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We’ve seen quite a bit of unfocused discussion regarding the quality of Harbor Freight’s extremely cheap torque wrenches, so we thought we’d ask the question straight up: are they accurate enough for real use, or are they a crap shoot?

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One reader mentioned a while back that he put an HF 1/4″ torque wrench on his tester at work and it was quite accurate.  Though I have no evidence to support it with HF’s wrenches specifically, it’s been my experience that many times cheap-ass tools aren’t necessarily all bad — quality simply varies more tool to tool because of poor quality control. 

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On a side note, poor QC is a very effective way to save production cost.  If you’ve ever visited a quality tool plant — as we have — you’d be blown away by the sheer manpower that goes into good QC.

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And at $12 for a 1/2″ torque wrench, you’ve got to figure they’re saving dough somewhere.

Anyway, what say you?  If you have data (or experience) with these HF wrenches, jump in and let us know in comments.

1/2″ Clicker Torque Wrench [Harbor Freight]

 

51 Responses to Hot or Not? Harbor Freight Torque Wrenches

  1. Mark says:

    I’ve bought two from Harbor Frieght. The small one was crap, but the bigger one was decent.

  2. sizod says:

    I would never buy a cheap torque wrench, you really do get what you pay for. I bought a very cheap one from a discount tool store, I was using it to tighten up a bolt on the oil pump of my truck to correct “factory” setting. Bang! cracked the casing to the oil pump. I later got a hold of my Grandpa’s Snap-on torque wrenches and was finally able to put in a new oil pump and torq’ it up to the correct setting without fear of it cracking.

  3. Eric g. says:

    I vote “Not”. On a project I was working on last year at work we bought a couple of the HF torque wrenches since we felt that where were working (in a marine environment) we would be very likely to loose them and would rather have lost a sub $20 tool rather than a $100+ tool. During the course of work we found, and later verified using some pretty good instrumentation in laboratory conditions, that the repeatability of individual tools and variance between tools was _VERY_ large (which would support your poor QC argument).

  4. JK says:

    Not: I use my HF Torque Wrench as an inbetween for my regular ratchet and the breaker bar, it’s a good size for that. Notsomuch for torquing stuff.

  5. Old Donn says:

    A torque wrench for regular wrench duty? Do you use chrome sockets with your impact wrench too?

  6. Jeremy says:

    I was the guy that put his 1/4″ HF wrench on a troque analyser. Mine was spot on across the full adjustment range. However I’m more then will to admit that my sample size was too small.

    I think this sounds like just the job for Toolmonger. How about you buy 5-10 of each size torque wrennch and then find a torque meter to chek them. Throw in a little statistical analysis and a sample set of wrenches from higher end manufactures and you’ve got a story!

    Not that they are that expensive but I bet you can return them after you’re done.

  7. hj says:

    I was given one as a gift about a year ago, and a few months ago I had a use for a large torque wrench so I took it for its maiden voyage. Darned thing wouldn’t break (click) at all, it amounted to little more than a large, cheap, 1/2″ ratchet.

    Took it back to HF, and the cashier was happy to let me exchange it for another. This one works as well as it’s intended to, but for anything but the lowest settings, it’s easy to overtorque because if you’re pulling hard enough you’ll right past the vague ‘click’.

    For $12, if it works it works, but I wouldn’t rely on it for anything too critical. Did a decent job torquing the studs when I replaced my sway bar bushings, but I wouldn’t trust it if I was torquing down an aluminum head.

  8. ba614 says:

    Hot or Not? …. Is this a joke?

    A 1/2″ drive torque wrench at 1/2 the price of a Craftsman 1/2″ drive rachet.

    As Mr.T say’s “I piddy da’ fool”

    As a wise man once told me, “A Fool and his money soon part”

  9. Craig says:

    Let’s face it, you don’t use a torque wrench because you want to be “somewhere in the ballpark,” you use one because torquing to the proper rate is mission critical to the job at hand.

    If your using a torque wrench that you don’t trust, then in my opinion you might as well use that nifty ratchet that came with your socket set and save the $12. You’ll likely get the same results.

    (Do me a favor, and don’t tighten any “torque to” type bolts with a HF torque wrench, huh)

  10. hj says:

    I agree 100% with what Craig said above.

