I passed a place with an abandoned frame pallet, mainly spruce. Almost all of the pieces were quite clear and clean; nine 10′ 2″ long pieces, 3/4″ thick by 4″ wide. I stood it on end, slipped cardboard between the car and the pallet, tilted the pallet and slid it easily onto my roof bars. At the shop, I reversed everything to unload it. Unusually, the pallet was screwed together with sheetrock screws. Dismantling was a five-minute job and then the screws too will come in useful.

Passing through a given day I surprise myself by how much I actually rely on secondhand and with good reason. In many cases, my only resource is secondhand because I cannot buy it new or I get far more choices via eBay. I know many of you dislike eBay, but more tools are back in use by people like us than ever in the history of woodworking. Tools that once petrified in dim dark cellars and lofts now have a real value and often a very fair value even to those who have no idea what they’ve got. You can buy just about any working part for any tool just by a five minute (or five hour) visit to eBay. Saw nuts for a vintage Disston might cost you but authentic parts means they fit straight off and nothing is cobbled together with a slip-wire fix (I’m a Texan at heart. You Texans now what I mean). Dismantle any tool and sell the parts separately and you will likely make more for the components than the whole tool in and then a little on the shipping too. How much I like secondhand should be evident to most of you by now. My favourite tools would never have been found without eBay and of course, in times past secondhand dealers in vintage tools traveled far and wide for their stock following up adds placed in newspapers in different regions. This then resulted in sky-high prices for collectors rather than users who were mostly priced out. Today it is an open market for all. We can all bid on a tool whether it be rare or not and the bidding is unbiased so we are less likely to be bidding against a collector for a user tool we makers need. Here’s another example; setting up the workshop for working with autists I needed some specialist equipment. At one time I needed extra-long twist drills.

I think too that we should not forget the convenience we get from single-stop shopping on eBay or indeed picking up a pallet or two from outside a business discarding it and even hoping someone might need it. How often have we needed some rough wood for something? Some sheet metal as in tinplate for soldering to. My picking up the pallets later in this article saved me a trip to the timber yard or recycling centre and I got exactly what I wanted but didn’t yet know I needed.

A quick look on eBay came up trumps with a dozen suppliers when I needed long twist drill bits and I bought a dozen six-inch-long long for just £6. I’ve been using them for a year or two now with no issues.

For another situation, I needed a safer way for autists to drill holes perpendicular to the wood. I did not want the motorized drill press, I wanted them to be the supplier of power and total control. It took me a few weeks to find the type I wanted and in my case, I bought four different types because each had different merits to suit various situations.

Also, how much using something secondhand in its new life do we feel about it. Most recently my Sorby plane collection lacked a full I Sorby plough plane compendium and I found a boxed set on eBay. This pretty much concludes my collecting of the Sorby offering now.

This I admit is something of a luxury for me. When I discovered the Sorby series of metal-cast planes a few years ago now I decided to keep looking for them. I am glad I did. It was fun searching eBay periodically. I only spend a few minutes a week in looking for what I want. This final one was a surprise find with all of the cutters and support parts right there in the box.

I postponed my greenhouse/shed build planned over the Christmas holiday period because, well, I wanted time with my family. I have the wood, some new and some secondhand. The floor and roof come from flat pallets used for sheet materials like sheet metal, plasterboard, plywood and such. It’s more stout than I need but that makes for greater solidity. So we save £50 here and there in the processes supporting our lifestyle woodworking. One man accused me of bragging about such things, that others less fortunate wouldn’t have this or that. I doubt that what he said was true. Raised in lower socioeconomic places and times I tended to find scraps to build bikes on the city dump two city blocks from my house. My first woodworking wood came from pinewood fruit and veg crates retrieved from the back of the greengrocers. Such things give you the opportunistic eye for salvaging and surfacing. You need the unique combination of opportunism and patience, yes, but the more important thing for me these days is making certain that nothing I see that can be used gets wasted. What’s the spruce pallet wood for this time. Facia boards for the shed, trim around the door and window. The short cross-sections will make my seed trays and starter boxes and the screws, well they’re perfect for the construction.

