Tags: outdoor living

4-Piece Solar Light Set

09/07/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Outdoor Living, Lighting, Solar Power

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com/HFRreviews.html

Solar Light
Item: 4-Piece Solar Light Set
Item number: 93863
Retail price: $14.99
Frequent sale price: $12.99
Target price: $9.99
Item Link

We've tested quite a few of these solar-powered lights over the past few years and until recently have been quite happy with them. They seemed to cruise through the first Buffalo Winter Test, survive the second, and begin to drop-off rapidly during the third and fourth summers into our testing. The current failure rate (even with battery replacements) is acceptable but disappointing considering their very strong start. Perhaps we're expecting too much out of an inexpensive (cheap?) set of solar-powered yard lights, but it's our money and we demand what we demand, and we didn't expect to have to replace them all within 4 or 5 years' use.

The good news is that about half of these solar-powered lights have survived their first three Buffalo Winter Tests providing strong lighting throughout the night after a moderately good day of sunshine. The bad news is that around half of the remaining lights fail to come back to life even with battery replacements and that those which do only provide modest lighting after a bright sunny day and have at best a faint flickering light by morning. The actual number of replacement batteries in the lights that are still working well has not yet been tabulated. It seems that at least a few are still on their original factor-supplied batteries, but we need to tally up all of the five 4-piece sets to be certain. We do note and have come to expect that they run much longer than their advertised 8 hours even during the winter months, although at this point it is difficult to recollect if they performed this well on their original batteries (our replacement batteries are rated at 2500 [Chinese] mAh, while the factory-supplied batteries are 600 mAh).

We've mounted most of these solar-powered lights about 2 1/2 feet about the ground along a fence every 8 to 10 feet for the perimeter of our backyard plus a mid-line intersection. This gives the lights plenty of access to sunshine throughout most of the year including the winter months and times the grass seems a little longer than it should be during the hot summer months (actually, it's never really all that high, imo :-/). With an couple of color-changing solar-powered LED lights (one 15 feet and another around 7 feet off the ground) and the addition of a string of 50 flashing blue LED lights stretching across a gate which intersects the area, the backyard has been quite brightly illuminated for the first several years deeming it affectionately "the puppy airport" in honor of Sasha (it's her backyard; see our "Pet Stake" review for a picture of her) and the occasional stray airplane flying overhead en-route to the Buffalo airport. The effect was quite attractive year round but particularly stunning in the quiet winter nights after a light snowfall which reflects the LED lighting brightly illuminating the entire area.

The lens protecting the photocells seemed very fogged after two or three years' use. The lights themselves are a favorite perch for Robbins and other birds and that might expose the lenses to a different type of 'raining acid.' Also, moths and other cocoon-forming insects love the inside compartment around the battery and electronic circuit, probably because it's a warmer (dark colored) protective housing for them too. The problems that we have with these solar-power lights might be related in part to the combined bird and insect attacks, but then we don't live in a desert. At least part of the lens clouding seems to be from the use of UV-reactive plastic for the clear cover protecting the photocell because it won't clean off with soap and water but does scrape off with a razor blade along with a thin film of plastic. (Or maybe it's a reaction to bird-acid, but we aren't planning on running any tests to explore this possibility without the support of a large government grant!)

Bottom line: If you can find them at our low target price, we still consider these solar-powered yard lights to be a good bargain. We've just damped our enthusiasm from the first two years when they seems to work flawlessly except for a few battery replacements. By the end of the second Buffalo Winter Test, they're definitely a mixed lot of the good, the bad, and the shine-only-after-a-bright-day (every with replacement batteries!) lights.


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

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com/HFRreviews.html

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.


Price Advisory: Electric Leaf Eater and Shredder

08/16/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Hot Buys, Outdoor Living, Announcements

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com/HFRreviews.html

The Electric Leaf Eater and Shredder is Harbor Freight's "Deal of the Day" selling for our target price of $59.99. Print out their on-line ad (click here) and take it to your local Harbor Freight outlet. Many (most?) Harbor Freight outlets are honoring their on-line sales. I wouldn't expect to combine it with a 20%-off coupon, but hey, you never know.

If you decide to buy this item, be sure to read our online review (click here for the review). We had mixed feelings about this product but do see some merit in it. Try it out within the first 30 days so that you can return it if dissatisfied. Good luck and happy sa(i)ling.


Two-Pack Solar Spotlight Set

08/08/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: The Junk, Outdoor Living, Lighting, Solar Power

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com

Solar Spotlight
Item: Two-Pack Solar Spotlight Set
Item number: 95745
Retail price: $19.99
Regular sale price: $14.99
Best price: $9.99 (yes, for the pair)
Target price: $12.99
Item Link

They 'sound' good -- solar lights that not only provide spotlighting where needed without running wires but do so while saving-the-planet. But alas, "if it sounds too good to be true it probably is," and this is certainly the case with this solar spotlight set. They performed marginally the first few months and then gradually dimmed until finally failing completely.:( This earned them a position on our short list of "The Junk" sold by Harbor Freight™.