    I never would have BOUGHT a HF torque wrench (if you’re reaching for a torque wrench, it’s a good bet you care enough about whatever you’re tightening, that it’s worth being accurate), but since I had it, I figured I may as well try it.

    Not sure I have a good excuse for putting in the effort required to exchange the dead one for a less dead one, but “heck, I was there already” seems enough :) .

  11. Mike R says:

    It’s hot for the right job. I use mine primarily for wheel lug nuts, which AFAIK should be close to a certain torque, but don’t have to be dead on. I wouldn’t use it to rebuild an engine or anything that required alot of precision.

    The main thing I like about these is that if you drop one there is no point in getting an expensive recalibration, just pitch it and buy another.

  12. cc says:

    I almost bought a HF torque wrench, but decided to go pawn shopping for a used snap on. Either way, I’d have to get it calibrated before feeling comfortable using it.

  13. jeff h. says:

    Mine broke the first time I used it on higher torque setting. Worked ok on lower settings, but not sure how accurate it was. Won’t buy a cheap one again.

  14. [...] Harbor Freight Torque Wrenches: Not. Everyone agreed that if you’re using a torque wrench, you need accuracy — and accuracy doesn’t come in packages this cheap. [...]

  15. JK says:

    Old Donn – Yes, I use it as a in-between breaker, as it was completely useless as an actual torque wrench.

  16. Steve O says:

    Wow… Harbor Freight and Precision Instrument. Two things that DON”T go together….

  17. Rick says:

    I have one, its great. Lots of people complain about ahrbor freight, but I have bought a LOT there and never had any problems. Definitely reccomend. These are truely ideal for the weekend warrior… for daily use, I dont know. But I dont need it for daily use.

    The electric flyswatter is WONDERFUL, and when on sale for $1.99 its impossible to pass up!

  18. Ken says:

    I have just gone through two new 1/2″ Harbor Freight torque wrenches that will not “break” at any torque setting (i.e. they act like s simple ratchet). There will NOT be a third!

  19. pete says:

    U jusat bought a 1/4 ” HF ( in lbs ) torque wrench . It did not click at a very low torque . I knew something was wrong so I didn’t go any further using it on the job. Since I have to gack to the store, I’ll try a couple more but basically thumbs down on these . I think that the cheapest Craftsman bram type would be better for those on budget .

  20. rkpatt says:

    I purchased a 1/4″ HF in lbs model torque wrench . It would not lick at any setting ether . Fortunately I noticed it early an didn’t damage the application I was working on . This taught me 2 lessons – (1) Always test a torqure wrench before your us it (2) don’t count on HF to sell working tool off the self .

    Take a look at the DIY torque wrench tester ( thanks OP )

    http://rides.webshots.com/album/516313754BTbBSN

  21. Paul Baker says:

    So the only guy with data says it is good and everyone else says they’re bad? Hmmm.

  22. Chris says:

    @Paul Baker: Well, the only guy with data says that his sample size of one worked as intended. Most of the “these things suck” posts were because the wrench was mechanically faulty — didn’t click, worked one time and then didn’t work again, etc. That speaks to a pretty bad quality control process and suggests that Jeremy’s good data may have been an anomaly rather than the norm. Like he said, though, his data isn’t worth much without a broader test.

    @rkpatt: Love the homebrew test setup. If only I had a receiver hitch :-p

    cl

  23. Kevin says:

    I don’t think I’d trust one for torquing down head bolts, but for the price I think they’re great for more forgiving applications like lug bolts. If you’ve got something you’re a bit wary of trusting to just the “feel”, but don’t want to shell out $100 on a wrench that will get used once or twice a year, the HF torque wrench is a no-brainer.

  24. I Forgot My Name sorry says:

    TY Kevin, I would never spend $100 for a “Name Brand” wrench….So many people would swear on their life that one brand is better than another. I’m not a mechanic but I work on my motorcycle a lot. I have bought numerous amounts of tools from harbor fright and I have never had a problem with anything I’ve purchased. Congrats 99% of all tools in the U.S. are made in a foreign country and imported into the U.S. chances are HF makes theirs the same way everybody else does. I’ve had HF tools outlast craftsman and dewalt tools and I’ll stand by HF 100% of the way.