38 Comments

  1. Thomas on 6 February 2020 at 10:57 am

    Thanks to you Paul I now pick up scraps of wood wherever I find them to make spoons, spatulas smalls boxes, etc. Stuff that was probably destined for the scrap heap or fire. I even (with great difficulty) made a spoon out of an piece of an old mahogany bed post I found.

    Waste not, want not!

  2. Tom Bittner on 6 February 2020 at 11:42 am

    Funny how you work so hard for what you have and people think you were given everything.

  3. Steve P on 6 February 2020 at 12:40 pm

    What i find ebay has caused with old tools is now it is impossible to get a good deal or even an OK deal on old tools. Even antique shops and heirs that have inherited a late relatives old tools now quickly check ebay for what tools are trending for and immediately think theirs are worth jist as much. “Oh a Stanley #45 new n box with all cutters is $350, then this old rusted one with no cutters, a missing fence and a bent bar must be worth the same price.” Oh a certain type of Stanley plane is x dollars, then this old rusted one with a broken tote and repairs must be worth the same. Its hard now to find any planes on Craigslist locally or at antique shops for less than $100, often far more. For a couple tools, i’ve found its cheaper just to buy a new Veritas or Lie Nielsen by the time you buy the one on ebay with shipping that arrives and has damage that wasn’t seen in the pictures.

    • Paul Sellers on 6 February 2020 at 1:26 pm

      I think it has created greater fairness. In the past, people selling were disadvantaged for several reasons. Also, I have recently seen many Stanleys go for much less than the $100 tag you state here Steve. $Stanley 4s for $30 is very cheap for a lifetime plane.

      • David Hutchins on 6 February 2020 at 9:41 pm

        I’m wondering if eBay prices are higher here in America. I check eBay almost daily and hardly every see a no 4 go for less than $50 before shipping. 4 1/2’s go for well over $100, there’s one on there right now for $225. I still feel $50 for a no 4 is a fair price but the 4 1/2’s and router planes especially, I think are priced a little high on eBay

        • Robert Brennan on 6 February 2020 at 10:48 pm

          If you check Internationally you can find Great deals, I’ve been doing this for some time now. The name of the game is patience.

          • Al on 9 February 2020 at 3:39 am

            Yup, patience is the price for a good deal on eBay. I picked up a very nice Stanley No 4 (type 17 war era with painted handles) for $21.50 a few months back. It was in good condition with no cracks or major pits and most of its japaning still left, but it was in need of a little care. After a bit cleaning and putting a nice camber on the blade and it is now very serviceable scrub plane.

            If you want it now, or if you want it to be already restored to like new condition, you will pay a premium. But if you keep hunting, yo will eventually find a good deal.



        • JT on 7 February 2020 at 12:51 pm

          Not really sure what you’re doing then. I just did a quick search for No 4s and restricted it to “sold” items…I scrolled through at least a dozen that sold just yesterday for $30-$40, and I also saw a 4-1/2 that sold for $61. Sure, in this price range they will take you an hour or so to get back to proper working condition, but that is a paltry sum to pay (both in terms of money and time) for a lifetime tool.

      • Paul on 9 February 2020 at 7:08 pm

        Haven’t seen a Stanley 4 on eBay for anywhere near $30 unless it’s cracked or damaged in some way. eBay doesn’t seem to be the bargain it once was.

        • Paul Sellers on 10 February 2020 at 8:56 am

          Go to eBay UK. There’s a hundred there every day. Bite the bullet and pay the shipping. It’s a small amount for a lifetime tool.

    • david paschket on 6 February 2020 at 1:39 pm

      you have to catch yard or garage sales from younger married couples with kids. go the end of their sale and buy by the box. ive attained thousands of dollars worth for less than 1 percent on the dollar. i find they just want rid of bulk by the end of the sale.

    • Robert Flowers on 6 February 2020 at 2:43 pm

      If you are in the US take a look at joining the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association they have tool meets around the county. Last year i picked up a 1800’s Stanley #45 in great shape and a box of irons for it for $80.00 US.
      Look on youtube for wood by wright or Peach meet he did about an hour long walk thru at this years Peach Meet last weekend, it will give you an idea of what i am taking about.