The solar spotlights never did work very well. At their best they provided only dim illumination through about half of the night. Well positioned, their initial light intensity was sufficient to provide some faint highlighting to the evening garden. "Spotlights?" Yes, technically -- they provided lighting to a 'spot' but never provided the type of accent lighting normally associated with the word "spotlight." This shouldn't be surprising; after all, they are LED lights, and LED yard lights generally provide much lower levels of illumination than do conventional garden lights.

They worked mid-way through the first Buffalo winter test. One of the pair even provided dim illumination through the spring. Inspection revealed that water entered the battery compartment causing corrosion which eventually led to total unit failure. It is unclear whether the water entered directly through the battery compartment's seal or entered through the lens. It seems most likely that the water accumulated in the lens area and drained down through the unit into the battery compartment. Because they are LED spotlights which emit only dim illumination, they have to be close to the object they are highlighting and this usually leads to angling the unit sharply up to provide the proper light pattern (Closer to a vertical object increases the angle of inclination.). The plastic shroud which projects outward from the lens therefore retains rainwater and other moisture possibly subjecting this area to internal leakage. This most likely is responsible for the water accumulated in the battery compartment.

Both lights are now queued up on our repair bench. If the damage is restricted to the battery compartment, then some cleaning along with a new set of batteries should get the units working again. We'll try to determine whether the water entered through the upper lens or more directly through the lower battery-compartment seal and then make the necessary modifications. The worse case scenario is that the LED circuitry is destroyed by corrosion and the units are therefore headed to our scrap pile (yes, we recycle the parts; click here if you would like to know more about our lifelong commitment to recycling). We'll update this post when we've had time to more thoroughly inspect the lights. Meanwhile, if you do purchase these solar spotlights you should probably apply some silicon or other sealant around the lens.

Bottom line: Great idea but bad implementation -- died after the first Buffalo winter test. Without some user re-engineering, this item is best left in the store.


Black-Cap Knee Pads

07/23/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Hot Buys, Outdoor Living

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com

Black-Cap Knee Pads
Item: Black-Cap Knee Pads
Item number: 46698
Retail price: $5.99
Frequent sale price: $4.99
Target price: $3.99
Best price: $2.99

These knee pads have a hard polypropylene shell with a foam backing. They strap on using hook-and-loop closures with a strap length adequate for most larger legs. We've weight tested them to 260lbs, although a weight limit is not specified by Harbor Freight™, and we obviously can't guarantee that everyone will have performance comparable to our experience.

If you're not use to using hard-shell knee pads, these will take a bit of getting use to. At first you'll feel like you're pivoting on a merry-go-round as you spin with ease (and indeed uncontrollably at times) on your knees. Be patient, persist, you WILL eventually like them. You'll like them so much you'll wonder how you every worked without them on those knee-busting projects.

My initial impression of these hard-shell knee pads wasn't good. In fact, I tried them, put them away and didn't try them again for almost two years, punishing my knees laying insulation across attic joists, working on a concrete patio, and hand-weeding flower beds (yes, even the soil seems hard at times). Had I then the encouragement contained in this review now, perhaps I would have persisted and learned to love them a lot sooner.

The motivating task for me was trying to complete adding more attic insulation while balancing myself (mostly on my knees) on the ceiling joists. This was a knee-wrenching job, and I was unable to work more than a few minutes a day, once or twice a week. Finally out of desperation, I dug the hard-cap knee pads out of some dark corner of my garage and tried them while working across the joists. Although I don't recommend learning this way, they were an immediate hit even though I had to trade-off the lack of pain with the instability of pivoting wildly on my knees in an open-joist attic -- the pain turned out to be more of a motivating factor than the fear of 'stepping' through the ceiling.

Consider practicing first on a hard, level surface such as a concrete floor or driveway. (Practicing on grass is cheating because you will sink in the ground somewhat, thus minimizing your instability.) Once you get use to the pivoting you can venture onto more challenging environments. And be care when working on soft floors (e.g., finished wood) that can be indented or marred by the hard caps of these knee pads. You might consider buying a pair of soft-cap knee pads for working on more delicate surfaces.

This item is certainly good enough to buy at the regular sale price. The target price is still the "target price" -- the one you can wait for if you have no immediate projects for which you might find these knee pads helpful. (If you need them now, even the retail price is quite reasonable.) But do buy them and do try them out, patiently adapting to life on hard caps. You too will learn to love them and perhaps to do a pirouette or two to impress the spouse.

Bottom line: A great buy even at the regular sale price. Everyone (almost) needs a pair for work around the home and in the garden.


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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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