  25. SaltyDog says:

    I use to work as a calibration technician for the U.S. Navy. One of my jobs was to check the calibration of torque wrenches, and I can tell you that ALL BRANDS can have problems. They can be accurate at one end of the spectrum and fail at the other. They can even pass at one specific torque and be completely out of tolerance every where else. Unless you are having your torque wrench checked at a certified calibration facility, you cannot be sure the torque is correct. I have even had brand new, very expensive, torque wrenches fail calibration right out of the box. I am not recommending Harbor Freight or any other brand torque wrench, because even the most expensive torque wrench can be out of torque when you buy it. I am not saying torque wrench manufactures sell uncalibrated torque wrenches, but in shipping and at the retail facility they can be banged, bumped, or dropped and then can be totally out of calibration when you buy them. This is the very reason the U.S. Navy requires all torque wrenches be run through a certified calibration facility before they are put in use. They must also be run back through the calibration process on a regular basis. In most cases every 90 days. The point is that unless you are having them tested at a Calibration facility, the lower priced Harbor Freight torque wrench could be as or more accurate than its higher priced cousin.

  26. Mike says:

    I appreciate the entry by salty dog. A click-type torque wrench is just not that complicated. If Harbor Freight can sell one that is calibrated at the factory at +- 4 percent, then I’ll take their word for it until a real scientific test finds they are out of spec.

    I just bought one to check if the alloy wheels on my (new) (used) Subaru Outback are torqued. All I can say is, they were all tighter than the chosen 75 ft-lbs I used on the wrench, but at least it clicked at the same spot every time as far as the pull in my hand could determine.

    The instructions that came with the wrench caution users to back the setting down to minimum torque when storing, and to treat it as a calibrated measurement tool. I wonder how many buyers bother to read the instructions or comply with them?

  27. vic says:

    I am reading some of these post, wondering why people think the h f wrench is supposed to break away at the desired torque setting.

  28. kevin says:

    The thing I hate about these surveys is that most of the people that leave negative reviews have never even owned or used the item in question. You are about as qualified to leave feedback on this as I am on childbirth. If anyone is using these reviews to base a decesion on, ignore the comments from people that have never even had one. Price does not always mean everything.

  29. WBT says:

    In many cases you get what you pay for. Granted, even the high dollar stuff can come from the factory knocked out of spec but at least you know it has had SOME form of QC done to it. Some brands will even re-certify it for you (Snap-On/Matco maybe?).

    Regarding the HF wrench, I just bought the $9.99 1/2 drive wrench for the sole purpose of tightening lug nuts down to the required 100 lb-ft in a star pattern. I won’t trust this thing for anything else, and will mark it as such so nobody else does either. I do not want to run my good torque wrench up to that high in its range and put it through that type of constant abuse. And even then, I’m not going to use it at all until I verify it’s “close enough” with a known good wrench.

    IMO, you *MIGHT* get lucky and get one that’s dead-nuts but it’s not worth the chance. If you can afford expensive heads, splayed mains, etc you can afford a higher quality torque wrench. And if you do, make sure you zero it out because yes, the spring will take a set over time.

  30. Mark says:

    I run the cal department for an automotive testing company and I calibrate about 100 torque wrenches per year. All types from cheap HF clickers to very expensive Snap-On digital readouts. The build quality of the HF wrenches is horrible but in my experience they are in spec when new but “go south” with age & use. Most of the technicians here own better brands because the outcome of a customer’s test can depend on the bolts being tightened to a recommended torque. I’m writing this today because I’m searching the web looking for a clue how to open a HF wrench to adjust it, without damaging it in the attempt. There might be a good reason a couple older posts mentioned they couldn’t get a HF wrench adjusted–it might not be possible. Consider it a disposable tool and toss it when it checks bad.

    A tip: ALL click-type torque wrenches should be “exercised” before use. This means dial it up to the maximum setting & torque a fastener that’s tighter than the wrench max (for example exercise your 50 ft-lb wrench on a lug nut). Inside a clicker there is only a spring pressing a hardened block between 2 anvils. The block will roll when the spring setting is exceeded. This tilts the head-end anvil and it bangs into the wrench tube. This is the “release” you feel and the “click” you hear and feel. Any wrench that doesn’t get used often can get a little sticky and is the reason the manufacturer recommends exercising it first. The spring is the reason you reset your wrench to minimum after use so it doesn’t weaken over time.

