Let's be honest: our obsession with gear and gadgets can be expensive. One of the best ways to mitigate costs is to go to the secondary or used market. This post is designed to help you out by giving you an introduction to Buy Sell Trade sections of forums. These places are full of great sellers with great, sometimes hard to find gear, usually in really good shape. Knowing the ins and outs can save you money and help find that item you can't seem to locate anywhere else.
Most forums have a used goods section. These sections are generally accessible only to members with some track record in the forum. I know that EDCF's used section requires a certain number of posts (15), for example, before you can buy and sell stuff. These boards have developed there own lingo. Generally they are listed as B/S/T for Buy, Sell, and Trade. The topics are introduced using a standard format: "WTS: Small Sebenza," for example. There are a few permutations of this format:
WTS: Willing to Sell
WTT: Willing to Trade (Away)
WTB: Willing to Buy
WTTF: Willing to Trade For
In some places, like the Marketplace for CPF, the formats are very specific, such as "WTT Novatac Storm For Lumapower Incendio". This allows people to quickly see what you have and what you want. Some posts are labeled or denote CONUS, which stands for Continental US sales only (usually to save on shipping costs). Some posts mark items as "$15 shipped" while others indicate that shipping is separate. Shipping can be expensive and it is also a place where folks can hide the price of an item, turning a profit based on large shipping costs, so be very aware of this prior to a purchase. Some posts want people to reply in the thread to mark who has sales priority, while others rely on PMs. I like the more open threads--with clear shipping costs (or better yet, items marked with a flat rate for both the item and its shipping) and with replies to the thread establishing priority. Most people take PayPal and only PayPal, which is great because it is easy to use and has a very effective protection policy (in the first stage of its dispute resolution essentially PayPal deactivates the both party's accounts, freezing incoming and outgoing cash, until the dispute is resolved favorably to both sides).
There are some huge positives getting gear through forums. First, you can get custom stuff that is just not available anywhere else. Where else are you going to get a Mr. Bulk Lion Cub in Aluminum? Candlepower Forum's Custom and Modified BST is an excellent place to find and check out amazing, rare, completely unusual lights and most, if not all, will never, ever see the light of day on eBay.
Second, even if the gear is publicly available, you can find stuff on forums that gets snapped up very quickly. Atwoods last about as long as vapor on his website, but you can find them quite readily on EDCF's BST (with a significant price increase). Similarly, Busse's latest death dealers can be nearly impossible to get from their creator, but BladeForums and KnifeForums BST regularly have them on sale.
Third, you can make sure that you are getting what you want and communicate readily with the seller. Lots of really good people post stuff on forum BSTs and with the forum format you can ask questions and get answers quickly. The public nature of the process gives the seller two incentives to respond: 1) your question gets his or her post back to the top of the "new threads" and get the seller's attention; and 2) your question may spur others to ask the same thing and thus pushing the seller even more to respond.
While you can find stuff cheaper than retail, the cost is only really a secondary motive to go to BST. These are places populated by folks that spend a lot of time and energy on their hobby and so they not only know which item is gold and which is garbage, generally speaking they take care of their things very, very well. A knife on Bladeforums that passes for Mint in the eyes of a novice or an eBay seller, is probably not truly Mint to someone in the know. With that better knowledge and better condition, you also get a slightly higher cost. The people in BSTs generally know what stuff is worth and price it accordingly.
In some cases there is really no other way to get something than to turn to the BST board of a forum. It is virtually impossible now, outside the random, overpriced eBay auction to find one of my favorite Spyderco designs, the Chad Los Banos Lava A better bet is to head to a BST, like the one on Bladeforums and look around.
There are, of course, pitfalls in going the forum BST route. First, a lot of the forums are VERY specialized, so unless you know what your doing you might buy the wrong thing. Here are some samples from CPF's Custom or Modified BST:
"McGizmo Ti Mule, no LE, host only"
"Quad XP-G 5.6A 3-mode P60"
"Milky Project-M x813 M3"
That is a lot of jargon for so few words. Parsing all of this takes time and experience. Sometimes even reading the original post leaves you confused. A PM to the poster may help, but before you lay out $200 on a QuadXP-G 5.6A 3-mode P60, you need to know: a) what it is; and b) how you use it. In reality, this post is advertising a "drop-in" light engine for the Surefire 6P host that uses four XP-G LEDs that use up to 5.6 amps and have three output modes. It is not a flashlight at all, but a part for a flashlight (a very nice part).
Second issue--no warranty. If this stuff breaks or doesn't work you are out of luck. There is not a whole lot you can do as recourse. I am sure you can talk to folks about what happened, but generally speaking this is all "as is" stuff. Even if it is not, it is very difficult, absent the PayPal dispute system, to track them down and force them to compensate you.
Potential for fraud is huge on BSTs. Unlike eBay which has a formalized grading system for sellers, most BSTs have a feedback forum at best, or nothing at worst. What's the worst that happens to a fraudulent seller on a BST? They can get ostracized from the community. Oh that's terrible. If someone really wanted to screw people over, they could get an account on the forum, set up a alternative PayPal account, and fraud away.
What to Look For
There are a few hallmarks of legit sellers. First, if it is someone that has a high post count, they are likely to be more legit than others. Very few scam artists would set up a fake account and make a 1000 posts only to pull off a fraudulent BST transaction. Second, good sellers will post lots and lots of pictures. Here is an EXCELLENT BST thread on EDCF:
Polygeist's EDC Knife Sale
I can't vouch for this person from my own experience, but he or she has a high post count, a supporter badge, and a lot of photos and organization in the thread. This much time and effort is unlikely to happen in a fake BST thread. Third, look at the stuff they are selling and the price. If Polygeist had the Boker Subcom Titan on sale for $5 then you'd have a good idea that it is fake. At $25 you know he or she has a real item and is selling it aggressively. Also look for detailed accounts of the flaws on an item. I personally post pictures of the flaws and point them out when I do a BST thread. If there is a description of the flaws along with photographic evidence there is a good chance that thread is legit. It also means you know what your getting.
There are also ways to get really good deals, but it is all based on timing. Be on the look out for stuff when a new or upgraded model comes out. If you checked the BST boards on CPF after the HDS Rotary was announced you saw a flood of regular HDS lights being offered at insane prices. People needed to get some cash quick to get the new light. The same is true for knives when the maker offers them in new and upgraded steels. If you can tolerate the previous generation of a piece of gear you can get them at huge discounts.
Also, be willing and able to pounce. Sometimes a fellow forum member needs some quick cash so they will part with a cherished piece of gear, knowing that it will convert into cash quicker than a less vaunted item. So when these jewels come up, rarely as that is, you need to be able to jump on the opportunity. If your in the market for one of these items, a special edition Sebenza or Strider, a classic McGizmo, or a Spy 007, set aside some money and prowl the BSTs for a while. You just might get lucky and find it on a BST. A Small Sebenza or PT Strider come up on the EDCF BST probably once every six months and they are usually sold within a day or two. The same thing happens with classic lights. A Lunasol 20 typically lasts about two days on the CPF BST. Having a reserve of cash for that grail item you have been looking for really helps when you, during a weekly scan of relevant BST threads, see: "WTS: Lunasol 20".
I hope this helped a little. BSTs can be one of the best, if not THE BEST, source for gear. If you play your cards right you just might be able to score the deal of the century for cheap.