A Harbor Freight Workshop

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First, I have no connection with Harbor Freight. I often see comments about HF, many times people just writing one line, without any real experience. I hope this helps someone in their pursuit for creating nice wood projects.
Background: I have actually two small shops, as I have a summer home with a shop. Both shops are in the garage. I am an amateur woodworker, but my boss in my daytime job thinks my work is great. [It's nice to be appreciated!]. I have a few stationary woodworking tools, and a collection of powered hand tools. I learned most of my skills from my dad, who is now legally blind, but still can create wood projects that put many woodworkers [including me!] to shame.
I have bought a handful of items from Harbor Freight. And, as most people on the boards say, you get what you pay for. I have found, overall, the HF tools fit my needs. I have bought tools at the local store, as well as mail order. As you will notice, I buy almost all their items on sale. Patience will allow you to save some money. And any HF buyer will know the trick about the suffixes when doing mail order.
Here are my short reviews:
Sliding Compound Miter Saw ($100): I am very happy with mine. The bevel and miter both cut square. The slide is reasonably smooth, I have done minor work to have the guard slide a bit smoother. I have their older model with the single slide. I probably would have opted for the two shaft slide unit if that was available when I bought mine. The electric brake is only medium and stops the blade at varying rates. I have owned it for almost 3 years.
Band Saw ($80): Bought a 3 wheel variable speed band saw about 10 years ago. Actually, it was a gift. Changed the blade, tweaked in the rollers, and it works fine. I will probably get a floor unit or a two wheel bench model before long. I think of this more as a fat scroll saw than a band saw.
Drill Press ($50): Bought a small table top drill press. Five speed with light and keyless chuck. Swear they use a sewing machine motor for it. It's fine for medium duty work. Anything really heavy, and you need to have a very sharp tool and a tender touch. But I think that is true will all machines.
Air Compressor ($100): 8 gallon 120 PSI. Works like a champ. Not a single leak in the set-up from the compressor to the final valve. I have one, and am considering a second unit for the second shop. VERY impressed. Have used it on site as well as in the shop.
Brad Nailer($19) Oh boy, is this a beauty. The only issue is it does not hold 1-1/4 inch brads. Better check that, now that I think about it. I doesn't hold the larger size that the Porter Cable did, which may be 1-1/2 inch. But that has become a minor issue. Very happy with item.
Roofing Nailer ($120) Junk. Fired no more than 10 nails in a row without jamming. Took it back, and ended up using a Porter Cable.
Wet Stone Grinder ($40) First one went back due to broken base. Second one is fine. Wheels needed dressing, but I expected that.
Mortising Machine ($100) I just received it. Contrary to complaints on this board, the spindle and the fence is square to the table, and the plastic handles to lock the table and hold-down are great. They do NOT get in the way on mine, as they have a clever design on the lever type handle to lock the handle in place as needed. They did appear to get in the way, until I figured out how to install the handles. Only have cut a couple of test mortises (mortici?). Will keep my chisels sharp and this will work nice.
Air Filter - Regulator - Oiler: The one I bought was junk. Holds for fittings were tapped at an angle. Leaks like a sieve. Unfortunately, I had it for almost 3 months before it was installed. Lesson learned. Out 20 bucks.
Air Coiler/Retractor and hose. Works fine. Swivel has a small leak. May fix it if I get some time.
Hand Tools: One set of crescent style wrenches appeared to move backwards on the thumb wheel. Screwdrivers set #1 had handles too small, opted for a different set with bigger handles and am quite satisfied. Wood Handle Chisels: Love them. Absolutely perfect. Hold an edge long enough for me. Pliers: Some are okay. Some older ones had trouble loosening up at the pivot. Clamps: Spring clamps and Pipe clamps. Fine. Get them on sale. Bench Vise: Needed an inexpensive one for a special project. The thread did not allow the jaws to move freely. Returned.
Biases: I have some biases as there are some brands I like and some I dislike. I have a Delta contractor saw which I love. I need a new table saw for the second shop and may end up buying a HF saw. Have not decided yet. I have a drill press that was bought from an industrial shop company (Production Tool Supply) about 15 years ago that weighs about 12 tons... just kidding ... but it is very nice. I have lots of Porter-Cable, all of which I am very happy with ... Left handed circular saw, selection of Air Nailers [all very nice], Router and Biscuit Joiner. All very nice, comfortable, and work hard!
I will admit that I have literally thrown away some tools after I decided the tool was either useless or dangerous. One was a bench top Craftsman table saw (unsteady), a Craftsman router (the famous slipping killer collet), Black and Decker Belt Sander (spent more time trying to keep the belt on than sanding). I will admit those two Craftsman issues have turned me 100% against Craftsman, and I will not consider any of their tools in the future. I still have a Craftsman Radial Arm saw which served it's purpose. But the Delta Contractors saw with the HF SCMS make a better combination, so the RAS is collecting dust.
HF Conclusion: As with all tools, from all companies, always open them up immediately, and use them. You are part of their quality control program. Remember when buying any product from overseas, that the steels, especially castings, may have some opens pores, etc. You need to decided when you receive the product, whether or not it will suit your needs. I may have been lucky on some of my purchases, but I think part of it is realizing that you may get something of inferior quality, and you need a game plan if that should happen. In addition, you may need to "tweak in" the tool after purchase. Be prepared for ESL (or third or more) instructions that have been photocopied many times! I usually download the instruction manual from their website before purchasing. If you can live with all these issues, you can be happy with the HF tools.
BTW, I am not planning on responding to flames, crude comments, slams, or other derogatory statements. If anyone has a specific question, I would be glad to answer. Please post to newsgroup so all can benefit,
Best of luck to all woodworkers, and please be safe. Alcohol and power tools do not mix.
-CG
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Others and myself have passed on some pretty good stories about their finish nailers. The ones discussed cost a little more, but only mid $twenties. I know a finish carpenter that has been using HF nailers for 2-3 years and cannot wear one out.