  31. HFTool says:

    I just bought an HF 1/2″ torque wrench so I can rotate my tires myself. I hope it is satisfactory for at least lug nut tightening! I certainly don’t want to buy an expensive one for just this purpose.

  32. foolish people stuck on brands says:

    I jus used 1/4 torque wrench to tighten my intake bolts down after changing the faulty gaskets. And there was no problems I have a craftsmen of the same size and they are both the same i dont know why people brainwash themselves into believing one brand better then another I’m about getting the job done and taking my time. I’m not a daily mechanic that tries to hurry the job and uses short cuts and halfasses the job. But for daily use I would say that the only difference in some brands wear and tear kills cheaper tools of some and the more expensive tool outlasts.

  33. Rolf says:

    Carcraft reviewed them and all those naysayers dont know JACK. The 1/2″ are quite decent and the digital one is just as good as your snapon or maatco. Pull those noses out of your ****** and try something before being negative about it. There are plenty of good tools there for the hobbyist as well as plenty of crap tools. And who still has a walkin life time warranty? It aint craftsman!

  34. chuck says:

    WARNING they can be off by 10plus lbs!!! i’ve been a tec since 90s, i have very hi quality digital torque wrenchs,for xmas gift i recieved one, i figured what the hell i’ll see how close it is. the 3/8 was off by 20 freeken lbs!!! thats bullshit, so i bought the other two for the hell of it. wow they were way off, shame on harbor freight, if a person needs a t.w.and cannot afford one , dont sell them shit to screw up a job that could really do major major damage, i still have these wrenchs to show my customers that come to my shop.

  35. Mark says:

    Bought a 3/8″ FT. LB# PITTSBURG online, finally received. The minute I opened it I was afraid I had made a mistake, I was right, handle would not tighten up right, worked on low settings, high settings forget it! 3/8″ drive socket attachment twisted on first high setting, had to file down to get socket to slip back on. You get what you pay for, disappointing poor quality. Never again!

  36. edsel adkins says:

    WHATS WRONG WITH USING THE TORQUE WRENCH THAT DOESN’T CLICK I USED THEM FOR 50 YRS NEVER HAD A PROBLEM

  37. tom says:

    Most of these asshole talking shit probably have a high dollar torque wrench that hasn’t been calibrated in years and isn’t any better than the HF ones when their newer…tools don’t always make precision…a steady hand does

  38. Richard says:

    I bought the 1/2″ and the 3/8 drive torque wrenches. tested them and they were fine. on point. harbor freight isn’t any better than autozone or places like that. if their all Taiwan… what are you gonna buy? they prolly come from the same place lol. any… I replaced my plenum under the intake on my dodge ram. worked fine. Got the job done. for 22 bucks…. cant go wrong. side note I don’t believe in snap on and matco crap.I think middle road is just fine. crescent> apex tools are great. good quality and fairly inexpensive. most of the time over seas are just cheaper to make not necessarily garbage tools. whatever…. my experiences…. there it is.

  39. P-Mac says:

    Learned a valuable “you get what you pay for” lesson with Harbor Freight torque wrenches last weekend… I used a brand-new 1/4″ drive HF clicker to torque down one of my new valve covers and it worked great, the next day I used it to torque down the other valve cover and it decided it didn’t want to click anymore. By the time I realized this poorly-made POS was already failing, it was too late… ended up with half of a delicate valve cover bolt lodged in the head.

    Icing on the cake is that HF wouldn’t let me return the crap wrench for a refund because I lost the receipt, even though I’d just bought it at the same store about a week before (in fact the same cashier who checked me out that day was there again). Had to settle for an exchange, which is like swapping a crusty turd for a slightly fresher one. Thinking of sending Harbor Freight corporate a nasty letter along with an invoice for the $5 special-order, dealer-only replacement bolt I had to buy.

    Moral of the story, some of HF’s cheap gear is just fine, but buying any of their “precision” tools is tantamount to flushing your money down the toilet.

