Harbor Freight = an exercise in readjusting your expectations ... it is what it is.

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Review by Mainiac Matt posted 06-13-2012 06:57 PM 9386 views 0 times favorited 84 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Harbor Freight = an exercise in readjusting your expectations   ... it is what it is. Harbor Freight = an exercise in readjusting your expectations   ... it is what it is. Harbor Freight = an exercise in readjusting your expectations   ... it is what it is. Click the pictures to enlarge them

I go back some 16 years with Harbor Freight Tools…. And while I don’t often buy from them, I was reminded today that I have to readjust my expectations to reflect their low price point… As a company, I have to say that Harbor Freight has always resolved any issues I’ve had with their products, it wasn’t always a speedy solution, but in the end they made it right.

So given the recent positive review about their ‘F’ style bar clamps…. and me needing more clamps for my current project, I bit the bullet and sent them a $65 order for 8 ‘F’ clamps and a pair of 3/4” pipe clamps with stands.

Issue #1: all of the ‘F’ clamps seem to be mis-alligned. On one it looks like the ACME threaded hole in the slide is off, but on the others it looks o.k. Further inspection shows that there’s quite a bit of slop in the slot in the casting that slides on the bar. This slot is rough cast with no machining so they apparently had to make it a loose fit, which allows the assembly to misalign.

Issue #2: The rubber pads were poorly molded from a material that is not as pliable as the pads on my Jorgensen clamps.

Issue #3: The molded hard plastic under the rubber over mold on the handle has lot’s of “air” space in it (decreases mat’l and cost) and one clamp arrived with a broken handle. They’re going to send me a replacement, but it doesn’t bode well for durability of the rest of them (and others who responded to the previous review reported braking the handles).

So it is what it is….. and what it is…. is a cheep China knock off of a classic design, American product. And at 1/3 the price ($4 vs $12 for the 12” and $5 vs. $15 for the 24”) you’re getting either a “great deal” or “exactly what you paid for”, depending on your perspective.

I don’t make my paycheck with my tools…. and I’ll always reach for my Jorgensen and Bessey’s first…. but for the money it will be nice to have these in reserve.

I’ll share an anecdote that highlites the IMPORTANT consideration of personal safety using “great deal” tools. Years ago, I was laying on my back under my old F-150, trying to loosen the rusty bolt on the tie rod ends, when the “Made in China”, 15/16” open end wrench broke and snapped back, putting a huge chip in middle of my glasses lense and giving me a big black and blue knot on my eye brow. I would have been blinded for sure if I hadn’t been wearing glasses. So deal or no deal, you just can’t compromise with some tools.

-- Matt -- I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam

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Mainiac Matt

9550 posts in 3096 days

84 comments so far

View b2rtch's profile


4920 posts in 3816 days

#1 posted 06-13-2012 07:41 PM

I have a lot of these clamps that I use very often, I never had one issue with them.
In my opinion they are excellent.
My opinion is the same for their pipe clamps with stand, they are excellent

The same is not true of these ones which are pure junk

-- Bert

View Dwain's profile


614 posts in 4627 days

#2 posted 06-13-2012 07:48 PM

Agree with the above statement. I have a lot of these in 6” and 12” Any bigger and I think more pressure is required and these just won’t take. They are great for small light pressure clamping. I wouldn’t put myself in any sort of injury prone position that depended upon the quality of the clamps you speak of. Again, I agree, the black and orange clamps are absolutely garbage. Not even close to what I want as a part time hobbiest…

-- When you earnestly believe you can compensate for a lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there is no end to what you CAN'T do

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 3691 days

#3 posted 06-13-2012 07:56 PM

I have 12 F clamps and nary a problem. I’ll admit they aren’t top shelf but they do what I ask them to within reason.
The “orange” ones are junk.
If Bessies prices were a little more reasonable I’d buy them but for a hobby I don’t see spending that much.
Just my HO

-- Life is good.

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Mainiac Matt

9550 posts in 3096 days

#4 posted 06-13-2012 08:15 PM

the pipe clamps with stands I got look good to go….. provided they thread my black iron pipe without any problems… it’s probably worth noting that these were also not nearly as deep of a discount ($10 vs. $14)

also… please note that my review is for the ‘F’ style bar clamps shown in my photos…. I have no experience with their orange and black quick clamps, like the ones Bert is showing. I know this got all mixed up on Russel’s review, and I’d prefer to not get them mixed up here.

