Category: Product Safety Warnings

Product Safety Warning -- Blades can become detached without warning on the Windmill Mole Chaser (item no. 47987)

08/23/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Outdoor Living, Product Safety Warnings


We are issuing a product safety warning for the Windmill Mole Chaser (Harbor Freight item number 47987) noting that the blades can become detached without warning. We are not big on frivolous safety warnings: we know that hot coffee carried away from a drive-through pick-up window at a fast-food restaurant can burn you if spilled and that peanuts may contain peanut products. We do believe in product warnings when the risks are not apparent and such is the case with this Windmill Mole Chaser. We advised in our earlier review that we didn't expect this item to last long and that there was a potential danger with the sharp rotating blades. However, we didn't predict that the sharp rotating blades could become detached from this unit potentially producing an airborne meat slicer.

Click here to read the original review and full safety warning for this product.

We have also just noticed that Harbor Freight has removed this item from their website. We are unaware if it is still being sold in their retail outlets. Companies are sometimes faced with the dilemma of potential product-liability lawsuits versus dumping surplus inventory. We'll watch for this item to show up en-mass at their liquidator outlets -- so far it's been hardy 'a blip on the radar.'

Bottom line: If you own this product be aware of the potential safety risks. We strongly advise not having this unit in an area where there are small children or animals that can reach the blades or where the detached blades could reach small children or animals.


18" Pet Stake

08/13/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Hot Buys, Outdoor Living, MoHo/RV, Product Safety Warnings, Novel Uses


Pet Stake
Item: 18" Pet Stake
Item number: 95489
Retail price: $2.99
Frequent sale price: $1.99
Target price: $1.99
Item Link

As the reviews for some of our favorite and least favorite products from Harbor Freight are starting to stack up, Sasha just reminded me that I should include a sample of Harbor Freight's selection for your pets (she prefers the term "little friends"). So, need a quick pet screw, ah, pet stake? Check out this little item for your pet from Harbor Freight. This 18" pet stake provides a solid anchor for your pet's lead and is complete with a swivel ring which permits 360-degree runs without tangling. Simply screw it into the ground, attach a 15' or so lead/line (click here to view our review of Harbor Freight's 15 ft. heavy-duty pet tie-out), and you're free for a few moments repose. (Did we need to tell you to attach your harnessed pet to the lead?)

Advisory: Consider keeping your pet's lead at around 15 - 20'. Shorter leads do not provide sufficient movement and longer leads can lead to trouble (Oops, that one just slipped in or was it out? ;)). Not only do the longer leads permit roaming larger areas unsupervised (with more things to get into trouble with like wondering pets, people, and other edibles), but they also permit stronger force to be exerted on the ground screw should your pet begin chasing a squirrel from near the center position (i.e., a longer 'run-out' before the lead 'snaps'). The greater force increases the chance that your Siberian Husky may be able to dislodge the stake from the ground and continue his/her chase into the woods. Also, if your pet is a chewer, be sure to use a lead/line which is chew resistant so that they can't quickly bite their way through the lead. Lastly, strongly consider using a harness instead of a collar -- a harness is a more solid restraint which also causes less stress to your pet when they're tugging away; definitely avoid the choker-style collar that could cause serious injury should your pet have a long run before being 'snapped' back into obedience.

This pet stake is particularly useful for RVers and those who seek a little R & R in public parks that will need to limit the range of their pets. Obviously don't leave your pet unattended. This is simply to prevent your pet from darting off after the next rabbit while you enjoy a sandwich or just a few leisurely moments. And although most of us may use this infrequently, it's a pleasure to have on-hand when needed. We keep one in our MoHo and another in our van for those unexpected rest stops while traveling.

Hint: I also carry a 'real' climbing carabiner (rated at 3,000 lbs.) for attaching Sasha's lead to nearby solid objects or to my belt when we're out. It permits me to work hands-free while enjoying her company. Don't use the cheap models for restraining your medium- to large-size pet; even a small dog can exert a lot of force when they've gained some momentum before reaching the extent of their run.

