Vintage Vise Buying Tips
Where to find vises?
Rule of lowest common denominator, or the path of least resistance The easier it is for a seller to list a vise for sale, the better the deal for you the buyer. It used to be that Craigslist was the easiest online marketplace to list items (and free) but Facebook Marketplace has taken that spot recently. Offline; a yard sale or flea market are the easiest places to find vises. Let’s look at the marketplaces and their pluses and minuses...
Craigslist has tons of listings, it’s free to sell and it’s easy to find what you are looking for with a few tweaks to your search query. With the good comes the bad… Casual sellers with bad grammar, misspellings and dodgy communications. To succeed in buying on Craigslist you need to be fast, courteous and reliable. The early bird catches the worm, setup email alerts, be flexible in meeting up with sellers and be genuine in your dealings. One thing I wish Craigslist had was a feedback/rating system like eBay and Facebook Marketplace.
A note on safety, when meeting a seller, check out the address, Google Street View can be your friend in getting a feel for the neighborhood. If in doubt meet at a local shopping center or police station. I have only had one scenario where I was a little uneasy, so we met at a gas station and everything went well. (Not a vise purchase, but a laptop computer) I have met plenty of cool, interesting people and have even made some friends from deals through Craigslist but it never hurts to be safe.
Craigslist can be a great source for deals but finding them is not always easy. While Craigslist offers some basic filters there are more advanced tools hiding under the hood. Let's take a look at a few easy ways to find what you are looking for...
- K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid): Craigslist is the wild west of classifieds, they let anyone post items for sale and they don't require most information be filled in. So when searching for a bench vise it's best to keep
the search terms as simple as possible and do not include brand names.
- Misspellings: Again, they let anyone post, so you will get some keyboard cowboys with poor spelling and grammar, what can you do? Think about possible misspellings, abbreviations and slang for the product you are looking for.
Searching for a vise, make sure you search for "vice" as well.
- Wild Cards: An asterisk can save you time. "bench vi**" matches "bench vise", "bench vice" and "bench vive". Helpful in catching some misspellings.
- Categories: When looking for a vintage vise you would think it's best to search in "Tools" but believe me, there are vises in other categories like "Business", "Farm+Garden", "Auto Parts"
and even "FREE" categories. Consider doing your search in the general "For Sale" category to catch everything.
- Get Regular: Regular Expressions that is... One of the biggest time savers I have found is the ability to use regular expressions in your search query. No need to know what regular expressions are, but if you really want to know
check out this link. Just know it makes searching more powerful. So here are the basics, you can combine terms in an "OR" statement by using a pipe "|". At risk of giving away my secrets, here is my favorite vise
Notice the () around the search terms that have a space in them. This is required in regular expressions as the space is interpreted as the end of the statement unless it's encapsulated in parentheses.
Also notice the - which keeps ads from showing up for vise grips, miami vice, and vice magazine.
- Once you have a solid search string, setup alerts through Craigslist for each of your local CL sites. This can be done by creating an account on Craigslist and clicking the "Save Search" link to the right of the search
bar. Once your alerts are setup you will get eMails hourly as new vises are listed.
- Get an APP: I am not going to recommend a specific APP as they come and go, but there are some good apps out there which allow you to get alerts when new items come up for sale on Craigslist. They also allow you to search multiple
regional Craigslist sites at the same time. A word of caution to those attempting to use Craigslist for arbitrage or "flipping", most APPs use the RSS feed from Craigslist which is not always updated in a timely manner. You
will always get the latest items by searching the live site. If you are looking for a good deal, it may be gone before the RSS feed updates. This delay in updating the RSS feed can be 10 minutes to an hour in my experience. Once you
have a search zero’d in save it as an alert on Craigslist and you will get notifications quicker than waiting for the RSS feed to update.
At the time of writing this, Facebook Marketplace is in it’s infancy but don’t let it’s lack of features fool you. EVERYBODY is on Facebook, or at least most of them are and Facebook makes listing, selling and buying stupid easy. Remember my thoughts on the lowest common denominator? The easier it is to list, the more trouble you will have with buyers and sellers. I have talked with many sellers who consistently reports buyers who never show up to view an item and sellers who leave sold items up on Facebook Marketplace for months after they are sold. The one good thing Facebook has recently added is a seller/buyer feedback system, something I have wished for Craigslist for years. So with the thought that Facebook Marketplace is still very new, let’s look at some quick tips to finding vises on Facebook Marketplaces.
