Monday, October 8, 2018

The Realist: Buying Multitools on ebay

Another guest post by The Realist:

Disclaimer: The following article reflects my personal experience with several dozen arms-length ebay transactions over a period of a year and a half resulting in the purchase of several dozen multitools and a handful of related accessories. This article reflects my unique circumstances, and subjective observations and opinions with regard to the multitools purchased. Your mileage may vary.

(Source)

       Two years ago, I wrote an article about my experience with buying Swiss Army Knives on ebay for barter/resale purposes (http://practicaleschatology.blogspot.com/2016/10/buying-swiss-army-knives-on-ebay-realist.html). In that article I explained why I was interested in knives and multitools for barter/resale: "I have read various posts on various preparedness/survival sites about The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) barter/resale. One comment several years ago by Mr. Rawles of SurvialBlog got me to start watching ebay for knives seized by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at airports. This combination of posts got me thinking about the topic of knives as a barter/resale item."

       In the Swiss Army Knife article, I averred that I didn't really have a strategy for buying name-brand multitools beyond watching for sales, clearance items, and other random opportunities. I also noted that used multitools didn't seem to be discounted relative to new multitools.

        Since that time, I have developed a strategy for buying new Leatherman brand multitools and used Gerber brand multitools. Most of these purchases have been Leatherman multitools.

        My strategy is really nothing more than a process of discovering a price point where a desired item can be purchased with sufficient frequency to satisfy my needs, and then exercising purchase discipline to only make purchases when the price is at or below the price point.

        The "price point" is the maximum price I have decided I am willing to pay for a particular model of multitool. I will gladly pay less. Although, a price significantly below my established price point may fall into the too-good-to-be-true category, requiring much greater scrutiny of the ebay listing.

        By "sufficient frequency," I mean that the multitool can be purchased with enough regularity to satisfy my stockpiling objectives. In my case, sufficient frequency means an ebay listing meeting my requirements once every couple of weeks. The price point will not be the absolute lowest price, because the absolute lowest price does not satisfy the sufficient frequency requirement - the absolute lowest price will occur very infrequently. On the other hand, if the price point is too high, the frequency will be too high.

        Exercising purchase discipline means that I absolutely do not pay more than my established price point. I have rejected listings where the purchase price plus shipping was only a dollar or two over the price point. If I don't exercise purchase discipline, then the price point is merely a suggestion.

         Another factor influencing my strategy is a strong preference for buy-it-now listings. I have been an ebay member since early 1998, and have personally found auctions to be tedious and auction closing prices to be unpredictable.

        My purchasing strategy could probably be applied to just about any readily available mass-produced currently-in-production product that is offered regularly on ebay.

        With Leatherman multitools, my strategy largely accepts my observations that used Leatherman multitools in good condition sell for pretty much the same price as new multitools on ebay once I account for missing components such as sheaths. And frequently, I see buy-it-now listings for used TSA-seized multitools without a sheath priced at close to the retail price. If you don't consider sheaths important, then you might be able to find a lower price point - at the time of this writing, I have not found a successful strategy for purchasing used Leatherman multitools at prices I consider acceptable.

        However, I have found one particular product line of Gerber multitools that have favorable used prices. They usually don't come with a sheath, but occasionally one is offered with a sheath for a reasonable price. In contrast to the used Leatherman multitools, these Gerber multitools are regularly being sold as military surplus.

        Also, note that I am selecting particular models of multitools because I have confidence in them, and not because they can be obtained cheaply. If I was only interested in acquiring an inventory of multitools cheaply, I would just buy a bunch of the four-dollar Ozark Trails multitools at Walmart
(http://practicaleschatology.blogspot.com/2015/11/the-realist-mini-review-ozark-trail-12.html).

Leatherman Multitools

        Over the the years, I have purchased a variety of Leatherman multitools for personal use and inclusion in various emergency kits. For this exercise, I have focused on the the Rebar, Wave and Micra multitools from Leatherman.

The Leatherman Rebar (left) and Micra (right)
Leatherman Rebar Experience

        The Leatherman Rebar is a full sized multitool with a closed length of four inches, weighs 6.7 ounces, and incorporates seventeen tools. The wire cutters have replaceable blades. (https://www.leatherman.com/rebar-831551.html)

       Initially, my focus was on the Leatherman Rebar since I had purchased a couple of them for personal use and liked them.