Bottom line: A must have item for pet owners priced right at Harbor Freight. At our low target price, buy one for each vehicle and be prepared for those impromptu roadside breaks while traveling.


OK, need a novel use for this item? This use is so obvious that I hardy consider it "novel," but if the obvious hasn't occurred to you, consider the following use.

These 18" pet stakes make excellent "tent stakes" for soft soil or sand. Similar to the ice screws used in winter mountaineering (a former hobby of mine from my younger years), these screws (AKA "stakes") hold much, much better is soft, unstable material such as loose soil. They will also hold better in firm, clay soil but that is usually overkill.

I've had my eye on one of Harbor Freight's greenhouses for a while now, but the Buffalo winds do blow strong and I've been afraid that the greenhouse will end up in the neighbors yard and their attorney will be visiting me with a lawsuit. If I do eventually purchase a greenhouse, you can bet it will be anchored with one of these stakes on each of its four corners even though the soil here is a firm clay-type. Ditto their canopy and other types of makeshift dwellings that can act like sails in high winds. Of course you could just by one of their canopy anchor sets instead. It would be interesting to put these two styles to the test to see which hold the best. In ice climbing, the ice screw dominated (25 years ago) for ice and hard-packed snow but the blade-style anchor was used more often in loose-packed snow. My guess is that the screw style will penetrate hard-packed soil easier than the blade-style canopy anchor and that the screw will sort of 'thread' itself into the ground. The blade style would most likely win in sand or very loose soil.

One last thought on the style comparison: The pet stakes should provide some holding power even if they only partially penetrate the ground, whereas the other blade-style anchors are probably much more difficult to place in hard-packed ground. Therefore, if I add a canopy for our traveling show (AKA on-site sales venues) I will be using the pet stakes as tent stakes not the canopy anchors. Please don't leave your pet attached to my canopy unattended.


Windmill Mole Chaser

07/28/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Outdoor Living, Product Safety Warnings


Mole Chasing Windmill!
Item: Windmill Mole Chaser
Item number: 47987
Retail price: $9.99
Sale price: $6.99
Target price: $6.99
Item Link (product removed from website)

Revised 23 August 2010: Well, as we predicted (see second to last paragraph below), this product didn't last long as assembled out-of-the-box -- it failed after only 6 months' use (spring through late summer). Because of this premature failure we are removing it from our Hot Buys list, although it doesn't quite make our list of The Junk for the reasons noted in the review below and because we got our money's worth in entertainment as a whirligig for the 6 months before it broke. Also, we reiterate our product warning about this item related to its sharp rotating blades with the addition that the blades may become detached without warning.

Although we are pleased that Harbor Freight has removed this item from their online sales, we do think they should keep a link to this product with an appropriate safety warning for those who have already purchased it. Thanks to Harbor Freight for getting this half right; too bad they didn't "go the whole 9 yards." (FYI: We'll be happy to receive a donation of any remaining stock to salvage the blades for use with our wind-generator prototypes.)

The poor fit between the two vertical support tubes leaves the main body of this windmill out of perpendicular to the ground, thus presenting the blades at the wrong angle to the wind which stresses the bearings of the windmill. The undue wear on the bearings which connect the blade to the horizontal shaft resulted in metal fatigue which caused the unit to 'break.' The winds were generally less than 20 mph with no strong gusts noted for the 48 hours preceding the unit's failure. (Yes, we collected data from a weather station located about 20' from the windmill.) Our original review of this product follows unmodified below.

This is one of the very few items from Harbor Freight's extensive inventory that we decided to return shortly after assembly. But then we didn't and we're real happy we kept it. This windmill is perhaps the flimsiest item yet from Harbor Freight's product line (yes, they do carry some pretty bad stuff amongst their treasures; see our list of "The Junk"), and it looked like a real rip-off when we unboxed it. After sitting for nearly a year in our garage (waiting to be returned to Harbor Freight for a refund because despite the low price, we REALLY felt ripped off), we finally reassembled it and placed it in the yard. Then it began to spin . . . and to spin and to spin.

