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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.)

Specs look pretty much like you’d expect: a 6A motor, driving the blade at 0-230 FPM. Cutting capacity is around 4-1/2″.

But specs aren’t really where Harbor Freight’s cheap-ass knock-offs fall short. In our experience, these kind of HF tools don’t last very long — like somewhere in the range of a single project to a couple of projects. When you’re talking about a $10 cordless drill (compared to even a $50 also-not-so-great drill), it’s easy to justify the concept. If it breaks, just throw it away. Hell, get two if you’re concerned. But $100 is a lot of dough — might it just be better to shell out the additional $120 to buy one that’ll last pretty much forever?

Granted, I have an old cheap-ass HF polisher that my father picked up sometime around 2000 for the sole purpose of mounting a knot cup brush for cleaning up welding work. (This is a great idea, by the way. The slower spin is a lot safer for you, as most brushes start to disintegrate well below the 12,000+ RPM limit of grinders. Most polishers spin around 1,000 to 3,000 RPM.) The damn thing still works more than a decade later, though I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t use it on a daily basis.

So what do you think? Is this worth the risk, or is it just junk?

Portable Band Saw [Harbor Freight]


19 Responses to Cheap-Ass Tools: HF’s Portable Band Saw

  1. george says:

    many times my concern is that either the design or options on it or not on it are so bad that it makes even a new one worthless if they can’t do the job reasonably.

  2. Dave says:

    At my job mostly what they buy is HF tools. All the Pittsburgh hand tools we use are great, and have a great guarantee. I, personally have not broken my pivot head ratchet even after it filling duty as a hammer and several 100+ lbs pulls (removing a rusty push bumper on a police cruiser). I LOVE their screwdrivers. We also have a floor standing bandsaw for cutting bar stock, a die grinder, break press. The bandsaw has seen better days, but I attribute that a lot to it never being maintained or tuned. It is used daily, however and has not failed yet.

    Seems like the Pittsburgh and Central Pneumatic stuff are pretty good. The Chicago Electric, the verdict is still out.

    Here’s links to all mentioned, if it is not perceived as advertising or anyting.






    • Jerry says:

      The worst thing I have discovered regarding the HF electric tools is noise. If I’m using a power tool, I expect noise to happen so the motor noise doesn’t bother me. I have an old HF recip saw that I used on the job daily for over 3 years and it still does the job. It’s interesting that HF puts extra motor brushes in so many of the electrics. I have yet to ever need to replace. Of course, longevity of any tool depends a lot on the care that it is given.

  3. AmandaT says:

    Best use I’ve seen for one of these was DIY backyard chainlink fence. My friends put in the fence themselves (with lots of friend labor), used the band saw to trim all the posts, and then sold it cheap on Craigslist. The bandsaw lasted through all the fence posts and that was about it. Perfect for them.

    • Jerry says:

      I just had a large set of three chain link gates installed and watched as they cut the tops of those big posts with the portable band saw. It was a Milwaukee, not an HF but it was the first time I had really thought about such a saw. Great comments on this topic!

  4. Rick Reimundez says:

    Funny, looks like someone has been reading Cool Tools lately.. Adam Savage from Mythbusters has a guest post up about just such a tool.. (not the HF version, though);-)


  5. Chuck Cage says:

    Hey, Rick! We’ve been thinking about HF tools as potential $$-savers for years, though I’m definitely a Kevin Kelly fan. I remember that he was kind enough to stop by our Maker Faire booth the first year we attended — but I didn’t make the connection and didn’t know who he was. I suspect I made an ass out of myself, which really stinks, because I’d love to catch up with him at some point. What an interesting guy!

    I’m totally with Savage on the portable bandsaw love, and my old one looks a ton like his. (I think I linked the original TM post in the one above.) My dad bought it for cheap at a yard sale or something, I inherited it, and it’s still in heavy use here.

  6. Chris says:

    Harbor Freight, in my mind, is for DIY’ers and homeowners. Their tools reflect that. If you want the top of the line, newest technology, then you’ll pay a pretty penny for it at Home Depot or Lowe’s. If you want something that gets occasional use, then Harbor Freight is just fine. I have some things from HF, but you have to pick and choose your tools.