-- Matt -- I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam

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Mike Gager

665 posts in 4035 days

#5 posted 06-13-2012 08:16 PM

i have a bunch of the F clamps and have had good luck with them. i always visually check them for defects at the store before buying so maybe thats why

the black and orange ones are great for light duty clamping but usually break if you squeeze to hard. that said i use them all the time anyways

View TheOldTimer's profile


226 posts in 3854 days

#6 posted 06-13-2012 08:28 PM

I bought 16 “F” clamps several years ago when I built all new cabinets for the kitchen. The clamps are still in use today without any problems. I also have three HVLP conversion spray guns that work very well with water base finshes. I do not buy cutting tool from them or saw blades. I have been using there pancake compressor for about five years and it is still working fine. The 60 gallon compressor has been in use for 5 years and still works like a champ. I keep fresh oil in the compressor and have a automatic drain valve in the bottom of the tank. As stated above, HF is what it is, not intended for industrial use but for my retirement woodworking budget it has its place in my shop. I would love to be in a position to buy all american made products but on a retirement budget, I have to buy imports due to the price of tools. Like everything else, the price just goes up and up especially on hardwood lumber.
I would like to have a shop full of Powermatic tools, Festools and Bessy clamps but the dollars are not there.

-- TheOldTimer,Chandler Arizona

View Brandon's profile


4234 posts in 3719 days

#7 posted 06-13-2012 08:34 PM

I’ve had great luck with these blue clamps. I usually go to the store and pick out the nicer ones, but still, haven’t had any problems yet. I’ve purchased a bad pipe clamp from them (, and like others have said those orange ones are pure junk.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3766 days

#8 posted 06-13-2012 08:40 PM

I look at it this way, I have a big plastic bin full of the 12” and a few 15”. That means I can pull out enough clamping power for whatever job I need. I don’t have to do some silly dance to get enough clamping force. I don’t have to over tighten them. I will always get a better glue up by putting more clamps with less force than a couple clamps really cranked down. If I need to pull out 30+ clamps to clamp it evenly, so be it. Other than one that had a defective thread, I have never had a problem with any clamp. For $3, it wasn’t worth the gas to take it back to the store to complain.

Not to start anything, but if you are having to clamp things hard enough to break clamps, you need to re-think your joinery. Just relying on brute force clamping is most likely going to lead to eventual joint failure. Most glue will creep. If you are gluing two boards and you can’t pull them tight by hand, you shouldn’t be gluing, you should be re-jointing the boards.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View dbhost's profile


5777 posts in 4000 days

#9 posted 06-13-2012 10:43 PM

I too have had excellent results with the HF bar clamps. I go in to the store and I fish through the bin for the good ones. Unless you are picky about the ones you buy, it is really easy to get junk from them… However if you are picky, it is real easy to get some pure gems from them…

The orange ratcheting bar clamps like others have said are flaky.

The pipe clamps have been plenty stout…

-- Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

9550 posts in 3096 days

#10 posted 06-14-2012 01:25 AM

Not to start anything, but if you are having to clamp things hard enough to break clamps

The clamp arrived that way in the box…. I never used it…. Box was undamaged and showed no signs of mishandling.

-- Matt -- I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam

View grandpasworkshop's profile


344 posts in 4547 days

#11 posted 06-14-2012 01:32 AM

The square tube clamps are pretty good and that black bar clamps have never given any problem except I have lost the cushions so I put furniture pads on with epoxy. Also buy there 16 and 18 gauge nailer plus there HVLP gun,also the dust collector works good in a retirement shop that stays busy all time.

-- Grandpaj

View patcollins's profile


1687 posts in 3633 days

#12 posted 06-14-2012 01:38 AM

Nothing but good things to say about these bar clamps, looks like someone who doesnt care about their job packed your order.

I’ve actually done ok with the HF trigger clamps, especially for $1.99 each, I dont use them for stuff like glueups just for a third hand and they work great for that.

Totally agree about the clamping pressure, if you have to hold it that tight, the glue itself will never hold that joint.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3766 days

#13 posted 06-14-2012 02:18 AM

ssnvet: Yeah, I have had a bad one too. I was just speaking in general. I keep reading people complaining about inexpensive clamps breaking when they are gluing up. Sure I would like to have a whole slew of nice Bessey and Jorgensens but I would rather have the big bucket of cheap clamps for the price of 5 or 6 high end clamps.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View roundguy's profile


62 posts in 3452 days

#14 posted 06-14-2012 03:36 AM

my philosophy on tools and other stuff:
You can cuss when you pay for it or cuss every time you use it.

View lumberjoe's profile


2902 posts in 3016 days

#15 posted 06-14-2012 11:44 AM

dbhost has it right. This is not an “online order” item. I have also had really good luck with these clamps and in total I am probably up to 50 or 60 of them. HOWEVER, I have a store very close to me and I get them in the store. I’d say about 1/3 of the ones on the shelf the store are junk. The 36” ones seem to be popular as the store always has very few, and out of the 5 or 6 on the shelf, 1 or 2 are good. If you can put your hands on them before you buy them and make sure they are good,you are getting a good bargain on a clamp. If you order online you are taking a risk.

The black and orange ones are good for nothing. Your money will be better spent by giving it to a homeless person.


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