12" Ratchet Bar Clamp/Spreader

08/09/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Hand Tools, Hot Buys, Woodworking

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

12-inch Bar Clamp
Item: 12" Ratchet Bar Clamp/Spreader
Item number: 46807
Retail price: $6.99
Frequent sale price: $1.99 (with coupon)
Target price: $1.99
Item Link

Cheaply made but cheaply sold -- a great deal because the product works and because it's sold at the right price. This is the kind of deal we love. There's not much cost that goes into manufacturing this item; its light-duty plastic and metal components are not fabricated from expensive materials nor is there complex machining involved in the manufacturing process. But it does its job and it does it well, and very importantly, Harbor Freight has priced this item (when on-sale which is very frequently) at a correspondingly low price.

The business model of today is to price most items at what the market will bear irregardless of their intrinsic value (e.g., the cost of materials and workmanship). Harbor Freight frequently bucks this trend by pricing their merchandise not only lower than other retailers but at levels consistent with the intrinsic value of the product. This bar clamp is a cheap little item sold at a cheap little price -- bravo Harbor Freight!

For those who don't understand the purpose of this 12" bar clamp (e.g., those who are going to abuse it by over tightening its ratchet mechanism), this is a light-duty item. For those that use it for its intended purpose such as holding wood and similar pieces together while gluing or drilling, this is a medium-duty item that should stand-up well to normal use. (Hum, that theory of relatively keeps popping up yet again in another context, i.e., use for intended purpose vs. abuse of a tool.) Don't get too annoyed when the orange end caps keep falling off; just snap them back on while remembering this is a cheap little tool and you didn't pay much for it.

Buy at least a pair; when you discover a need for holding two bulky pieces together for gluing you don't want to be caught one short for the job. If you need a lot of holding force, this is not the tool: use Harbor Freight's 24" aluminum bar clamp or if you need a lot of pressure, use a C-clamp instead. You might also consider the small, 6" version which is very handy for those extra small items that need to be held while gluing. Watch out or you'll be paying more for the small 6" clamp than for this 12" clamp. The 6" version has occasionally been on sale for 99 cents, but it's not up as often as the larger size.

Bottom line: Buy a pair and even consider the smaller sized clamps. They're another great deal from Harbor Freight when purchased at our target price of $1.99.


1-lb Rubber Mallet

08/08/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Hand Tools, Hot Buys

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

Rubber Mallet
Item: 1-lb Rubber Mallet
Item number: 39646
Retail price: $2.99
Frequent sale price: $1.99
Best price: $0.99
Target price: $1.99
Item Link

How often do you use a rubber mallet? Probably not very often and that's why you shouldn't pay much for one. Harbor Freight provides the opportunity to pick-up this infrequently used tool for a buck or two, and there are times that it's really needed. For example, when hammering tiles into the thinset to level them (yes, you hammer on a wooden block, but the rubber mallet is still good to soften those blows); more often when you want to avoid marring the item being hammered (e.g., hammering into place some of those ill-fitted Chinese parts, adjusting that stuck mirror on your MoHo). Once you buy it, just remember you have it (and where you put it), and you'll find plenty of times when you want to minimize the surface blemishes from hammering.

If you're delivering a lot of rubber blows, you might want to invest in a somewhat better quality tool such as Harbor Freight's Fiberglas handled model (95083, sale price $3.99). But for the occasional user who is saving their money for other great deals from Harbor Freight, this is the model to buy.

Bottom line: A steal deal from Harbor Freight, get this rubber mallet for the time you DO need it. Remember you have it and you'll find plenty of times you 'need' it.


16-oz Fiberglas Handle Hammer

08/08/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Hand Tools, Hot Buys

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

Fiberglas-Handle Claw Hammer
Item: 16-oz Fiberglas Handle Hammer
Item number: 47872 (claw style)
Item number: 47873 (rip style)
Retail price: $4.99
Frequent sale price: $3.99
Target price: $2.99
Item Link

You can get a better balanced hammer for several times this price, but it won't matter if you're only driving a few nails. It makes our "Hot Buys" list as a spare or duplicate hammer and as a primary hammer for those who don't hammer much. In short, we like it.

