There are some great deals on indexable tooling and inserts on eBay…
I’ve bought a lot of tooling from eBay at great prices. It can be a great resource for Pros and Hobbyists alike. There are some tricks of the trade to know that I want to pass along to help you get the best deals. These tricks will vary from category to category, so let’s focus here on indexable tooling (like face mills).
Finding Deals is All About the Search
Finding the best deals on eBay is all about, well, finding the best deals. eBay is a search engine, plain and simple. Most people don’t understand how to maximize this, whether they’re buyers or sellers.
In an auction, the seller wants to have the largest number of qualified buyers as excited as possible about their item and bidding on it. The buyer, on the other hand, wants as few qualified buyers as possible. Competition just drives up the bid, after all. To get a good price, you have to avoid driving up the bid.
Now let’s put 2 and 2 together and think about strategy. We’ll mostly put on our Buyer’s Hat, but would-be Sellers can think about how to counteract our Buying Strategies.
If you want as little competition as possible, you need to be able to find items that very few others find. That’s actually much easier than you would think. The key is to search for misspellings!
Brands are often easy to misspell. Take “Starrett” for example. Double “r” and double “t”. Folks will frequently forget to double one or the other when they write their auction listing. And more folks will spell it rightly than wrongly when searching. So search for say “Starett Micrometer”.
Now the eBay folks are not idiots. If you do that, they try to force you back to the correct spelling, but they leave the option to search for the misspelled version so you can ignore their advice. Your challenge is to figure out all the common misspellings of what you’re interested in so you can search for them. Keep a spreadsheet with these misspellings–they’re a treasure trove you may wish to mine more than once. If you’re really intent on the best deals, find the words that aren’t misspelled but lead to your listings and use them to go through every single listing looking for obvious misspellings.
Note that there will be fewer misspelled listings to choose from. You may even have to wait for the right deals to come up. But that’s okay, you only need one (or a few) to get what you want.
Aside from misspellings, look for things that are mismarked–often goods are being sold hastily by a liquidator or someone who inherited some tools. They don’t know the proper terms or description for what they’ve got. But they may know a term that’s similar. Check into those possibilities. Look for cases where they got some words, but not all words right. Perhaps they saw the word “Starrett” but didn’t know they had a nice micrometer, so they listed it simply as a “Tool, Starrett Brand” or some such. Experiment with overly precise searches as well as with overly broad searches.
Here’s another handy technique: you can automate your searches. I can search for all my favorite Starrett misspellings using this format, “(starret, staret, starett).” I can string these together too:
(starret, staret, starett, mitu, mitutoya, mitatoya, mitatoyu) (mic, micro, micrometer, tool)
And so on. Another good trick is to find the less popular but still excellent brands. This is a great one for indexable tooling since there are so many makers and not all of them are as well known as Iscar or Sandvik. I was researching tooling brands and making notes for this reason long ago, but you can benefit from my early notes by checking out our Tooling Brands Page.
Lastly, realize that some things are probably just never going to be good deals on eBay. If you need a drill index full of good quality twist drills, you’re probably better off buying one new, for example. It’s too much a commodity, it requires a complete set, and there’s too few ways to get “good” search terms for one.
Choose Tooling that Uses Commodity Inserts
The first piece of indexable tooling I bought from eBay was a fantastic face mill. I really liked it, it cut well, I got a great price on it, and it even came with a set of brand new inserts. It didn’t look like anybody had ever used it. Eventually, I wore out the inserts and needed to purchase another set. Oh boy–this face mill used proprietary inserts. There were none available on eBay and they cost a fortune from the manufacturer. I learned from that experience to choose tooling that uses commodity inserts. By that, I mean inserts that were readily available cheaply on eBay from multiple sources. Always price replacement inserts before purchasing a piece of indexable tooling. Don’t wait to find out the hardware that they make the money from the inserts!
While on the subject of inserts, keep a spreadsheet of which inserts your various tooling uses. You can purchase tooling with an eye towards minimizing the inventory you have to have on hand and that can be very helpful. Also, insert nomenclature can be very confusing. You can often find an equivalent (or better) insert that nobody is bidding on because it was listed with unfamiliar nomenclature. For example, back in the days when I started many years ago, CCMT inserts were popular for small lathes. But CCGT inserts were even better for aluminum on such lathes because they had sharper edges. Yet, few knew about the CCGT’s for quite a while and you could keep an eye out on eBay and nab them cheaply. Today, they’re probably too well known. On the milling side, a good similar example would be APET versus APKT. APET’s fit APKT but they are sharper. Be sure you know about the rest of the nomenclature as there is more than one size CCMT too.
Pick Your Price and Don’t Go Over It
The surest way to ensure you get a good deal is to pick a price you know is excellent and refuse to exceed it. It can be so tempting to get caught up in the heat of bidding. Just a little more is still a good deal, right? Well, yes, right up until it isn’t.
So figure out your all-in (meaning inclusive of shipping and handling) price and stick to it. I used to set a price of half retail. I figured if I could get something from eBay at half the best retail price I could find all in, it was a good deal and worth the effort.
Use an Auction Sniper
While we’re talking about picking your price and sticking to it, you need to use an Auction Sniper. Sounds grossly unfair to many people, but an Auction Sniper is a piece of software that drops your bid in at the very last possible moment before the auction closes. I would always enter my final price (1/2 retail) and drop the sniped price in as late as I dared. The later you go, the more likely some glitch or Internet slowdown will block your bid, but also the more likely you get your price. Unless there is another guy with a sniper offering a better price. But if you sniped with your final price–you don’t care.
Auctions are odd. There is no other place (except maybe for gambling casinos) where the “winner” is the person who agreed to pay more than anyone else would. Make sure that when you “win” your auction, it really is a win for you!
Patience Wins the Deals
You’ve won the auction when you agree to pay more than anyone else would. Wait what? That’s winning???
When you first start trying these strategies, you’re going to be frustrated because you’re going to lose a lot of auctions. In fact, you may wonder whether you’ll ever win enough to make it worthwhile. Just remember–you’re doing this to get the good prices, right? So be patient. Automate as much as possible so you don’t have to spend that much time. And savor the great prices you do get when you win. They really can save you quite a lot of money.
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Bob is responsible for the development and implementation of the popular G-Wizard CNC Software. Bob is also the founder of CNCCookbook, the largest CNC-related blog on the Internet.
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