  40. skolito says:

    As a calibration technician with 25 years of disassemble and rebuilding torque wrenches I see a failure rate of over 90% on all of these torque wrenches from HF, greatneck, pittsburg tools, etc. they are a rip off of a Proto design from the 70′s which was a good wrench. I reject 9 out of 10 because I adjust it today let it sit a day and have to adjust it tomorrow. I would own one of these if the company paid me to.

  41. JohnC says:

    For all of the naysayers and tool snobs!

    http://www.hotrod.com/how-to/additional-how-to/ccrp-1304-torque-wrench-testing/

    I used a HF 3/8″ torque wrench while replacing the timing belt on my 2008 Honda V6. Worked like a charm and there have been no problems now after 30kmi.

  42. Daniel says:

    I have a lot of HF tools, sockets and screwdrivers mostly. I have the 3/8 torque wrench and found it to be fairly inaccurate when I tested it at work. Perhaps +/- 15%, and I’m not sure it’s very consistent…. I’ll stick to simpler tools from HF. Love the sockets, the electric impact wrench, my 900watt generator, screwdrivers, bolt cutters, files, dead blow hammers. However I’ll just save up a little money and get myself a better known brand torque wrench that I can actually have the manufacturer calibrate. Until then, I’ll borrow an Armstrong one from a friend of mine. Now, what to do with my HF one….. if I had the 1/2″ I’d trust it for lug nuts, but the 3/8 just doesn’t cut it there. Guess I’ll use it as a long handle ratchet.

  43. mike says:

    This is for those of you that want feed back from someone that bought and used a HF torque wrench! My old craftsman of many years broke. So in a pinch I purchased the HF torque wrench and used it to torque down some pontiac 455cu heads.And you guessed it! Water showed up in the motor soon after I assembled it. So needless to say if you use one of these to torque wheels it might be okay! But don’t trust it to torque heads down to 95-100 ft lbs. I used my USA craftsman to torque many sets of heads through the years with no issues!

  44. Flat four says:

    Used HF T wrench on my gl1000 heads to 45 pounds. Snuck up
    on 45 maybe 3 lower settings on each bolt to ease into final torque in proper pattern. It’s been three years and
    over 10000 miles, no leaks. Good result. Had borrowed an
    high end wrench from friend but it wouldn’t click on
    A fifty pound test nut.

  45. paul says:

    DON’T BUY ONE. Broke a cylinder head bolt in a Subaru Block. Machine shop will charge $100 to get bolt out. I made the mistake of listening to our mechanic at my employer.

    • Julian says:

      Ouch… For more precise engine work (Subaru heads, cams, valve covers, timing belt pulleys, etc.) I have a beam type torque wrench. I use a HFT torque wrench for everything else on my car, and it’s worked great for me.

  46. Corey says:

    They’re actually pretty accurate, HotRod Magazine did some testing on them: http://www.hotrod.com/how-to/additional-how-to/ccrp-1304-torque-wrench-testing/

  47. Pete Colelli says:

    Having purchased a 1/4 drive Pittsburgh (Harbor Freight)”click type” torque wrench to add to my inventory of 1/2 drive and 3/8 drive (beam type) wrenches, I was in need of a wrench for greater accuracy on the low end of the inch pounds torque range. At $9.99 I just could not pass this up.

    My primary use of a torque wrench is for marine outboard cylinder head assembly so the 1/4 drive would fit in nicely on smaller outboards. Being a fan of sports car endurance racing and having many friends who race, I am familiar with higher end “break-away click style” torque wrenches. What I was to discover is that the Harbor Freight model does not work in exactly the same way.

    The “click” that it refers to is really a “pivot” at the upper end of the handle, below the o-ring against the ratchet head. As you dial-up the torque range you can feel the spring loading up inside the handle. I decided to perform a “test” against my old reliable Husky (Lowes) beam type wrench.

    I took a heavy 14MM bolt with a nut on the end and locked the nut into my vise. I set the 1/4 drive for 20 inch pounds (bottom of the range) and torqued until the handled pivoted against the head and stopped. I then tested it against the 3/8 and it was spot on. I did notice that is was a very subtle “click” that I really had to pay attention to.