        My first few purchases intended for later barter/resale involved a mix of used and new Rebars. I found that auction prices for used Rebars were too volatile to be worth the effort of placing a bid. For example, I had won an auction for a Rebar that was in good condition, except for some superficial rust (rust spots on the file and rust stains on a couple other tools), for what I thought was a very reasonable price. Another auction for a Rebar with similar superficial rust a couple of weeks later closed for roughly twice the price I had paid for the first one - so much for a rusty Rebar strategy. I watched many other multitool auctions and saw similar closing-price volatility.

        Regularly, I also noticed that there were many listings offering new and new-in-package Rebars. I decided to focus only on new Rebars, with a preference for new-in-package. And, given my longstanding distaste for bidding auctions, I also focused on buy-it-now listings.

        I found a price point where I was able to find a buy-it-now listing for a Rebar fairly regularly (every couple of weeks). That price point, including any separate shipping charge, was approximately two-thirds of the Amazon price. If the Rebar was new without a package, I was occasionally able to get it for even less. For the record, six times I purchased a new-without-package Rebar, and in each instance the Rebar and its accompanying sheath indeed looked new upon close examination.

        The Leatherman Rebar is also available with a black oxide finish and comes new with a Molle sheath. While I purchased a couple of used black oxide Rebars, they sell on ebay for a premium over the regular stainless steel model.

Left to right: Leathermam Wave first generation, second generation, and third generation (Wave+). (Note, these Waves are not photographed fully opened since the 2nd and 3rd generation Waves have interlocks preventing blades and pliers being opened at the same time.)
Leatherman Wave Experience

       There are three versions of the Leatherman Wave. The Original Wave was introduced in 1998 and discontinued in 2004. The second generation Wave was introduced in 2004 and discontinued in 2018. The third generation Wave+ (Wave-Plus) was introduced in January of 2018.

        The second generation Leatherman Wave is a full-sized multitool that has a closed length of four inches, weighs 8.5 ounces, and incorporates seventeen tools. The Leatherman Wave has two reversible/replaceable screwdriver bits - a regular sized bit, and a small bit usable for the screws on eyeglasses.

        After acquiring several Leatherman Rebar multitools, I decided to see if my strategy would translate to the popular Leatherman Wave. Note that my purchase experience reported in the next several paragraphs is with the the regular second-generation Wave introduced in 2004, and not the new Wave+.

         With the exception of a used Leatherman Wave I purchased for myself, I have only purchased Waves advertised as new. In one instance, the Wave was being sold as a refurbished multitool the seller had received in exchange for one he had sent to Leatherman for repair. (It is Leatherman's practice to replace damaged multitools with new multitools under their warranty, unless the owner wants the original tool repaired for sentimental reasons.) This multitool looked new, although the sheath it came with looked like it came from a Gerber multitool (this was plainly disclosed in the auction, so I knew what I was purchasing).

       Three times times I purchased a new-without-package Wave, and in two instances the Wave and its accompanying sheath looked new upon close examination. In the third instance, the listing pictures showed a few dents and scratches on the leather sheath, and the seller said the Wave was unused. The seller did not disclose that this Wave was missing one of the reversible screwdriver bits, but it otherwise looked unused. Even after factoring in the cost of the replacement screwdriver bit, it was a little over half of the Amazon price.

        The two-thirds of the Amazon price strategy worked for Leatherman Wave multitools, again allowing me to purchase a Wave fairly regularly. In general, there appears to be no significant discount for a Wave that is new-without-package.

Leatherman Wave Plus Experience

        The Leatherman Wave+ incorporates the Rebar pliers head which has replaceable wire cutter blades, and adds an eighteenth tool, an electrical crimping tool to the backside of the pliers head between where the handles attach. (https://www.leatherman.com/wave-10.html)

        So far, I have only purchased a handful of Wave+ multitools. For the first six months or so after its introduction, the best repeatable price I was able to achieve was about 70-percent of the Amazon price, but the prices seem to be settling down a bit so I can regularly obtain a new-in-package Wave+ for two-thirds of the Amazon price.

Leatherman Micra Experience

         The Leatherman Micra is a keychain-sized multitool with scissors instead of pliers. It has a folded length of 2.5 inches, weighs 1.8 ounces, and incorporates ten tools. The Micra typically does not come with a sheath. (https://www.leatherman.com/micra-20.html)

         I have not put a lot of effort into purchasing Leatherman Micra multitools for barter/resale. New Micras almost always sell on ebay for more than my two-thirds-of-Amazon price limit, although I have stumbled into a few listings that were within my price limit. I believe the reason Micra prices are comparatively high is because the shipping cost is a larger portion of the total purchase price.

         Over the past several years I had purchased several TSA confiscated (used) Leatherman Micra multitools for personal use. The prices ranged from one-third to over one-half the retail price of a new Micra. Better condition Micras commanded a better price. With many of those used Micras, the scissors had been dulled from misuse, and needed to be sharpened - a non-trivial problem I have
yet to adequately solve - to be usable.