    • john2v on 6 February 2020 at 7:41 pm

      I’m selling on eBay right now a record 044 Plough Plane for £7.49 ends this Sat. It has all cutters …boxed…..and I would say it has not been used
      Identical to your I Sorby Paul

      • Martin Cote on 6 February 2020 at 8:16 pm

        Hi, would you sell it directly to me?

        • John2v on 6 February 2020 at 8:26 pm

          Yes Martin would love to, look on eBay Record 044 plough plane and you will see it, it’s currently £7.49

  4. JURANDYR on 6 February 2020 at 1:32 pm

    99% of the wood I use comes from someone’s trash. Sometimes rare and noble woods. People simply discard and often exchange for MDF furniture !!!!

  5. Toni Carré on 6 February 2020 at 6:34 pm

    You can’t beat using old second timber. It is a lot superior in quality then the rubbish you pay a fortune for at the timber yards. In the good old days a tree was felled the correct way so as not to damage it plus when the planks came out of the sawmill they wear left to season the correct way. Now when you buy from a timber merchant the tree is felled, goes straight to the sawmill, then from there straight to the timber merchants to get sold. When you attempt to use this timber it’s like a donkeys hind leg. I am afraid to say that a lot of knowledge has been lost which took years to learn and I am so pleased that I learnt and saw the proper methods of tackling the correct way many things should be done. 👍👌

  6. Jon D on 6 February 2020 at 10:56 pm

    How often are pallets made from treated wood? I assume only done in special cases due to cost. Is color/odor a reliable/obvious enough for safety way to tell?

    • Thomas on 7 February 2020 at 10:31 am

      Pallet woods are heat treated I build a decking out pallets, but the frame I used 2 by 4 treated wood tho but the slate of the decking is pallet wood.

      It the first thing I ever built out of wood and I didn’t realised about squareness and stuff, now that I learnt all of master Paul seller teaching I look at the decking n think wow that looks dodgy as Del Boy suitcase.

      But it practical I use it sit on watch my kids, enjoy time with the family and that what matters I may one day given time rip them up true up the wood on put them down.

  7. John on 6 February 2020 at 11:02 pm

    In my humble opinion E-Bay is a great resource. I look at it the same way I think of a regular auction. The value of something is as much as the highest bidder is willing to pay. There are a lot of items on there with crazy starting prices, they stay there and don’t sell. I have got what I thought were great buys and other times probably paid too much, but I bid according to what I can afford balanced by how bad I need/want something. I buy tools to use, not to look at or try to resell, so it all evens out in the long run,

  8. John Hinton on 6 February 2020 at 11:23 pm

    Hi Paul, it’s been a while but I wanted to post this after reading this post about your finds. I am a bit of a scavenger my self I am always on the look out to see what I can find where ever I am. Partly due to my nature I suppose combined with my upbringing we were not poor at all but not rich ether but we got by well enough. I have been following your post on and off for several years now and a few years ago i read something similar to this post and after that I started looking around for wood discards there are not very many places to look around here within say 10 miles of home. But one place a cabinet building shop has a dump site in back of there place and I started looking there every time I went by and you know I found a good many very nice pieces of wood lumber and I have used more than a few in my projects and this has probably saved me quiet a few dollars. I still have a good bit left and I haven’t been collecting for a good long time I just ran out of places to put it. But now I am getting low on some things and need to be going back by there more often. Also I have found some good deals on cypress wood here about we live in the south and I live in the northern part of the state of Louisiana and there is a good bit of cypress wood around to be bought I love working with cypress it’s kinda soft wood but very good wood and it will last for a long time. well I will close with this ” God is Good to me”

  9. Peter Compton on 7 February 2020 at 12:04 am

    It’s a shame people would think that way. Every now and again, I do a scavenge run, and even have a a simple tool kit in the back of my Utility, for when I see the opportunity of free wood or drawer slides and handles etc, which otherwise would end up in landfill. A few years ago I came across three pallets made from Jarrah ( Aust hard wood), I got two Adirondack chairs and drinks table. My time, free, materials, free. my pleasure and relaxation. Immense Cost in shops AU$750. Who says second hand is not worth it.

  10. Ed on 7 February 2020 at 12:25 am

    I recovered some oak that was used as a (dry) kitchen counter or dresser top. It had been installed on the flat rather than like a laminated top. Most likely this wood was from the 1890’s (not a typo), when the house was first built. When it came time to use it, I found it was nearly impossible to plane. It wasn’t tear out…the plane just had trouble getting a bite into the wood. I’ve always wondered why. Could the wood have been compressed and burnished over the century of use? It’s all still stowed away.

