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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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.
-- Regards,
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
--
Jeffry Wisnia

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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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On Mon 22 Nov 2004 08:36:21p, snipped-for-privacy@consult.pretender (Jeffrey J. Kosowsky) wrote in

I bought the recip saw. Actually it was on sale for 25$ when I needed one for a garage project. I figured, if it does this one job it was worth it and if I find myself using it a lot, I'll get a good one. It did the garage job, then another one, then the bathroom remodel, then it helped tear down the neighbor's old shed, and it still goes on and on.
I like having a reciprocating saw around so when it dies I'll upgrade, but I don't feel bad about having bought this one.
I don't know if I'd trust 'em well enough to get something that's supposed to be precise, like a sliding miter saw, though.
Dan
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Dan Wrote:

If you are using a sawzall on a job, you aren't exactly doing precisio work, so you can get buy with a lesser-quality tool
-- makesawdust
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makesawdust wrote:

Well, you can. I've used a green BD one for about 6 years now. I wish I had spent twice the money and gotten a Milwaukee super sawzall, since my saw vibrates like crazy. That gets really tiring on the arms. Occasionally, I've got to borrow a Milwaukee, and they've been much less fatiguing.
-Peter
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<snip>

As long as it does what you need it to, reliably, without excess operator strain.
The DeWalt was $99 at the Borg. How much do you need to save on a tool? The job I bought it for cost me $2300 in materials alone. What's a reliable tool worth?
If I were doing this for a living, then something top end. But likely never HF.
Patriarch Life's too short for cheap tools.
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I have a cheap Chicago $49 router which works good. Great drill press for $39. Lathe for $149 seems adequate since it does indeed spin. But serious woodworkers (if that be you)need serious tools..... casual woodworkers (that be me) can make do. -opinions may vary.

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I tend to shy away from the Chicago Electric brand. I bought a drop light and it fried the first time I plugged it in. Took it back. Second one fried. Bought a heat gun. Fried the first time I plugged it in. Took it back. Second one fried as well. That said, I have their 4" grinder and it seems to do the odd job that I demand of it ok. I tend to think the Central Machinery brand is better (have their floor standing drill press and it works great) and I've been pretty happy with the Central Pneumatic stuff. YMMV of course. Cheers, cc

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I've bought a bunch of stuff from Harbor Fright. Their Pittsburgh wrenches are really sloppy, their flare wrenches are useless. Ended up pitching them out.
Hint: Buy a couple things, and then sit and wait for the catalogs. Most of thier stuff goes on half or third off, if you wait long enough. With some patience, you can save a bundle.
I like their aluminum pipe wrenches. they also had some slip joint pliers for turning pipes and nuts. They are really great. Their little yellow VOM goes on sale now and again for 2.99 and I buy four or so. Not super precice, but fits neatly into tool boxes and small spaces. I've also got some of their Sawzall blades, which go smooth in a hurry. But for what I use, they are OK.
I got two Drill Master drills in 12 volts. When the batteries go, I can wire them to a lighter plug, and use them near the car, or off a 12 volt gel cell jumper pack. Or buy more batteries. The Drill Masters are only 500 RPM, my Makita is 1300 or so. But they are better than just OK for twenty bucks.
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Most of their tools are OK for occasional home use.
I have one of their: Heat gun kit, and I use it a lot and think it's great and recommend. http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/Displayitem.taf?itemnumberG269
Router, for occasional use, and it's good too. http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/Displayitem.taf?itemnumber3833
Hammer Drill, for occasional use, and it's OK. Would probably buy a better one next time. I use it more as a regular drill so it gets used more often than I intended to use it. http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/Displayitem.taf?itemnumberE338
Belt Sander, for occasional use, and it's OK. http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/Displayitem.taf?itemnumber045
Jig Saw, for rare use, and would recommend avoiding. http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/Displayitem.taf?itemnumberF055
HVLP Paint gun, use it a lot and love it. http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/Displayitem.taf?itemnumberF719
Air Compressor, use it a lot and like it. http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/Displayitem.taf?itemnumber385
I also have one or two big wrenches from them that I use on really rare occasions. I agree with previous posters to get better hand tools (I buy Craftsman for that).
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Just curious, which HVLP Paint gun did you buy from Harbor Freight? I'm thiinking of buying one of their turbine type sprayers (no air compressor needed).
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On Tue, 23 Nov 2004 05:06:56 GMT, "Stormin Mormon"

Pittsburgh is one of the lifetime guaranteed lines from HF, so tossing them wasn't awfully smart.
You must have changed email addresses again. Back into my filters you go, silly Fundie.
-- Friends Don't Let Friends Eat Turkey and Drive --
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On Tue, 23 Nov 2004 02:36:21 GMT, snipped-for-privacy@consult.pretender (Jeffrey J. Kosowsky) wrote:

I have never bought from H. F. simply because there is not one nearby. I have a distant friend who says their stuff is not top quality, but swears their stuff holds up pretty well, for the price.
I HAVE purchased from another company called Homier Distributors. They are mobile merchants and set up a sale in a tent in different towns. I have never been so dissatisfied with any other purchases. Their stuff is total junk, and once they got your money, forget about getting any help or being able to return defective items, or even having an email returned. This is the worst company I have ever dealt with. However, this same friend has also bought from Homier and says he has gotten a few deals from them. Of course too, he just putters around. I tend to really use tools, and those homier tools have all broken within one day or less.
I might consider buying from Harbor Freight if I have access. I will NEVER buy from Homier again.
I probably did not really answer your question, but this is just some personal experience.
Mark
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