Leatherman Parts and Accessories

         Since used multitools frequently come without a sheath and the removable/reversible bits for the Leatherman Wave can be missing or damaged, obtaining these missing components is desirable. A sheath is nice to have, but broken or missing screwdriver bits for the Wave must be replaced to restore full functionality to the multitool.

          Replacement screwdriver bits are available, however finding just the two needed for the Wave is difficult. A five-piece bit set is available through Amazon for around eleven dollars. A couple of times, I have been able to find the two-piece bit set on ebay for six dollars.

         Leatherman sheaths are readily available, and are typically priced from eleven to fifteen dollars, with after-market and special styles selling for even more. Surprisingly, I have not seen any significant discounts available for Leatherman sheaths on ebay over the prices found on Amazon.

         There are a variety of replacement blades available on ebay for Leatherman multitools. The prices generally seem reasonable if you are repairing a multitool you damaged. I don't believe it is economical to buy and repair damaged multitools for barter or trade.

         The replacement wire-cutter blades for the Rebar and Wave+ (and several other Leatherman models) are available from a variety of sources for around ten dollars per set.

Note on Leatherman Packaging

         New-in-package Leatherman multitools come in three packaging styles: (1) an unsealed cardboard box, (2) blister packaging where the clear plastic shell holding the product is surrounded by a printed cardboard frame, and (3) a clear plastic clamshell.

       Most of the new-in-package Leatherman multitools I have purchased through ebay have come in either a blister or clamshell package. Most of these packages will have some kind of cosmetic damage making them unsaleable in a retail store. With the blister packages, the cardboard frame will have bent corners, the hole for the peg has been torn through, or other damage. With the clamshell packages, the outer shell will be damaged in some way, suggesting it had been partially crushed or someone had attempted to steal it by removing the security tag inside the package. In all cases, the multitool was undamaged and untouched.

Gerber Multitools

         My first multitool was an early Gerber multitool. While it did the job, I was never really enthusiastic about it. Fast-forward many years, and I recently discovered the Gerber MP600 family of multitools. The MP600 fixed most of the things I didn't like in that original Gerber multitool.

        There are many variants of the MP600. I will be focus primarily on three models that have been issued to the military, the MP600 with tungsten-carbide wire cutters, the MP600-ST (Sight Tool), and the MP600 DET (Demolition Explosion Tool) EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal). All three models have needle-nose pliers. The military-issue models all have a black-oxide finish. These three
models regularly show up in ebay listed as military surplus.

         In addition to the three military models mentioned above, there is also a basic MP600 that lacks the tungsten-carbide wire cutters. And, while not formally part of the MP600 series, Gerber also produces a very similar model known as the Diesel.

         Many Gerber multitools are made in China, but the MP600 series multitools I have encountered have all been made in the US. The Diesel is assembled in the US from US and Chinese components, but does not have USA stamped on it as the country of origin.

Left to right: Gerber MP600 DET EOD, MP600 with tungsten-carbide wire cutters, MP600 Sight Tool, and MP600 Basic.
Gerber MP600 with Tungsten-Carbide Wire Cutters

       The Gerber MP600 with tungsten-carbide wire cutters is a full-sized multitool with a closed length of 5 inches, weighs 9 ounces, and incorporates 15 tools. The tungsten-carbide wire cutter blades are replaceable. The pliers can be opened with one hand. (https://www.gerbergear.com/Multi-Tools/One-Hand-Opening/MP600-TAN499-Sheath_30-000453)

        The Gerber MP600 with tungsten-carbide wire cutters is sold to the military (it is also available to civilians), and many are being sold on ebay as military surplus. While this model of multitool is readily available on ebay, they are not as common as the Leatherman multitools I discussed above, and most are sold as a regular auction.

        The tungsten-carbide wire cutters on the MP600 are replaceable. They are triangular in shape and when one cutting surface becomes damaged, the tungsten-carbide insert can be rotated to expose an undamaged cutting surface. New tungsten-carbide inserts are readily available from a variety of sources.

         While I have not yet been able to establish a firm price point for this multitool, I have been able to pick up several used examples using buy-it-now for 30 to 50 percent of the Amazon price, with the higher priced examples coming with a sheath. With one exception (the lowest price example), where I didn't pay sufficient attention to the pictures, all have been in very good condition after being cleaned up. One of the cheapest examples had some rust on it, but cleaned up nicely.