  11. Rob Ling on 7 February 2020 at 1:58 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I’m not very good at scavenging timber so I’ve got a question for you.

    Do you ask at the place you find the abandoned pallets if you can take them first?

    I spotted a couple of broken ones in the car park of a local supermarket and was tempted just to take them but bottled it.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Paul Sellers on 7 February 2020 at 3:25 pm

      Personally, I think that it is best unless the pallets have indeed been obviously abandoned and/or in a skip. I make every effort even if it is in a skip. It’s surprising though how soon you start to develop the ‘eye’ for finding wood and how generous people are too. It’s important to understand how people feel affronted when you just invade their property without asking though many do just do that. Also, be aware that someone might accuse you of ‘flytipping’ if you are in a skip without permission. Hard to disprove if it goes further. For non-Brits, flytipping is dumping waste in public or private places without permission and is an offence punishable by law.

      • Rob Ling on 13 February 2020 at 9:06 am

        I got my first pallet yesterday, it was still outside the supermarket and I happened to go in the shop for some groceries so asked. The supermarket were glad to be rid of it as it had been left behind by some workmen.

        There are some nice 5″ by 1/2″ pieces there that look like they will plane up nicely.

        Thanks for giving me the confidence to ask.

      • Rob Ling on 13 February 2020 at 9:12 am

        I’ve also found a local timber yard that is cheap and the quality of timber is very good. Without seeing the videos on here and instagram tipping local yards, I would have avoided as viewed yards to be the realms of tradesmen only.

        I’ve bought odd lengths of timber from big DIY chains here in the UK and very disappointed with quality, the wood is very soft, with little strength, and also challenging to work. The kiln dried ‘white pine’ (i am yet to identify the species) they stock is simply overpriced rubbish.

  12. Joe on 7 February 2020 at 4:18 pm

    My dad, now 80, can count on one hand the number of times he has had to buy wood for projects (he has made a lot of things for personal use). If you keep your eyes and ears open, there are lots of opportunities to find hard and soft woods.

  13. Hank Edwards on 7 February 2020 at 4:57 pm

    The dollar miscellaneous box at an auction sometime yields, but then what to do with the rest of the stuff in the box.
    About 1980, out in southern Alberta, a grain elevator was torn down in the town just north of where we lived. The two by fours were for the taking, with company blessing!
    Grain elevators do not use two by fours for balloon framing. I brought home a couple of full pickup loads over three days. Not even a dent in what was there. I built every two by four project I had ever imagined up to that point.
    This still happens. I just received a Calgary newspaper article about someone who has recently built a house from salvaged grain elevator wood. The wood is now close to a hundred years or so old, straight and a full 2 x 4 inches, nicely dried, Alberta being like western Texas. One could not ask for better. I wish I had taken more and brought it with when I came east. Many thanks to whoever it was who told me about this.

  14. Dan Maxwell on 8 February 2020 at 9:34 pm

    Since joining your truly incredible masterclass course I have purchased all the tools I need, lots from ebay. I have also started my workbench and had a friend give me some maple flooring out of a railroad boxcar which is perfect for the benchtop. Im almost done and I totally agree on reusing lumber. I have always done this even in construction projects. I thought I was the only one.

  15. Alastair Burke on 10 February 2020 at 2:36 pm

    Just by way of a warning regarding old pallets- I recently picked up a pallet that had been used for shipping stone patio slabs as it seemed to be made of a hardwood. I couldn’t find an IPCC mark but I did some research and discovered that if they come from further afield, say India, they are commonly treated with the insecticide Methyl Bromide which apparently is nasty stuff! I’m probably being overly cautious but just thought I’d pass this information on!

    • Paul Sellers on 10 February 2020 at 3:05 pm

      I think that we individually need to check what we feel about pallets before we run ahead of ourselves so caution is a good thing.

  16. Eric L on 10 February 2020 at 5:30 pm

    I have purchased tools on ebay, patience pays. I also buy and sell at a local swap meet. (car boot sail) this type of selling takes getting up early, and often. It amazes me how many people show up at 10 AM looking for the bargains that sold at 8 and complain that everything is expensive on non-existent.