It takes a pretty strong wind to get it moving, but our Buffalo blows provide more than enough wind-power to rev up the blades. In fact, with our 20-30 mph winds that frequent the area it looks like it's ready to take-off and fly away. Its torque is so strong once it gets going that we're considering converting it to a wind-powered electrical generator (ah, another project) but don't expect much from a gentle breeze. The bearings and the mount for the blades to the horizontal shaft are very poor, and the wobble makes it immune to small breezes. (Perhaps we'll modify the blade connection later too, after we've turned it into a wind-powered generator.;))

Warning: The blades are quite sharp when rotating at high speed, making this a very effective 'meat slicer.' We've mounted ours on heavy-metal electrical conduit several feet above the ground and well out of the reach of dogs and small children. We've had one bird fatality (perhaps a suicide but more likely blown into the blades by a strong gust of wind) in the 5 months it's been up and running. This product definitely needs a safety warning!

The windmill mole chaser is very poorly constructed. The entire device is extremely loose, and the main shaft for the windmill blade wobbles. Of course the manufacturer could try to argue that this was in the design; after all, it's supposed to vibrate to scare those pesty moles and other ground-burrowing critters away. We think it's just cheaply made (What do you expect in a $6.99 [on sale] windmill?), and we will forgo any serious discussion of its design merits. Even the back fin is so thin that it bends in a strong wind and has to be reshaped constantly.

Other online reviewers have reported that it does really chase away moles and other ground-burrowing vermin; we haven't be able (fortunately) to test that feature yet. Sasha does a great job of keeping the wild things out of our yard. Most everyone reviewing online reports problems with its construction, especially the bearings as noted above. The majority claim that the unit lasts a year or two before it needs a major over-haul or to be replaced. Ours has only been running since early spring and it has yet to endure our Buffalo Winter Test.

The real value of this "mole chaser" for us is not in its intended purpose but in its entertainment value. As one ages it becomes increasing satisfying to watch someone or something work while we're resting in a leisurely repose. (I can always tell my wife that I'm busy chasing the moles away, while sitting in the backyard enjoying a refreshing gin and tonic during a hot summer day.) So, for us it's a whirligig and a damn fun one at that. The aluminum blades are quite shiny and reflect the sunlight very well. We have a solar-powered floodlight which illuminates the blades at night when the windmill is pivoted in the right direction, and that presents a rather eerie flicker of light on a dark gusty night. And if we can actually generate a bit of electricity for our yard lights, then this will indeed have been an amusing project. (As noted above, the blades are somewhat resistant to rotating [i.e., it take a substantial, sustained breeze], but once running they seem to produce a surprisingly large amount of torque.) For its entertainment value alone (and this is purely subjective), it makes our Hot Buys list.

Buy it as you see it -- for us it's an entertaining whirligig; for others it's actually a mole chaser as advertised. It is definitely not expected to last long as assembled out-of-the-box, but the simple construction makes modification to a slightly better windmill an easy task. And if we're successful in modifying it into a wind-powered electrical generator, then the blades alone are worth the target price as anyone working with wind-generators can aptly confirm.

Bottom line: We can't attest to its ability to chase away moles as the manufacturer claims, but we can rave about its entertainment value as a whirligig and the hours of amusement it's provided us. Be sure to buy it at the target price (even use a 20%-off coupon to knock off another buck) and you probably won't be disappointed.

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This review and discussion forum was created for those of us who love Harbor Freight(tm). It's well known to those who frequent the store that the prices are always cycling up and down, and most of us usually accept it as a personal challenge to get the lowest price possible. It's also well appreciated that some products at Harbor Freight are good, even very good, but that many others are also substandard, yes, even junk. This review and discussion forum is dedicated to the savvy Harbor Freight shopper and is intended to provide some guidance to the best and the worse buys. Similar products from other retailers will also be reviewed from time-to-time. Please be advised that everyone's experience is unique, and what works well (or doesn't work at all) for the reviewers here may or may not suit your personal needs. With this caveat and with notification that Harbor Freight Reviews assumes no liability for the accuracy of information provided here for educational purposes, enjoy the forum and good 'sa(i)ling' at Harbor Freight!


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