Gerber MP600 Sight Tool

         The Gerber MP600-ST, is a full-sized multitool with a closed length of five inches, weighs 8.2 ounces, and incorporates 15 tools, including a front sight post adjustment tool and carbon scraper intended for use on M-16/M-4/AR-15 weapons. The tungsten-carbide wire cutter blades are replaceable. The pliers can be opened with one hand. (https://www.gerbergear.com/Multi-Tools/One-Hand-Opening/MP600-ST_30-000588)

        Like the MP600 above, I have not yet been able to establish a firm price point for this multitool. So far, I have only picked up a few examples in good condition starting at about 50-percent of the Amazon price. One example was sold as new without a sheath, and it cost about 56-percent of the Amazon price.

        I did purchase one example that was 40-percent of the Amazon price, but it had a damaged front sight post adjustment tool, with two of the four prongs broken off. The lessons-learned from this purchase are to closely examine the pictures, paying particular attention to the condition of the prongs on the front sight post adjustment tool since they are comparatively fragile, and assume blurry pictures are blurry to hide defects. In other words, if you can't clearly see the condition of the front sight tool and see all four prongs in the pictures, don't buy the multitool.

         The sight post adjustment tool is removable, and is held in place on the multitool with a magnet. This tool can be lost, and replacements are not available. I have tried to obtain a replacement sight post adjustment tool, but Gerber does not stock them.

Gerber MP600 DET EOD

         The Gerber MP600 DET (Demolition Explosion Tool) EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) is a full-sized multitool with a closed length of five inches, weighs 9 ounces, and incorporates 13 tools. This multitool is designed for use by military combat engineers and includes a blasting cap crimper and a sharp punch for making holes in blocks/sticks of explosives. The pliers can be opened with one hand. (https://www.gerbergear.com/Multi-Tools/One-Hand-Opening/MP600-DET_07400)

         I have not tried to establish a firm price point for this multitool. I have purchased exactly two used examples of this tool, and paid approximately 40-percent of the Amazon price for each tool. I purchased these tools as part of my research for the recently published counterfeit products article.

        I don't see the MP600 DET EOD as a viable TEOTWAWKI barter/resale multitool because of the way the blasting cap crimper is implemented, rendering the pliers all but useless.

Gerber MP600 Basic

        The MP600 is a full-sized multitool with a closed length of five inches, weights 9 ounces and incorporates 14 tools. The wire cutters are part of the pliers head and are not replaceable. The pliers can be opened with one hand. (https://www.gerbergear.com/Collections/MP600/MP600_47550)

        I have only purchased one example of this multitool because the military variant with tungsten-carbide wire cutters is so common and usually sells used for roughly the same price.

Gerber Diesel

        The Diesel is a full-sized multitool with a closed length of five inches, weighs 8.6 ounces, and incorporates 15 tools. Its tool set includes a saw and scissors. The pliers can be opened with one hand. (https://www.gerbergear.com/Multi-Tools/One-Hand-Opening/Diesel-Tool_22-01545)

          I have only purchased a couple of examples of this multitool - a new one from Amazon and a used one on ebay. The Diesel is not as common as the MP600 series multitools on ebay. I have not been able to identify a price point for this multitool.

         Unlike the MP600 series multitools, the pivot screws on the Diesel can be adjusted/removed with a common Torx T8 driver.

         The Diesel stands out from the MP600 series with the inclusion of a saw blade similar to that found on the full-sized Leatherman multitools discussed above.

Gerber Multitool Parts and Accessories

          About the only readily available replacement parts for the Gerber multitools discussed above are replacement tungsten-carbide inserts for the wire cutters, which are available for about $20 from a variety of sources.

         The above Gerber multitools were frequently supplied new with Molle sheaths. Gerber and aftermarket Molle sheaths are readily available for reasonable prices on ebay.

New versus Used

         As I have discussed above, overall, there is not a significant price difference between new and used Leatherman multitools. However, there can be a significant difference in price between new and used for the Gerber multitools mentioned above.

         There is a lot more price variability with used multitools, which creates the occasional opportunity to pick up a true bargain.

         When deciding whether or not to purchase a used multitool, carefully examine the pictures of the multitool - look for missing tools/blades, broken/chipped blades, and twisted or rounded screwdriver blades - and carefully read the seller's description. I have noticed a surprising number Gerber MP600-series multitools are sold with broken tools/blades - typically the file, but also regular knife blades. If there is any doubt as to condition or model, do not buy or bid.

         Make sure you can identify the multitool model from the pictures - do not rely on the seller's description. Occasionally, the multitool will be misidentified in the ebay listing title. I have have been surprised at how often a regular MP600 is identified as a more valuable MP600 Sight Tool.