    • nemo on 11 February 2020 at 8:38 pm

      Indeed, the good stuff has usually gone by the time of the ‘official’ start time! I’ve learned that one the hard way too. Fortunately, as hand woodworking is such an obscure niche, many of the interesting (to me) tools may still be available a few hours later, such as an expandable brace bit. But generally, if you go to a fleamarket or car-boot sale, be there early or don’t bother.

      I have long ago stopped with Ebay and (the local equivalent of) Craigslist. Prices too high, misleading descriptions, paying but not sending stuff, etc. Too much frustration for me. I prefer to deal more locally these days: I make sure there’s always an ad from me hanging on the ‘wanted/for-sale’ display at the local supermarket, with a drawing of a metal handplane on it. That immediately attracts attention of those who know what it is. Explain in the ad I’m looking for a metal plane, but mention ‘also interested in other hand woodworking tools’. Surprising how many responses it gets. Often of people who want to see tools that belonged to a familymember go to a good home.

      A few days ago I went to a lady (who basically lived within shouting distance in my street) who had an old glue pot for sale. As I was there we got talking and she mentions she had some other tools of her late husband that I might be interested in. She was right, I was interested in some of them. I left later with much more than the glue pot for which I had come… and got to meet a nice older lady, whose front yard had for decades impressed me for the immaculate way she kept it.

      Two days later (and about two hours ago as I write this) I receive a phonecall from someone I didn’t know, saying he heard from that lady I was looking for a metal jack plane and he had one. When he mentioned his price I didn’t have to think twice about walking over to his house (he also happened to live in my street). He was more a machine woodworker and had a #6 for sale in good condition for a very interesting price. Had a nice chat with him. Asked out of the blue if he wouldn’t happen to have a metal router plane, he didn’t, but said he did have something else he had no use for. Turned out to be a #78. When I saw the condition it was in, complete, as new, in the box, and he said his price – I didn’t even haggle. Let’s just say that the prices don’t compare to anything on Ebay or our local Craigslist-like site.

      My advice would be to try local and use word of mouth to your advantage. Two different people in my very immediate vicinity had tools that I’m now very happy with…

  17. JBarleycorn on 11 February 2020 at 3:41 am

    There are four “Impossibles”: It’s impossible to have too many tools, too much time and space to use them and too much money to acquire them.

    • Paul Sellers on 11 February 2020 at 7:46 am

      Consumerism never lets up in its attacks in all spheres to make us believe we ‘need‘ more things. Whereas I do have many tools, not machines, I have them mostly because I use them in teaching and training classes, to give away to those who cannot afford them, and then too as part of my ongoing research. When I lived for two and a half decades in the USA it did sicken me to see yellow and black T-shirts emblazoned slogans where tools were referred to as, “Big boys toys” and, “He who dies with the most tools wins!” I ave tried not to use the term minimalist this or that but simply present the reality that with around 20-30 hand tools you can make just about anything. I think a single machine like a bandsaw is an excellent choice for reducing larger sections to bite-sized pieces ready for finalising at the bench but that is for those of us trying to establish, reestablish and maintain skilled workmanship. I also like to keep a lathe handy for turning components for furniture making because I can turn handles and legs in a few minutes should I desire these as part of my design. Consumerism thrives on relieving the boredom of the well off by buying more stuff to fill the emptiness. Anyone who really wants skill will never be bored or empty or looking for a change of wallpaper if they have most, not all, of the tools in my book, Essential Woodworking Hand Tools.

  18. Noel Rodrigue on 11 February 2020 at 4:08 pm

    Ah! The perfect place for my question.

    My son had some flooring replaced in his house, following a bit of a snow melt flood. I asked him to keep a few pieces of the old planking (oak) as I was thinking of ‘playing’ with it.

    He did … to my ever lasting surprise! About eight pieces, two or three feet long by two(ish) inches wide and probably half-inch + thick. Enough to ‘play with’.

    This stuff is bullet proof 🙁

    I’ve tried to remove the finish with ‘finish remover’, scraper, plane, sand paper … without success. Does this hive-mind have a solution for me?

    Thanks in advance.

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