How to use craigslist to build a garage gym for pennies on the dollar

Use craigslist like a boss

I'm a big fan of reddit. There are some awesome people on there sharing their knowledge. When I saw Joe Gray posting his craigslist knowledge, I immediately asked him if I could share his learnings with you. Thankfully, he agreed. Joe's main interest in craigslist is finding vintage iron for him to restore. We've peppered a few shots of his restorations through the article.

Vintage iron from craigslist

Enter Joe:

I've been moderately successful with my local Craigslist, nothing like a lot of the flippers who manage to make a fully functioning commercial gym for "free", but I figured I'd share the love a little, and hope others can provide their input as well.

Weight plates before refurb

Know your intent

  • Are you in for deals on equipment to build your gym? Looking for a new bench, dumbbells, bar, etc.?
  • Or are you a flipper, trying to make cash? Picking up and selling equipment to fund your next purchase?
  • Maybe both? Many have done well buying large deals, flipping 80+% of it, and keeping the bar or plates or bench that they wanted, recouping or even making money off the deal, and getting that one item they wanted for free.
  • Figure out what you want out of the used market, and find your area of expertise. I tend to stick to plates, bars, and that is about it. On occasion, if it is a crazy deal, I'll grab a rack or bench, etc. But they take up more space, that I just don't have.

Know your Limits

  • How much cash do you have to work with? If you have $1000 to work with, that means more opportunities than $100.
  • How much space do you have to fit possible “leftovers” while flipping equipment? If you REALLY want that bench, but it comes with 400lbs of plates, a rack, and a bar you don't want, can you grab the entire thing and shove some in the corner?
  • How far are you willing to drive for a deal? Many are willing to do overnight trips for deals. Some stick to their 30 minute radius.
  • What do you value as a “deal”?
  • Make sure to factor in your time into these decisions, as travel time = gas as well as time you could be doing something else. Refurb time = time you could be doing something else.
  • What tools do you have/ are willing to buy?
  • Refurbishing means cleaners, brushes, possibly paint stripper, eye and hand and face protection, paint, paint, and more paint.
  • You’ll also probably need a vehicle that can hold the various items. Think about the weather as well. If you have an open bed truck, it’ll fit more, but rain on your brand new bars is not fun. Be ready to haul hundreds of pounds of dirty equipment into the back of whatever vehicle you own.
  • You’ll also possibly need some tools. Wrenches and sockets. I’ve lucked out and found a couple of people who helped break down their equipment, others that didn’t. Some help load, some don’t.

Weight plates in mid refurb

Know your market

  • Some markets are BUMPING with new stuff regularly, cheap deals, quality stuff, etc. You are probably going to be able to be a bit pickier and wait for the deal you want.
  • Some are not. Some areas may simply have to deal with getting the random deal, but mostly buy new. If you find something, nab it.
  • Factor in resale value of everything. Buying a Rogue rack, though more expensive, typically resells for 80%+ on craigslist.
  • Every market has different items that move well. Even a few hours separation could mean the difference between an item sitting for months, or moving the first day. I live north of Sacramento, and the PowerBlock benches sit for days and weeks. A buddy lives in San Jose, and he flips them weekly for more than they sit at in my market.

Learn to spot quality equipment, whether new or vintage

  • “Weight is Weight” – Technically, kind of true. The cheaper plates have quality issues in terms of their accuracy (some are circa 40lbs instead of 45), their hole tolerance (the 2inch hole is more like 2.5, which makes more noise and puts more stress on your bar), and are more likely to break during deadlifts or with a drop
  • This doesn’t mean they should be avoided, just keep in mind that .50/lb. for Ivanko plates is a MUCH better deal than .50/lb. for Cap plates
  • This becomes more important when you are factoring in refurb time. If a CAP plate needs 30mins of work to clean and paint, you are losing MOST of your savings at .50/lb
  • Learn to recognize better brand names, like Parabody, Hammer Strength, Rogue, York, Ivanko, Paramount, Hampton, etc.
  • Note that MOST bars with a hex bolt end cap, unless older, tend to be the poorer quality bars.
  • For plates, learn to recognize the lettering styles of the more “quality” brands... Ivanko, York, Paramount, etc.
  • Know that the older “vintage” stuff tends to be higher quality than a lot of the cheaper made in China stuff today, at least for plates, dumbbells, and some bars.
  • This doesn’t apply to the better names, like Ivanko or Eleiko. But I’d personally take some Paramount 80s plates for .50/lb. off craigslist than brand new CAP plates off Amazon.
  • I figure, if it has lasted 30+years of use and abuse, and only shows some wear and tear in terms of dirt, it is good to go in my book.

Ivanko vintage weight plate after refurb

Don’t be afraid of dirt, grime, and rust

  • Most rust is going to be surface rust. This means the metal simply needs some love and attention with some brushes, CLR, WD-40, etc.
  • Plates are easy. Clean them up, hose them down, let them dry, paint them, use them. As long as the plates aren’t pitted, meaning they have large pieces that have been eaten away by the rust, you are solid.
  • Here are a few pics of plates I’ve grabbed, then what they look like now in my set up.
  • Benches, racks, etc. are somewhere in a grey area. Again, surface rust is no big deal as long as you can clean it out, oil/paint, and keep it clean/dry going forward.
  • I’d personally be wary of a rack that was left outside long term and you can’t get INSIDE the rack to clean it. Same goes with a bench or any other equipment that you are putting a lot of trust into to support your weight + a few hundred pounds.
  • Barbells are somewhere between the two. Again, look for no pitting, but keep in mind you might be able to get a quality raw steel York bark from the 80s for $100. It may not clean up to that bright shiny look, it’ll probably have some discoloration, even after a really good clean, but you are getting a quality bar for 1/3 the price.