  7. b. foo says:

    Harbor Freight does have some gems. I have one of their small air compressors (oiled, not oiless) and its lasted me 10 years or so. Still works just fine. I also have one of their big floor standing drill presses. No issues with it either. No run out or anything on the arbor or chuck. I use it almost daily. I’ve used their cordless drills that my friends own and they pretty much sucked. They got the job done but I’d never buy one. I have some of their hand tools… pliars, wrenches, etc. They “work” but are nothing special at all. Never broke anything… yet anyway.

    • Dave says:

      I have the bench model drill press and it is probably the worst drill press I have ever used. Mostly the chuck is fail, but even after hours of tuning, it still is loose and walks bits all over.

  8. PutnamEco says:

    For that same hundred bucks you could probably pick up a decent used one, and make your money back if you chose to sell it after you finished your job.

  9. Mac says:

    Agree with PutnamEco, except the part about selling it… Keep it for your next job! 🙂

  10. Gil says:

    This is great! Now I don’t have to worry about messing up my Mikwaukee one when dismembering bodies.

  11. Tom says:

    HF products are hit/miss in design and quality. ex. nice looking parts made from no/low grade steel, soft, bends easy, tool ruined. If you take the time to make a good part it’s very little more to use graded certified metals. The most common fault I find, little to no metallurgical control. Too soft, too brittle, too weak, voids/flash in CI, “steel” made from any scrap tossed together. Another peeve use of poorly designed and/or wrong plastic used, these parts in use, due to normal heat, soften and deform. Otherwise good tool ruined by 50cent part. Wildly varying quality control is other problem. Buy one tool, go back sometime later buy another, total junk.
    In general one time or limited use tools mostly OK. I don’t buy anything my health/safety depends on, hoists, jack stands, lifts, dust mask filters, etc. Made in china can be quality if there is strict oversight by outside vendor.

  12. Jerry II says:

    I love, love, love my HF portaband. How did I live without one?

    I actually bought mine used about 3 years ago, and have no idea what kind of abuse it was subjected to before me, yet it continues to eat through whatever I throw its way (angle iron, 1/4″ plate, bolts/screws, tubing, etc.)

    I will agree with the other Jerry that posted earlier – one of my absolute biggest complaints with HF tools is noise. If it’s a tool I’ll be using for extended periods of time (like a sander or grinder), I’ll invest in a higher quality unit for the sake of my ears.

    Also, a quality bimetal blade vastly improves the performance of the HF portaband.

  13. ambush27 says:

    Generally I hate cheap tools, however I did buy a cheap store brand metal cutting bandsaw. It’s not portable but it is a reasonably good saw. The blade that came with it was junky and it didn’t come with a wrench to adjust the blade guide bearings(you need a slimmer wrench to hold the eccentrics). But other than that I have used it to cut mild steel at the limits of its capacity and it has performed well.

  14. fred says:

    I can’t comment on HF Tools as I’ve never put any of them to use – but have used several portable band saws – our first was a Porter Cable “Portaband” – with Milwaukees and now a Makita cordless to choose from. They are our go-to tools for cutting unistrut. While we haven’t done any side-by-side comparisons of blades – We did get some cheaper off-brand ones a while back that were junk compared to the Morse and Lenox blades we normally get from our supplier – or the Milwaukee Blades we buy in a pinch at Home Depot

  15. perry says:

    @ chris: the top of the line, newest stuff is not at the box stores, but at the specialty tool stores that you will pay out the nose for, but worth it if you need it (festool, anyone?) that being said, If I were shopping for a disposable tool, it would be something along the lines of harbor freight or tractor supply. If I were planning on using it again, I would buy something like a craftsmen or box store brand (Ryobi, Kobalt, etc)just for the easy return. If I were relying on it for a specific common purpose, I would go to the more reliable name brands (like the aforementioned milwaukee).

    I have a HF jackhammer that I use from time to time, and I made sure to take it home, take it apart, and grease it since most of the HF power tools have a hard axle grease in them that doesn’t bode well for bearings. I bought it 8 years ago and it still works great for light duty stuff. for the big breakups, I rent it.

  16. jim says:

    I bought of these some ears back and was surprised with how well it worked. it lasted a year before a shop fire took it out. thinking about getting another one.

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