this spring, you can expect to assemble a nice collection of larger tools for a couple hundred dollars.
Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace
Local buy/sell venues like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are a great way to find used tools at a discount, and also to sell your tools as you outgrow them, to finance your upgrades.
If you buy tools this way, the danger is getting a broken tool. Don’t buy without seeing that the tool works. If this means going to someone’s house, at the very least make sure someone knows where you are and bring your cell phone. Better yet, bring someone else with you. I’ve never been in any physical danger buying this way, but I have had people try to sell me incomplete items.
Pawn shops can be a good place to find used tools and they’re more likely to be recent and relatively high-end. The danger here is if the tools are stolen. You’ll have to return the item if it turns out to be stolen, but in most states, the thief will owe you the money. Collecting the money from the thief could be a problem, however. The thief was stealing for a reason.
Tool rental stores
Tool rental stores sell their rental tools as well. Not everything for rent is also for sale, but they’ll sell tools to reduce their inventory. Even Home Depot sells its ex-rental tools, back in the rental section. This can be another way to get high-end tools at a discount.
13. Buy the essentials, and substitute
Different people will tell you different tools are essential. Most agree that the essentials for most woodworking projects are a drill, a jigsaw, a circular saw, a sander, a miter saw, and a table saw. Those six tools will let you finish most projects. A router or router table lets you add nice finished edges.
For most people, the table saw is the biggest problem. Even a cheap table saw costs more than the other tools combined. But in a pinch, you can make long, straight cuts without a table saw.
A miter saw saves a lot of time, but you can use a circular saw or even a jigsaw with a square to cut boards to length or to cut 45-degree angles. Honestly, those two tasks amount to most of the things people use miter saws to do.
Having a drill to drill pilot holes and an impact driver to drive screws can save a lot of time, but you can drive screws with a regular drill until you can afford an impact driver.
I’d say the bare minimum you need is a drill and either a jigsaw or a circular saw. Both saws can do cuts the other can’t do, or can’t do easily, but for basic cuts either of them can do. You can build a lot of things with a drill and one saw, a few clamps, a square, and maybe an edge guide. It’ll just go faster if you have a wider selection of tools. But you can start with those two, and add another tool with subsequent projects.
Getting by with fewer tools
The biggest reason most woodworkers have tons of tools is so they can process cheaper lumber on their own. If you’re willing to buy lumber that’s already been milled square and check each board to make sure it’s straight, then you don’t need nearly as many tools.
You’ll find in many projects, a toolsy woodworker will cut a piece of plywood, then cut thin strips of wood to glue onto the edges to get a nice, big finished panel. I’ve approximated the same kind of work by buying combinations of 1×2, 1×3, 1×4 and 1×6 common boards, cutting them to length, then gluing them up into the width I need. With an edge guide I can even square it up afterward
if when my cuts aren’t perfect. I spent more on lumber doing it this way, but I built three desks and a console table with this method and still kept the cost of each project under $25. The result isn’t fine woodworking by any stretch, but I’d easily spend $150 to get something better ready-made.
That’s how you can justify buying another tool with each project.
Save money on power tools: In conclusion
Buying power tools is a lot like moving out on your own. There’s a lot of upfront cost, and then it tapers off eventually. But early on you’ll find the limitations of what you have, like when I first moved out and realized I didn’t have a toaster, so I had a choice: learn to like microwaved frozen waffles, go without waffles, or buy a toaster.
When you turn on the TV or Youtube and see a 50-something showing you how to build something, keep in mind those tools didn’t show up overnight.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.