A workshop cleanout can uncover significant value, but not everyone recognizes it. Although it may look like a messy headache to empty out, a woodworking studio or mechanic’s garage is usually filled with high-value specialty tools and materials. Here, we help you identify which workshop tools are worth the most.
Workshop Cleanout: Get Organized
Start your workshop cleanout by gathering the tools into a clean, spacious, well-lit area. Set up a dedicated staging space, like a carport, garage floor, or covered tarp spread out in the backyard, where you can process everything at one time.
Once the tools are gathered, separate them into two piles: electric and non-electric. From there, subdivide each pile into two additional sections according to potential value: tools worth selling and those that aren’t.
Workshop Cleanout: Identify Likely Value
Chances are, the workshop will have its share of power tools, but not all are worth something. Pull out the tools with potential value:
- High-end, high-quality specialty tools that are immediately usable.
- Brand-new, heavy-duty pneumatic impact wrenches, hoses, and air compressors.
- Mechanized lifts or engine hoists.
- High-end wood and metal working implements, like cabinet saws or drill presses.
- Vintage or handmade tools
- Newer, brand-name items from American manufacturers
- Old or rare woodworking implements. Depending on age and condition, antique versions of this rosewood and brass countersink, miter square, and hand drill can be worth hundreds, or even thousands of dollars to the right collector.
- Tools made prior to 1980, particularly mechanic’s tools like Craftsman or Dunlap wrenches and socket sets.
- Specialized tools for specific areas of expertise like clock repair or aviation maintenance.
- Newer, top-quality brands with transferable lifetime warranties, which can make items like a set of ratchets or pipe-wrenches worth good money.
Scrap Metal and Other Raw Materials
Craftsmen often store a large stash of raw materials, like rare lumber, watch gears, or gun parts. On one workshop cleanout we found nearly $10,000 worth of old, forgotten copper piping stowed in a plumber’s basement crawlspace.
Here’s what’s not worth much at all: low-grade, mass-produced screwdrivers, pliers, wrench and socket sets, measuring tapes, hammers, flashlights, utility knives, paintbrushes, drills, and et-cetera. Common, mass-produced items you can (or could once) find in a big box or discount store are also next to worthless – even hand drills, circular saws and electric screwdrivers. Donate those, or save them to round out family members’ toolboxes.
Workshop Cleanout: Check Prices
With the wheat sifted from the chaff, you’ll want to get a feel for the tools’ cash value. Although you won’t know exact value until someone is willing to buy the tools, these research tips will help you establish a general idea.
Look for labels or handwritten notes
Grandpa worked hard to build his tool collection. If he was the organized type, he probably took steps to identify what’s there. For instance, in one mechanic’s garage, we found labels identifying everything down to replacement nuts and bolts for the deceased’s 1964 Corvette. So stay alert—much of the detective work of identifying exactly what you have may already be done.
Google is your friend
Make an itemized list of tools, and conduct Google searches by make and model number. Within a few clicks, you’ll find listings that will give a ballpark idea of value. However, if you’re dealing with rare antiques that have little or no identifying markings, we recommend deferring to an independent appraiser (see below).
Avoid online auction sites
On auction sites like eBay, sellers often list items at inflated prices. False expectations can cause headaches—especially when settling an estate with multiple beneficiaries. For example, say your eBay-based calculations value a collection of tools at $20,000, and they end up selling for half that much. Someone may get upset and, potentially, accuse you of cheating them.
Use an independent auction house
If the collection is large, specialized, and/or brimming with antiques, consider using an independent auction house. While you will pay some fees, those are based on a percentage of sales, so the auction house has the incentive to sell at higher prices. You’ll be working with professionals who can evaluate what you have, and let you know whether you should auction off everything at once, or sell some items individually.
Hire an independent appraiser
Want to know a collection’s true value? Bring in an expert. Bound by ethics, the appraiser will provide you with an accurate assessment of each tool’s worth (a proper appraiser will never offer to buy the collection). Make sure to ask for a “seller’s” estimate, not an “insurance” estimate. Insurance estimates are often higher, as they are intended to establish a replacement value.
Following the guidelines for our workshop cleanout, you’ll discover the true value of those workshop tools. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be prepared to sell, donate or trash with confidence.