This is a prime example of the type of tools for which that Harbor Freight™ has become known: a perfectly acceptable quality tool at a very low price. How good is "acceptable quality"? Well, that's "relativity" applied to tools all over again (click here and see the text box in this other review for a discussion of the theory of relativity applied to tools; no, it doesn't involve hammering so fast that the nail backs out of the hole, viz. time travel). It's perhaps easiest to explain by example.

For hammering a few nails around the home or shop, this is a perfectly good hammer. It has a firm grip and a decent feel, delivering its 16-oz blows with precision dictated by its user. If we were to be using a hammer all day, or for that matter even several hours continuously, we would probably select a better quality hammer such as a Craftsman™. Higher quality hammers have a better balance and more comfortable grips, giving them an overall better feel. This makes little different to the nail but it does matter to the user over extended periods of time. Hand and forearm fatigue and ultimately 'blow control' is influenced by the feel of the hammer. If you're doing lots of manual hammering, you should probably invest in a better quality tool.

Caution: Most higher priced hammers are NOT better quality than this hammer from Harbor Freight. Don't be fooled by just the higher price; check the balance and overall feel as well as the warranty. For most applications, this hammer is a great.

Don't get us wrong, we really like this hammer. For its very low price we get a good-quality hammer (or two or three) that we can distribute throughout our home and shop, making sure that there's always a good-quality hammer within easy reach. For doing a lot of manual hammering (Does anybody really do this anymore since the introduction of the air nailer?), we do feel the different with a precision-balanced Craftsman™ tool. (OK, "precision balanced" is perhaps a bit too strong, but go to Sears™ and you'll feel the difference. ;))

Bottom line: Buy a couple for spares or for your primary hammer if you don't do a lot of carpentry or construction work. The overall quality is good and the balance is fine, but some more expensive hammers have a noticeably better feel.


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.


330-Lb Capacity Foldable Aluminum Platform Truck

08/07/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Hot Buys, Material Handling & Safety

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com

330-lb Capacity Folding Aluminum Platform Truck
Item: 330-Lb Capacity Folding Aluminum Platform Truck
Item number: 92624
Retail price: $59.99
Frequent sale price: $39.99
Target price: $29.99 or less
Item Link

This folding aluminum platform truck has a small footprint when stowed away but can carry a hefty 330 lbs when put to action. The handle collapses down and folds onto the base, and the base itself retracts to compress its overall profile. When fully extended, the base and handle lock firmly into position. The casters glide smoothly and the handle gives sufficient leverage for pushing or pulling heavy objects. With the handle down, it doubles as a mover's dolly which is probably the best configuration for moving the heaviest objects; the hinge on the handle is the weak spot on this item, although we haven't had any problems to date.

The lightweight, compact-profile of this platform truck makes it the perfect size for keeping with your vehicle for those surprisingly heavy, unplanned purchases. It doesn't do badly on the planned big-boys either, but its real asset is in its inconspicuous stowage. Its light aluminum frame makes it easy to carry and doesn't add much to the weight of the item being transported. The flat platform is also great for moving boxes and computers around the office. This ninja of moving devices is must have item for anyone who even occasionally moves heavy objects unexpectedly to and from their vehicle.

Hint: Using one of Harbor Freight's 20%-off coupons brings the sale price down to $31.99 which is close enough to our target price to make it a "buy" without waiting for it to hit its low mark of $29.99 again. Don't know about Harbor Freight's 20%-off coupons? You should read our Notes for the Novice Shopper to learn about this and other pointers for shopping at Harbor Freight.

Bottom line: The aluminum platform compacts neatly for storage but opens up to move over 300 lbs when put to action. It's a great bargain at the target price and not a bad buy at the regular sale price either.


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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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