I bought one of these $100 sale items about three years ago on a whim. Have been pleasantly surprised. Plenty of power, pretty good chisels and descent lever force. I, however, am not as pleased with the hold down hardware. Might just be an older model. Or maybe I'm just spoiled by a cousin's Delta. Also the metal in the bushing that accepts the chisels seems a little soft. Main thing is it consistently cuts square holes, and lines them up faily well!
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Just curious, what trick??
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The only trick I know is if you find a deal online, you can print out the sale item and get it at the retail store for the online sale price.
Thunder
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They seem to (usually/sometimes/always) vary the suffix to denote a sale item. If there's an algorithm, I don't know it. If I'm feeling "sporty", I'll try some suffixes like "-4XU" or whatever seems to be popular in that flyer, and see if I get a hit...
Yeah, I know... But sniping HF is a little fun on a slow day...
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cg wrote:

How do you thin your shellac?
UA100
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The skill of the Craftsman is more important then the quality of the tool. With a little luck and a lot of skill and planning you can get good tools every where, seems like you have found a good place to look at HF. Keep It Up.

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snip
It doesn't matter how many times I tell my wife that....
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On Tue, 26 Oct 2004 13:15:55 GMT, "Sweet Sawdust"

Boy, I have both and both have the same problems. I never knew that they were endemic.
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A true HF workshop has a workbench thats no more than 24" tall.
cg wrote:

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<snip>
So I looked at their site for a few items. Typed "machinists square" into the search box and came up with a list of products, including this one:
8 FT. x 9 FT. SQUARE CANOPY
Now, maybe it's the New Math, but since when does 8 X 9 constitute a square?
Ian
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Ian Dodd wrote:

To be sure, their web system is not the world's most sophisticated. Search on "drill bits" and you get tons of drills. Go for "drill bit" and you get all the bit sets. Simply varying plurals vs singulars gives much different results. Good way to spend an afternoon. ;-)     j4
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The HF website is a unique animal among websites, something to work with, takes some real intuition with the search terms, but they really should improve it a lot.
Alex
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8 ft. high by 9 ft. square maybe???
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On 29 Oct 2004 05:35:19 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@nhsd.k2.pa.us (David Hall) wrote:

Oh David, it is clear that there is not an HF near you. Otherwise you would appreciate the nuance of an HF description - catches your attention but with that strange mystique and uncertainty that only HF can get away with yet giving it the adventure that HF prowlers quickly become addicted to...
Is this real? Can it work the same as an identical looking tool that costs 4 times as much? Are these claims accurate? A gambler's addiction indeed.
TWS http://tomstudwell.com/allprojects.htm
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Anyone notice that running into a neighbor or fellow woodworker at Harbor Freight is probably like running into them at an adult theater or bookstore?
"Well.......I don't come here very much. Just curious." (sheepish)
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Just like those who say they hate WalMart and campaign against their new stores, but who secretly shop there after midnight when there's little chance of them being caught by other WalMart haters.
RonB wrote:

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On Fri, 29 Oct 2004 00:06:57 -0600, Grandpa <jsdebooATcomcast.net> wrote:

I just put in another order online with HF... Their bar clamps might not be Jorgies, but I've used them for years and they work.. Hard to not buy, at $2.00 for 6", $2.50 for 12" and so on, up to $6.00 for 36"...
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Too true Mac, I went into an HF store and left with four 24" bar clamps @ $3.49 each, they work well. Bought their handscrew clamps too, made in Armenia and they work well, crappy made though. One screw binds a little into the wood on one of them.
Alex
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All my pipe clamps came from HF. 3/4" at $2.49 on sale a few years back. Fortunately I've got a store nearby. It's a great browsing place.
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