         Also consider the cost of missing components, such as the sheath or removable/reversible bits when evaluating a used multitool. The cost of replacing missing components could eliminate any apparent price advantage of a used multitool. For example, that used Leatherman Wave I mentioned above cost about thirty-four dollars. It came without a sheath, and one of the reversible screwdriver bits was damaged. The damage to the reversible screwdriver bit was not visible in the pictures of that Wave, and I doubt the seller inspected it in sufficient detail to discover the damaged bit. Adding the cost of replacement bits at six to eleven dollars and a sheath for eleven to fifteen dollars puts the final cost of that used Wave at fifty to sixty dollars depending on how carefully I shop for the accessories. Fifty to sixty dollars puts me into the range of a new Wave.

Counterfeit Multitools

       I have personally only seen counterfeits of the Leatherman Tread multitool bracelet and Gerber MP600 DET EOD multitool on ebay, other counterfeit multitools may be available on ebay.

         While there are many indicators for a counterfeit multitool, the number one indicator is an unexpectedly low price. A secondary indicator is a US-made multitool being sold as new by a Chinese seller. See my recent article on counterfeit products for an expanded discussion of counterfeit multitools. (http://practicaleschatology.blogspot.com/2018/08/the-realist-counterfeit-products.html)

Various tools I use when working on multitools. Far left, five and six point T10 Torx security bits and a Torx Allen wrench. Left, wrench set for Leatherman pivot screws. Left of center, generic multi-bit Torx screw driver. Right, two Vampliers screw pliers.

Tools for Working on Multitools

         Over the years, I have had the need to occasionally disassemble or make adjustments to multitools. Most of these adjustments have consisted of loosening or tightening pivot screws. I have disassembled several Leatherman Micra multitools to facilitate sharpening the scissors. And, I have replaced/adjusted the replaceable tungsten-carbide wire cutters on some multitools. For the most
part, standard tools are not helpful.

        In my experience, Leatherman and Gerber multitools have frequently used screws requiring non-standard bits. At best, some of the Leatherman multitools use tamper-resistant Torx screws.

        Many Leatherman multitools use a pivot screw with a proprietary head that looks a lot like a thin knurled knob. If you are lucky, you can get sufficient purchase with standard needle nose pliers to loosen or tighten them. I'm sure the Leatherman factory has their own proprietary bits for these screws, but they do not sell those bits to the outside world.

         To work with those knurled screw heads, someone recommended buying two Vampliers VT-001-5 screw pliers (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LMMU2HG). These pliers work adequately for those screws. Recently, I learned of an ebay seller, loki-mobile in St. Petersburg, Russia, who makes and sells a custom wrench set (sold in pairs) for these Leatherman pivot screws. The custom wrench set works much better than the Vampliers screw pliers.

          Similarly, the Gerber MP600-series tools utilize pivot screws with a proprietary head. I have not looked for a specialized bit for those screws because the Vamplier screw pliers worked adequately for loosening and tightening those screws. (As I was finishing this article, I discovered that loki-mobile is now selling a specialized wrench set for the MP600-series pivot screws.)

           Some Leatherman multitools use pivot screws requiring a Torx T-10 security bit. For multitools using a Torx pivot screws manufactured before around 2004, they used a five-point security bit, while multitools manufactured after 2004 used the more common six-point security bit. You can either buy a pair of security bits, or buy a pair of L-shaped wrenches - yes, you need a pair of bits/wrenches.

           So far, the replaceable tungsten-carbide wire cutter blades for both Leatherman and Gerber utilize standard Torx T-8 screws.

Conclusion

          Above, I discussed my strategy for purchasing multitools on ebay. My strategy is a process of discovering a price point where specific models of multitools can be purchased with sufficient frequency to satisfy my needs, and then exercising discipline when making purchases. I focused on new Leatherman multitools because used prices were not appreciably discounted relative to the new price. I also focused on used Gerber multitools because their prices were sufficiently discounted relative to new multitools.

           While the multitool buying strategy I described above worked for me, it may not work for you, and it may not work for me in the future. Maybe you prefer a different brand of multitool, or a broader mix of multitool brands. Or, maybe you want to focus on lower cost multitools.

          Be aware of the possibility of counterfeit or knock-off multitools on ebay. Always scrutinize any listing of interest before making a purchase or placing a bid.

          Numerous survival/preparedness articles and posts have discussed various post-TEOTWAWKI barter scenarios, including goods that the authors believe would have value post-TEOTWAWKI. With this article, I continue to add my opinions to that larger discussion.

         As a final thought: Do not acquire barter items at the expense of delaying or short-changing your personal preparedness.

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