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Harbor Freight is a dangerous enough place without the allure of tent sales that offer even greater discounts on cheap-ass tools. About 3 months ago Harbor Freight opened up a location about 15 minutes from my house. I held out as long as I could. But when the tent sale flyer arrived in the mail I had to go. It was a moral imperative.

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Let me be clear: we’re not necessarily recommending you buy this. In fact, we wonder whether it’s worth the cash or not. That said, however, we’re always interested in cheap-ass tool alternatives, and there’s something intriguing about the idea of a sub-$100 portable band saw. (Compare that, for example, with about $230 for Mikwaukee’s model.)

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Mobility makes almost everything better around the shop, which is why it’s always good to know where to find a cheap set of casters. More to the point, it’s not a bad idea to have a few of ’em sitting around in a box just in case you get inspired or decide to add mobility to an existing project.

My first port of call for cheap-ass casters is usually Harbor Freight, where you can get a set of 3″ poly casters (soft enough to avoid marring floors but hard enough to support a bit of weight) for just $4.50. They offer lots of other options in the same range, too, like a 3″ hard rubber version with a swivel and brake for $6 and a rubber-tired cast-iron model for $6 as well. They also offer larger casters, like this 8″ cushion tire (read: not pneumatic) for $18. My father chose that 8″ model for his roll-around welding table, and they worked great.

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Unless you’re a janitor or in the video game repair business, you’ll probably only need security bits about as often as the Cowboys make it to the Superbowl. Still, it’d suck to be out of beer and burgers when it actually happens. That makes ’em the perfect cheap-ass tool buy. And for a whoppin’ $10, Harbor Freight will hand you the set above, including bits for hex, hollow-hex, Pozi, Torx, hollow-tip Torx, square, and spline fasteners, plus some slotted and Phillips to boot.

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We’re most definitely not vouching for any of the tools specifically on sale through Labor Day weekend at Harbor Freight, but we know damn well that some of you dabble in the ‘Freightster and would like to know that they’re running some specials. Hell, we might even take a spin by to see what’s what. For example, I’ve bought more than a few jack stands at HF, like these that are $13 right now. However, I’d avoid anything paint-related — especially something like this dodgy $10 HVLP spray gun.

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Way back in 2006 we posted our first hands-on with GearWrench’s XL Pass-Thru ratchets. The verdict? Awesome. We love ’em. And they’re pretty reasonably-priced, too, with sets starting around $50. But as Harbor Freight proves again, if someone can make it, they can make a knock off cheaper. Witness above the “21-Piece SAE/Metric Go-Thru Socket Set,” offered for less than half the price of GearWrench’s original.

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9 minutes. This air-fitting blower attachment for our compressor testing lasted all of 9 minutes. A simple drop onto a concrete floor from bench height, and this bad boy was leaking air in all the wrong places — like the thread collar.

On balance, it was a cheap-o Harbor Freight unit that cost us a whopping $1.50 in the bargain bin. You do get what you pay for, but I did hope the fitting would last longer than a beer break.

Is this a sign that all cheap tools are crap? No, of course not. It’s a lesson that we should be more careful not to drop the tools that are made from thin, breakable materials when we know damn well they’re not built to last.


Whether you want to keep track of a bunch of stuff or tell people who made it, there isn’t much simpler than using a number and letter stamping set. These hardened steel stamps can be used on wood and softer metals like brass and aluminum.

You probably want a 36-piece set, which usually has stamps for A through Z, 0 through 8 (9 is 6 upside down), and an ampersand. The stamps sets come in several different character sizes such as 1/8″, 1/4″, or 3/8″.

The 36 piece 1/4″ letter and number stamping set from Harbor Freight will run you $11, while online similar sets will run you $25 or more.

Stamping Set [Harbor Freight]
Street Pricing [Google]
Amazon(B00315BCEO) [What’s This?]

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Palm Ratchets

Palm or thumbwheel ratchets came up in casual conversion around the Toolmonger shop recently. Some hold that they’re extremely handy and can be a serious saver when attempting to remove bolts or nuts in constricted areas. Others think they’re little more than bait for tool fanatics with a burning need to stock a toolbox. Here’s what we think: Both can be true.

I have personally reached for thumbwheel ratchets in automotive situations where a ratchet handle just gets in the way and whatever part I’m trying to remove from an engine bay can’t be simply coaxed out. However, to be fair, extensions and universals on the end of a traditional ratchet will normally get the job done as well.

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Many cables these days are Teflon coated or don’t require lubrication, so you probably don’t have to oil them anymore — but if you do, a cable oiler seems to be the way to go. Of course, you should check with the manufacturer before you try to lubricate it or you could just make things worse.

You clamp the first type of cable oiler over the end of the cable and spray lubricant through a straw into a small hole in the block — though I’ve read using this method can be quite messy. Another method is to use a hydraulic cable oiler. You stick the cable into the end of the oiler and tighten down the cap, which compress the rubber disks around the cable to make a seal. Then fill the tube with oil and screw in the end with the T-handle. Twisting the T-handle forces oil into the cable.

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