If it’s more than 5 miles from you and the price is too good to be true, it will be gone before you get there. Given the reach of Facebook, products go fast! I have listed products at low prices just to get them out of my garage and got 20+ people interested within a ½ hour while getting no action on the same products on Craigslist.
Facebook does not have regular expressions like Craigslist but they do have an algorithm which does a pretty good job of picking up what you often search for. If you search the keyword vise it will match to vice and will match the plural cases as well. I will also search work bench and work table as vises are sometimes bolted to them and come with the purchase.
Word of Mouth
Don’t be afraid to talk about your desire to buy a vintage vise. People have old vises in the corner of their basement collecting dust that they would never believe someone would be interested in. Bring it up in conversation, you never know when you will find one.
eBay (lower margins but less work, product comes to you)
While eBay is usually the most expensive route to find an old bench vise, you can find some deals. The key is to find the ones that are underpriced and buy them quickly (Buy It Now) before others spot them. This can be tough, but technology can help you spot the deals faster. Use eBay’s advanced search to find newly listed auctions (sort by newest) with a Buy It Now format. You can get fancy with negative search terms and misspellings which will help you narrow it down. Bookmark your search and copy it to your mobile phone. When you get some free time during the day, check the results. I check about every hour throughout the day and have made some very good scores this way. I have gotten quite good at judging an item which is unmarked or has poor pictures, with a little practice you will be able to spot the winners! A lot of my finds come in the middle of the work day as high volume sellers list their items. They tend to not be collectors and have limited knowledge of the products I am interested in resulting in better deals for me.
My favorite search string in eBay is
(vise, vises, vices, vice) -grip -grips -miami -theft -gta -picture -book -advertisement
Again, I am only looking at "Buy It Now" items and sorting by Time: newly listed. (And only looking at "used" items as I don't want new vises popping up)
A word of caution about yard sales, they can be a tremendous waste of time if you let them. If you value your time, forget about yard sales. If you need something to do on a Saturday morning and you enjoy the hunt then by all means have at it, but I value my time more than that. I will make an exception once a year when my community has a “Yard Sale Day” where I am guaranteed a large number of people are setup. Also with the advent of Facebook Marketplaces and Craigslist, if I see a specific yard sale which has a lot of items I buy (vises and vintage tools) I will try to get to that one yard sale provided they posted pictures of the items and I know I am not wasting my time.
Most of the vises I buy are old, from the late 1800’s to the 1980’s and pops up in antique stores all the time. While you would assume antique dealers would know the value of a 1950’s Wilton bench vise, surprisingly most don’t. Deals can be had, but like yard sales, it can be difficult to justify the time. It just happens my wife enjoys going to antique stores, so we make a day of it a couple times a month and get to spend some quality time together. Well, not really as I skim through the store looking for vises while she takes her time looking at EVERYTHING! I usually end up sitting in the car while she is only ½ way through the store. No matter, this gives me time to check my eBay searches, Craigslist alerts and browse Facebook Marketplace for deals near my current location! A pro tip, leave your name at the antique store and as they get new vises in, they can contact you.
I don’t find many tools in thrift stores, and usually no quality vises but you may get lucky. See Yard Sales section for the disclaimer on wasting valuable time. Again, let the staff know what you are interested in and leave your name, it can't hurt!
An even bigger time suck than yard sales, auctions rarely are worth my time. I do make exceptions, if there are a lot of vises listed or antique toolsy and it’s not too far away, I will spend the day at an auction. I do mean a day, most auctions in my area start at 8am and end around 5 or 6pm depending on the amount of items for sale that day. Estate auctions can be good, but you will wait most of the day to get to the good items as auctioneers like to leave the best for last. The other downside to auctions is that they are usually advertised very well and competition is usually strong for vises and tools.
