Quality of Harbor Freight and Chicago Electric tools

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Harbor Freight seems to have some very attractively priced power tools, particularly those under the "Chicago Electric Power".
What has been your experience with Harbor Freight in general and with the Chicago Electric brand in particular? - How does the quality and value stack up? - If one is a serious hobbyist who doesn't have unlimited money to spend on tools, is it better to buy fewer name-brand, high-priced tools or go for a broader range of Chicago Electric brand tools to fill out my home shop?
Presumably you never get something for nothing so I imagine the quality of a 29.95 sawzall type tool can't be as good as a $200 Milwaukee version... but that being said, is it worth buying this stuff?
Please share your experiences and advice from a hobbyist perspective (I know that if you use your tools professionally 8+ hours/day then it pays to buy the best).
Thanks
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Jeffrey J. Kosowsky wrote:

and decided he liked biscuits so he bought a better one. I used it to make my router table but that is the only time I've used it so far. It has a scratchy sound while running that makes you think its going to let the magic smoke out any minute but managed to hold together so far. It isn't very accurate, the plastic fence flexes and will move a bit from the start of the project until the finish so its not something you would want to make real fine furniture with or use a lot.
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Hi,
A contractor friend of mine told me that voltage, translates into work.
So I ordered a right angle cordless drill at 18V., and a regular cordless drill, also at 18V. .
After endless charging sessions, I did get ONE hole, in a plastic cup, using a wire drill, ~1/32", (or-so) - and nothing else.
Now, I've got to locate quality 18V. batteries, or try to repair the four that HF sent.
Lesson learned.
Ken .
On Mon, 22 Nov 2004 22:39:41 +0000,

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From my experience, HF tools in general are both cheap and inexpensive. I have some really nice, cheap, automotive measuring gauges, for the little I use them, they're fantastic. If I were a mechanic, they would have never have held up. I also have a HF sand blaster and table saw. Again, for the little I use these things, they are perfectly fine. I would never buy a tool from them and expect it to work as well or hold up like a professional quality tool would.
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I'v e had reasonable results with their Drill Master cordless drills. However, their Pittsburgh flare wrenches were worse than useless.
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Christopher A. Young
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The jigsaw I bought,a HF clone of a Bosch 1581,is a great tool. Got it for $59USD.+ shipping.(on sale)
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Jim Yanik
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cordless drill at a dollar a volt), some are quite reasonable - box-of-chocolates sort of thing. A 36-pack of disposable paint brushes for $6 was a pretty good deal, as were the $2 multi-meters (so I can loan them out; never to return, instead of my Flukes ;-).
I recently bought their 10" Sliding Compound Miter Saw. While it's no Hitachi, it is actually pretty good, at 1/5 the price. I cut some molding with it and the miters are dead on. For $100 I was quite impressed.
--
Keith

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I had an order come up short one item. Called them on the phone, and they shipped the missing item promptly.
Have you called them about warranty return?
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Christopher A. Young
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Harbor Freight sells JUNK and ONLY JUNK. Send the thing back and demand a refund. Be prepared to get a credit slip and no refund. I think we have all been suckered into buying from HF and we all learned the hard way.
On Wed, 19 Oct 2005 16:31:10 -0700, Real Name

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I don't have the Chicago Electric drills but I have 2 12Volt Drill Master which I suppose are made by the same manufacturer. Had them for over a year and they perform just fine for occasional use. I watch carefully that I don't over charge them. I have friends that have higher power Harbor Freight drills (don't know if they are Chicago Electric or Drill Master) and they don't have a problem.
After endless charging? Sure you didn't fry the batteries? Mine say charge 5-6 hours maximum.
Real Name wrote:

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but he supplies his crew with them anyway because so many of his tools get stolen by them. He says they are less inclined to steal crappy tools than good ones and if they do it is no big loss.-Jitney
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On 20 Oct 2005 05:30:45 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:
<snipped>