Search Tips

  • Try multiple search terms, even misspelling terms. I've seen Rogue and Rouge, Dumbbell and Dumbell, all bring up different results. Gym Equipment, Weights, Free Weights, Olympic, Barbell, Bench, Squat, Dumbell, Dumbbell, Etc.
  • Search Tempest sometimes gives me deals that Craigslist seems to think is “out of my area”
  • Ask for pictures
  • Some of the better deals I’ve found, were people posting generic listings with no pictures Gym equipment for sale, moving today, need gone”… This might be garbage, or it could be EXCELLENT! Ask for pics, and you may score.

Standard plate after refurb

Haggle for a deal

  • This one is up to you, but I typically go by a few thingS
  • If it is already a fantastic deal, I don’t even bother. I got about $2500 worth of clean, no rust or dust, equipment for about $600. I didn’t even make an attempt to barter and potentially lose the deal.
  • If the ad has been up for awhile, this is when I typically barter. I found a $650 ad for “some plates, a bar, and a bench”. The bench was old and mostly useless, but after talking with the guy for two days, we landed on $250. It was 700lbs of 80s Vintage Olympic Plates, 150lbs of standard, about 50lbs of random hex dumbbells, and an old 80s vintage bar that I cleaned up.

Not an all encompassing How-To, by any means. But it tends to be the way I've found good deals, both to keep, to flip, and to piece out. So far, I've managed to add equipment to my gym, upgrade several areas, all while covering my entire craigslist expense, and putting a few hundred dollars in my pocket. The goal, for me, is to flip enough to cover my entire new purchase expense, and basically sum out to "0".

TL;DR - Used equipment can save you cash, but you need to know what you are getting yourself into.

Change plates after refurb

Thanks, Joe! Here's a little more about him:

I've been lifting since I was about 13, but didn't find a passion for it until about my Sophomore year of College. From then on I've experimented, upgraded, and tweaked my diet and programming depending on goals, knowledge and schedule. I'm a bodybuilder by all accounts, but the big three will always find their way as the cornerstone of my routines.

I started my garage gym in 2013 with a rack, bar, bench, DIY platform and some plates and it has grown from there. The best part, is I no longer have to "find time" to get to the gym. I simply know I need 1-2 hours a day carved out, I walk into the garage and hit it hard. I'm getting my Masters in Instructional Design and Technology, working 40+ hours a week, and trying to balance a healthy personal life, having the gym ready for me at all times is a life saver.

My personal motto, which guides almost everything I do, Better than Yesterday. This defines who I am, what I value, my view of the world, and my goals in life. Each day, I simply try to be a little better than I was the day before. A little smarter, a little stronger, a little happier.

Check out his blog here.



  • Joe

    Hey Guy,

    I haven’t had the fortune of owning a vintage York bar, so I’m not personally experienced there, but I have seen a lot of comments on it. I’ve read you need a “punch” to get that pin out. Hopefully that helps. This post has it, though the images are dead:

  • Guy

    I’ve got my dad’s vintage split end York bar that I am trying to refurbish. Any tips on getting the pins out of the end? I have tried letting 3 in 1 oil soak in there and knocking it out with a 1/4" bolt and hammer, but the pin won’t move. Any ideas? Thanks.

  • Joe Gray

    Hi Nick,

    Prep for plates and dumbbells would probably be:

    Depending on the amount of rust…

    Heavy Rust/Dirt = Wire Brush on a drill, mineral spirits/CLR, then hand brush for lettering and smaller areas.
    Light = Light sanding with sand paper to get anything loose off, then wipe down and paint.
    No rust = Wipe down and paint.

    Also, with DBs, it depends on the type. If they are hex, I did some myself. I used paint stripper to start from scratch, taped the handles, painted the heads, and then oiled the handles.

    For bars, I think Peter plans to post another blog from me on barbell restoration in the future, so stay tuned.

  • Nick Wheeler

    I’ve got some rusty dumbbells is like to clean up. Do you just paint over the rust? What’s the prep before paint. Same thing with barbells, how to prep?

  • Joe Gray

    Hey Adam,

    This is what I did:

    Plates = Rustoleum Hammered Black in a spray can

    White Lettering = Rustoleum Flat White in a can

    Red Numbering = Sharpie Bold Paint Pen

    Then for touch up, as I’m not the cleanest painter, and since metal on metal does chip a bit: Rustoleum Hammered in a can.

    I have about 99.99999% of the white left. Grab the smallest bucket possible. Use the smallest foam brush you can find for this, and you’ll need at least two passes on each plate probably. So I did three plates at a time. Then went back over them. Moved onto the next three. You’ll use a decent amount of spray cans. And the red sharpie is still kicking, even after a few coats on each number.

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