Of course there are online auctions other than eBay which are popping up and can be worth a look. I have had limited success at http://maxsold.com/ and https://www.bidspotter.com for industrial tool auctions.
Quick Tips on finding deals…
- Misspellings are my biggest secret! I have scored more vises which were listed at “vices” than I can count. Most ads on Craigslist and eBay are missed in searches unless the searcher includes misspellings in their search. A side
effect of this is if a seller has a listing it will sit on Craigslist longer and they will become discouraged and you can swoop in with a lower offer which they are more likely to take.
- Bad pictures may scare others off as well, look for the ads with little information and bad pictures others have looked past. Ask questions of the seller, ask them to take better pictures and you may find a diamond in the
- Sometimes the sale of an item leads to other good deals. When picking up an item ask the seller if anything else is for sale. I showed up for a vise and walked away with a 6-foot airplane propellor and a pre-war buffer for a song!
It pays to ask!
- Post a Wanted ad on Craigslist for the items you buy. Some people have a large collection of stuff, or want to sell fast, finding a collector/buyer who has a wanted ad saves them time getting rid of stuff. Like a business card, it
let’s others know you are out there and have cash at the ready.
- Once you have found the item to purchase, closing the deal can be the most critical step. Back to efficiency, when I reach out to a Craigslist or Facebook seller I include as much information as I can in my initial communication.
This saves time in back and forth messages and lets the seller know I am serious. Give the seller your phone number up-front, let them know times you will be available for pickup and confirm you have cash in-hand to pay for the item.
As a seller, I waste more time chatting with potential buyers who jerk me around and never come to buy my products, a seller will appreciate you being upfront and serious about buying their item.
- When I setup a time to buy the item, I will let the seller know make/model/color of the car I will be driving so they know what to expect. If the meeting is a day or two away I will also mention I will follow up with them the
morning of the pick up so I can confirm everything is still on. This saves everyone time and lets the seller know I am serious and considerate of their time. I tend to try to pick up items ASAP as many a seller will sell an item out
from under you especially on Facebook Marketplace. This is a side effect of the run-around sellers get from most buyers who never show up for an item. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” holds out here and you can’t blame
sellers as they are most likely working off of experience dealing with deadbeat buyers.
- I also will check Google Maps for the address I am going to. In most cases it’s in a good neighborhood and I have no concerns. If the location is rough, suggest a local police station to meet, or public place like a gas station or
store parking lot. The more information I know about the location and seller, the safer I will be in making the purchase. If you have doubts, please take caution and follow your instincts.
Judging the condition of vises...
Vises tend to lead a rough life, spilled paint, whacks with a sledge hammer and an errant grinder wheel all leave their scars on bench vises. A couple of key points when it comes to judging condition of a bench vise...
- Always back the movable jaw all the way out of the main body of the vise. This allows you to inspect the condition of the lead screw and main nut. It also will tell you if the slide is beat up enough that it won't allow the
movable jaw to be removed.
- Look for cracks. Common areas are at the jaw support and where the front of the slide transitions into the vertical part of the movable jaw. See images below.
- Look for welds or brazing. Most previous owners will braze cast iron as it's easier than welding, this is usually good for a buyer as brazing usually globs on tons of filler material (brass) and makes it easy to spot. With that
said, if the person fixing the vise cleans the braze and paints over it, it can be hard to spot. You will get many opinions about buying a welded or brazed vise, but I avoid them whenever possible. If you need a vise to throw on a
welding bench or outside on a table where it's exposed to the elements I would say buy one. If you are looking for a vise to use for years and expect it to hold up, skip the repaired vise and continue your search.
- The slide can tell you a lot about the condition of the vise. Most vintage vises have a rectangular slide (except for Wilton "bullet" vises) and the corners of the slide can tell you a lot. When looking at pictures of the
vise you are considering online, look for sharp edges. If the slide is in good shape there is a good change the rest of the vise is as well.
- The handle can tell you secrets as well! If it's bent, the previous owner probably slipped a pipe over the handle to get more torque to press in those pesky U-Joints. While not a deal breaker, it's another clue into the
life the vise has led. Handles can be straightened but a crack or other damage due to the excessive for may not be able to be repaired so look closely.