    Next, I dialed-up the 1/4 drive to 100 inch pounds (middle of the range)and torqued until it “clicked.” A check against the 3/8 and again it was spot on. At this setting the “click” was more noticeable due to the higher load on the spring.

    Finally, I dialed-up the maximum range (200 inch pounds) and torqued till it “clicked.” Once again, spot on with the 3/8 and a very pronounced “click” (Pivot) on the 1/4.

    Conclusions: While my test is by no means scientific, it does verify that with proper use and understanding of how the 1/4 drive Harbor Freight wrench works, it does seem to deliver as advertised against a wrench I have owned for many years (and many outboard cylinder head assemblies) without a single failure. It should also be noted here that, with any torque wrench that is improperly used you will torque the head off a bolt quite easily.

    I would also suggest a YouTube site I found that explains the working of the Harbor Freight click style torque wrench: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GChJLzrptXM. I hope this helps to clear up any misunderstandings about this wrench and torque wrenches and applications in general.

    Pete

  48. Tekton and CDI torque wrench are best in precision and price.

  49. ferg says:

    I buy expendable tools at HF all the time – cheap enough that if they break or get lost, can just buy another. But a torque wrench is something else altogether. Some engineer has specified a maximum amt of force that can be applied without shearing a bolt, stripping a thread, or deforming or breaking a part. In critical apps, over-torque can result in costly, even catastrophic damage. So why would you use an eepy-cheapy tool with so much at stake?

    I bought an HF “click” torque wrench for some non-critical apps… where it didn’t matter if torque was 5 – 9 lbs over spec. I exercised the thing before using, but even so, right out of the box, the wrench was very hard to lock in the mid-range settings (wouldn’t stay locked). But the problem was the “click”… dang if I could reliably hear or feel it (and I’ve got really good hearing). I tested the wrench for about 2 hrs, and never got to the point where I felt that I was hearing a “click” and not over-torquing. Took the stupid thing back to HF for a refund.

    Then found a real torque wrench… a NAPA electronic. It has a digital readout that shows the amt of force being applied, green/yellow/red lights that come on as you approach the set torque value, and a buzzer that sounds when you’re right on the set torque. Couldn’t be easier, or more reliable and consistent. And, I got the thing for about $ 120 on eBay, which for a good torque wrench, isn’t a whole lot of money.

    If I was doing critical applications, I’d buy a cam-over wrench… just to guarantee no over-torque. But cam-overs can set you back a bundle.

    Harbor Freight torque wrench? Use at your own peril… good chance you’ll be sorry.

  50. Mike L. says:

    I mainly use a 1/4″ HF (Pittsburg Pro) TW for my bicycle repairs, but I had to buy a 1/2 HF TW to tighten down a Schlumpf Speed Drive core (~125 ft/lbs). Unfortunately these wrenches are barely within each other’s ranges. To be specific the overlap from 10′/#(120″/#) to 16′/#(192″/#).

    Here’s my chart:

    1/2″TW in ‘/#:1/4″TW in “/#:”/# conversion
    10 : 114 : 120 6
    11 : 125 : 132 7
    12 : 140 : 144 4
    13 : 152 : 156 4
    14 : 160 : 168 8
    15 : 173 : 180 7
    16 : 185 : 192 7
    17 : 194 : 204 10

    this is an average 6.1428″/# difference until the final reading which should have been off the scale anyway, but I included for completeness.

    note- the 1/2″ had +/- 1/4′/#(3″/#)

    Of course these wrenches could be near equally off calibrated and I wouldn’t know, but it doesn’t seem bad for a random sample bought years apart.

    No, I don’t have a vise and calibrated weight or scale to do a proper chart. Still, these readings seem to be fairly consistent for a reasonable error factor yet letting me know I probably should have them re-calibrated soon just to be sure.

    I find this reasonable for saving half the price of a Craftsman (when on sale for $40 instead of $80). So unless you do a statistical sample as suggested above (you’ll need 100s of each brand and size not just 10), to demonstrate that 1. The out-of-box calibration starts with less error factor. 2. The TW maintains it’s calibration after re-setting & use, why pay more money? Brand name means near nothing anymore. Even though in general I digress on HF’s tool quality. So when I buy there, I’m very leary and expect their tool to fail me more than I expect or be missing usual (and sometimes critical) features.

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