Along the same line, I bought a chicago freight 1/2 inch drill. With less than an hour of use the switch quit in the forward direction. It would run only in reverse. So I took it apart & rewired it to run forward. Nice thing about it was I could leave it on a job & no one would steal it. Lasted about 4 months after it finally quit.
I'll need to get a couple of years out of my new dewalt to get the same $ value before it disappears.
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You do get what you pay for, as others have pointed out it may be enough for the occasional use. In my case, I needed to cut a cast-iron septic pipe and didn't have a sawzall at the time. So I paid the $30 or so for the cheap-o version and used it with the thought of: "if it falls in, I'll just leave it there - no need to go 'fishing'". It worked for that job, and a few others and finally the gearbox seized up while doing some demolition work on an old deck.
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My personal experience is that if you are only a hobbyist, you can get away with buying *some* cheaper tools. For example, I would never buy cheap cordless drills because the batteries they put on them are pretty much useless. On the other hand, I have paid next to nothing for some corded drills and they have lasted me 5+ years with no problems so far (just brush changes etc).
I also have a cheap rotary tool, a couple small cheap routers I use for trimming and edging and these have worked fine too. You can get away with cheap air tools as well if they are only for occassional use.
For tools like miter saws, heavier duty routers, tablesaws etc, it pays to buy quality.
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Dean Bielanowski Editor, Online Tool Reviews http://www.onlinetoolreviews.com Over 60 woodworking product reviews online! ------------------------------------------------------------ Latest 6 Reviews: - Festool CT22E Dust Extractor - Fasco GN-40A Brad Nailer - Taunton's Complete Illustrated Guide to Furniture & Cabinet Construction - Milescraft SignCrafter - Ryobi EMS1830SCL 12" SCMS - Bessey K-Body Clamps ------------------------------------------------------------
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IF you can try it before buying, you can get a feel of the quality of THAT tool, quality control is very hap-hazard. One will be smooth, the next one ruffer then a cob. I do have a 14 in. band saw and a 7 in. jointer, pleased with both.
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I got the cheap "Chicago Electric" Wet saw for $69 (made in China) a few weeks ago, and it has cut a few hundred 12" ceremic tiles with no problem. The top did get some rust since I left it without clean up for several days.
As for cordless, I got a cheap made in China ($50) 16.8V Craftman cordless 2 1/2 year ago. I used it to finish my basement - 2 25lb boxes of 3" and 1 25lb box of 1 5/8" screws later, it becomes weak a bit. But it will probably last while. That drill kit includes 2 batteries, 1 hand vac and a hard carry box.
So if you are not using those tools for a living, I guess they are just fine for your projects.
Woodcrafter wrote:

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I have on of their edge grinders (less than $20) for about three years. Perhaps use it once a month so it does an adequate job for me.
$200 is kind of high for the saw. The price should be about $120. The Chicago saw is not as powerful. I bought one from Sears for about $50 a few years ago and am certain for what I had have used it for the Chicago would have been good enough.
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Jeffrey J. Kosowsky wrote:

Like the others have already said, if you are only going to use their tools once a month or so, and aren't going to drop them onto the ground from a couple of stories, they can do a credible job.
I got one of their portable bandsaws when it was on sale for around $60 and I swear it's the greatest thing since sliced bread for cutting almost anything from wood to 2" x 2" angle iron. I think I reach for it more often than any other hand power tool in my collection.
I've bought some of their router and other woodworking bits and they seem pretty workable for the occasional use I give them.
The only power tool I ever bought from them which was a real disappointment was their garden "shredder/chipper", bought when it was on sale for a little over $100. It's far too small do do any kind of real job converting brush into wood chips. I tried using it once last year and never bothered with it again, It took nearly an hour for me to get one bushel of homemade mulch. I'm about ready to give it to Goodwill before the year ends and take a charitable deduction for it, 'cause I get annoyed every time I look at it taking up space in the garage.
HTH,
Jeff
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Jeffry Wisnia

(W1BSV + Brass Rat '57 EE)
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I have their larger bandsaw on a stand; it's great. Their blades, though, are terrible.
I also bought their electric impact wrench about 12 years ago. It still works fine.
Since then I have bought a disc grinder, sawzall knockoff, lots of hand tools, compressor, hammer drill, floodlights, and their largest 3-in-1 multimachine. Everything works as advertised.
Last week I borrowed a friend's small (1300 psi I think) electric power washer he bought for $79. The damn thing did a great job washing my brick house and sidewalks.
I have been a satisfied customer for years and will continue to be.
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When building to a low price point, compromises in build quality have to be made. For example, contractor-grade power tools have ball bearing construction, whereas the Chicago Electric stuff has cheap bushings in their place. They work OK when new but wear quickly and develop tolerances that are unacceptable to tradesmen.
If you only use the tool once a month or so, it may last you a long time. But if you get involved in a couple weekend-long projects where the tool gets a thorough workout, don't be surprised if you have to make a trip to the builder's supply to replace with with a Porter Cable, Bosch, etc.
(snip)

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